The perfect time to put coffee, culture and the Panama Canal on your calendar
Panama made international headlines in 2016 as the world's best retirement haven. But the country's low cost of living and pensioner programs aren't the only things it has going for it. A variety of landscapes and climates from sun-spanked beaches to tropical rain forests with some of the world's most diverse plant and bird life make it a top vacation getaway. Here's what you need to know to choose the best time to go.
Best time to visit
Although most visitors from the U.S. and Europe visit Panama during the winter months, the country's fairly constant climate makes it suitable to visit any time of year. The best season to visit often depends on what you plan to do when you get there.
Birding: Snowbirds aren't the only ones that visit Panama during the dry season. The months of December through May are ideal for spotting migratory birds, too.
Cruising: Major cruise lines set sail through the Panama Canal from September through April. Go on either end of the season for the best rates and before crowds are in full swing. Also look for repositioning cruises in May and September as cruise ships move from Florida to California in keeping with the Alaska cruise season.
Fishing: Panama means "abundance of fish," and its Tuna Coast offers legendary deep-sea fishing. Reel in yellowfin tuna from January through June or angle for black marlin, dorado, sailfish and wahoo during the rest of the year.
Kayaking and Rafting: Whitewater is at its prime during the rainy season when rivers swell. Plan your outing for the morning before brief afternoon showers roll in.
Surfing: This is a year-round sport in Panama. Check out the best waves on the Pacific Coast from April through November. Catch the action on the Caribbean side between December and March.
Other water sports: The dry season offers rain-free days with good visibility for boating, snorkeling, scuba diving and other water sports.
The busiest seasons
The dry season is the busiest time in general, but the public holidays are the most crowded times for travelers. Book far in advance if you plan to visit Panama between Christmas and New Year's, during Carnival in February or over Easter weekend. November is another busy tourist time because the locals travel during national holidays when many businesses close down including banks, restaurants and stores.
About the weather
Panama's tropical climate varies little in temperature throughout the year, but there is some variation among the country's climate zones. Temperatures reach into the mid-80s during the day in Panama City and cool down to the 70s at night. Higher elevations enjoy a less tropical climate with lower temperatures ranging from 50 to 66 degrees F. Destinations on the Pacific Coast of Panama typically have lower temperatures than on the Caribbean side.
Hurricanes are very rare in Panama due to how far south it is. The country's wet season is during the summer months, but rainstorms are over within an hour or two.
Getting around Panama
Well-maintained roadways and driving on the right side of the road make driving in Panama similar to driving in the U.S. But even though things seem familiar, the driving culture in Panama can be stressful for the uninitiated. Consider leaving the driving to others and use modern buses, taxis and trains.