Panama lies between 7 degrees and 9 degrees above the Equator, which places it firmly within the Tropics. Accordingly, average year-round temperatures are a balmy 75°F to 85°F (24°C–29°C), varying only with altitude, from hot and humid in the tropical lowlands to cool in the highlands. The average temperature in the Chiriquí Highlands, for example, is 60°F (16°C), and it is the only area in Panama where you will likely feel cold.
Panama is tropical country, and as such has distinct dry and wet seasons. Generally speaking, December to mid-April are the driest months, while October and November are the wettest. However, cooler mountainous regions such as the Chiriquí Highlands and the Valle de Anton see rain throughout the year, though it’s usually limited to a light mist or barenje during the dry season. The Caribbean Coast also tends to be wetter than the Pacific, particularly Bocas del Toro, where it can rain anytime of the year. The Darien can be difficult at best in the rainy season, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a company willing to go in the rainiest months, though there are so many bugs during this time that it’s unlikely you’d want to go anyway. The Azuero Peninsula is a bit drier than the rest of the country and has been subject to much deforestation. The Kuna Yala Islands represent an interesting topography. Unlike most Panamanian islands, which are heavily forested, the more than 365 Kuna Islands are made up of sand and palm trees, and temperatures are often more comfortable there than other beach destinations, with nights even getting a bit cool.
The Chiriquí Highlands experience a variety of microclimates that can change drastically, sometimes even within a few miles. In Boquete, high winds and a peculiar misting rain called bajareque are common from mid- December to mid-February; January sees the occasional thunderstorm, and March to May are the sunniest months.
If you are unable to visit during the dry season, keep in mind that the months April through July are characterized by sunny skies in the morning or afternoon, punctuated by sudden, heavy thunderstorms midday or in early afternoon that are short in duration and can happen every few days.
There is a saying in Panama that the only thing Panamanians take seriously are their holidays—and it’s no joke. Nearly every business, including banks, offices, and many stores and restaurants, closes, making even Panama City feel like a ghost town. Official holidays that fall on a Saturday or Sunday are usually observed on Mondays, allowing for a long weekend. Transportation services are also greatly reduced. During holidays, most locals head for the beach or other getaway destinations, so if you plan to travel during this time, book lodging well in advance and make certain you have confirmed reservations.
Panama’s most revered holiday is Carnaval, the 4 days that precede Ash Wednesday. (Though not officially a holiday, most call in sick to work to recover from Carnaval on Wed.) The largest celebrations take place in Panama City and the Azuero Peninsula, with parades, floats, drinking, costumes, and music. Note that celebrations in Panama City can be a bit raucous and aren’t usually as classy as those on the Azuero Peninsula.
Official holidays in Panama include January 1 (New Year’s Day), January 9 (Martyr’s Day), Good Friday, Easter Sunday, May 1 (Labor Day), August 15 (Founding of Old Panama—observed in Panama City only), October 12 (Hispanic Day), November 2 (All Souls’ Day), November 3 (Independence Day), November 4 (Flag Day), November 5 (Colón Day—observed in the city of Colón only), November 10 (First Call for Independence), November 28 (Independence from Spain), December 8 (Mother’s Day), and December 25 (Christmas Day).
Panama Calendar of Events & Festivals
Many of the following listings are annual events whose exact dates vary from year to year, and the majority are local festivals. For more details, go to www.visitpanama.com, the website for autoridad de turismo Panama (atP), the country’s official tourism board (or call 800/962-1526).
Feria de las Flores y del Café (Flower and Coffee Festival), Boquete. This festival is one of the grandest celebrations of flowers in the world, drawing thousands of people to Boquete for 10 days. Expect lush flower displays, food stands, live music, amusement rides, handicrafts booths, and hotel rooms booked far in advance. Go to http://feriadeboquete.com. Mid-January.
Jazz Festival, Panama City. For one 3-day weekend, Panama City throbs with live jazz performances by outstanding international musicians. Some events are held outdoors and are free; log on to www.panamajazzfestival.com. Mid-to late January.
Carnaval (Carnival). Panama’s largest yearly celebration (occasionally falling in early March) takes place during the 4 days that precede Ash Wednesday. The largest celebrations are in small towns on the Azuero Peninsula, such as Las Tablas, and Panama City, with parades, music, and dancing. Be prepared to get wet by mojaderos, or trucks that spray revelers with water.
Semana Santa. During this week (Holy Week), parades, religious processions, and other special events take place across the country. Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday.
Feria Internacional de David. The Chiriquí capital’s largest festival (http://www.feriadedavid.com/?fbclid=IwAR3IzEbxutb5g6XkAbJj5LFM9mk2obzZmHIutU_2pza18iadZJ8edrrCkTM) draws more than 500 exhibitors from around the world to display industrial products and new technology. During the 10-day fest, the city hosts cultural and folkloric events. Mid-March.
Feria de Orquídeas (Orchid Festival), Boquete. It’s not as grand as the flower festival, but the Orchid Festival showcases thousands of varieties of these delicate flowers for public viewing. Go to http://feriadeboquete.com. At the fairgrounds late March to early April.
Feria Internacional de Azuero, La Villa de Los Santos. This multiday festival is something akin to a county fair, with animal displays, food stalls, and lots of drinking. Mid-April.
Festival Corpus Christi, La Villa de Los Santos. The town explodes with activity for a 2-week religious festival known for its elaborate dances led by men in devil masks. Forty days after Easter.
Festival Patronales de La Virgen de Santa Librada, Las Tablas. This festival is famous for its festival nacional de la Pollera on July 22, which showcases the region’s most beautiful pollera dresses and elects the “Queen of the Pollera” for that year. July 20 to July 23.
Feria del Mar (Festival of the Sea), Bocas del Toro. This 4-day event features food stands serving local cuisine, handicrafts booths, exhibits by the Smithsonian Institute and ANAM (the park service), folkloric presentations, and dances. Mid-September.
Festival Nacional de la Mejorana, Guararé. This nationally famous folkloric festival features hundreds of dancers, musicians, and singers coming together for a week of events and serious partying. Last week of September.
Festival del Cristo Negro (Black Christ Festival), Portobelo. Thousands of pilgrims come to pay penance, perform other acts of devotion, and do some reveling at the Iglesia de San Felipe, home to a wooden black Christ effigy that is paraded around town on this day. October 21.
Independence Days. Panama celebrates three independence days. November 3 and 4 are Independence Day and Flag Day, and the largest independence celebrations, featuring parades, fireworks, and other entertainment, take place in Panama City and larger cities like David. November 10 is a holiday for the “First Call for Independence,” as is November 28, honoring Independence Day from Spain, with regional festivities— but nothing matches November 3 and 4.
Feria de las Tierras Altas, Volcán. This highlands Festival is a 5-day celebration of agriculture, local arts, and culture. Around the last week of November.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.