Panama is located well inside the tropics with a pre-equatorial climate, being placed at the crossroads of Central and South America. The good thing about Panama is that it has two seasons. The dry season that occurs from December to March and the wet season that lasts the rest of the year.
The northeastern winds prevail which bring some rainfall on the north side that faces the Caribbean Sea, when the sea is warmer. The south side facing the Pacific Ocean, the weather becomes very dry and the country comes alive with adventure, activity and great wildlife spotting opportunities! It is hot almost everywhere, and the sun shines with very little rain.
To find a bit of cooler weather, there are the tierras templadas, or “temperate lands” in the area surrounding Boquete, a quaint colonial town in the beautiful highlands of Panama.
During the dry winter season, the little rain that does occur comes in the form of aguaceros, which is the Panamanian way of describing a thunderstorm of torrential downpour. These walls of water occur very sparingly throughout the months and last only for some minutes, usually in the afternoon, or early hours of the night. While the weather can sometimes be described as very unpredictable in Panama, the dry season makes way for a lot of tourism for people escaping the oppressing and cold climates back home.
The dry season is the best time to visit Panama because it is summertime in the Equatorial nations, meaning that the heat and dry landscape from the south comes up and touches Panama in a beautiful and pleasant way, perfect for vacationing and fun! It is especially ideal to visit Panama during the winter months because it is much different than traveling during the long, wet season. For example, scuba diving in Panama during the dry season makes way for clearer waters as opposed to the wet season because the visibility is extremely ideal due to the lack of rain.
Where to go in Panama in Winter
Panama City is the biggest and most famous city in the country, as well as being a household name of the region. This city is a beacon of economic prosperity and the frontrunner of stability in an otherwise increasingly unstable region. With over 1.5 million inhabitants, the city is the entrance of the Pacific as well as the Carribean. Founded by Spanish Colonists, it was a stopover of one of the most important trade routes in the world at its time, so prosperity is something that Panama City has experienced since time immemorial.
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Casco Antiguo, the old town of Panama to step into the rich colonial past of the city, as well as getting a good view into the modernity of the country. The Panama Viejo is a great way to see the city’s initial inception and learn about its uphill battle against the pirates that infested the seas. Best of all, visit the Panama Canal to get an experience of one of the most important trade passages in the entire planet! Panama City in the winter is especially pleasant because it allows you to walk through the city without having to worry about humidity and rain all day. Another great catch to being in Panama City in the winter is experiencing Carnival in a beautiful Latin American city.
Read our detailed guide: What to do in Panama City
Located on the Southern Pacific coast of Panama, Las Tables is the centre of Panamanian folk music, art, food, culture and architecture. Its name meaning “the boards”, comes from the ship that was taken apart to build the first settlements in the town. The political landscape in Las Tablas was also unique as one of the most beloved presidents in Panama was from Las Tablas. What it is best known for is its Carnival culture. The city comes alive but also splits apart into two carnival factions. Calle Ariba (Uptown) and Calle Abajo (Downtown) are on the same street but divides the town into a competition of queens, parades, fireworks, plazas, food, concerts and extravagance in a way to outpower the other side. To get a taste of this, the winter is the best time to pay the city a visit!
The Carribean capital of Panama, Colon has always been known as Panama’s second city. The site of an American military outpost, the city was a centre for the American expat community. Later becoming a centre of Latin American Carribean commerce, Colon was the centre of the Panama Railroad. During its heyday, the city was known for its nightclubs, cabarets and theatres. Massive restoration has created a revival in the city after decades of decline. During the winter, Colon is a great centre to get to the beach towns and Carribean beaches of Panama. The dry season creates a great snorkelling opportunity since the water is so clear from the lack of rain!
What to Do in Panama in Winter
Jazz and Jive
In January, Panama City comes alive in a way that is unique. Started in 1965, the Panama Jazz Festival is a multi-day extravaganza that attracts the world’s best jazz artists and spreads them out throughout this Latin American metropolis. The best thing — the concerts take place in the pleasant outdoors and are completely gratis! Put your jazz hat on and get your jazz hands out because you will be having a great time jiving and jamming to one of the world’s most beloved genres!
Costume at Carnival
One of the most important events of the year in Panama, Carnival takes place during the commencement of the Lent festivities, and is a time when the entire country comes together for a feast of the eyes, taste and feel! Live music overpowers the cities, where people dance for days. Food stalls smelling up the avenues and providing a delicious taste of Panama with traditional and contemporary fare. Parades line up and down the streets in an extravagant display of celebration. There is a pageant for the Carnival Queen and a crowning where water is sprayed from the floats! Another unique Carnival custom are water balloon and water gun fights! While all cities in Panama experience a great time and are equally great places to get in on the festivities, Las Tablas is the best place to go for Carnival!
Sea fare at the Sea Fair!
Along the beach fronts of Isla Colon, there is a great excuse to have fun in the sun, other than just being there! The Feria del Mar is a great place to experience the beautiful seaside culture of the country. Panama is surrounded by stretches of water, and a thriving history of sea-based culture gives this festival legitimacy to be a celebrated and well worth event to attend! Free sea snacks are thrown out at people as you can visit the parades and the exhibitions of the boats built or decorated by the fishermen and boatmen of this country. You will be able to take boat rides along the beach, look at the beautiful craftsmanship of the local industry, and dance around to live music performances of this dynamic and thriving nation!
Fabrics, Fashion, Fun!
The Pollera is the beautiful traditional garb of the Panamanian woman. The pollera is a long, full skirt with many gathers. This was a very common dress of the women of Europe at the time and said to have been brought over to Panama from Spain as early as the 1700s. This is a beautiful cotton skirt printed in beautiful floral designs most commonly used in tropical climates. These are very closely related to the traditional dress of the Southern Spanish region of Andalusia. La Pollera Festival was established to create awareness of the dress and to keep up this beautiful cultural garb. Women from around the country come with the best ateliers of the area to pay homage to this traditional and very special art. There are pageants, parades and awards for the best Pollera in many categories.
What to Pack
For the coasts and the inner plains of Panama, bring lightwear, and a sweatshirt for the evening, and the blasting air conditioning. Some snorkeling equipment is ideal, as you will be using the clear waters of the dry season to your advantage, so bring those water shoes and trunks! Sunscreen and a sun hat is very important all year round in Panama, so it is very important to bring things that will protect your skin from the blasting sun. If you want a cooler experience in the highlands, make sure to get a pair of very good hiking boots.