Best time to go to Panama

Temperature & rainfall

The best time to visit Panama is Dec-Apr, officially the dry season. However, the rainy season is lusher, quieter and cheaper – with downpours mainly occurring in the afternoon The Pacific Coast, especially around Panama City, is much drier than the Caribbean, with humidity less fierce. The lowlands are seriously hot year round, day and night – sunhats and siestas are a must. The highlands are fresher, especially at night, but like all mountains, weather can change on a sixpence so come prepared. Be prepared for the celebrations for carnival (Feb/Mar) and Independence Day on 3rd Nov.

Things to do in Panama

what to do in Panama, & what not to

Things to do in Panama…

Roll out the castaway clichés as you head to Panama’s many desert islands, for quality sun, sand and snorkel time. Bocas del Toro’s Bastimentos National Marine Park boasts both rainforest and sea, complete with sloths, turtles and jewel-like poison arrow frogs. Ngobe-Buglé, Afro-Caribbean, Latino and expat communities promise a fascinating cultural mix. The 365 San Blas Islands stretch all the way to Colombia, and are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna, free of electricity, cars, and air con. You’ll be eating fresh fish, snorkelling in crystal clear waters and swaying in hammocks.
Costa Rica long ago claimed Central America’s wildlife crown, but its neighbour shelters just as many extraordinary creatures – it just doesn’t shout about it. As you sail out to Panama’s islands, look out for dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles cruising through the waves. Inland waterways and mangroves are habitat for rare manatees and caiman, while rainforests reverberate with the growls of howler monkeys, and sloths languidly dangle from branches. Birders will be in their element; an incredible 1,000 species are found here, including quetzals, umbrella birds, cotingas and streak-chested anpittas, with over 100 regional endemics.
Pedal your way across Panama. There are options here for cyclists of all levels, from short mountain biking excursions through the Chiriquí Highlands and days riding along the Panama Canal, to full on cycling tours from Nicaragua to Panama City. There are mountains and volcanoes to descend, jungles to traverse, and islands to ferry out to – bike in tow. Just be prepared for the heat.

Things not to do in Panama

Ignore the culture. Panama’s rainforests and islands are home to many indigenous communities, including the Emberá in the Chagres Rainforest, the Naso along the Costa Rica border, the Ngobe-Buglé in Bocas del Toro and the bead-wearing, mola-stitching Kuna of San Blas. Community tours introduce you to traditional music and dance, with options to sample local food – from plantain to lobster; learn about medicinal plants; and take canoe rides along rivers and creeks, looking out for wildlife along the way.
Stay here. If you’re only going to be in this part of the world once in your life, then it’s worth border hopping into Costa Rica – or further afield – to take advantage of these countries’ small sizes and the ease of travelling between them. Tour the length of the isthmus; cycle from Nicaragua to the Canal, or explore the wildlife of Costa Rica and Panama. Plus, the border crossing between Panama and Costa Rica is seriously old school cool; you have to exit your vehicle and trek along the disused railway bridge that spans the two countries.
Dive straight in. Panama is lined with idyllic beaches on both coasts – but be aware of the riptides, which take lives every year. Never swim alone, pay attention to warning signs, and if you do find yourself caught in a rip, never, ever try and swim against it, you will exhaust yourself. Swim parallel to shore and you will eventually come out and be able to return to shore. And do share this information – it saves lives.
If you'd like to chat about Panama or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Rosy & team.
01273 823 700

Panama travel advice

tips from our friends in Panama

Why Panama?

Annie Young, proud Panamanian and founder of our supplier, EcoCircuitos Panama: “Panama is a bridge between continents and has been a bridge of life since its formation. This isthmus made it easier for animals and plants to migrate between the continents. Also, the history of Panama is unique, travelers will be able to discover the path that was used by the Spanish Crown to move the treasures from the Americas to Europe and admire some UNESCO sites that still stand today. We are also a country of diversity, that started before the arrival of the Europeans to the Isthmus, continued during the Canal Construction and still does today.”

Wildlife & birding advice

Vicki Brown, Responsible Travel’s travel writer and editor, shares her top Panama travel tips: “The wildlife in Bocas del Toro is extraordinary. You’ll just be heading back to your hotel in a water taxi, and a manta ray will cruise by. Or wandering to a bar for a sundowner, and a sloth will be dangling from a tree in front of you. There are plenty of places in the world to see wildlife but I’ve never encountered it at quite such close range! And don’t miss the poison dart frogs. The species has evolved to be a different colour on every island – red with black spots, golden yellow, green – and the “blue jean” frog which ready does look like he’s wearing denim!”

Wildlife & birding advice

Annie Young, from our supplier, EcoCircuitos Panama, explains why her home country is a paradise for birders: “We have more than 1,000 bird species in the country out of 10,000 existent in the world. A world class spot for bird watching in Panama is Pipeline road. At only 50 minutes from the City, these trails located in the Panama Canal Watershed give opportunities to admire species such as blue cotinga, pheasant cuckoo and crested eagle. Boquete also offers also great opportunities for a different type of birds, such as the resplendent quetzal, volcano hummingbird, ruddy treerunner and blue-throated (emerald) toucanet.”

Shopping tips

Vicki Brown, Responsible Travel’s travel writer and editor, shares her top Panama travel tips: “Panama’s shopping reputation comes from its super cheap malls – a result of the canal’s imports. But there are much more exciting places to shop for souvenirs. The Ngobe-Buglé make chacara bags – woven from the fibres of leaves and coloured with natural dyes. The Kuna women stitch fabrics called molas which were traditionally worn, but are now usually decorative. They are extremely detailed and beautiful. They also weave stunning baskets from plant fibres in gorgeous designs. Shop from the communities if you can – or from the craft market in Panama City’s Casco Viejo.”

Food tips

Annie Young, from our supplier, EcoCircuitos Panama: Our gastronomy reflects our rich historical influences of the Afro Antillean, Amerindian, Chinese, Spanish, French, American and other cultures that have played essential role that makes Panama what it is today. My favorite dishes are hojaldra (sweet fried dough), tortilla (thick corn cakes), tasajo (beef stew) and carimañola (cassava fritter stuffed with meat or chicken and cheese). And you can’t miss a fresh ceviche at the local fish market.”
Photo credits: [TempChart: dronepicr] [Wildlife & birding advice - Vicki: Brian Gratwick] [Shopping: Felipe Valduga] [Helpdesk: Vicki Brown]
Written by Vicki Brown
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