Do you like it hot, humid and cloudy? Then Panama has plenty of options for you. But not to worry… there's a lot of sunshine, too. And, the higher up you go, the cooler it gets.
Let's just say that Panama's climate has to offer something for everyone (unless you don't like tropical climates).
What type of climate is in Panama? The overall classification calls it "tropical maritime." There is little seasonal change in temperature, with warm days and cooler nights throughout the year. However, temperatures vary according to location and altitude.
The annual average temperature on both coasts is 29° C (84° F), and it ranges from 10° to 19° C (50 to 66° F ) at various mountain elevations.
We'll look closer into the regional differences further down.
Is there a rainy season in Panama? You bet! Compared to other tropical countries, Panama has quite a long rainy season from mid April to mid December. This leaves just a few dry months from January to April.
The Pacific coast gets less rainfall (average of 1780 mm or 70 inches in Panama City) than the Caribbean coast (3280 mm or 129 inches in Colón).
The good thing is that it rarely rains the whole day. You get a good downpour for a couple of hours, usually in the afternoon, and then the rain stops for the rest of the day.
Let's first look at a geographical map for an overview about the main regions and where the major cities are located.
The map shows several mountain ranges that run through the center of the country. On both sides, the mountains descend into the lowlands along the coasts, with the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the South.
Panama City sits right in the middle of the country, at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal.
How does this lay of the land correspond with the climate zones in Panama? The climate map below gives you an idea.
This Panama climate map was the best I could find. The legend is too small to read in this resolution -- but you might not mind so much as it's in Spanish.
All climate zones are tropical climates with high temperatures all year round. The temperature difference between day and night is greater than that between the warmest and the coolest month. Seasons aren't determined by temperature, but by rainfall.
Along the Pacific coast and in the eastern part of the country (orange and violet colors in the map), the climate is characterized by a more or less distinct dry season, where the monthly rainfall can sink below 60 mm (2.4 inches).
The Caribbean coast (especially in the western part, indicated by the red color in the map) is characterized by consistently high temperatures (around 30 °C / 86 °F), with abundant precipitation all year round, heavy cloud cover, and high humidity.
The map doesn't really distinguish the cooler climates of the central highlands. The main difference to the lowlands are the more moderate temperatures and an incredible variety in microclimates.
Which area of Panama might suit you best, climate-wise, should you decide to retire in Panama? Let's take a look at the three main regions where the majority of expats live.
Panama City receives on average of 1,730 mm (68 inches) of rainfall, almost all in the rainy season, from April / May to mid-December. It can get uncomfortable hot and muggy during these months.
But even during October and November, the wettest months, you can still count with 5 to 6 hours of sunshine per day.
From January to April the sun shines up to 8 hours per day, it rarely rains and it's hot with lows around 23/24 °C (73/75 °F), and highs around 32 °C (90 °F).
If you prefer a drier climate, you might want to check out the Azuero Peninsula. Here annual precipitation drops to around 1,500 millimetres (60 inches). As an effect, the vegetation is less dense, with grasslands and shrubs.
There is even a desert, in the Sarigua National Park. Interestingly, this desert wasn't formed by the climate, but by humans. It's the result of deforestation done by settlers in the last century, who created pastures for the increasing number of cattle.
We've already established that the Caribbean coast receives more rain than the Pacific one. The question is why? The prevailing winds along the Caribbean coast are the so-called "north-east trade winds."
These winds pick up moisture from the sea and then drop it on the mountain ranges that stretch along the interior of the country.
The effect (and amount of rainfall) is more pronounced in the central-western region where the mountains are higher than in the eastern part of Panama.
In Colón, for example, on the Caribbean end of the Panama canal it rains almost twice a much than in Panama City: 3,300 mm (130 inches) per year.
Especially in the north-western part, where you'll find the well-known Bocas del Toro archipelago, there is no real dry season. It rains all year.
Some people say that it rains most in December and February, which is the dry season on the Pacific side. Others claim that the rain follows the same pattern as in the rest of Panama.
For Colón, this is certainly true. The table on this World Climate Guide shows that the months with the most rainfall are from April to December.
Temperature wise the Caribbean coast is a tiny bit cooler than the Pacific coast, with average temperature ranges from 27 °C (81 °F) in April and May, to 25 °C (77 °F) in November and December.
The coastal lowlands seem too hot for your taste? Then you'll have to climb. At least up to 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) and above. There, in the so-called "tierras templadas" (temperate lands), you'll find a milder climate.
You'll still have a dry and wet season, and plenty of rainfall, but overall cooler temperatures. The popular expat town of Boquete for example lies at 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) above sea level. The average temperature there hovers around a balmy 20 to 21 °C (68 and 70 °F) throughout the year.
Above 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), nights can be cold (below 10 °C / 50 °F) , especially in the period from December to March.
The highlands in Panama are said to have lots of micro-climates. The folks at "Living in Panama" write: "In some highland areas, a difference of 500 feet in altitude can sometimes mean being stuck in perpetual low cloud cover, versus being in sunshine."
It makes sense, as the climate there is impacted by both oceans and by the variations in terrain and elevation. However, as there are rarely any weather stations in the area, there's no "hard data" to prove this.
You'll simply have to visit and find out for yourself!