When to Go to Central America – Best and Worst Times to Visit

Costa Rica

Central America’s popularity amongst travellers has grown during the 21st Century. Backpackers from around the world travel the length of what is a relatively small region while Costa Rica and Panama in particular have gained popularity amongst North American visitors on shorter trips. Below, we’ll look at the climate in various destinations and assess the best time to visit Central America.

Central America Climate Overview

Central America is entirely situated in the Northern Hemisphere but is located close enough to the equator to ensure it has a mostly tropical climate with relatively small temperature fluctuations throughout the year. Seasons are less clearly defined than in most counties with warm weather throughout the year, but can loosely be split into the wet and dry seasons in most places.

There are of course some regional variations and not everywhere follows the same climatic patterns. The most obvious change comes in the Central American montane forests. Situated at altitude, they cover significant chunks of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua and experience more of a temperate climate with cooler temperatures and in most cases higher levels of rainfall.

Best Time to visit Central America – Popular Destinations

Panama City
Panama City via Bernal Saborio, CC BY-SA 2.0

Panama City, Panama

Months Average Daytime Temperature (High) Season
May to December 29 to 31°C Wet Season
January to April 32°C Dry Season

Panama City, which features in our Panama backpacking route, essentially has two seasons with the wet one spanning the final eight months of the year. It is not as extreme as in some places and isn’t officially classed as a monsoon season, although you can expect heavy rainfall at times, particularly from September to November. The dry season is a fraction warmer and much sunnier with much of the cloud that hovers over Panama throughout the wet season finally breaking up to allow the sun in.

Best time to visit Panama City: January to March

Roatan (Bay Islands), Honduras

Months Average Daytime Temperature (High) Season
October to December 29-30°C Wet
March to May 30-31°C Dry
Other Months 28-32°C

The picture in Honduras’ picturesque Bay islands, some of the most budget friendly destinations in the Caribbean, is slightly different. Daytime temperatures tend to hover around 30°C throughout the year again with a barely noticeable “winter” seeing drops to around 28°C from November to February. However, it is the final three months of the year that brings the most extreme rainfall with occasional hurricanes, although they are not as common as in some parts of the Caribbean. March to May offers the driest weather, although the islands tend to be at their busiest from December through to April when North Americans come in search of respite from the cold temperatures in the US and Canada during that period.

Best time to visit the Bay Islands: March to May

Antigua, Guatemala

Months Average Daytime Temperature (High) Season
May to October 23-25°C Wet
November to April 22-25°C Dry

The popular town of Antigua experiences a subtropical highland climate which is noticeably cooler than many other destinations in Central America. There are also sharper decreases after sunset with temperatures dipping to around 10-12°C at night during the Northern Hemisphere winter. It doesn’t have the kind of regular tropical downpours that bring heavy rain to other parts of Central America, but Antigua still has pretty clearly defined wet and dry seasons with each lasting roughly half of the year. Unsurprisingly the dry period is more popular with visitors with mild temperatures and hardly any rainfall at all between December and March.

Best time to visit Antigua, Guatemala: November to April

Monteverde, Costa Rica

Months Average Daytime Temperature (High) Season
May to November 26-27°C Wet
December to April 27-29°C Dry

Monteverde is another popular Latin American destination with its distinctive cloud forests a truly special place to visit. Its climate is loosely similar to Antigua, albeit with slightly more rainfall and a wet season stretching a few weeks longer. Temperatures are also a bit higher but still far more bearable than the hot weather experienced at coastal and sea level destinations.

Best time to visit Monteverde Cloud Forest: December to April

Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde Cloud Forest via Mike Goren, CC BY 2.0

10 of the Best Festivals in Central America

What? When? Where?
Fiesta de Palmares January Costa Rica
Envision Festival February/March Costa Rica
Carnaval February/March Panama 
Semana Santa Easter (March/April) Guatemala
Chocolate Festival May Belize
La Ceiba Carnival May Honduras
Lobster Festival June Belize
Dia de Muertos November Guatemala
La Purisima November Nicaragua
Cosmic Convergence December Guatemala

Some of these festivals are not just celebrated in one location but across the region in some shape or form, although we’ve tried to include the country where the festivities are the best. The list is by no means a complete guide to Central American festivals and there are all kinds of weird and wonderful events throughout the year so be sure to try to attend one or two even if your trip doesn’t coincide with any of these.

What is the best time of year to travel to Central America?

As well as the climatic considerations and attempts to squeeze in a few events or festivals, you may also want to consider that visiting during the most popular periods, may see travel costs rise as demand for accommodation and other services goes up. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this.

Perhaps it’s useful to start by considering the worst time to visit Central America and rule that out. The Central America wet season starts in May in many places and can extend all the way to the end of the year in some regions such as the Panama City area. However in most cases, it has started to ease off by at least December and often by November. 

Therefore for a broad trip across the region taking in multiple countries and destinations, you will want to consider that Central America in October and May, and the months in between, are probably best avoided if possible. December to April, considered the dry season and sometimes even referred to as the summer in Central America, is a good period to travel in most inland and Pacific destinations. More touristic places in Panama and Costa Rica, will see prices rise though, particularly during periods that coincide with holidays in the United States such as Christmas/New Year or Spring Break.

Bay Islands, Honduras
West Bay, Roatan via Hector Abould, CC BY 2.0

The best season to visit Central America is widely considered to be the dry one, however it is important to note that some Caribbean destinations such as the Bay Islands in Honduras and Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica do not follow the overall regional trend. Not only do those places experience rainfall throughout the year, the wettest period in Puerto Viejo is between November and January while La Ceiba in Honduras is a very wet city and it actually experiences its heaviest rainfall from October to February.

It’s not that hard to plan a trip around this though if some of those destinations are high on your priority list. Overall, anyone backpacking around Central America may look at December or January as optimum start dates. If you’re planning on spending a week or more in the Bay Islands for example, you could perhaps push that start back slightly and look to conclude your trip on the Caribbean coastline in April or May when Honduras and Belize also have some fun festivals to check out.

This piece on the best time to visit Central America was published in June 2022.

When to Go to Central America – Best and Worst Times to Visit

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