Whether you're exploring the rainforest of Costa Rica, surfing epic waves in El Salvador or munching on hojadras in Panama City, there are tons of reasons to visit Central America. This region consists of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. It attracts visitors all year round, but if you're like me, you probably want to go during the best time.
So when is the best time to visit Central America? To answer this, we have to look at the following factors:
- High Tourist Seasons
- Holidays/Events by country
By the time you finish reading, you should have enough information to begin planning your Central American getaway. All you will have to do is choose your first destination!
This area enjoys a year-round tropical climate, but generally the best time to travel to Central America weather wise, is during the dry season. According to USA Today, this period lasts roughly from November/December until March/April. If you are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors, you may consider traveling there during this time.
During the rest of the year, you will face increased humidity, temperatures, mosquitos and the odd chance of hurricanes. However, during the rainy season, the rain normally only lasts about an hour every afternoon. Indeed, this time of the year can be quite beautiful, but just be sure to prepare for the certainty of heavy rain.
Another thing to remember is that during the rainy season, airfare to this part of the world may be cheaper. If you don't mind braving some adverse weather conditions, this can work to your advantage.
High Tourist Seasons
Cold temperatures drive North American and European travelers south to places like Central America during the winter months. This coincides with the dry season and you can be sure that you may face crowded beaches, tourist zones and excursions during this time.
My best advice to beat the crowds is to avoid traveling during the obvious holidays like the Christmas season and the Easter holiday. Additionally, you should try not to plan your trip during the following US public holidays: July 4th, Memorial Day (end of May) and Labor Day (early September). If you are able to do this, then you can at least eliminate some of the crowd factor.
Of course, you can also plan your trip around one of the many local festivals that can be found in Central America. Wandering around a place without a plan certainly has its merits, but for at least part of your visit, it might help to have a focal point. To help you, I've put together a short list of some of the unique cultural events you can find in each country of Central America.
A former British colony, Belize is a Caribbean paradise. While English the official language, you can also hear Spanish and local Mayan dialects.
In February, as in many Latin American countries, Las Fiestas Carnivales celebrations take place. Locals put on their costumes and dance the night away. If you're feeling more adventurous, you may consider entering La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, a four-day canoe race from San Ignacio to Belize City. For more on Belize, check out our guide for Belize.
Most people know this small nation for its rainforest conservation and surf culture, but it also has a wide array of interesting festivals and cultural events. Every January, during Las Fiestas Zapote, the capital city turns into one big rodeo. If bulls and cowboys aren't your things, there are the Carnivales de Limon, in February.
For something completely unique, try Las Fiestas de los Diablitos. In this commemoration that takes place in December and February, indigenous people reenact a victory over Spanish Conquistadors by performing traditional dances and drinking a fermented corn beverage known as chicha.
In August, Las Fiestas Agostinas begin in San Salvador, the capital. Expect marching bands, parades and music galore. Also in August, the Balls of Fire festival, in nearby Nejapa features fire throwers with painted faces and a general atmosphere of craziness.
In July, visit Cobis and celebrate the indigenous traditions of the area at the Coban Folkloric Festival with traditional music, food and dance. On November 1-2 celebrate Dia de los Santos and Dia de los Muertos with wild horse races, giant kites and traditional food.
For something uniquely Honduran, celebrate local Garifunan culture at the annual Punta Gorda Festival in April. A mix of African and Amerindian culture, the Garifunans have lived in Honduras since the 1800s. In May, visit the La Ceiba for the Feria de San Isidro, a Mardi Gras style celebration.
This country offers perhaps some of the most unique festivals in the region. Head to the city of Catarina in January for the San Silvestre Papa festival. Join revelers dressed as animals in the Torovenado parade, enjoy music and eat food served in banana leaves.
In June, the San Juan Bautista festival offers world-class pottery, food and a bizarre swordfight: locals fight each other with swords made from bull's penises!
In addition to the typical Carnival costumes and parades, in Panama, men and women douse one another with water to in a huge water fight. Don't miss this event in late February-early March. The Fiestas Patrias is another quintessential Panamanian event that happens in November. Celebrating the nation's independence, expect traditional dress, food and dance.
So there you have it! Now you have some ideas about when the best time to visit Central America is. As you can see, it really depends on what you are looking for. I hope this mini-guide helps you to begin planning your escape. Although this region is small and doesn't get the same attention it's larger neighbors receive, it's a fascinating place you can visit again and again. As you get ready, remember:
- Check out the weather/Dry/Wet Seasons
- Try to avoid the busiest tourist times
- Hit some of the many unique cultural activities in Central America
Have you visited this area? Are you preparing to go? Share your knowledge and experiences with us. We would love to hear from you!
Be safe and happy travels! Until next time…