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When is the best time to travel to Central America?

A question that comes up often when you are thinking of investing in an adventure trip is “when is the best time to go?” Today we cover Central America!

Central America covers seven countries: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Central America extends in an arc of around 1800 kms long from the northwest to the southeast. There isn’t any location more than 200 km from the sea. It’s a pretty small area with a range of different climates. We’ll break it down by country.

Belize:

Belize is a tiny country situated between Mexico and Guatemala, small enough to drive across in a few hours. Most of Belize sits at sea level, making cold weather a rarity. The capital was actually moved from Belize City to Belmopan because Belize City is below sea level and would be flooded for months at a time during rainy season.

The coolest months are November through January, and generally with no rain. When we say “cool,” we definitely don’t mean cold, with the coldest day still a humid 22⁰ C. From July/August through November/December is officially considered hurricane or rainy season. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your adventure will be rained out, it just means you need to plan around what is generally just a few hours of afternoon thunderstorms. We would recommend travelling to Belize all year round but keeping an eye on resources like www.nhc.noaa.gov for up-to-date hurricane information.

Guatemala:

Guatemala is known for its diverse range of landscapes and natural attractions. The highlands of Guatemala do receive snow during the months of November to January (and sometimes as late as February). Would you believe there is a tiny highland town named “Alaska?”

Around Chichicastenango, Lake Atitlan, Antigua and Guatemala City we’d always recommend a sweater and jeans for night time but in the jungles of Peten, riverside Fronteras and the Caribbean town of Livingston – you’ll need nothing of the sort.

If you are coming to Guatemala for volcano hikes, then we would recommend coming between November and January. These are the cooler months, but there is also no rain, which makes those hikes a little bit easier and those photos more spectacular.

Guatemala isn’t necessarily effected by hurricanes but sometimes the tails of those are felt with rain and cooler temperatures on the coast. Similar to Belize, those episodes are often just afternoon thunderstorms. If you plan your activities around that, you’ll have nothing to worry about!

Honduras:

Honduras is the lesser known jewel that borders El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. It is laced with cooler highland towns, steamy hot islands and borders the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean.

The climate is, for the most part, tropical and humid most of the year. This makes the Bay Islands–Roatan, Utila and Guanaja–perfect beach destinations in the eyes of many. Because of their coastal location, the Bay Islands can be effected by hurricanes; however in recent years, hurricane threats have never eventuated.

El Salvador:

This tiny country, the smallest and mostly populated Central America country, also boasts varying climates over a very short distance. El Salvador borders Honduras in the northeast and Guatemala on the northwest. In the southeast, the Golfo de Fonseca separates El Salvador from Nicaragua. There is a boat that will take you across the Golfo de Fonseca, but it’s not for the faint of heart, especially when the waves are bigger during the months of July to November.

Adorned with volcanos, coffee farms and rain forests, nights around Ataco and Apaneca can be cool, while the capital of San Salvador or Suchitoto remain quite steamy all year round. The surfing beaches of El Salvador make a nice destination to getaway from the heat, with a constant sea breeze. El Salvador can be visited year-round, but the rainiest months are June through August.

Nicaragua:

From the moment you enter Nicaragua, the heat is noticeably stickier than other Central American countries. Leon, although only 20 minutes from the beach, is the sort of town where you might need an air conditioner in your room.

The heat makes climbing volcanos such as Cerro Negro or Telica a little tougher, but when you hit the crater, the warm breeze is the perfect welcome to the views that greet you. Leon has reached temperatures of over 40⁰ C in summers past and on the side of some of the volcanos in the direct sun it reaches an additional 10 degrees.

Granada, being lakeside, is maybe a couple of degrees cooler but definitely not cold. The coolest spot to be is lakefront on Ometepe Island, sipping a cerveza. The breeze coming off the lake is soothing on a hot day.

There isn’t really another word for Nicaragua, it’s hot most of the year round. Preparation is key. Loads of water, a tonne of sunscreen and a good hat will keep you cool. Timing for activities should be well thought out. Volcano boarding in the morning, for example, is a good idea during the hottest months of July to October.

Costa Rica:

Costa Rica is such a popular destination (rightly so) that, depending on which part you are going to and what activities you are planning to undertake, the suggestions for your adventure trip will vary.

On the coast, you would obviously be after some sunshine, minimal rain and fewer people. March and April are the hottest times, you are outside of school holidays, and there shouldn’t be too much rain. But, the Caribbean coast and the Pacific coast vary slightly. As do the vibes. The Pacific is more resort like, while the Caribbean is extremely laid back and at times a little warmer.

If you are planning on doing adventure activities like white water rafting, waterfall rappelling or spelunking then you will want the rain! Seriously. The town of La Fortuna is fairly rain free, though, between January and June.

Turtle watching is predominately during the rainy season. This varies, though, with the breed of the turtle:

  • Leatherback: Caribbean Coast from March to July;  Pacific Coast from September to March
  • Green: Caribbean (mainly Tortuguero) Coast from June to October
  • Olive Ridley: Pacific Coast throughout the year although the nesting is concentrated from July to November
  • Hawksbill: Caribbean Coast – Cahuita National Park during September and October

It’s quite astounding how small these countries are, yet how variable their weather is!

Panama:

Basically, when the rainy season ends in the rest of Central America, Panama receives it. Bocas Del Toro, a spectacular place to enjoy when it’s sunny, can be magnificent in the morning with torrential rain in the afternoon. We’d always recommend checking the 10-day forecast.

Highland towns such as Boquete are always much cooler, perfect for hiking, birdwatching and coffee. That’s why it has attracted so many expats in the last few years. The temperatures remain pleasant all year round.

Panama City is always hot and humid and known for spectacular afternoon thunderstorms from July to November. Thunder and lightning will roll in for a couple of hours before the torrential rain hits, normally lasting an hour or so, then dying off. Expect to hear another thunderstorm around midnight.

In conclusion, it is OK to plan your adventure trip all year round. You can count the hottest months throughout as March through to September/October. The official “hurricane season” is from July until November. And the coolest months are from December until February.

As with all travel plans, we would also recommend travel insurance that may cover you with any sort of extreme weather patterns!

Happy Travels!

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