Tropical peatlands play an important role in the global storage and cycling of carbon (C) but information on carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) fluxes from these systems is sparse, particularly in the Neotropics. We quantified short and long-term temporal and small scale spatial variation in CO2 and CH4 fluxes from three contrasting vegetation communities in a domed ombrotrophic peatland in Panama. There was significant variation in CO2 fluxes among vegetation communities in the order Campnosperma panamensis > Raphia taedigera > Cyperus. There was no consistent variation among sites and no discernible seasonal pattern of CH4 flux despite the considerable range of values recorded (e.g. −1.0 to 12.6 mg m−2 h−1 in 2007). CO2 fluxes varied seasonally in 2007, being greatest in drier periods (300–400 mg m−2 h−1) and lowest during the wet period (60–132 mg m−2 h−1) while very high emissions were found during the 2009 wet period, suggesting that peak CO2 fluxes may occur following both low and high rainfall. In contrast, only weak relationships between CH4 flux and rainfall (positive at the C. panamensis site) and solar radiation (negative at the C. panamensis and Cyperus sites) was found. CO2 fluxes showed a diurnal pattern across sites and at the Cyperus sp. site CO2 and CH4 fluxes were positively correlated. The amount of dissolved carbon and nutrients were strong predictors of small scale within-site variability in gas release but the effect was site-specific. We conclude that (i) temporal variability in CO2 was greater than variation among vegetation communities; (ii) rainfall may be a good predictor of CO2 emissions from tropical peatlands but temporal variation in CH4 does not follow seasonal rainfall patterns; and (iii) diurnal variation in CO2 fluxes across different vegetation communities can be described by a Fourier model.