El Valle de Anton, Panama
El Valle de Anton, known simply as El Valle has a geologically unique setting, it's nestled in the second largest volcano crater in the world. A five by three mile crater created when a volcano blew its top off five million years ago. The result was a lovely steep valley surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and rich volcanic soil that gives way to flowers and verdant forest as a result. El Valle also boasts a near perfect year round spring climate and is a great escape from the hustle and heat of the city.
How To Get There
There are excellent roads from Panama City to El Valle- you take the interamerican highway and turn left at the El Valle turnoff about 1.5 hours from the city. You can also take a bus for a few dollars from Panama City or take a package tour with a tour operator including transportation and lodging. Once in El Valle, taxis constantly cruise the main road, will take you just about anywhere in town for around $2.
Where To Stay
El Valle has lodging options for every budget from hostals to fine small hotels. Of special note are : Los Mandarinos, a Tuscany-style retreat with some of the most beautiful views anywhere and a famous gourmet restaurant and Canopy Lodge, a world class eco-lodge for nature lovers and birders.
El Valle is the perfect day trip or weekend getaway from Panama City. Some of its attractions are panoramic mountain views, adventure and extreme sports, a colorful open air handicrafts market, hiking, cloud forest nature tours, bike and horseback riding, Canopy Adventure, a tropical zoo, birdwatching and a very attractive range of lodging options.
Lodging ranges from a world class boutique hotel to simple backpacker fare.
On the high end are Los Mandarinos and Canopy Lodge:
One of Panama's finest boutique hotels with a first rate span, beautiful architecture, handsome finishings, lush gardens, mountain views, and a famous haute-cuisine restaurant Casa de Lourdes (people drive in from Panama City just to eat here) and an outdoor spa.
The sister to the world famous Canopy Tower, this ecolodge is set in the middle of lush rainforest surrounded with the sounds of birds and nature. With a natural elegant decor and verdant setting, it is designed for those who want a quiet retreat close to nature yet comfortable. The Lodge is also a favorite for birders from around the world.
In the middle range is Los Capitanes a small hotel in a garden with mountain views run by a German sea captain and the original El Valle Hotel.
El Campestre Hotel: A hunting style lodge that is a throw back to the 1940's on one of El Valles most spectacular properties, with an on premise restaurant.
Where To Eat
For fine dining, La Casa de Lourdes, next to Los Mandarinos Hotel is the first choice with Panamanian and international gourmet cuisine. The restaurant is worth the visit just to enjoy the magnificent mountain views and the beautiful architecture and lush garden grounds.
Next door is "Pedro's Irish Pub" with an elegant pub design and an outdoor terrace to take in the views and mountain air. The meals are surprising good- including the hamburgers and shepherds pie. And it is a pub too- a great place to hang out on a cool El Valle evening.
For in the mid range , try Pinnochios Pizza on the main road. They have 10 kinds of pizza- their "4 Cheese Pizza" is a family favorite.
Las Bruschettas has good seafood, grilled steaks and salads at reasonable prices- a full meal with wine for less the $20.
Rincon Vallero specializes in seafood and pasta dishes and has a charming garden patio setting and the longest hours of any restaurant.
For German food go to Los Capitanes. Mostly German dishes like smoked porkchops with sauerkraut and a daily special. Their breakfasts are excellent including German pancakes with apples.
Try El Valle Gourmet and Coffee Shop for some coffee with dessert in nice garden setting and a quick sandwich either to eat or to-go.
Don Pepes is good for inexpensive Panamanian meals and a wide selection including vegetarian dishes and tropical fruit milk shakes. We recommend their "ropa vieja" a popular shredded beef typical meal
For a typical Panamanian meal, ask for Sancocho, a chicken soup at Santa Librada. For a really cheap Panamanian meal try Refresqueria Mr. Lary where you can get a full breakfast or lunch for $2.50.
What To Do
Open Air Handicrafts Market
Get out your cameras and your wallets. This open air market is colorful and you can buy directly from the Indian artisans themselves. Find it right downtown. It is open every day but there are more stands on Sunday.
This market is one of the best in the country featuring a variety of handicrafts including decorated trays carved from local hardwoods, figurines carved from soap stone and Panama hats. The Indians walk in from the surrounding mountains each morning to sell their wares.
Next to the artisans stands are stands selling local fruits, vegetables, and plants.
Canopy Zipline Ride
Whiz through the rainforest in an exhilarating, fascinating ride in a harness through the canopy of a rain forest ending over a waterfall.
Bike Riding and Mountain Biking
Rentals are available. This flat valley town is perfectly organized for easy, scenic bike riding. There are also some really exciting mountain biking trails on nearby mountain slopes. Bikes are available for rent at a souvenir store next to the artisans market.
El Nispero Zoo
Set in extensive and lovely gardens, this zoo has the tropical animals and birds native to the region that you won't see in American or European zoos.
We recommend two hikes. First, for a good workout we recommend a hike to the top of"Sleeping Indian Woman" mountain, also known as La India Dormida. You can see this mountain from town. It looks exactly like a sleeping Indian woman and has a legend attached.
The hike takes about 3 hours and includes spectacular views of the valley, a waterfall and a tour of a native sugar cane mill. To cool off at the end, you can take a swim in a beautiful natural swimming pool nearby. (You should be in reasonably good shape and hiking shoes are ideal, but sneakers will do. The first time it is advisable to take this hike with a guide to show you the way.
The second hike is a nature hike in the cloud forests of Gaital National Monument nature preserve.
Here you will observe wildlife and learn about the unique cloud forest habitat. Fortunately, El Valle is home to one of Panama's top nature guides: Mario Bernal, a master naturalist who has won an international prize as one of the top nature guides in Central America.
El Valle is one of Panama's best birding areas. You'll enjoy birds throughout the valley and the Gaital Nature Preserve is excellent for birding hikes.
Horseback riding is one of the best ways to appreciate the valley and mountain views. The horses rent for $5 an hour and you can have a guide if you like. Everyone knows the spot where the horses are rented, just ask.
Thermal Hot Waters and Mud Baths for a Song
For just $1 you can bathe in hot thermal water pools at the village thermal springs. For an additional $2 you can indulge in a therapeutic volcanic mud bath and even buy some mud to take home. This place is always filled with Europeans and Americans and has got to be the best health bargain anywhere.
Swim in a Natural Swimming Pool
Right at the entrance to Canopy Adventure is a beautiful natural swimming pool in the rainforest.
The zoo is one of the best places to see El Valle's famous "golden frog" a brightly gold colored frog with black spots that lives only in this region and is in danger of extinction. Open from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, 7 days a week.
The Campestre Hotel is another place to see the golden frog in a large new terrarium riverside on the property. The premises are for guests only, so plan to have a meal or stay overnight.
Just outside of town lies the Piedra Pintada: Large pre-Columbian drawings of figures on huge boulders. The local kids are happy to give you a tour for a small tip. There are no official archaeological explanations of these petroglyphs yet. Our family had a good time making our own interpretations.