A picturesque mountain town just two hours from Panama City, El Valle is a great escape from the hustle and heat of the city.
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 steep valley surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and rich volcanic soil that gives way to flowers and dense tropical forest. El Valle has a near perfect year round spring climate and is home to the near-extinct Golden Frog.
How To Get There
The road to El Valle from Panama City is excellent-take the Inter-American highway and turn right 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 day tour or overnight package tour with a tour operator. Once in El Valle, taxis constantly cruise the main road and 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 a fine boutique hotel. The best lodging in town is at Los Mandarinos and Canopy Lodge.
Los Mandarinos: One of Panama's finest boutique hotels with a beautiful Tuscan architecture, handsome finishings, lush gardens and mountain views,
Right next door is a famous haute-cuisine restaurant- Casa de Lourdes. People drive in from Panama City just to eat here.
Canopy Lodge: The sister to the world famous Canopy Tower, this ecolodge is set in next to a river in lush rainforest surrounded with the sounds of birds and nature. With a simple elegant deco, it's designed for those who want a quiet yet comfortable retreat close to nature . The Lodge famous among birders around the world.
El Campestre Hotel: On one of El Valle's most spectacular properties, with attractive recently remodeled rooms, this hotel is a good mid-price option. One of the best things is their outdoor restaurant with the best mountain views in town. There's also lots of run around room- so its good for kids as well.
Where To Eat
Pedro's Irish Pub at los mandarinos features an elegant pub design and an outdoor terrace to take in the views and mountain air. The meals are surprisingly 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.
Casa de Lourdes Restaurant
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.
Las Bruschettas has good seafood, grilled steaks and salads at reasonable prices- a full meal with wine for less the $20.
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 Panamananian meal, ask for Sancocho, a chicken soup at Santa Librada. For a really cheap Panamananian meal try Refresqueria Mr. Lary where you can get a full breakfast o lunch for $2.50.
What To Do
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 zipline, a tropical zoo, birdwatching, hot springs and an attractive range of lodging options.
Open Air Handicrafts Market
Get out your cameras and your wallets. This open air market is very colorful. You can buy directly from the Indian artisans themselves. It's in the middle of main street. It's open every day but there are more artisans on Sunday.
The indigenous people walk in from the surrounding mountains to sell their wares. They include framed molas, colorfully painted trays carved from local hardwoods, figurines carved from soap stone and Panama hats.
Next to the artisans, are stands selling local fruits, vegetables, and plants.
Cariguana Spa-A Real Find
Founded and run by a distinguished Spanish naturopathic doctor, this is an exquisite haven for both health and relaxation. Dr. Jose Colastra offers the best of spa treatments, massages and alternative health diagnosis and care. Come to relax or come to get well—you will love this beautiful peaceful facility and the well-trained staff. Ask about their day trips or overnight packages from from Panama City—they will pick you up at your hotel.
Beautiful homes and mansions line El Valle's country lane. It's a preferred place for the weekend homes of some of Panama's wealthiest families. El Valle's Gaital National Monument, a cloud forest nature preserve is excellent for hiking, nature tours and birding.
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-$2 an hour!
Rentals are available. This flat valley town is perfect for easy, scenic bike riding. Or you can head out of town into the rainforest and see some waterfalls. Bikes are available at X next to the artisans market.
El Nispero Zoo
Set in a colorful garden, this zoo has the tropical animals and birds native to the region that you won't see in American or European zoos. Privately owned by a foundation on a shoe string budget, it's a bit run down- but if you enjoy animals or have kids, this is a must.
Hiking and Nature Hikes
There are two hikes with mountain scenery. The first is a hike to the top of "Sleeping Indian Woman" mountain, also known as 'La India Dormida'. You can see this mountain from the town center—it looks exactly like a sleeping Indian woman and has a legend attached to it.
The hike takes about 3 hours and has spectacular views of the valley, a waterfall and a look at a native sugar cane mill. To cool off at the end, you can take a swim in a beautiful natural swimming pool. You should be in reasonably good shape and hiking shoes are ideal, but sneakers will do. We recommend you take the hike with a guide, the trail is not clear at points and you could get a bit lost.
The second hike is a nature hike in the cloud forests of Gaital National Monument nature preserve.
Here you'll observe wildlife and learn about the unique cloud forest habitat. 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. He is also an active conservationist whose work has been important in protecting and reviving El Valle's flora and fauna. His tours are fascinating for the whole family. You can reach Mario at (507) 231- 3811 / (507) 231-2329 or (507) 6693-8213.
El Valle is one of Panama's top birding areas. You'll see beautiful birds in the garden of your hotel and the Gaital Nature Preserve is excellent for birding hikes. Serious birders stay at Canopy Lodge for one of the best birding experiences ever. It is common for birders to add 100-200 new species to their bird list with Canopy Lodge's guides.
Horseback riding is one of the best ways to appreciate the valley and mountain views. The horses rent for $12 an hour with a guide. The horses are lined up on the street that goes to Campestre Hotel. (Everyone knows the spot where the horses- 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 popular with Europeans and is a health bargain- but the facilities are very simple.
Swim in a Natural Swimming Pool
At Canopy Adventure is a beautiful natural swimming pool in the rainforest.
See the Golden Frog
The Nispero Zoo is the place 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. The zoo has a special aquariam and exhibit for Golden Frogs. Open from 7AM-5PM, 7 days a week.
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.