Panama's Perfect Mountain Getaway
El Valle de Antón
A picturesque mountain town just two hours from Panama City, El Valle is a great getaway 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. This 5 by 3-mile crater was created when a volcano blew up five million years ago. Look up- those “mountains” surrounding El Valle are actually the edges of the giant crater. The beautiful flowers and dense tropical forest come rich volcanic soil El Valle has a near-perfect year-round spring climate and is home to a famous near-extinct Golden Frog.
How To Get There
From Panama City, take the Inter-American highway. After about 1.5 hours, you’ll see some signs that say “San Carlos”. About 10 minutes later you’ll see a small green sign on the right indicating the El Valle turnoff. Be alert-it’s easy to miss!
Once on the road to El Valle it’s about another half hour. You can also take a bus from Panama City for a few dollars or a go with a tour operator on a day tour.
Once in El Valle, to get around you can rent a bike or take one of the inexpensive taxi which cruise the main street.
Where To Stay
El Valle has lodging options for every budget from hostals to a fine boutique hotel.
Los Mandarinos: One of Panama’s finest boutique hotels with stunning mountain views, handsome Tuscan architecture, lush gardens and a good restaurant. It also has new medium size convention and meeting facilities.
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.
La Casa de Lourdes: A small bed and breakfast. part of Casa de Lourdes restaurant, one of the finest in Panama. The setting is spectacular with a gorgeous garden, mountain views and exquisite Tuscan architecture.
Where To Eat
Casa de Lourdes Restaurant
La Casa de Lourdes
For fine dining, La Casa de Lourdes features world-class Panamanian and international gourmet cuisine. People drive all the way from Panama to dine here. While dining, enjoy magnificent mountain views, beautiful architecture and lush garden grounds.
Triana Restaurant: Spanish Cuisine at Los Mandarinos
Feel transported to Spain as you dine at this fine restaurant with a wide selection of Spain’s most famous dishes. Start with more than 20 “tapas” (appetizers) to choose from. Main dishes include the classics like seafood paella and roasted suckling pig. There’s also an international menu including rib eye steak and a Kids Menu.
Dine in a scenic mountain garden with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Pedro’s Irish Pub Also al Los Mandarinos, an elegant mountain pub which includes dining on terrace with mountain and garden views. English and American comfort food is featured- the fish and chips are amazing. And yes it is a pub—a great place to hang out on a cool El Valle evening.
Las Bruschettas has good seafood, grilled steaks and salads at reasonable prices- a full meal with wine for less the $20.
Don Pepes has inexpensive Panamanian meals and a wide selection, including vegetarian dishes and tropical fruit milkshakes. 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 where you can get a breakfast o lunch for $2.50.
What To Do
El Valle’s great variety of attractions includes spectacular mountain views, a zipline adventure, a handicrafts market, one of Panama’s top spas, rainforest hiking, nature tours, biking, horseback riding, a tropical zoo, birdwatching, hot springs and an attractive choice 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. 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. These 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.
Founded and run by a distinguished Spanish naturopathic doctor, this exquisite facility is for both health and relaxation. spa treatments, massages.Dr. Jose Colastra offers alternative health diagnoses and care. Whether you come to relax or come to get well- you’ll love this beautiful, peaceful facility and the well-trained staff. Ask about their day trips or overnight packages from the beach area and Panama City – they’ll 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 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 shoestring 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 aquarium and exhibit for Golden Frogs. Open from 7 AM-5 PM, 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.