Nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano, El Valle de Antón is a quiet, idyllic mountain community that has plenty to offer visitors wanting to enjoy the outdoors. Just 1.5–2 hours from Panama City, El Valle is a wonderful place for a day-trip or weekend getaway.
Mini-buses depart daily from Albrook Bus Terminal between the hours of 6:30 a.m.–6:30/7:00 p.m., and depart El Valle for Panama City between the hours of 3:45 a.m.–4:15 p.m.; the trip lasts approximately 2.5 hours. For those who wish to remain after 4:15 p.m. but still return to Panama City, you can take a local bus to the Pan-American Highway as late as 6:30/7:00 p.m. and then take another bus to Panama City.
For those driving, it takes approximately one hour on the Pan-American Highway before reaching the turn-off for El Valle, which is marked by a sign. Turn right and continue on for the remaining 17.4 miles (28 km). The trip from Panama City takes about 1.5 - 2 hours.
Butterfly Haven features a life-cycle education exhibit and 1500 sq. ft. flight house with approximately 250 tropical butterflies including the Blue Morpho; the most beautiful butterfly in the Americas. The mission of Butterfly Haven is to have visitors experience an enhanced appreciation of nature.
A major attraction in El Valle is the Sunday market. Apart from vegetables, fruit, plants, and flowers, you can buy handicrafts including wooden bowls, paintings, hammocks, molas, baskets, and ceramics, many of which are locally produced. The market is located in the center of town under a fixed roof, along the main road—you can't miss it.
Open daily and located just minutes from town, "El Macho" Waterfall stands 210 ft. (70m) tall and is set back in the dense forest just off the main road. Visitors can choose between two trails of differing lengths and costs; both trails provide an unobstructed view of the waterfall. During the rainy season months, the river swells considerably and the waterfall can be very impressive, with a large pool forming at its base. Further downstream, and nearer to the entrance, there are plenty of shallow rivers that wind through the rocky landscape. Much of the area is cordoned off so you'll have to stick to the trails, and you are not permitted anywhere near the waterfall's base.
In addition to the trails leading to "El Macho", the operation also offers a zip-lining tour. For more information, we recommend you visit their website.
From the central market, continue straight along the main road until you reach the intersection just after the bridge. Turn right and continue along this road until you reach the waterfall, which is off to the left. If you're walking, the trip shouldn't take any more than 20-25 minutes, and there are several signs to guide you. You can also take one of the mini-buses that read "La Mesa."
The El Nispero Plant Nursery & Zoo is more of a nursery than a zoo, this even though they have several animal species represented there. Visitors will appreciate the well-maintained trails and extensive array of tropical plants on display, which include Panama's national flower—El Espíritu Santo (Flower of the Holy Spirit)—during the months between July–October.
The Zoo is the best and only place in El Valle to observe the well-known golden toads. Most of their natural habitat has either been destroyed or is inaccessible, so it's virtually impossible to view them in the wild—if they even exist. The on-premises frog exhibit, managed by the Smithsonian Institute, has one large showcase set aside for the golden toads and an additional 10-15 smaller exhibits for other frog species. It's very well presented and offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to see these fascinating reptiles up close.
On the main road leading into town, turn right at the Police Station. At the fire station, turn right and continue along the winding road until you reach the entrance, which is off to the left side.
Managed by APROVACA, the nursery concentrates on conserving endangered native orchids and promoting ecotourism and environmental education. Here you'll find a wide assortment of different orchids, in particular endemic species like "El Espíritu Santo," which just happens to be Panama's national flower.
Black signs pointing to the nursery line the main road as you enter into town. Turn left at the entrance, which is just after the Texaco station, and follow this short road to its end.
Just north of El Valle de Anton and forming part of the volcano's rim is Cerro Gaital, a vibrant cloud forest offering outstanding views and terrific birding opportunities.
From the park's entrance, your hike begins with a mild uphill climb on a flat, grassy substrate. After a short walk, you'll turn left at the sign and proceed to the trail's starting point. The trail, known as "Sendero Convento" is a simple loop that measures 1.5 miles (2.48 km) in length. The trail is mostly uphill and very well maintained, with three not-so-comfortable resting areas along the way, all off to the left side. After reaching its end, you'll need to continue a bit further to reach the lookout area (El Mirador). Once there, you'll find a relatively stable wooden platform on which to stand, offering terrific views of El Valle and the Pacific Ocean—weather permitting. You can return on the same portion of the trail or complete the loop by descending on the remaining section. The trail sign reads "2 hours" but most will reach the lookout in less than 45 minutes.
Cerro Gaital is often covered in clouds and during certain months of the year you should expect heavy winds and rain, so it might be a good idea to take a wind-breaker, rain gear, or sweater with you. Moreover, the weather is very unpredictable and can change quickly, so don't be fooled by how it looks from town. There are no stores nearby so bring whatever you need with you.
Cerro Gaital is further along the same road that passes in front of "El Macho" waterfall. There are public buses (look for small mini-buses that read "La Mesa") that can drop you off very close to the park's entrance; it's just a few minutes from the bus stop. The more intrepid can walk from town or "El Macho" waterfall, but it is a very long hike. To complicate things, the upper section, which winds through poultry farms and private residences, is littered with unmarked roads so it's easy to stray off-course. If you do decide to walk, you will need to reach the "Alemi Toledo" poultry farm—there is a bus stop on the corner—turn right, and walk along the gravel road until you reach the park entrance. Bring whatever you think you'll need because once you leave town there are no stores.
The petroglyphs are located near the base of the same trail that leads to the Sleeping Indian "La India Dormida" (see below.) All of the writings can be found on the same rock, and while not overly impressive they're worth a look if you're passing by en route to the Sleeping Indian.
From the central market, continue along the main road until you reach the intersection just after the bridge. Turn left, and then at the first corner turn right—there is a sign pointing to the "Piedras Pintadas." Cross the bridge and proceed until you reach the entrance off to the left; it's about a 20-25 minute walk from town. The path to the petroglyphs is cemented, so it's an easy walk and shouldn't take but a few minutes.
The Sleeping Indian, who acquired her name based on local legend, is a chain of hills whose form resembles that of, well, you guessed it—a sleeping Indian. Along with Cerro Gaital, these hills help form part of El Valle's volcanic rim.
The trail, which begins at the Petroglyphs, is mostly uphill and comprised of dirt, clay, and stone. Shortly after passing the petroglyphs, and off to the left, you'll reach the first of two waterfalls—"Chorro El Escondido." Though not very impressive, it's set back in a well-protected cove and has a pool where you can swim. Shortly after resuming your climb, you'll make your way over a cement bridge, and just a bit further ahead you'll reach the "Chorro El Enamorado" waterfall, which is comprised of two sections and considerably larger. Further along the trail you'll pass a very large boulder off to the right, and it's just after that where you'll need to turn left; look for the sign pointing to "La India Dormida." Make sure you turn left here, otherwise you get lost for sure. The remaining portion of the trail is noticeably steeper as it climbs adjacent to private farm—off to the left—lined with a barbed wire fence with wooden posts. Once at the top, turn left and follow the fence until you reach the Sleeping Indian. (Shortly after turning left, you'll come to an intersection with another trail leading downhill and to the right; you can also take this trail. Follow it until you reach another intersection, and then turn left. Regardless of which route you take, both trails will lead you to the backside of the hill. Continue walking through the stubby grass until you reach the summit.)
At the top you'll find a network of trails connecting the adjacent hills, offering terrific views of El Valle, surrounding valley, and weather permitting the Pacific Ocean. The wind and rain can be surprisingly strong and the temperature very cool so wear appropriate clothing. Guides can be hired at the base.