Nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano, El Valle de Anton is a beautiful, idyllic mountain community that has plenty to offer visitors looking to enjoy the outdoors. Surrounded by lush, verdant forest, the volcano's rim remains intact and is home to a host of tropical birds, so much so that El Valle has become on of Panama's most popular birding destinations. For those looking to spend more than a day, there are numerous lodging options, surprisingly so given its size. Just 1.5 - 2 hours from Panama City, El Valle de Antón is a wonderful place for a day trip or weekend getaway. See below for ideas on how to spend your time.
Panama's Tourism Institute (IPAT) maintains a small office in El Valle de Antón, just in front of the public market on the corner.
Mini-buses depart daily from Albrook Bus Terminal between the hours of 6:30 a.m. - 6:30/7:00 p.m., and the trip lasts approximately 2.5 hours. Buses heading to Panama City from El Valle depart daily from 3:45 a.m. - 4:15 p.m. For those who wish to remain in El Valle after 4:15 p.m. but still wish to return to Panama City, you can take a local bus to the Panamerican Highway as late as 6:30/7:00 p.m., and from there catch another bus to Panama City.
For those driving, most of the trip is along the Pan-American highway. It takes about one hour to reach the turnoff for El Valle, where you'll see a sign. Turn right and continue for the remaining 17.4 miles (28 km). The trip from Panama City takes about 1.5 - 2 hours.
Butterfly Haven features a flight house of over 1500 sq feet containing approximately 250 tropical butterflies, including the Blue Morpho - the most beautiful butterfly in all the Americas. There is also a life-cycle education exhibit and both areas include a guided tour at no cost, if desired.
The mission of Butterfly Haven is to have visitors experience an enhanced appreciation of nature.
A major draw to El Valle, for both foreigners and locals alike, is the Sunday market. Apart from vegetables, fruit, plants and flowers, you can buy handicrafts such as wooden bowls, paintings on wood, hammocks, molas, baskets and ceramics. The market takes place in the center of town, along the main road - you can't miss it.
Located just off the main road, the hot springs consist of several small pools, one of which contains therapeutic mud. The other four are just warm, hot springs.
The "El Macho" Waterfall stands 210 ft (70 m) and is located just minutes from town. Open daily, visitors can choose between two different trails, one being a bit longer than the other. During the rainy season the waterfall can be quite impressive, with a large pool forming at its base. Further downstream, there are plenty of shallow rivers that wind through the rocky landscape.
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 along the main road - passing the church to your left - until you cross over the bridge, and then turn right at the intersection. Continue along this road until you reach the waterfall, which will be off to the left side. If you're walking, the trip shouldn't take anymore than 20-25 minutes, and there are several signs to guide you. If you prefer, you can take one of the mini-buses that read "La Mesa", as they pass by the waterfall.
The El Nispero Plant Nursery & Zoo is more of a nursery than a zoo, this in spite of the fact that they have several animal species represented there. Visitors will appreciate the very well maintained trails and extensive array of tropical plants, which include the country's national flower - El Espíritu Santo.
The Zoo is the best (only) place in El Valle to observe the famous 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. A new frog exhibit, which is managed by the Smithsonian Institute, has one large showcase for the famous 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.
Just before reaching the central market, turn right at the Police Station. Continue straight for one block until you reach the fire station, then turn right. Continue along the same road until you reach the Zoo's entrance, which is off to the left.
Managed by the Association of Orchid Producers from El Valle and Cabuya, 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 orchid "El Espíritu Santo", which happens to be the National Flower.
As you're entering into El Valle, you'll see black signs pointing to the Nursery along the main road. Just after passing the Texaco station, but before reaching the central market, turn left and follow this short road to its end.
These particular trees have a trunk that is square at their base, and which gradually becomes round as it ascends, taking on the look of a normal tree. There aren't that many trees to see, perhaps a half dozen or so, but it is worth a quick look if time permits. The unmarked trail begins from behind the Hotel Campestre. It shouldn't take any more than 10 minutes to reach the trees.
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, and often muddy substrate. After a short walk, you'll turn left at the sign and proceed up the stairs 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 - they're all off to the left side. After reaching the trail's end, you'll need to continue a bit further to reach the lookout (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 descend on the other portion, thus completing the loop. 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. Furthermore, 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, i.e. food & water.
Cerro Gaital is located further up 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 walk from the bus stop. You can walk from town or even from the El Macho waterfall, but it's a very long hike. As well, the upper section, which winds through numerous poultry farms and private residences, has several unmarked roads making it easy to get lost. If you do decide to walk, you will need to reach the "Alemi Toledo" poultry farm (there is a bus stop on the corner), and then turn right and walk along the gravel road until you reach the park entrance.
A 20 - 25 minute walk from town, the Petroglyph (Piedras Pintadas) 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 one large vertical rock face. It's not overly impressive, but 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 bridge. Turn left at the intersection and walk until you reach the first corner, then make a right - there is a sign pointing to the "piedras pintadas". Cross over a small bridge, then continue straight until you reach the entrance off to the left side. The path to the petroglyphs is cemented, so it's a very easy walk and it shouldn't take but a few minutes to reach them.
The Sleeping Indian, who acquired her name based on local legend, is a chain of hills who's formation resembles the shape of just that, a sleeping Indian. And like Cerro Gaital, these hills help form part of El Valle de Anton's volcanic rim.
The trail, which begins at the Petroglyphs, is mostly uphill and comprised primarily of dirt, clay and stone. Shortly after passing the petroglyphs you'll reach the first of two waterfalls, "Chorro El Escondido", which sits just off the trail's left side. Though not very high or strong, it's positioned in a well protected cove and there's a nice 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 second waterfall "Chorro El Enamorado", which is larger and has two distinct sections. Further ahead, you'll pass a very large boulder off to the right side of the trail, and just after that you'll need to turn left up a steep incline - look for the sign pointing to "La India Dormida". (Note: this same trail you're on continues for quite some time, so make sure you turn left at the appropriate spot, otherwise you'll find yourself a long way from where you want to be.) This next portion of the trail is noticeably steeper, and soon you'll find yourself walking along a barbed wire fence with wooden posts - this is a private farm off to the left. At the top, turn left and stay on the trail as it hugs the farm, this will lead you directly to the Sleeping Indian. Look for a section with hand railings and wooden steps, then you'll know for sure you're heading in the right direction.
(Note - shortly after turning left at the top of the barbed wire fence, there is an intersection in the trail, with one trail that leads downhill and to the right. You can also take trail if you prefer, just follow the trail until you reach the next intersection, and then turn left. Regardless of which route you take, the trail comes up on the backside of the hill, which is very open and has stubby grass.)
Once you reach the top, there are a series of trails connecting the adjacent hills. You'll have terrific views of the town of El Valle, Pacific Ocean and surrounding valley - weather permitting. As with Cerro Gaital, the wind and rain can be quite strong, so wear appropriate clothing.
If you'd prefer to hire a guide, you can do so at the base where you pay to enter.