Panama Travel Tips: Touring the Natural Beauty of El Valle de Antón




The road that forks off to the north from the main InterAmericana highway (the Central American segment of the Pan-American Highway, which skirts Panama‘s Pacific coastline southwest from the capital) at the village of San Carlos winds its way for some 15 miles before reaching the town of El Valle de Antón. Consider this something of a prelude to your destination — the winding road, with its exhilarating views of the surrounding mountain peaks, mirrors the serendipitous style of El Valle. The breathtaking horizon as you reach deeper into Panama’s elevated hinterlands and enter a magical valley created by a volcanic prehistoric eruption becomes a constant visual frame as you explore further.

Of course, it is first and foremost the unusual terrain and natural history that form the basis of El Valle’s allure for adventure-minded, eco-conscious and off-the-radar travelers. The vast crater within, which sits in a temperate zone, some 2,000 feet above sea level, that measures five miles in length and some 3.5 miles wide. The visitor quickly becomes accustomed to the sight of the tall fir trees everywhere. This is a Panama distinct from Panama City and the palm-fringed coastline to the south.

Some of the landmark things to see and do in El Valle de Antón:

• The market: The main location is a group of covered structures near downtown, but you will find even more stands further along the main Avenida Central. The day to view the most on display is Sunday, but vendors of fresh fruit and vegetables are always present, as are regional handicraft vendors. Items you can shop for: beaded chacaras, carved wood trays and soapstone carvings made by the Ngöbe-Buglé (Guaymí), animated Kuna molas, and wonderful Emberá baskets. Also easy to take home are the exquisite little clay figurines of animals and vivid pre-Columbian style pottery.

• Chorro El Macho: This protected area of forest wildlife has a stunning waterfall known as El Macho – at 262 feet (80 meters) in height, it’s the the tallest waterfall in the region. You can even take a dip in the pool in the midst of this wildlife refuge on weekdays. Canopy Adventure Trails is a local tour operator that conducts guided tours here.

• La Piedra Pintada (Painted Rock): The origins of these hieroglyphic markings, carved into a huge boulder near a small forest stream, remain shrouded in mystery. Make your way here from the main road, where you’ll see a sign at the intersection just after crossing the bridge over the Rio Amarilla.

• El Nispero Zoo and Gardens: Perhaps the most famous resident at this privately owned preserve is the tiny golden frog, the rana dorada, who has his own enclosed building (closed Tuesdays), but also spectacular are the two resident jaguars. The gardens are noteworthy for their diverse flora, which includes the national flower, a white terrestrial orchid called the flor del espiritu santo (flower of the Holy Ghost).

El Valle de Anton Restaurants
You will find good fare at any time of day at:

• La Bruschetta: Great for a wide selection of breakfasts, fresh salads, sandwiches, juices and generous helpings of its Italian specialty namesake. (Located at Anton Valley Hotel, Av. Central)

• El Valle Gourmet Coffee Shop: Tasty sandwiches and good coffees available on a patio setting; a good spot to pick up snacks to take along on hikes. (Av. Central)

Hotels in El Valle de Antón
There is a surprising range of accommodations in El Valle de Antón – from basic hostels to higher-end hotels with spas. Among the best bets:

Anton Valley Hotel: A mid-priced tiny boutique hotel that is imaginatively furnished and conveniently located. Great value, nice staff and an overall standout.

Golden Frog Inn: Somewhat higher end, with pool, expansive grounds, and convenient location near hiking trails.

Hal Peat is a travel journalist who has covered the Caribbean and Central America for a wide range of print and online media over the past 15 years. He also covers south Florida and the Miami area for the travel website he co-hosts at

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