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El Valle de Antón

El Valle is a magical place for a weekend away from Panama's lowland heat --a fertile volcanic valley filled with bright flowers, square trees and golden frogs, just an hour and a half's drive from Panama City.
To get there, turn off the Inter-American Highway shortly after San Carlos and head up into the hills. After 40 minutes or so you will catch your first glimpse of the valley spread out far below you, ringed by steep hills. Most of the houses on the valley floor are surrounded by trees, so the overall impression is still green and unspoiled. It can be hot during the day, but it feels less oppressive than on the coast and is considerably cooler at night. If you're using public transport, minibuses regularly leave the Curundu bus station for El Valle and taxis can take you round the sights once you arrive.

Chorro del Macho

Chorro del Macho El Valle de Anton  Panama

There is no real center to the town, but if you know where to look you'll find more places to visit per square kilometer than anywhere else in Panama. The first priorities for most tourists are the famous square trees and golden frogs, both of which can be found in the grounds of the Hotel Campestre. The tiny frogs can be seen in a large tank in front of the hotel buildings, while an unmarked path leads up into the woods to a grove of square trees about five minutes' walkaway. You may decide the frogs are more bright yellow than golden and the trees are more flat-sided than square, but they're all part of the El Valle experienceAnother place to see golden frogs is at El Nispero, a small zoo with a wide selection of native animals and birds, mostly in good-sized cages. The grounds are landscaped with artificial streams and the backdrop is the most dramatic of El Valle's hills. It's a pleasant place to spend an hour wandering round.

Mercado de El Valle Panama

A major draw to El Valle is the market held every Sunday morning in a market hall on the main road. Apart from vegetables, fruit, plants and flowers, you can buy handicrafts such as wooden bowls, paintings on wood, hammocks, molas, baskets and ceramics. Prices are usually negotiable. The popularity of the market has encouraged a string of handicrafts shops to open nearby. Many travel agents in Panama City offer day trips.

There are several waterfalls around the valley that are beautiful at any time of year and impressive during the rainy season. The most frequently visited is El Macho, a five-minute drive from the center. The waterfall is a few minutes' walk off the road on a path through cool, thick forest. The entrance fee includes the loan of a bamboo walking stick to help you cross the sometimes slippery stones. Also at El Macho, if you're not scared of heights, you can try the Canopy Adventure, an unusual way to get a bird's eye view of the rainforest. You start by walking uphill for about half an hour with a knowledgeable guide who will point out any birds and animals he spots and tell you about the trees you pass. Then comes the adventurous part-- put on thick gloves and a harness, attach the harness to a rope and whiz down a series of ropes suspended high up in the trees, passing over the waterfall.

El Valle also has some petroglyphs -- rocks decorated with what are believed to be pre-Colombian art. The rocks with their strange designs are worth a visit, if only for the walk there that gives you lovely views of the valley. It's about a five-minute walk from the clearing where you park your car (sign posted from the main road), and you can always continue further uphill past the petroglyphs. The path leads on upstream past several small waterfalls and eventually twists and turns towards the top of La India Dormida -- a hill in the shape of a sleeping woman.

La India Dormida - The Sleeping Indian

If none of the attractions appeals, just spend your time enjoying perhaps the best thing about El Valle -- the fresher climate and its natural beauty. Serious walkers and birdwatchers will find plenty to do.

Waterfall "El Macho"
This particular waterfall, which is the largest in the region(70 meters/210 feet), is located just outside of town. Within walking distance, the waterfall is open from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., 7 days a week. (Along side the entrance to the waterfall is the office of Canopy Tour, which offers tree-top canopy exploration). There are two small trails in the park, however both are relatively short. The longer trail costs $2.00, while the shorter trail is only $1.00. There are good photographic opportunities, in addition to a small pool located at the base of the waterfall which is suited for swimming.

To get there just continue on the main road through town until you reach the fork in the road, at which time you will make a right. Continue on this road until you reach the entrance to the waterfall, which is located on the left side of the road. There are several signs to guide you, thus you should have no problem finding your way. From the center of town the trip should take about 15 minutes, providing you are walking.

Pozos Termales (Hot Water Springs)
These hot water springs, which consist of approximately 5 small pools, are located just off the main road in El Valle. This facility is the only one of its kind in the area, as the thermal waters. Open from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. from Monday-Friday, and 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. on weekends, it costs $0.50 cents for adults and $0.25 for children. One of the springs contains therapeutic mud, while the other pools offer bathers with warm, hot springs.

Square Trees (Arboles Quadrados)
Located just behind Hotel Campestre, these particular trees have a square trunk at the base, which becomes round as it moves upward, taking on the look of a normal tree. While there are only a few trees of this kind, it is worth a quick look if time permits. The trail leading to the trees starts from the right side of the hotel, just behind and to the right of a small building. The trail is well marked and easy hiking, reaching the square trees in less than five minutes. In the event that you can't find the trail, just ask someone at the hotel and they will gladly assist you.

Ranas de El Valle de Anton Panama

Golden Frogs (Ranas Doradas)
The famous golden frogs of Panama are most commonly found in this area, many of which can be viewed in cages at the Nispero Zoo; there are no wild frogs in the valley itself. In order to view the frogs in their natural habitat you will have to take a tour into the surrounding mountain range. Mostly uphill, the path is thin and weaves through the numerous farms (fincas) that are nestled in the hillside. Depending on the time of year the trail can be quite wet, thus the months of December-April are preferable. It is normal, however, for the upper portion of the trail to be misty throughout the day. If you make the trip on Sunday you will often find yourself sharing the path with villagers bringing their goods to the local market in town.

The hike is quite challenging and requires approximately 2-2 1/2 hours to complete each way, depending on your physical condition; assuming you start at the area they call "La Mesa". You can take a public bus from the town to this area for $0.25, which is well worth the money. Otherwise, you can add another 1-1/ 1/2 hours to the hike. There is absolutely no reason to walk this additional section. We recommend that you bring water, there is little if any water available once you begin the hike. For the entire trip plan for 5-6 hours, assuming you allocate one hour to view the frogs.

If you are interested in taking a tour we recommend that you contact the office of Canopy Tours in El Valle de Anton. They can provide a guide at a reasonable price, but be prepared to speak some Spanish.

For photographers, make sure you bring a macro lens and flash, as the frogs are small.

About a 15-20 minute walk from town, in the same direction as the El Macho Waterfall, lies the Petroglyphs, or stone writings. The inscriptions are not overly impressive, but worth a visit if you have not seen anything like it before. All of the writings can be found on one large vertical rock face. There is no mention as to what they signify.

Continue on the main road until you cross the bridge when leaving town. Stay to the left and follow the signs. The signs will point either to "piedras pintadas" or "petroglifos", but regardless, you should have no problem finding your way as there are numerous signs. Just before reaching the end of the paved road, which is at the end of a small incline, you must turn left along a dirt path; there are signs on the left pointing to the rocks. Follow this path for about 10 minutes, crossing two concrete bridges. Just after the second you will see a large vertical rock directly in front, and there you will see them.

El Nispero Plant Nursery & Zoo
Open from 7:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. 7 days a week, this nursery/zoo provides the best location in El Valle del Anton to witness the famous golden frogs. The Zoo contains numerous animal and plant species, including various species of monkeys, birds, iguanas, etc. There is a fairly well maintained trail that passes through the zoo, which takes approximately 1-2 hours to complete. The golden frogs are located in two different areas, each one providing a good opportunity to see them up close; really difficult to photograph as they are behind steel mesh cages. Perhaps not the size of a large zoo, the Nispero Plant Nursery & Zoo is one of the areas most frequented tourist destinations.

From the principal road, make a right where it points to the police station. Pass the police station and continue straight until you reach the fire station on the right side, at which time you make a right. Continue on this road as it turns to the left, and eventually to the zoo's entrance which is located on the left side. The entrance fee is $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children between 3-12 years of age. Phone number is 983-6142, with Spanish the only language spoken.

IPAT Office (Tourism Office in Valle del Anton)
Panama's Tourism Institute has an office in the center of Valle del Anton (phone number-983-6474), which is open from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.(usually!). They have maps of the local community, which indicate all of the major tourist attractions; well worth a visit. If desired, guides can be arranged through this office, however, only Spanish is spoken.

How to Get to Valle del Anton
Buses depart Panama City from the bus terminal in Albrook. They are small minibuses, however, they are air-conditioned and spacious. The trip last approximately 2-2 1/2 hours depending on traffic, and the cost is $3.50 per person. Most of the trip is along the Pan-American highway, with the last 28 km/45 miles heading into the mountain region. The first bus departs Panama City at around 7:00 a.m. and the last bus departing El Valle to Panama City departs at around 4:00p.m. However, there are local buses that offer service until 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. that for $1.00 will transport you from El Valle to the Panamerican Highway, where you can get on any bus en route to Panama City.


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