Known for its square trees, golden frogs, and Sunday morning market, El Valle is located within the crater of the second largest inhabited dormant volcano in the world. It is a popular destination for city people and tourists due to its proximity to the city of Panama. The cooler climate is a pleasant change from the heat and humidity of the city and on warm days, there are always refreshing breezes that rush down the slopes of the surrounding hills.

The crater stands at about 600m above sea level while all around are mountains for the hiker to explore. To the north are Cerro Pajita, Cerro Gaital, and Cerro Cara Coral which are about 1000m high. The others are about 800m and include Cerro Iguana and Cerro Guacamayo to the south, Cerro Tagua to the east and La India Dormida to the west. They have all been cleared for agriculture and pastureland except Cerro Gaital and Cerro Pajita which remain natural forests over which clouds linger. There are trails on each one that lead to scenic vistas of the crater floor.

It is at the foothills of Cerro Gaital behind the Hotel Campestre that square trees are found. There is a path leading to a small patch of trees and in front of the hotel, golden frogs may be viewed in captivity. See them while you can for you are not likely to find golden frogs in the wild even though they are endemic to the area.

Stone Petroglyph
Stone Petroglyph
The most popular mountain is known as the Sleeping Indian Girl. From certain viewpoints, the outline of the mountain resembles a girl lying on her back gazing at the skies. According to legend, an Indian princess wandered the mountains and died in disgrace after her lover committed suicide. The realism of the outline is enhanced by the fact that the ‘face’ and ‘neck’ have been cleared for grazing while her ‘hair’ remains forested and it is in this area that the best route to the top is found. An unpaved road ends at La Pintada. There is a church and a small kiosco where children hang out offering to guide you up the mountain. Along the way, they will show you stone petroglyphs that remain undeciphered, their favorite swimming holes beneath cascading waterfalls, the Piedra El Sapo, a rock with carvings of toads, and strategic points for viewing the valley below. It is a very pleasant ¾ to 1 hr. hike that partially follows a trail along a small, melodious river under the shade of the forest canopy. Wild orchids and unusual flowers can be found but you have to look for them as they are small and overwhelmed by the forest greenery.

El Chorro Macho is a lovely 35m waterfall from the Quebrada Amarilla River. It is located within the boundaries of an ecological refuge with walking trails that take you to the top of the falls. Endemic trees are labeled and if you are lucky, you may see the stunning blue morpho butterflies. This is an exquisite spot within a compact area. Additionally, you have the option of viewing the forest from a very different perspective. A system of platforms, pulleys and cables enables you to zoom across El Macho through the treetops high above the forest floor. The Canopy Tour is specifically designed to allow visitors to observe the different layers of a tropical rainforest.

El Chorro Macho
El Chorro Macho

The Anton Valley sits just off center in the roughly circular Cocle Mountains. Consequently, there are numerous hills to explore in any direction from El Valle. To the east, there is a 2 day hike to Altos de Campana National Park. In the same direction, a half day hike to will take you to La Laguna where you can swim and climb the nearby El Picacho. Only the northern part of the Cocle Mountains remains relatively unpopulated and therefore, not as extensively deforested. In Panama, there is a policy whereby one can claim land if one "maintains" it for a period of ten years. Clearing the land is proof of having maintained it and the result is rampant deforestation even though it is not being used. Directly to the north of El Valle is Chiguiri Arriba, a five hour hike away. It is an area rich in history because the nearby Cerro La Vieja was the hiding place of the romantic guerrilla-hero of the campesinos, Victoriano Lorenzo. He fought for the poor at the turn of the century, long before it became fashionable, in the tumultuous days of pre-independent Panama. It is a lush, tranquil area where frogs sing you to sleep and songbirds awaken you. Every hill has its own stream with cool, refreshing pools and idyllic waterfalls. This is truly an area to commune with nature in a tropical rainforest wonderland.

Best Times to Go: January to April, the dry season, is best for cooler weather and safer hiking conditions. However, the rainy season has a more verdant countryside, the rivers are fuller and the waterfalls more impressive. Weekdays are preferable to weekends due to the lack of crowds and the availability of accommodations.

Getting There: From the city of Panama, buses to El Valle leave from the Avenida B terminal. By car, travel west along the Pan American Highway to Las Uvas just past San Carlos. Watch for signs to El Valle. The road from Las Uvas to El Valle is the most challenging part of the two hour trip. One and two-day tours to El Valle are available from the city if you prefer not to worry about transportation.

Clothing/Gear: Days are warm but the nights are cool so bring a sweater or light jacket, hat with brim, suntan lotion and water bottle.

General Information: At the airport or any IPAT (Instituto Panameno de Turismo) office, pick up the "El Valle" brochure. It has the best map of the area but take note that not all the ‘calles’ marked are actually streets. Some are only footpaths.

Bicycles can be rented along the road to Hotel Campestre. There are no street signs so follow the signs to Hotel Campestre and look for the shop on your left.

To experience the Canopy Tour, it is better to make reservations in the city rather than to show up as there is a limit to the number of people that can participate at a given time.

A one day tour of El Valle from the city will cost about $70-145 per person depending on whether or not you take the Canopy Tour. This includes transportation and a visit to the main attractions. Be aware that most tours from the city run only on weekends to take in the Sunday morning Indian market. If you want to spend some time hiking and exploring, it is probably better to spend a few days in El Valle or in the Chiguiri Arriba area. However, there are a few tour operators who will plan a one or two day hiking tour of the valley. A party of two traveling independently with a rental car will spend about $65 per person per day and substantially less if local transportation is used. New, well marked mini vans traverse the countryside and provide transportaion to the most remote villages.

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