El Valle de Antón is a thriving community nestled in the crater of a long-extinct volcano, in the Coclé province of Panama. At 2000 feet above sea level, this picturesque valley is blessed with natural beauty and charming legends. Year-round temperate weather and rich, black volcanic soil make this a grower’s paradise, and the bounties of the earth can be seen spilling over at the local open-air markets, or adorning the quietly tucked-away homes along country roads.
Just two hours from Panama City, El Valle is a world all its own. The steep slopes of the ancient volcano dip down to a flat valley floor, where many of Panama’s prominent families have built their weekend homes, and a handful of hotels and eco-lodges accommodate tourists and visitors. Shops line the streets in the center of town, which overflow with visitors from adjacent communities for the Sunday crafts market, featuring the art and handiwork of several of Panama’s indigenous Indian tribes. Beyond the hills nearby lies the Altos del Maria community, and the coastal beach towns are less than an hour’s drive away.
Thermal springs and hot mud baths make for exquisite natural spas, and horse trails weave in and around El Valle looking onto the dramatic crater skyline. The El Nispero zoo and botanical garden houses a private collection, now open to the public, of hundreds of Panama’s endemic plant and animal species, as well as one of the area’s most renowned plant nurseries. The poisonous Golden Frog is a popular attraction, and a special conservation center has been set up to protect this endangered species.
Just outside town is La Pintada, a cluster of large stones bearing petroglyphs from pre-Colombian times, fanciful carvings whose meaning has dissipated with the centuries.
Venturing beyond the valley floor, spectacular waterfalls cascade into limpid lagunas, and cloud forests are alive with the fluttering and scampering of the myriad birds, animas and amphibians unique to this ecosystem. The adventurous can zip from treetop to treetop on the exhilarating canopy tour, and well-established hiking trails abound for those who prefer firm footing.
Ringing the valley are several peaks, including La India Dormida (“Sleeping Indian Girl”, whose outline traces the profile of a sleeping girl with long, draping hair. Legend has it she was an Indian princess, who fell in love with one of the Spanish conquerors invading her land. Knowing her love must always remain forbidden, she tried to take her own life, and now lies sleeping in the hills, some day to awaken.