A popular weekend getaway for urban-dwellers in Panama City is an escape to the verdant forests and steep mountains of El Valle. Located an hour and a half to the west of Panama City, El Valle de Anton is a small mountain village within the crater of an extinct volcano. With innumerable trails, El Valle offers birdwatching and hiking enthusiasts ample area to take in all of Panama’s flora and fauna.
Not much of a walker? El Valle also has a zoo called El Nispero which boasts an impressive collection of some of Panama’s more rare species. There are ocelots, sloths, several varieties of quetzals, and even tapirs. The cages for the monkeys are a little small for this author’s taste, and zoos in general don’t offer the experience of seeing these same species in the wild, but until I happen upon a golden quetzal or a tapir in the jungle, this is the closest I suppose I’ll get.
There’s a short hike to what is known as the Sleeping Indian Girl, a rock formation outside of town. In the same vicinity you’ll find elaborate rock carvings that are claimed to predate Columbus.
After a long day of hiking and runs on the ziplines, the local hot springs in El Valle offer a perfect location to relax after the day’s activities. The hot springs and mud bath area of the town do not have the five-star accommodations many might envision; alas, the springs are fed by underground volcanic activity and have a slight, although distinct metallic odor to them, but the lack of bon-bons shouldn’t dissuade more intrepid travelers from hopping in.
Be sure to swing by the local market on your way out of town; many local farmers and artisans sell their wares to the passing city folks.