As a general rule, Sundays are meant for relaxing. Waking up late, grabbing a coffee, and heading to your local farmers market to pick up a few odds and ends for a cozy dinner with friends – all encouraged activities on this day of lazy meandering. While living and working in Chicago, I made a point to try and pass by a local farmers market on Sundays; it was the closest thing to a commitment I could make on a Sunday.
After moving to Panama, I was thrilled to find that my Sunday tradition could continue – in a quick morning visit to El Valle, you can find farm-fresh delicacies for dinner, see families out and about for a stroll, and and enjoy a more temperate climate that makes for a nice little break from the hubbub of Panama City.
I’d heard about El Valle from both locals and visitors (it’s a must-see in many guidebooks), but I was also surprised to discover that many people return to the market weekly to do their produce shopping and a bit of socializing as well. As I drove to El Valle for the first time, winding around the curves and hills leading to the market, I started to wonder if I had taken a wrong turn. I passed a few people and a handful of cows before turning a corner to see a packed plaza chock-full of colorful goods and buzzing with a lively crowd. I had stumbled upon an oasis of activity and cheerful noise in the midst of mountainside tranquility.
The El Valle Market is well known and attended by Panama City dwellers, and the market usually opens around 8 a.m. Vendors travel from the countryside of Panama to sell anything – from freshly-picked produce to handcrafted baskets and clothes, as well all kinds of sweet indulgences (like colorful huevitos de leche).
Make sure to bring cash because it’s the only currency accepted, and you’re sure to find something that catches your eye. It also makes for a fantastic one-stop-shop if you’re looking to bring back presents and souvenirs from your Panama trip. You’ll find plenty of suitcase-friendly small gifts like specialty coffees, artisan jewelry, and colorful linens.
Getting to El Valle is simple, just hop on the Interamericana from Panama City heading east until you pass the beach town of Coronado. The turn-off to El Valle is marked and to the right. The total trip is around an hour, although you might want to stop at one of the roadside stands or shops along the way for a bit of pre-market sustenance.
El Valle offers plenty to keep you busy for a full day – hiking, birdwatching, and canopy ziplining are all easy to find, but my preferred Sunday activity is a stroll through the colorful market. If you find yourself in Panama City on a Sunday and looking for a laid-back activity after a wild Saturday night on the town, this is your best bet! It also makes for a fantastic segueway on the drive from Panama City to Chiriqui and Isla Palenque. It’s a nice first stopping point to take in the scenery and grab a bite to eat before you continue your journey through the rolling hills of the Panamanian countryside.