chorro macho natural pool el valle de anton

Why We Loved El Valle de Anton in Panama

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The windy road up to El Valle de Anton gives you a hint of what’s to come: the air cools down as you drive, and you start to pass fancy homes that spill bougainvillea over their gates. This charming town is a haven for hikers as well as a popular getaway from the heat and bustle of Panama City. 

It’s also a worthwhile tourist destination. Our family of five planted ourselves on a beach on the Pacific coast as soon as we arrived in Panama, but by noonish we were all pinker than usual and crying out for a break. Bingo: El Valle de Anton, with its perfect weather and plethora of activities.

This town is walkable, eatable and generally a good time for everybody, even if you don’t hike the lush mountains that surround this volcanic crater. Here were our favorite parts of El Valle de Anton:

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A Stop at the El Valle de Anton Visitor Center

We came for the air conditioning, but stayed for the education. Seriously, makes your first stop the visitor center on the main street through town.

Square tree el valle de anton
Is this tree square? Doesn’t matter. The square trees trail–Sendero Naturales Arboles Cuadrado is worth a visit anyway.

A Short Hike

The big deal here is The Sleeping Indian Girl (La India Dormida), a 2.2 mile loop that rewards you with rainforests, petroglyphs and views.

My kids are notoriously terrible hikers, however, so we opted for the Sendero Natural Arboles Quadrado (the Square Trees Nature Trail). 

The good news: this was an easy flat trail that is great for little kids: we spent a long time watching leaf cutter ants and playing in the stream. 

The bad news: my kids were less than impressed. “We got scammed. Those trees are not square!”

There are a couple of marked “square” trees along the trail, shaped many years ago by humans but now outgrowing their shape. So, somewhat of a disappointment, but fantastical enough to get the kids on board for the hike.

relaxing in hammocks in el valle de anton
The perfect weather in El Valle de Anton makes it an excellent spot for a break from the beaches of Panama.

The Golden Frog (Rana Dorado)

If you get excited about saving near-extinct amphibians, don’t miss the a chance to see the golden frog.

The Panamanian Golden Frog is native to this area, but extinct in the wild. It is alive and well in captivity, mostly in the U.S. and Canada. 

This frog is a big deal around here, though, with the valley hosting a Golden Frog Festival every year, so don’t miss a chance to see the rana dorado—in captivity—in its native town.

The EVACC Foundation operates a little conservation center at the entrance to Sendero Natural Arboles Quadrado (the square trees trail) that may have been my kids’ favorite thing in El Valle de Anton. In addition to a golden frog, they had other frogs, as well as a fun gift shop with stickers as well as butterfly nets that we put to good use on the nearby trail. 

And just for the giggles, when you get done with your close contact with the frog himself, you can stay in a Golden Frog Inn in El Valle de Anton.

Chorro Macho waterfall zip line
The zip line across El Chorro Macho waterfall in the dry season. Still a spectacular place to zip line.

The Zip Line Across a Waterfall

El Chorro del Macho Waterfall is worth the drive to the end of town for the winding trails, the stunning waterfall, and the natural pool for swimming. It’s perfect for the family looking for relief from the heat.

For the braver among us, though, there’s a the zip line. It’s a trek to the top of the zip line—fortunately, my 6-year-old is tough; my other kids might have given up—but worth it for the chance to zip across the mighty waterfall. They even let you stop between platforms for a once-in-a-lifetime waterfall view and photo op.

The Animals of El Valle de Anton

We don’t get that excited about flora (if we did, we would have stopped at APROVACA Orchid Nursery), but we love us some fauna, so our second stop in town was the mariposario,Butterfly Haven. The butterflies and the informational tour kept our crew occupied for over an hour, which is pretty good for us.

We did not make it to El Serpentario Maravillas Tropicales, the serpentarium, because we ran out of time (and also because we recently watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and I just couldn’t stomach it).  However, my husband loves reptiles as much as he loves frogs, and if you feel the same way, head right over. 

We also missed El Nispero Zoo and Botanical Gardens, which has over 55 species of birds…so if you like feathers more than scaly skin or gossamer wings, this one’s for you.

malachite butterfly at butterfly haven panama
This malachite butterfly was one of many we got up close and personal with at Butterfly Haven.

Eating, Drinking and Shopping

I just assume all families bribe their kids with food to get them to do things. (No? Just me?) That works well in El Valle de Anton: there are restaurants on every corner, from local establishments to those clearly catering to tourists.

We tried both, and essentially drank our way through town—with bebidas, fruit smoothies, not alcohol (although that would have worked for me too).

Do not miss the Sunday market, a daily open-air market that is reportedly even busier on Sundays. It’s right on the main street through town, easy to find, and the produce is excellent (owing to the volcanic soil of the valley).

It’s also the perfect place for souvenir shopping, with multiple rows of stalls selling every handicraft imaginable.