Some three million years ago, a volcano blew its top. The town of El Valle sits in the crater of that huge extinct volcano. With its virgin territory and lush greenery, it’s a popular weekend jaunt for Panama City residents looking to be at one with nature. It enjoys a year-round springtime climate, the air feels fresh and the atmosphere is tranquil. There are plenty of hikes and thus, knockout views to be had from any of the summits.

I’ve been based in Panama City as a writer for some months now and was looking to escape for a bit of a writing retreat, to get “away with words” and find inspiration. El Valle de Antón with its fresh breeze and slow pace, therefore, stood as a great option. There’s not much distraction there and it could even be described as a tad sleepy. El Valle is the perfect place to slow down the tempo and take it easy. It’s a very doable weekend trip that you can take on your own if you’re studying in the city for a few weeks.

How to get there from Panama City

El Valle is 118km from Panama City. You can get to El Valle easily by bus from Albrook bus station (Gran Terminal de Transporte). Tickets cost USD 4.25 and buses depart every 30 minutes between 6:30AM and 6:30PM from platform 48 (this changes every now and then so double check to be sure). The entire journey should take no more than 2.5 hours. If you’re heading out on a Friday, do leave early if you’d rather not get stuck in gridlock traffic. The last bus returning to Panama City leaves from the main street in El Valle at 3:30PM every day.

If coming by car, take the Interamerican Highway heading west out of Panama City. Approximately 90km from Panama City is the turn off point for El Valle shortly after getting to the town of San Carlos. El Valle is then 28 kilometers further.

While in El Valle, there are local buses to transport you to the various sights and nearby villages as well as taxis that are rather inexpensive. Buses always have the name of the final destination in the front window.

Hikes, waterfalls & hot springs

La India Dormida (The Sleeping Indian)

La India Dormida is the most popular hike in El Valle. It’s a mountain ridge that bears a striking resemblance to a sleeping Indian girl. The trails on the way to the summit are massively picturesque with little river crossings, valley views and mini waterfalls to be enjoyed. This is a popular sunrise hike in El Valle and it’s said to take between 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on individual speed and fitness. Always remember to take a torch or flashlight if heading out early to catch the sunrise. The “head” of the sleeping person is the prime viewpoint. There’s a southern and northern entrance where there’s a $3 entry fee.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Travels Of Panama (@travelsofpanama) on

Cerro Cara Iguana

Because El Valle sits inside a dormant volcano crater, it’s essentially surrounded by lush mountains. Cerro Cara Iguana gives you a splendid view of the breadth of the crater. Majority of this hike is on a gravel road and it’s a well-marked, moderate hike with some incline. You can reach the start of the trail after a 20-minute walk from the centre of town. The total hike time from the centre of town to the summit is around an hour. This one’s great to catch the sunset on a clear evening.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by JR’03 (@joseruben03) on

Cerro Gaital

Often billed as “Panama’s toughest hike”, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted. Experienced hikers would put this in the same category as Boquete’s Barú volcano hike. Cerro Gaital is the highest point in Anton at 1185 meters and while it starts off flat, there are some sections which require you to pull yourself up with rubber ropes. The total hike time is about 5 hours and the trailhead can be accessed by taking a $1 bus from the centre of town (in front of Peking supermarket) towards La Mesa. Tell the bus driver that you wish to go to Cerro Gaital. The epic views at the top include all of the Anton valley and beyond and given its difficulty, you’ll probably have the whole mountaintop for yourself.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Revista Trip Panama (@revistatrippanama) on

Pozos Azul Waterfall

This waterfall canyon needs a new marketing manager. Most guidebooks tend to omit Pozo Azul from the list of must-see activities in Anton for reasons unbeknown to me. Hidden in the middle of the jungle, the journey to this oasis is best undertaken with a 4X4 or quad bike. We took the latter and with countless twists, turns and bumps, the ride was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. Quads parked where the road ends, we would continue the rest of the journey on foot. This is truly a lovely place to spend an afternoon swimming, cliff jumping, rock climbing or doing absolutely nothing.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Travel Writer 🌴 Rosie Bell (@thebeachbell) on

Chorro El Macho Waterfall

A mere 35-minute walk from the town centre, El Chorro is an easy hike. This is the most popular waterfall in Anton and it’s open daily between 8AM and 5PM. There’s a $5 entry fee and the area is popular for zip-lining too.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Goran Palikuca (@_p_a_l_i_) on

Pozos Termales (Hot springs)

Treat yourself to a spa day in nature with a trip to Pozos Termales. These hot springs are open everyday from 8AM till 5PM and cost $3. Apparently, there are some serious health benefits to be had from exfoliating the skin with the mud here. The Pozos Termales are a good option for a rainy day when a hike is simply out of the question.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by | The Panama Life (@ptylife) on

Where to stay

Casa Mariposa

If you ever wanted to get up close and personal with sloths (“perezosos” in Spanish), Casa Mariposa is the place. This Swiss guesthouse became an unofficial sloth sanctuary after the owners rescued some sloths a few years back. Over time, people kept bringing over any they found in the local area and their reputation was solidified. At the time of my visit, they had two babies that were 6 and 9 months old. You get to hold and feed them and the owners are happy to give you some insight into their habits. We were informed that male sloths can be identified by the black dots on their backs. Two-toes sloths are nocturnal and with them, you have to wait to be able to ascertain their gender. The sloths are the main draw to this place but the rooms are also cozy and the owners are lovely and accommodating.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Travel Writer 🌴 Rosie Bell (@thebeachbell) on

Los Mandarinos Boutique Hotel & Spa

Los Mandarinos is one of the most upscale lodgings in El Valle de Antón. The premises feel like the setting for a telenovela with perfectly pruned flower gardens, on-site spa and hot tub, a choice of restaurants and two fabulous outdoor pools. Don’t miss the multi-jet showers at the spa – you’ll never want to leave.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Los Mandarinos (@losmandarinos) on

Golden Frog Inn

Amenities at the Golden Frog Inn include a barbecue, outdoor swimming pool, complimentary bikes to roam around and free Wi-Fi. It’s a bit off the beaten track but the lush setting more than makes up for this. Most rooms have their own private terrace and bilingual staff speak English, German, French, Chinese and, of course, Spanish.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Golden Frog Inn (@goldenfroginn) on

Caracoral Boutique Hotel

This hotel is set on amazing grounds. Caracoral is serene and secluded but close enough to walk or bike into town. Amenities include karaoke, table tennis, darts, room service, 24-hour reception, satellite TV channels, sun terrace and all rooms are air-conditioned and a patio with garden views.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Caracoral Hotel Boutique & Spa (@hotelcaracoral) on

Crater Valley Boutique Hotel

Crater Valley is a family estate turned into a boutique hotel. The owners are seriously committed to sustainability; they recycle conscientiously and have eco-friendly light fittings. A percentage of all their proceeds also go toward community endeavours. Guests can enjoy a “farm to table” breakfast and an on-site botanical trail with orchids, frogs, turtles and koi ponds.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Crater Valley Boutique Hotel (@cratervalleypanama) on

Bodhi Hostel & Lounge

A popular hostel right in the centre of town, Bodhi has dorms and private rooms with hot showers and patios and seating areas. Guests can also enjoy a free breakfast of fresh fruits and pancakes, bike rentals and yoga mats. Bodhi also has a branch in Panama City, which is the only hostel to be found in Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill), the tropical rainforest within the city’s limits.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Bodhi Hostel & Lounge (@bodhi_hostel) on

Hostal casa de Juan

The owners of Hostal Casa de Juan are incredible hosts who also offer guided walks around town and day trips to secret waterfalls. There’s a pool table that guests can enjoy during their downtime as well as hot showers, free bikes and lots of hammocks. There’s a relaxed lounge area and this spot definitely has a backpacker vibe.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Hostal La Casa de Juan (@hostallacasadejuanpanama) on

Where to eat & drink

El Valle is not quite the destination for burning the midnight oil. Take note that many restaurants close at 9:30PM and only accept cash.

Casa Florencia

This Italian spot is the number one restaurant in El Valle on Trip Advisor. Some even call this “the best Italian food in Panama”. Diners particularly rant about the Tiramisu and pasta with ossu buco ragu. Casa Florencia is open every day except Monday, and it’s a great place for authentic Tuscan food and a fabulous (Italian) wine selection.

La Casa de Lourdes at Hotel Los Mandarinos

Absolutely divine. Dining at La Casa de Lourdes is rather good value given the food quality, presentation and decadent outdoor setting by the pool. The staff are attentive and the menu is broad. There are just a handful of tables so do book ahead to avoid disappointment. The grilled jumbo shrimp on a bed of butter-poached potatoes is the star of the menu as far as I’m concerned.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by La Casa de Lourdes (@lacasadelourdes) on

O’Pedros Irish Pub

Make like you’re on the emerald isle with a visit to the humorously named “O’Pedros” pub which is also on the grounds of the Hotel los Mandarinos. The setting is lovely and they serve traditional pub grub like fish and chips, burgers and Guinness pie, which can then be washed down with an actual pint of Guinness.

Bodhi Hostel

Even if you’re not a Bodhi hostel guest, you may enjoy the lovely fruit smoothies they sell at their on-site café. If cocktails are more your thing, they’ve got those too.

Restaurante Los Munchies

The name says it all. This restaurant is right by Bodhi hostel on the main street and the moreish food here includes pasta dishes, shawarma, pies, smoothies and arepas. Think Arabic and Venezuelan with a touch of Panama.

Casa Tortuga

This place is known for their very thin-crust Italian pizzas. It might not be to everyone’s taste but at the very least, they’re sizeable.

El Valle Gourmet & Coffee Shop

This is the place to get coffee and sweet goods in the centre of the action. Their sandwiches and brownies are delightful and it’s a great place to stock up before heading out for a nature-filled day in the mountains. There’s also a cozy little seating area out back.

Spending time in El Valle has a calming effect. What’s in store for visitors of this Coclé province town is a serene weekend away with fresh air and several helpings of Panama’s natural beauty.


I highly recommend this trip for students who are taking Small Group Intensive Spanish Courses or Private Spanish Lessons at Casco Antiguo Spanish School and want to explore the mountains over the weekend. For more information on El Valle, read’s quick guide as well as El Valle de Anton’s official website. Enjoy!