Posted on 14 May 2010
El Valle de Anton is my favorite place in ll of Panama. At just two hours outside Panama City, it makes a great weekend getaway: Forget skyscrapers and sweltering temperatures; here, it’s all year-round spring-like weather, breathtaking natural beauty and quaint B&Bs, making el Valle one of Panama’s most relaxing and picturesque destinations.
If you don’t have a car, take a bus to el Valle from the Albrook bus station. You’ll pay $7 roundtrip for the two hour drive, which will drop you off right in town. If you need a cab to get to your hotel, head to the ATP (Panamanian Tourism Authority) kiosk right by the artisan market – the attendant can call a cab for you. There are half a dozen fantastic B&Bs in el Valle: My personal favorite is the Park Eden Bed and Breakfast, which I consider one of Panama’s top B&Bs. Each guestroom is individually and tastefully decorated and owners Monica and Cesar are warm and friendly – not to mention the fantastic breakfast, served on an outdoor patio with dazzling views of the surrounding mountains. Other great choices are the Golden Frog Inn, owned by Americans Becky and Larry, with possibly the best views of el Valle. El Valle is known as one of Panama’s top bird-watching spots, and birdwatchers will definitely want to stay at the Canopy Lodge right outside town, owned and run by fellow birder Raul Arias. The lodge is simple but thoughtfully designed, with knowledgeable guides offering daily hikes. Meals are taken at a long rectangular table, promoting friendliness among guests. If it’s upscale elegance you’re after, Los Mandarinos is your best choice. This Tuscan-style hotel has its own spa and pool, and rooms are elegtant. There’s a Irish pub on site.
So now that you’ve got your lodging under control, where to eat? El Valle is small, but there’s a decent variety of dining options to choose from. The long-time favorite is Casa de Lourdes on Los Mandarinos. For years, la Casa de Lourdes has been regarded as one of Panama’s top restaurants. Another up and coming favorite is Cumana, run by a German and Panamanian couple out of their house. You pay $25 for an appetizer, main course and desert. The menu changes once a month and opens Thurs-Sun at 7pm. It’s only been a year or so since Cumana started serving dinner, but the place is quickly becoming one of the best places to get dinner in el Valle. There is often live music. Vegetarians will want to head to Bambusillo, and there are plenty of affordable dining options in town.
What to do? If you want to do more than just relax on your hammock, I think there’s no better option than relaxing on a massage table. El Valle has three spas: Your most upscale option is the spa at Los Mandarinos, followed by the Crater Valley Spa and Yoguini’s Spa. All cost about the same, but Yoguini’s Spa massages tend to last a little longer. Once all the kinks have been worked out of your back, head to Las Aguas Termales just outside of town. As far as thermal springs go they aren’t particularly impressive, but the mud here is thought to have healing properties and a the very least, you’ll be left with soft skin. Finally, if you’ve come to el Valle you may want to go hiking. Unless you’re an experienced hiker, I recommend hiring a guide for the day who can take you to La Piedra Pintada with its interesting writings or La India Dormida. You’ll find attractive waterfalls and picturesque scenery on both hikes, and a guide can help point out different wildlife and plants. Whatever hotel you choose to stay at should be able to recommend a guide.
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Jisel Perilla is a Bogota, Colombia based writer who has written extensively about South and Central America. She has contributed to five Frommer's Travel publications, including the 2nd edition Panama guide and the Colombia chapter for the 4th and 5th edition South America guides. Jisel has lives between Washington D.C., Panama City and Bogota. You can check out her personal Latin American blog at: http://anomadlife.wordpress.com/