8 Best Sights in El Valle de Anton, The Canal and Central Panama

Refugio Ecológico del Chorro Macho

Fodor's choice

El Valle's most user-friendly forest experience is available at the small, private Refugio Ecológico del Chorro Macho, west of Cerro Gaital. The reserve has well-kept trails, walking sticks, and the option of hiring a guide at the gate. It belongs to Raúl Arias, who also owns the adjacent Canopy Lodge, and it contains one of El Valle's major landmarks, El Chorro Macho, a 115-foot cascade surrounded by lush foliage. You're not allowed to swim beneath the waterfall, but there is a lovely swimming pool fed by river water to the left upon entering the reserve, so bring your bathing suit and a towel. Enter the gate to the left of the main entrance to reach the pool. The refuge has a tour called Canopy Adventure, which can take you flying through the treetops and over the waterfall on zip lines strung between platforms high in trees. Most visitors are happy simply to explore the trails that loop through the lush forest past the waterfall and over a small suspension bridge that spans a rocky stream.

APROVACA

Orchid enthusiasts will want to check out this small botanical garden run by a local organization dedicated to orchids. They have more than 100 native species, as well as ornamental and medicinal plants. The best time to visit is January to May, when most of the orchids are in bloom.

El Nispero

El Nispero (named after a native fruit tree) is a private zoo and plant nursery hidden at the end of a rough dirt road. It covers nearly seven acres at the foot of Cerro Gaital, and its forested grounds are attractive, but most of the animals are in small cages. This is one of the only places you can see the extremely rare golden toad, which has been wiped out in the wild by a fungal disease. Those little yellow-and-black anurans—often mistakenly called frogs—are on display at the El Valle Amphibian Research Center, funded by several U.S. zoos. Biologists at the center are studying the fungus that is killing the species (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), while facilitating the toad's reproduction in a fungus-free environment. The zoo has many other Panamanian species that you are unlikely to see in the wild, such as jaguars, tapirs, collared peccaries (wild pigs), white-faced capuchin monkeys, and various macaw species. Exotic species such as Asian golden pheasants and white peacocks run the grounds. Most of the animals at El Nispero are former pets that were donated, or confiscated from their owners by government authorities. The tapirs, for example, belonged to former dictator Manuel Noriega.

Calle Carlos Arosemena, 0211, Panama
507-983–6142
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $5, kids $2 (ages 1–12), Daily 7–5

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Iglesia de San José

Ell Valle's town center is basically the area west of the market, where you will find the library and the town church, Iglesia de San José, which is more a reference point than a sight to see.

Mercado

One traditional tourist attraction worth checking out is the Mercado, an open–air bazaar under a high red roof on the left side of Avenida Principal, two blocks before the church. The market is most interesting on weekends, especially Sunday morning, when vendors and shoppers arrive from far and wide. Locals go to the market to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, baked goods, and plants. Handicrafts sold here include the sombrero pintao (a traditional straw hat), handmade jewelry, soapstone sculptures, and knickknacks such as the various renditions of El Valle's emblematic golden toad. Even if you don't want to buy anything, it's a colorful, festive affair. Some Panama City tour operators offer a day trip—a long day trip—to the market on Sunday.

Av. Prinicpal, 0211, Panama
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Daily 8–6

Monumento Natural Cerro Gaital

El Valle's northern edge is protected within the 827-acre (335-hectare) nature reserve Monumento Natural Cerro Gaital, which covers the hills of Cerro Gaital, Cerro Pajita, and Cerro Caracoral. Cerro Gaital is a steep, forest-draped hill that towers over the valley's northern edge, rising to a summit of more than 3,500 feet above sea level. The lush wilderness that covers it is home to more than 300 bird species, including such spectacular creatures as the red-legged honeycreeper, bay-headed tanager, and blue-crowned motmot. It also protects the habitat of the rare golden toad (Atelopus zeteki). The bird-watching is best along the edges of that protected area, since its lush foliage provides too many hiding places for those feathered creatures, and the terrain is dangerously steep. The areas around El Nispero, Los Mandarinos hotel, and the old Hotel Campestre are also excellent for bird-watching. There is a trail into the forest by the ranger post on the right, above the Refugio Ecológico Chorro Macho, approximately 10 km (6 miles) from the church. It requires good shoes and decent physical condition and is best done with a guide.

Piedra Pintada

A short drive to the west of the Mercado, at the end of a rough road and trail, is a simple remnant of El Valle's pre-Columbian culture called Piedra Pintada, a 15-foot boulder, the underside of which is covered with a bizarre collection of ancient petroglyphs. To get there, turn right at the end of Avenida Principal and left onto the second road after the bridge, then drive to the end of that road, where a foot path heads to the nearby boulder. Cars left at the trailhead have been broken into, so don't leave any valuables in your vehicle, and leave the doors unlocked to avoid broken windows.

End of Calle La Pintada, 0211, Panama
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, 24 hrs

Serpentario Maravillas Tropicales

A small but educational menagerie can be found at the Serpentario Maravillas Tropicales, an exhibit of a dozen snake species, frogs, iguanas, tarantulas, and scorpions a couple of blocks north of Avenida Principal. It belongs to Mario Urriola, one of the valley's top nature guides, who is often on hand to tell about the creatures on display.

0211, Panama
507-6569–2676
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $4 adults, $3 children, Daily 9–5