El Valle de Anton with Kids!
El Valle de Anton is a popular weekend escape for families living in Panama City. Positioned in the mountains, on the floor of the largest inhabited volcano crater in the world, this quiet village is the place to come for fresh air, stunning views, hiking, swimming and relaxing. We love visiting El Valle to stretch our legs, particularly on the hike to the top of the Sleeping Indian and my kids love the zoo and the snake house. It’s also a really fun place to visit for the lively weekend arts and crafts market.
Here are our top 10 Things to do with Kids in Valle de Anton.
Never have I heard my kids scream with such delight as when they whizzed through the jungle on a zipline. Canopy Adventures offers a Beginners Tour that takes 30 minutes and includes one zip over the river. The Full Tour takes around two hours and includes a 20-minute hike during which you can spot wildlife as well as wildflowers and butterflies. Once at the top you begin your airborne adventure, zipping down four different lines until you reach the bottom of the Chorro El Macho. Be prepared to dangle over the river during this zip tour! This is the perfect adventure for all Tarzan wannabes. Ah-a-ahhh!.
El Valle de Anton is known for its many hikes and trails and it really is a wonderful place to come and walk; whether you’re looking for a strenuous, heart-racing march or a more gentle wander. My personal favourite is the walk to the top of the Sleeping Indian. This two-hour round trip ramble is definitely challenging – for both adults and children (ours were 8- and 6- years old at the time) but it is definitely worth the effort. The views from the top are magical and the sense of achievement, particularly for the kids, is even better.
For more hiking recommendations, see Five Fantastic Family-Friendly Walks in El Valle de Anton.
3. See a Golden Frog
The Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus Zeteki) is critically endangered and may well be extinct in the wild; the last time it was seen in its natural habitat was in 2008. In 2006 a fungal disease swept through Central America, decimating frog populations. For centuries the native people of the rainforests used the toxic skin of the frog to make poison dart arrows. Fortunately you can catch a good glimpse of one of these national animals of Panama in Nispero Zoo, a small privately owned zoo that little children will love. Considered as something of a national treasure – you will see Golden Frogs everywhere, from lottery tickets to coffee mugs – the Panamanian government now recognises August 14th as National Golden Frog Day and parades are held in the streets of El Valle de Anton.
El Nispero is also home to the brand-new Centro de Conservación de Anfibios de El Valle (EVACC), an amphibian study centre sponsored by the Houston, San Antonio, and San Diego zoos, that aims to study the bacteria that is wiping out the golden frog and work to ensure the amphibians’ survival.
Get directions to Nispero Zoo on Google Maps here.
4. Butterfly Haven
The Butterfly Haven was one of my children’s favourite stops on our weekend trip to El Valle. American-owned, this exhibit house and grounds is a wonderful way for kids to learn about these beautiful creatures, from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, and finally, to adult. It’s very well run and the staff really know their stuff. We were taken on a tour of the flight house and taught lots of interesting butterfly facts; my kids loved the idea that caterpillars can eat the human equivalent of 700 hamburgers a day! There are some 250 butterflies fluttering around the flight house including the beautiful Blue Morphos, one of our favourites.
The accompanying gardens are home to more winged creatures, hummingbirds and colourful birds. Next door is The Lion’s Rose cafe, a great places for post-butterfly sandwiches and fruit smoothies.
5. Thermal Hot Springs
I admit that I was the only one in the family who was curious to check out the thermal hot springs! If you have images of relaxing in beautiful, clear natural pools then you might be disappointed but we really enjoyed our time here. The hot springs consist of three warm (and rather murky looking!) pools for adults, children and babies, plus two additional pools for dipping your legs in. There’s also an area dedicated to DIY facials. It’s a little run down but FUN!
The kids actually found the idea of covering themselves in mud quite revolting, which is ironic given that they usually come back from the park covered in mud! Instead, they chose to put mud on our faces. The biggest surprise of all was how amazing my skin felt afterwards! It really is miracle mud!! I bought a takeaway tub on the way out and now regret not buying more.
6. Find the Square Trees!
Having seen what the local mud could do for my skin, it came as no surprise to learn that the volcanic soil of El Valle produces square trees, the only place in the world where you will find them! Growing in a valley created from the ashes of a giant volcano, this group of cottonwood trees really do have square trunks, even their “rings” are square. Researchers from the University of Florida took saplings of these trees to see if they would retain their unique shape in a different location, only to conclude that the trees are shaped by their local environment.
See Five Fantastic Family-Friendly Walks in El Valle, for more information.
7. El Serpentario
El Serpentario, the Snake House, was another highlight with the kids. It’s small but it is home to 14 different snakes including a boa constrictor that you can hold (we didn’t!) and a handful of “very poisonous” serpents. A local biologist is on hand to explain the various species of serpents and if you time your visit right, you might even see the boa kill and eat a chicken! If you’ve got curious kids, then this is a good place to stop for a half an hour or so.
8. Horse riding
Riding is one of the best ways to enjoy El Valle’s quiet back roads, and a great way to give little legs a rest. The horses can be found on the street that runs up towards Hotel Campastre. Rides cost $7 for 30 minutes and $12 for one hour. Hats are not provided so if you have one at home you may want to pack it.
9. Sunday Market
The market place in sleepy El Valle is a daily fixture. However, on Sundays it also hosts local artists, including some of the native indians, who come to sell their handicrafts, traditional clothing, ceramics and more. Although not grand by any means, it does get busy with locals and tourists alike shopping for a bargain. Also on sale are flowers, plants, vegetables and other food items. We found a wonderful craftsman called Antonio who carved all four members of my family into a piece of metal the size of a coin.
The market is generally open from 8am to 5pm.
10. Say hello to Samie the Sloth!
Even if you forget all the other activities mentioned in this post, it is worth coming to El Valle de Anton simply to meet Samie the Sloth! The warm and friendly Casa Mariposa is a simple guesthouse in El Valle that is home to two, three-toed sloths and one two-toed sloth. We stayed there for a weekend and had an unforgettable time learning all about these loveable creatures; did you know that sloths only go to the bathroom once a week? And that they dig a hole with their tail before doing so? What’s more, my son got to hug a sloth!
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