Five Family-Friendly Walks in El Valle de Anton
One of our favourite weekend retreats from Panama City is to El Valle de Anton, a valley that sits in the second largest volcano crater in the world, roughly one and a half hours from the capital. El Valle village and the surrounding countryside are a lovely escape; the weather is (marginally!) cooler and there are plenty of walking trails to choose from. The area is also home to biking, horseback riding and ziplining and there’s a zoo (El Nispero) and a snake habitat (El Serpentario) too, but mostly we come here to stretch our legs.
Here are five of our favourite family-friendly walks in El Valle de Anton.
1. The Sleeping Indian (La India Dormida)
One of the most challenging (and rewarding) walks in the area is the hike to the top of The Sleeping Indian (La India Dormida). From the centre of the village the outline of this hill looks just like a sleeping girl. The hike to the top takes about an hour and requires a bit of scrambling on all fours in places – you’ll certainly get your heart racing! Look out for the petroglyphs on La Piedra Pintada (The Painted Stone) near the start of this trail and if you pack your swimmers you can even enjoy a dip in one of the many waterfalls higher up.
The views from the top are magnificent and certainly make the climb worthwhile. We went with our 8- and 6-year-olds and hired one of the guides at the entrance, a local kid by the name of James. The trail is not well marked and we would have certainly missed a turning or two had we not had local knowledge.
Once at the top, the trail continues in a circuit to the bottom, normally a 25 minute descent, but James advised us to go down the same way we came up (a 45 minute walk). According to him, the other path can get quite dangerous in the rainy season. This proved good advice as the rain clouds opened not long after we began to walk down, making it harder for our (already tired) children to stay on their feet!
Time: 1 hour ascent (non-stop); 45 minutes descent.
Rating: Challenging; you need to be reasonably fit to enjoy this walk.
Tips: Wear proper walking shoes or trainers and bring plenty of water (at least one bottle per person) and energy bar snacks. Bring your swimsuit if you fancy a splash in one of the waterfalls and a change of clothes if you are travelling in the rainy season. A guide is recommended as the path is not well marked and forks in places.
2. Gaital National Park
After our epic climb up the Sleeping Indian we didn’t attempt this hike but we were told that the walks here in the cloud forests are beautiful. There are two ways to climb to the top of Cerro Gaital, a mountain peak within the national park from where you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. If you don’t feel like hiking right to the top you can stop at Caracoral mount, which is half-way to the summit. The entrance to this park is near Casa Lourdes and Los Mandarinos Hotel and the round-trip hike takes two to three hours, although many people bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top making the walk more of a half-day affair.
Time: Roundtrip 2 – 3 hours.
Rating: Challenging; the cloud forest means that the paths can be wet, slippery and muddy.
Tips: Wear proper walking shoes or trainers and bring plenty of water (at least one bottle per person) and snacks or a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top. A guide is essential, ask in either Los Mandarinos or Casa Lourdes for guide recommendation.
3. El Chorro Macho
This is a really fun walk to do with kids, particularly younger ones. The well-marked trail is a great mini-adventure with streams, stepping stones and the kind of suspension bridges usually found in an Indiana Jones movie. We enjoyed a gentle hour-long stroll along the path, stopping to play in the rivers along the way. There’s a natural pool perfect for swimming so remember to bring your swim gear! If you’d rather fly through this rainforest instead, you can take the Canopy Adventure zip-lining tour.
Time: An hour or less.
Rating: Easy to moderate.
Tips: Bring your swimsuit!
4. The Square Trees Walk (Los Arboles Cuadrados)
El Valle de Anton is the only place in the world where you’ll see square trees – yes, really! 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.
The jungle path follows a lively mountain river for about 20 minutes before reaching a small opening, home to the square trees. To avoid disappointment, it helps to keep an open mind! These trees may not have the edges of a skyscraper but they certainly aren’t round either. In any case, my children loved the walk, so much so that they asked us to do it again the following morning.
Tips: Keep an eye out for the giant Blue Morpho Butterflies and if you’re really, really lucky you might even spot an endangered brightly-coloured Golden Frog that is native to this area. If you do, you may wish to alert The Smithsonian Research Centre!
5. Pushchair Walks
There are plenty of quiet back roads leading off the main street to push a stroller along or to give toddling legs a little stretch. We liked exploring the area near the Thermal Hot Springs at the far end of the village where you also get a good view of The Sleeping Indian.
Time: As long as you like!
Tips: Why not combine a walk with a visit to The Butterfly Haven, and enjoy a delicious fruit smoothie in the Lion’s Rose (adjacent to the Butterfly house).
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