El Valle de Anton, also known as Anton Valley, is an active community and central gateway to many of the environmental features that Panama has to offer. Even more intriguing, is the fact that it is located in the crater of a volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. After seeing it repeatedly listed among the top attractions in Panama, I added it to the list of places to visit one day during my long stay in Panama. That day came soon enough, and the experience was both more and less than I expected.
Getting to Anton Valley
Anton Valley can be reached easily by bus from almost anywhere in Panama. Group and private tours are also available through cab drivers and professional tour companies. It is also possible to embark on a solo self-guided/self-paced tour. In addition to the town itself, some of the main attractions in Anton Valley include a zoo, hiking trails, waterfalls, thermal springs, and a souvenir/produce market. With the exception of the market, entrance into each of the venues cost a small fee with or without a tour guide. For my own convenience, I decided to utilize a Coronado based cab driver to conduct a personal tour for the same $65 that I was prepared to pay for a shared tour. Most of the professional tours that I located online departed from Panama City which was about ninety minutes and 40 miles out of the way for me. The driver picked me up sometime after 9:00 am and soon enough, we were in the nearby town of San Carlos and started trekking up a 16 mile, steep, curvy, narrow roadway that would eventually descend into Anton valley. I am not sure how high up we got, but at some points it felt as if we were on the same level as the other mountain tops in the near distance.
The Community of Anton Valley
Officially, the tour began in Anton Valley’s very small and attractive town center which seemed to include all of the services and businesses that a small community might need. It was shortly after 10:00 am on a Friday, but in the town center and along the main road, most businesses and restaurants, appeared to be closed. Weekends, especially Sundays, are said to be their peak visiting hours. Even by car, the drive between sites took several minutes. It also rained on and off, so hiking or biking alone would have been extremely challenging for me in such unfamiliar terrain. Going from point to point, we passed farms, homes, and a lot of greenery that looked like as if they had never been touched. Many of the homes along the route seemed more like retreats – gated, far from the road and with the ever-present mountains in the background.
Our first stop was the zoo, entrance fee $5. In a tropical climate such as Panama, I expected the zoo to include a wider range of wildcats, more species of monkeys, and maybe even animals that I have never heard of. To my disappointment, the zoo was filled with pheasants, goats, other common animals and only a few indigenous ones. The only distinguishing element to the zoo was the Amphibian Conservation Center which I chose not to explore.
Next on our stop was the market. At the time that we stopped, there were far more vendors than tourists. The trip to the market was worth the stop since they sold the largest variety of items than any of the stands that I had seen around Coronado. The trip was looking up and I now highly anticipated the next leg of the tour to El Macho, one of several waterfalls in the area.
El Macho Waterfall
At the entrance to the waterfall, I paid another $5 fee and in exchange, I was handed a walking stick. Until then, I expected to walk confidently along a well beaten path to the waterfall, but looking around, it was obvious that we were about to enter a jungle. Inside the jungle, the cluster of trees and other plants were so thick that I could barely see the sky. The ground and surrounding area already felt permanently damp, and then, it began to rain. Since the rain made the surface more slippery, using the stick felt more impractical than useful. I tried walking cautiously instead. I walked cautiously on the leafy paths, cautiously up or down the slippery steps carved in the stones, and cautiously along the wooden bridges, including a swinging rope bridge. Having endured such treacherous conditions to get to the 115-foot waterfall, I was disappointed that the official viewing point was still a considerable distance away and that the waterfall itself was not as picturesque as I had imagined.
The Swimming Hole
Deeper into the jungle, we came to a natural pool of water with what appeared to be a man-made pool side and drainage system. The drain was clearly useful for controlling runoff to or from elsewhere and, as demonstrated by the solo swimmer that we encountered, the poolside was useful for taking breaks when swimming deep in the jungle. Our final stop, the thermal springs, was still several miles away. The rain increased in intensity and I decided to forego the thermal springs and head back to the Coronado area for lunch. On the way back, we again drove through the town. It was now after noon and the town center was crowded. Traffic was heavy in some places with school children being dropped off and picked up from various spots along the way. Many people stood under the store fronts for shelter from the rain and others went about business as usual. Back in the cab, I took stock of the day’s venture.
Thoughts and Recommendations
For the simple fact that I was able to get a personal tour that included an hour-long drive to and from Anton Valley for just $65, I believe the trip was worth it. Because I fully expected a packaged tour with a memorized spiel for each stop, I was not disappointed to find that Anton Valley was more than the offer suggested. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Anton Valley is more of a destination within a destination and not just a few hours excursion. On my do over visit and for anyone else that plans on making the journey to Anton Valley, my recommendations include being prepared to soak in the thermal springs, visiting one of the other waterfalls, and eating at one of the local restaurants. If pressed for time, I suggest making the zoo and the El Macho waterfall the last stops on your visit or not including them at all.