When a volcano crater becomes a hot spot
PANAMA. El Valle was once a quaint weekend getaway just for wealthy Panamanians. Not any more. It’s now a vibrant year-round communit...
PANAMA. El Valle was once a quaint weekend getaway just for wealthy Panamanians. Not any more. It’s now a vibrant year-round community and tourist destination, where North American and European Expats and wealthy Panamanians alike have built homes and businesses.
There’s a thriving arts community and hearty semi-retirees into hiking, biking and jogging who co-exist alongside long-time Panamanian residents. Together they have built a prosperous and welcoming community.
If your first visit to the Valley, that is really the crater of a giant extinct volcano, was to visit the thriving Sunday market, filled with crafts from the indigenous population, take time off and explore the myriad of hidden opportunities and wonders. Stay a night, or two or more. You certainly won’t be bored.
El Valle boasts a canopy zip-line, horseback riding, spas, hot springs, mud baths, waterfalls, hiking the Sleeping Indian, and sold-out cooking classes; only 120 kilometers from Panama, it is a convenient and exotic breath of fresh air.
There is a plant shop so exclusive that Europeans fly in just to visit. You can dine on genuine Japanese Kobe beefsteak for $75. There’s a snake aquarium, an orchid farm, a museum, and a zoo.
As you drive into town, look for blue morpho butterflies with five-inch iridescent wings on one side and compete camouflage on the other. This creates an incredible sight as the flashes of blue appear in the jungle, and disappear as they close their wings.
El Valle is a place worth exploring up close. Go walking, rent a bike, or go horseback. Panama Adventure Tours (PEX), part of the Crater Valley Hotel, rents bikes and conducts tours. email@example.com 215-2328
Visit El Nispero Zoo: Incredible birds in giant cages, big cats, monkeys and the famous amphibian center that is saving the golden frog. $3 foreigners, $2 adult Panamanians $1 children) Open 7 am – 5 p.m. everyday.
Treat yourself to a session at one of the spas: Los Manderinos (see Hotel listings) offers a Tuscan style, Thermae anti-aging spa experience. At the Yoguini spa on the main street, try the four-handed, hour-long massage for $100. firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 832- 2436
Talk to : Manfred Koch of Hotel Los Capitanes who organizes tours and activities without charging, even if you are not at his hotel. Follow the signs or call 983-6080.
There is a gourmet coffee shop just as you enter town, Pinocchio’s Pizza across from the church, an ice cream shop, the nationally famous Casa de Lourdes gourmet restaurant (reservations recommended 983- 6450) or the more casual but excellent Cumana Bistro 6667- 5001. Wrap it all up at Winners Bar and Grill on the main street for karaoke.
WHERE TO STAY
At the luxury end of the scale is Los Manderinos Boutique Hotel, Spa and Restaurante. Gorgeous surroundings, lovely pool and gardens, all in a Tuscany style design. This exclusive complex even has an Irish pub. www.lacasalourdes.com Tel: 983- 6645.
The Golden Frog Inn, has six rooms, two in a separate chalet by the pool. There’s a fully equipped poolside kitchen for guests. Prices from $60- $110, including a five- course gourmet breakfast, and a happy hour cocktail. The pool is huge, the views, spectacular. www.goldenfroginn.com tel: 983- 6117.
The Crater Valley Hotel has beautiful grounds, El Valle’s best pool, a whirlpool, a full spa, sauna, a stone fireplace in the reading room, a restaurant for guests and pool-side cabanas with bar service, and more. $97.50 double, 50 percent off with Pensionada discounts. The grounds are filled with things for kids of all ages; a rock climbing wall, a GI Joe crawling trench through real mud, a cable walk - the list goes on. www.cratervalley.com Tel: 215- 2328
Rob Brown, is better known to his friends and neighbors as Roberto Chocolate. Check his website www.retirementdetectives.com,