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El Valle, in the Coclé province, is the ideal place to enjoy a cool mountain retreat and at the same time be close to the Pacific beaches such as El Palmar which is great for surfing and Río Mar which has interesting caves.
The town is located in the flat crater of the 6 km wide El Valle volcano which is inactive although there is evidence that it erupted as recently as about 300,000 years ago. It stands 600 meters above sea level, making it cooler than the lowlands.
On Sunday the town hosts a market where you can find handicraft, exotic orchids and national and international food at reasonable prices.
Natural attractions near El Valle include the Chorro El Macho waterfall, Las Mozas waterfall, the “square” trees behind Hotel Campestre, and a group of small thermal pools (which consist of three cement pools of mineralized water that vary in color depending on the specific minerals present at any given moment). There are masseurs on site, who can give a massage at a reasonable price.
El Nispero Zoo, near the town center is worth a visit. There you can see the endangered golden frog, as well as other exotic amphibians, the goblin-like tamarind monkeys and an assortment of colorful birds.
If you like butterflies, there is a butterfly farm, where you can come face to face with these delicate creatures. The serpentarium with its dangerous snakes is fascinating and scary at the same time.
There is plenty of accommodation for all budgets and El Valle is easily accessible from Panama City. A bus from the Bus Terminal in Albrook can take you there in 90 minutes, for around $5. For more information visit www.el-valle-panama.com.