El Valle de Antón is a place my wife, and I have wanted to visit for a long time. Even though my wife grew up in Panama, she had never been to El Valle. My sister and her boyfriend actually visited El Valle in June when they vacationing in Panama, and got us interested in the idea. A couple of months ago, we found a deal on Groupon for Crater Valley, a bed and breakfast in El Valle, and decided to purchase it. Last weekend, we made use of the Groupon and took our trip to celebrate my wife’s birthday. What a great idea it was. Even though we only ended up spending about 24 hours in El Valle in total, we quickly fell in love with the area, and can’t wait to be back. Retirement is many decades off in the future for my wife and I, but we could definitely see El Valle as a top choice. As is the case in all of my vacation blogs, this one will also be mostly pictures, taken by my wonderfully talented wife. If you haven’t yet, make sure to like her page Everlasting Memories by Suzanne Long. She does weddings, couples, maternity, birthdays, news, nature, and other types of photography. She posts a lot of beautiful pictures of Panama on her page, so make sure to follow!
For those of you unfamiliar with El Valle de Antón, it is a small town located about a 2 hour drive outside of Panama City in a crater caused by a long ago volcanic eruption. The town is located in the mountains, and is 600 meters (2000ft) above sea level. To get there from Panama City, you take the Carretera Americana (and the Autopista Panama-La Chorrerra when they merge) past Coronado until you see the road for El Valle. You turn right on that road, and follow it straight into El Valle. The El Valle road is one lane each direction, and up and down mountains the whole way, so expect a slow trip (the posted speed limit is 40km/h, but you’ll be lucky to hit that if there are other cars on the road). We had a lot of rain on our trip, so the whole ride took us about 2 1/2 hours until we arrived at our hotel.
Once we pulled into the grounds of Crater Valley, we knew we made the right decision, both in terms of the area to visit and the hotel to stay at. Despite being a small bed and breakfast (they appeared to have maybe 10 rooms total), the grounds were absolutely massive, and clearly had a lot of detail put into them. Even though we were stuck largely under covering because of the rain, we could still get a good sense for how beautiful it was. The whole hotel, minus the rooms, is open air, so no areas are completely surrounded by walls. This allowed us to get a good view of the nature any time we were sitting at the restaurant or common areas.
The rooms, while not overly huge, were still gorgeous. The whole place had a rustic feel, where you felt like you were staying out somewhere a part of nature, and not in a hotel (if you ignore the wall mounted plasma TV). The door locks were old fashion key locks, not hotel key cards. The bathrooms were especially huge, and they contained a rainforest shower. To those who have never showered in one of those before, you don’t know what you’re missing. Overall, we were very happy with the quality of the accommodations.
After we got settled in, the first thing we did was get an early dinner. Crater Valley has a restaurant, which is located in the covered area where Suzanne was sitting in the earlier picture. There was no menu, the staff just asked us if we wanted chicken, beef, or fish, and we got to choose our side. It came with bread, salad, and a glass of wine. The food didn’t end up being that great, but it was good enough, and the whole meal ended up costing us $25 for the two of us. That price was worth it for being able to eat in the great setting. It was still better than a more expensive meal we had later on that night at a local restaurant (El Valle didn’t exactly strike me as a diners paradise, but we didn’t come for the food).
One thing about Crater Valley that really stuck out was the little details and the level of service. I’ve spoken at length about Panamanian service before, and lets just say in most places, even expensive ones, it’s normally not renowned. But the service at Crater Valley rivaled service I’ve gotten at great hotels anywhere in the world. Even though there was only a handful of guests at the hotel, there were 4-5 staff people around at all times, and they were always trying to help. The place also got all of the details right, by paying attention to the little things that make a stay go from good to great. For example, they lit a fire for us in the common area (it was chilly enough at night for a fire), and later at night they made up our room with swan towels, roses, and chocolate on the bed.
By nighttime, the rain had stopped, so we were able to walk the grounds more. We also got a treat as Roberto, one of the staff members, offered to show us the frogs that come out at night at the lilies in the in the back of the property (which is usually after 9pm). With his help, we were able to see a number of different green and yellow frogs (although not the very rare and poisonous golden frog that lives in the El Valle region).
Later that night we walked the grounds some more, and just hung out to take in the scenery. Unfortunately, there was still some cloud cover from the rains earlier in the day, so we couldn’t see very many stars. I’m sure if it had been a clearer day, they would’ve been amazing. We decided to tuck in early to get a jump on the day, but not before grabbing a few more snaps of the grounds.
The next morning, we woke up and started our day with the breakfast part of being at a “bed and breakfast.” Like dinner, the breakfast was just okay. The food is really the only part of Crater Valley we weren’t exactly crazy about. The breakfast includes a mini-buffet that’s really just fresh fruits, juice, and different cereals. Once you are seated, they come around to your table and bring bread and jam, and will cook you eggs made to order. Overall it was a decent breakfast (especially since it was included in the room rate), but didn’t blow us away.
There was no rain during the morning, so that’s when we really got a chance to tour the grounds and see how beautiful the place was. We really could have spent an entire day just walking them and taking pictures (El Valle is especially a great place if you like taking pictures).
We also got to see a ton of different beautiful plants and flowers, as well as some different smaller creatures such as butterflies and lizards. It was a type of beauty we can’t get anywhere in Panama City (and I think some of it is quite unique for the country), so we were really blown away by it. Here are some of our favorite pictures of the plants, flowers, and creatures.
Crater Valley also bills itself as an “adventurespa.” This meant that across the property, in addition to the natural beauty, there were lots of different playgrounds, obstacle courses, and even a rock wall. I’m pretty sure the rock wall cost extra, but if you wanted to swing on a rope over a mud pit or run through tires, that’s something you could do all on your own. The hotel also had a spa, with pretty reasonable prices for a nice hotel. I remember the cost was $35 for a 30 minute massage, and $50 for an hour. Suzanne and I were thinking of using their services, but we ended up being to busy to fit it in this trip. If we go back, we will definitely try it out.
At the end of our stay at Crater Valley, our only regret is that we didn’t stay for longer. But since Suzanne works 6 days a week including Saturday mornings, we could only spare the time for the one night. I would strongly recommend the hotel to anyone looking for a place to stay in El Valle. The regular room rates are somewhat pricey, from $184-$204 plus tax during low season, but I honestly think it is worth it if you are looking for a beautiful location and great service. We were lucky to be able to catch a Groupon for the hotel, and they recently ran an offer on Oftera Simple that just finished, so they may run a deal again in the future. Either way, I strongly recommend staying at Crater Valley when you are in El Valle.
I was originally going to try to do my entire El Valle trip in one blog post, but as I got about a third of the way through this one, I realized that just talking about Crater Valley would be enough for one post. Tomorrow I will be back with part two of our trip, which includes our visit the Butterfly Haven, the Victoriano Lorenzo Museum, and the El Macho Waterfall. Tune back then for plenty of more pictures! UPDATE: Here’s Part 2!