El Valle, Panama, makes a delightfully cool escape from the lowland heat, with its springlike climate and exquisite setting. Situated in a steep valley among rugged peaks—in the heart of the country, just a two-hour drive from Panama City—it is known for its Sunday market, where Amerindian women take produce and handicrafts to sell. El Valle is also known as El Valle de Anton.
The valley itself is actually the crater of an extinct volcano and home to rare orchids. Your best chance of seeing the orchids—and the endangered yellow-and-black poison-dart frogs for which the area is also famous—is at El Nispero, a wildlife sanctuary located just north of El Valle (the zoo is badly run, however, with little apparent concern for animal welfare).
The nearby Canopy Adventure (http://www.canopytower.com/canopy-lodge) is where you'll want to live out your Tarzan fantasies: After being fastened into a harness, you swing from platform to platform, 140 ft/42 m above the forest floor. (Just don't panic and stop halfway across.) At the northwest edge of the valley you can view Amerindian petroglyphs.
Although the valley can be visited on a day-trip from Panama City, it is far better to plan on one or two nights there to fully enjoy the subalpine climate, natural beauty and charming bed-and-breakfasts for which it is known. Hiking, birding, mountain biking and horseback riding are all popular activities.
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