It is said that long ago, in a lush, forested valley surrounded by majestic mountains, a beautiful Indian princess fell madly in love with a Spaniard who, along with his fellow colonial officials, had come to occupy the territory that belonged to her tribe. The princess’ father, however, was a powerful Indian chief and insisted she marry within her own people. Among her many suitors stood out a brave young warrior who desperately wanted to win the princess’ favor. But the princess was young and rebellious, and she chose the Spaniard over the Indian warrior. Rejected and despondent over his unrequited love, the warrior took his own life by hurling himself from the edge of a mountain, right before the horrified eyes of the princess. She swore never to betray her race, and refused to see the Spaniard ever again. The sadness and guilt the princess felt led her to wander the mountains alone, lamenting her misfortune, until the forest and mountains took pity and lay her down to sleep forever. All that is left of the tragic love story is the figure of the sleeping Indian princess, preserved to this day in the shape of one of the mountains that overlook the Valley of Anton.
El Valle, as it is commonly referred to, still evokes in visitors a sense of beauty, honor and magic that the Legend of the Sleeping Indian (La India Dormida) inspires. Only two hours west of Panama City, it could very well be another world. In contrast to the fast-paced, modern life of the city, El Valle offers a taste of small-town, traditional Panama. Nestled in the second largest inhabited volcanic crated in the world, the village enjoys a mild, spring-like climate while the numerous leisure activities available in the area provide respite to many urbanites, making El Valle a popular weekend getaway.
The town and its surrounding areas are accessible on paths that are great for hiking, walking, and horseback riding. Popular destinations include the ancient petroglyphs at the foot of the Sleeping Indian, jungle hot springs with mineral water and clay, and several waterfalls, among which the Chorro El Macho, with its 70-meter drop, is one of the most spectacular. Along the way, you can keep an eye out for the golden frogs and square trees unique to El Valle, photograph the scenery, or do a little bird watching. The town itself is known for its famous weekend arts and crafts market, where you can purchase ceramics, wooden trays, baskets, hats, textiles, jewelry, decorative painted squashes, and other keepsakes, in addition to fruits, plants and orchids. An orchid center run by a non-profit organization cultivates and conserves endangered local and regional orchids and is open to the public. There is also a zoo called El Nispero, featuring seven acres of birds, monkeys, tapirs, ocelots, and a botanical garden. More wildlife can be seen at the Serpentarium, while visitors can learn about the natural and cultural history of the region at the El Valle Museum.
El Valle is located only 120 kilometers from Panama City, and makes for an easy and fun day trip. If you are heading there by car, take the Interamerican Highway west out of Panama City. Just past San Carlos, at Las Uvas, you will see the turn off for El Valle to your right, and the town will be just 28 kilometers further down the road. Daily bus transportation is also available from the Albrook Transport Terminal. Buses leave every thirty minutes, and you will have to get off at Las Uvas (where there is a pedestrian overpass over the highway), and from there take a minibus to El Valle. The town offers a broad range of lodging, including eco-resorts, hotels, hostals, bed and breakfasts, apartments, cabins, and campsites for rent. And with over thirty restaurants, cafes and pubs featuring Panamanian and international cuisine, you will be free to tour and sightsee without having to worry about your next meal. Transport within the region is quite easy. Many attractions are within walking distance, or you can catch a ride from a taxi or rent a bicycle.