From Rare Mountain Air To Black Sand Beaches In Panama

Spending a month of roving retirement in the beach community of Playa Coronado didn’t mean that we didn’t have any field trips. One such excursion was to El Valle and was mentioned by Diana’s dentist on our first day in Panama. He said, while his father had a house on the same golf course where we stayed in Coronado, he had a house in El Valle. Being up in the mountains, it was usually cooler than down by the beach and is preferred by many Panama City dwellers.

We also visited the local beach club associated with our resort. The beach was sparsely covered with houses and highrises and had black volcanic sand. From our arrival in Playa Coronado, Diana commented on the fact that the nearby mountains looked like Kauai. That isn’t a coincidence, both regions were formed by volcanos.

El Valle de Anton

Every time we mentioned to someone that we intended to spend a month in Playa Coronado in Panama they would reply, “Well you must go to El Valle (de Anton)”. After a while, El Valle achieved a status in our minds, not unlike “Bali Ha’i” from South Pacific. Really, it was an unfair comparison. While our visit certainly didn’t live up to that expectation, there are several things to see and do in the area and I do feel it was worth the visit.

The route from Coronado to El Valle goes along the coast and then climbs some steep sections and ridge tops. There were some great vistas along the way and numerous roadside stands selling produce and local art. We ascended 2000 feet before finally arriving in El Valle. The town is located in the crater of an extinct volcano and is surrounded by some jagged, rainforest-covered peaks.

The Market

Our first stop in town was the open-air covered market. The market was portrayed to us as a great place to get fresh produce and flowers. In fact, a Facebook friend posted a picture of their trip to the market, showing a shopping bag chock full of fruits and veggies.

Again, our experience fell a bit short. We were underwhelmed by the 4 stalls of produce and the 2 flower vendors we found. Perhaps being there on a Thursday deflated the goods available. There were also some local artisan goods for sale, but we have not been buying souvenirs for years. They don’t travel well.

Chorro El Macho Nature Preserve

Next, we went to a nearby nature habitat, Chorro El Macho. For $5, we had a brief walk through the rainforest to the tallest waterfall in Central America, at a whopping 115 feet. We enjoyed the flora and fauna while we crossed wobbly rope-and-board bridges along the way.

We also visited a swimming hole, but only dipped our toes as we had more places to go and see. Just outside the preserve, one of the hosts was kind enough to point out a sloth in a tree. True to form, it was taking a 22-hour nap. Diana also hoped to spot a toucan, but no luck there.

Butterflies

We also visited El Mariposario, a butterfly preserve in town. They showed us how they collect the eggs every night and foster them along to improve survival rates. We also saw a PBS video on the lifecycle of butterflies. I found it interesting to learn that their entire lifespan was a couple of weeks. Most of what they do seems to be about consuming enough food to be able to reproduce.

The main attraction was the enclosure with the various kaleidoscopes (the name for a group of butterflies. Yeah, I looked it up :-)). Some were quite ragged from fighting with each other. Who knew butterflies could be so violent?

Restaurant La Casa de Lourdes

Diana found us the best restaurant in town, La Casa de Lourdes. In fact, it was the best meal we had in Panama. Owner and chef Lourdes Fábrega de Ward moved to El Valle after a very successful period in Panama City. The restaurant is part of a beautiful, Tuscan-inspired villa.

We took our repast on the patio, next to the pool. My pork chop was substantial and moist. Diana’s pasta was equally well prepared. Our experience was complemented by the pleasant setting and a refreshing bottle of white wine. The price was in line with other places we had been to, only the food and experience were much better. I definitely recommend stopping in if you are in town.

Overall, we enjoyed our visit to El Valle, even if it was a bit overhyped to us.

Black Sand Beaches

In addition to unlimited golf, our condo rental included membership to a beach club. The beach club was about an eight-minute drive from the resort. In all honesty, we only went out there a few times because when everything is said and done we just don’t like to hang out at the beach. But, of course, we had to go see. The upper level had a bar, food, and a pool. Then after climbing down another staircase you reach the beach. There were some chairs but not too much shade. However, since we were there, we decided to put our feet in the Pacific Ocean and admire the glittery black sand beach.

On our way to the beach club, we passed many very nice and expensive homes lining the beach. Once we got down to the beach we could see a few high-rises to the left that we know were in Nuevo Gorgona. Driving it takes 25 minutes to get there but I think it would have been a 10-minute walk down the beach. To the right, there were a few more high-rise apartment buildings but all in all, fewer than 10 tall buildings could be seen along the beach. That made for good walking but not much for bars or restaurants.

We saw black sand beaches in Hawaii, but the beach in Coronado was much sparkier. Needless to say, even though the beach was interesting, it wasn’t compelling enough for us to return. I guess we are water people and not beach people.

Which of these places piques your interest?

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