El Valle de Anton - Village in a Crater

El Valle de Anton - Village in a Crater

July 2023

Sarigua National Park is a landscape you would not expect at all in a country like Panama in Central America. The sandy plain of Sarigua was created after this entire area was deforested in the past. After a night at the park’s entrance, where a some dogs kept watch over our car and at the slightest sound all barked in chorus to eliminate the danger present, we got up at 6 a.m. for a walk through the park.

The park is one of the driest areas of Panama and despite the fact that little grows, it was an interesting walk during which we were able to spot several birds of prey. For a moment we imagined ourselves on the African savanna. The sand glimmerd in almost every color of the rainbow and it reminded us of the Australian outback, too. Although it was still early in the morning, the temperature fit both the savanna, the outback.

On the way to El Valle de Anton, we made a short stopover in the sleepy little town of Nata. The oldest church in Panama is located here. The Iglesia de Santiago Apostol was built in 1522 and in the meantime has been restored. The wooden pillars and the ceiling inside the church are still in their original condition. In the 17th century, the town was controlled by the local Indians, who adopted Christianity and furnished the church with gold and silver. The Spaniards eventually stole these treasures and killed or enslaved all the indigenous people.


El Valle de Anton is probably the largest populated volcanic crater in the world and is located in the middle of an extinct stratovolcano. It was formed just over a million years ago and the last volcanic eruption took place 13,000 years ago. Nowadays it is completely safe here in the volcano. When we strolled through the sprawling village, we passed one luxury villa after another. The mild spring climate, which prevails here all year round, has not only attracted the rich from Panama City, who have bought a weekend cottage here. Many retired Americans also live here and who can blame them. It is extremely green here, there are countless hiking opportunities, hot springs, waterfalls and enough infrastructure, restaurants and bars to enjoy either the weekend or even the entire retirement life.

We also enjoyed nature and the cooler temperatures and found a great place to stay on the property of Mario and his dog Bella, who, however, did not live up to her name. The property is located right by the river in the middle of a beautiful garden where birds chirped almost 24 hours a day. Mario is an ornithologist and an expert on the local flora and fauna. He immediately gave us some helpful tips on how we could spend the next few days hiking.


After our first overnight stay and a birdwatching hour in the early morning, we set off to climb Cerro Cara Iguana. From this summit, which is 898 meters high, there is a great view of the crater. You don’t actually climb mountains here, but the crater rim, the caldera. After walking along Calle de los Millionares past some of the aforementioned villa properties, we began the ascent on a gravel road. It didn’t take long and we were sweating profusely.

After almost 1.5 hours we reached the top, where fortunately the wind brought some refreshment. We enjoyed the view of the village and the mountainous surroundings. It was really beautiful. We continued our hike along the edge of the crater. Again and again we enjoyed the panorama and at some point a steep path through the forest led us back to the village. In the center of El Valle, quite famished, we treated ourselves to lunch and then an ice cream.

The next day, another hike was on our program. We wanted to explore the other side of the crater rim. We had chosen the hike to the ” India Dormida”. “The sleeping Indian woman” is a mountain formation that can be recognized from the village as the shape of a reclining woman. We climbed up the crater rim to the Mirador Cerro La Cruz. From this cross, we hiked up and down along the crater rim again today, this time in the opposite direction.


After crossing the “India Dormida”, the path led down to some waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t miss the opportunity to take a cool refreshing dip here after the sweaty exertion. At the “Piedra Pintada” we admired the rock paintings, which date back to pre-Columbian times. After our workout program was done, we had lunch today at the Fonda San Jose. Mario had recommended this restaurant to us, where the locals eat and there are good portions at low prices. We reached the restaurant just in time before the obligatory afternoon rain set in. The heavens opened their floodgates for about 15 minutes, but then it was over again and we were able to get back to our car dry.

It’s like arriving in another world when driving into Panama City. The imposing skyline of this city could be seen well before crossing the Panama Canal. So when we crossed the huge iron bridge called “Puente Las Americas”, we found ourselves in this metropolis. Reachingour shipping agent “Overland Embassy” was quite a chore, though. The road network is so dense with bridges and tunnels that merge seamlessly into one another that even our navigation quickly gave up. As a result, we suddenly found ourselves on the toll road. We were quite willing to pay a few dollars to avoid the heavy traffic that passes under the toll road, but only cars with Panamanian license plates can automatically pay at the toll booths. With our German license plate, the barrier remains closed. We were parking at the edge of the highway to think of a way out, when a car from “Road Assistance arrived. Fortunately, we were able to follow him and he caused the barrier to open for us.

At “Overland Embassy” we were warmly welcomed and after a brief introductory talk we measured the car to make sure we would fit into a container. Unfortunately, we exceeded the magic limit of 2.58 meters with 9 centimeters, so we would have to apply some measures to fit through the door of the container. So a little bit of work to do, but we were happy that the solar panels could stay on the roof. Until shipping, we now had another week. We concluded the evening at a movie theater. Something we hadn’t experienced in a long time!

Inside Overland Embassy workshop
Minor adjustments on the solar panels

After two nights of sleeping along the Panama Canal next to the parking lot of the Radisson Hotel, we had had enough of the city. We were no longer used to crowds.
For the past two days we had been busy getting the motorhome checked by the police. This is necessary to allow the vehicle to leave the country over sea. The control did not amount to much besides filling out some documents and handing in copies of pretty much all the official documents we have with us. The car’s chassis number was checked and that was it.

Along the canal it was quite interesting to watch the large container ships. We also had good company from Manfred and Marion from Bavaria who happened to be shipping their car on the same day as us, but back to Germany. After the police checks were done we headed out with our cars to spend a few days at a beach on the Pacific Ocean, not far from Panama City.

Two nights we spent at Playa Los Panama. It was weekend and the Panamanians who arrived as early as 7:00 a.m. roused us from our sleep with loud music. That it is quite normal to build a complete disco in a car and then park the car where there are especially many other people, we knew since Mexico. All doors wide open and the volume knob turned full to the right. What we did not know is that apparently it is also quite normal to do this on an early Sunday morning when the sun has just risen.


We had two pleasant evenings with Manfred and Marion. We celebrated the fact that our time in Central America will end very soon and we will continue on another continent. We cooled off just one more time in the Pacific Ocean. We would spend the next two days in the mountains again before heading back to Panama City to drive our camper into a container for the crossing to Colombia.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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