Week 2 of my current 52 week round-the-world trip was supposed to see me on a sailboat from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia. But as per usual when it comes to my excellent planning skills, procrastination hit and I waited too long to book my passage.
The next available slot wasn’t for another 8 days. I knew I didn’t want to wait it out in Panama City since I’d already been there for a week so I asked a local where his favorite place to escape to was. His answer was the small valley town of El Valle de Anton where all of this week’s recap takes place.
Country and Region: Panama in Central America
Cities: El Valle de Anton
How to Get to El Valle: You can buy a ticket from the window labeled El Valle de Anton at Albrook Station in Panama City. A one-way ticket costs $4.25.
When to Go: November is the transition period from wet to dry season. It rained in the afternoon on most days I was there though I also had a couple bright and sunny days. Mid-December through April is a better time to visit though it’s more crowded.
Currency: US Dollar (US$)
Visa Info: US, AUS, UK, CAN, and EU Citizens do not need a visa to enter. There’s a US$5 “tourist card” fee but this is included in your flight ticket price and is not a physical card you actually carry. You can stay in Panama for 90 days and then extend this by another 90 days by visiting any immigration office for a max of 180 days.
Proof of Onward Travel: You are required to show this. I didn’t have this as I’m a one-way ticket kinda gal, so before leaving Florida I booked a flight leaving Panama City on Expedia.com, printed the confirmation to hand to the official as I entered the country, and then cancelled my reservation. Expedia gives you 24 hours to cancel with no $$$ penalties so this is my go-to whenever proof of onward travel is needed.
Week 2 Highlights
Nestled inside the crater of an extinct volcano, El Valle de Anton is a sleepy town most guidebooks recommend only spending a night or two in. When I mentioned to two separate friends in Panama City that I booked myself in for 4, they both told me I’d get bored and wind up cutting my stay short. Even the receptionist in El Valle himself commented on my “lengthy” stay upon check-in (way to up-sell your hostel Jake).
Yet instead I wound up extending my stay – twice.
The below highlights may have something to do with that.
Hiking La India Dormida.
Sprouting up from the volcanic soil surrounding El Valle is a lush, forested mountain chain in the shape of a sleeping Indian. One with both scenic hiking trails and plenty of local lore attached to it.
Taking the trail up over her head and traversing across the rest of her body before descending back down to town is a rewarding loop hike that lasts approximately 3 hours. En route to the summit you’ll encounter cascading waterfalls, dip pools, butterflies, and even pre-Columbian petroglyphs whose meanings still remain a mystery. The hike is popular with vacationing Panamanians on the weekends but during the week it’s relatively tourist-free, leaving the Sleeping Indian trails devoid of other hikers.
Tip: there’s no need to hire a guide for this trek as the trails are simple to follow. Please also note there is a $3 entrance fee to enter and rumor has it if you do the hike in reverse you can avoid this fee.
Walking and (begrudgingly) Biking Around Town
I know this sounds boring to most but the single best thing to do in El Valle is to chill out and decompress. Especially if you’re a longterm traveler and suffering from traveler burnout.
Blending in with the locals and biking or walking around town is an experience in and of itself. Kids in school uniforms head home in groups. Men weed whack their front lawns. Horses graze beyond white fences. Colorful diablos rojos buses share the road with yellow taxi trucks. Residents pass by shouting hola or bueno. Music blasts from behind the mysterious front wall of a discoteca in the middle of the day.
Stop at one of the street stalls to purchase a $1 hamburguesa and sit on the curb to watch it all unfold.
One of my favorite walks was to the pozos termales. These thermal pools are tucked away behind a street referred to as Millionaires’ Row due to the line-up of beautiful homes owned by wealthy Panamanians and retired Americans. Towering mountain peaks, streaming brooks, and verdant greenery complete the scene.
Another strikingly picturesque route is the one from the center of town to the “Square Trees.” Biking this path is more exciting than the actual main attraction which is just a couple tree trunks that are (surprise!) square-shaped.
FAQ: What’s with the use of “begrudgingly” in the sub-header? Easy. Bicycles have a vendetta against me and are the devil incarnate.
Who I Slept With
Location: Bodhi Hostel & Lounge is located just off the main road in El Valle de Anton
Price Per Night: USD $15
Highlights: Hot water. Full cafe also selling beer and cocktails. Free hair dryers. Comfy hammocks. A receptionist that’s easy on the eyes. $2 bike rentals. Free breakfast. Fun atmosphere. Great outdoor lounging area with board games, cards, and Twister. Eco-friendly and includes both a recycling and compost station. Offers full laundry service for $4. Excellent location.
Lowlights: The upstairs lounge is referred to by staff as the “Love Lounge” which could either be a highlight or a lowlight depending on your personality and needs.
Would I Stay There Again? I extended my stay here not once but twice. If I didn’t have to be back in Panama City to catch a sailboat to Colombia I probably would have extended my stay for the third time. So yes, I would 100% stay here again.
Bodhi Hostel Tip: Order the Gentle Jakob cocktail from Jakob himself and he’ll give it to you for free. Actually that’s a bold-faced lie but it is definitely worth ordering just to watch him go beet red with embarrassment. Plus if you do this he’ll know Kristen sent you and I’ll be able to feel all the angry “I can’t believe you told all your readers to do this” vibes from him no matter where I am in the world. Please trust me and just do it.
Things That Got Me Through the Week
I often get asked what’s in my backpack and while I posted an entire article on everything I brought with me for my 12 month journey, I thought it’d be more beneficial to show you week by week exactly when and how I use each item.
This section highlights my most used items throughout Week 2.
1. Size 10 SealLine Dry Bag: November is the transition period between wet and dry season in Panama. It rained most every afternoon and I used this quite often to protect my stuff from sudden downpours. Hiking trails abound in El Valle and many navigate around waterfalls and natural pools. I stored my clothes and phone here while taking impulsive dips.
2. GoPro Hero Session: This is my newest purchase and it’s become an obsession. I love making short little videos for the daily dispatches and it’s the perfect device to take on hikes around El Valle since it’s waterproof. My Session is what I used to film the above video of my hike up the Sleeping Indian.
3. Nike Wildhorse 4: There’s a bit of scrambling over wet and rocky terrain on the hikes in El Valle so it’s best to have proper hiking boots or trail running shoes instead of regular sneakers. The people who hiked with me and were wearing sneakers had trouble on the way down and fell a couple times. My Nike trail shoes had the proper grip I needed and made hiking much easier.
Published This Week
- Day 8 & 9: Dispatched With Full Transparency
- Day 10: Dispatched From a Bike to Nowhere
- Day 11: Dispatched From a Mud-filled Pool
- Day 12: Dispatched After a Very Immature Poop Joke
- Day 13 & 14: Dispatched After Letting Myself Get Ripped Off
Further Reading on the Current Journey
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
The current Travel Dispatch journey kicked off in Panama on Nov 15 and is showcasing a classic “round the world” loop as I weave my way from Latin America to The Balkans, Eastern Europe to the Middle East, and Southeast Asia back to the US over a period of 12 months and with a budget of $25,000. Finally along live by subscribing below!