73. PANAMA – El Valle

We arrived in El Valle in the early afternoon hours and as we did in Boquete, we parked up in town and off we went to look around.

El Valle sits in a crater of an extinct volcano but to me it looked like, as its name suggests it also, that it is just in a valley between hills. Although the town is up in the hills it is nowhere near as high as Boquete was. During the day it was reasonably hot but, besides the wind picked up too the temperature dropped a few degrees for the nights. The town has one main road where the market square and all shops, restaurants and cafes are located. The long side streets spread to the sides dotted by posh houses with large, lush gardens owned, mostly by wealthy city people who come out here for the weekends from Panama City which is only an hour or so from here. There’s a considerable amount of expats, mostly northern Americans here too who live a seemingly quieter life here than the impression I had with the Boquetean expats. El Valle has a few interests to offer; a couple of waterfalls, hikes to a few viewpoints, a hot spring, zoo, a butterfly house just to name a few.

After spending the whole afternoon walking in town, having a feel of it we decided to drive out of town up to the hills to find a camp spot for the night, perhaps a few nights. We learnt it by now that it is usually it is a good bet, and we always find a quiet place. As we were driving further out we thought it’ll be lovely, the temperature was dropping too and the scenery changed from dry yellowish colour to lush green, semi-jungle-y. Then on the road lead us through a huge factory of caged chickens spread all over the hill tops. Besides we didn’t like this at all, it was also private property area but we needed to find a spot as it was getting late. Eventually, we found a small ranger shed at a trailhead and tucked ourselves behind the little hut and went for a little walk on the trail before it got dark. It was really worth it as the path led us up to a lookout of the valley which was rather spectacular.

133 Chicken farm camp_El Valle

In the morning, after a nice, cool and quiet night we rolled down, back to town and look for another possible spot. At another end of town we found a steep, dirt road leading up to one the hills where we found an area for us to park up. This was a lot closer, approx 1-2 km to the centre which gives us a chance to leave Burt and walk down and up to town. We stayed here 3 very windy nights. We did some hiking and walks but eventually we were keen to move again, perhaps in town somewhere…

134 Windy mountain top_El Valle

During our 3 days up in the hill we walked to town a few times for shopping, wifi and to check out the hot spring. The hot spring was located at the edge of town, an easy 10-15 mins stroll from the centre. First we went there was a bit strange as they had a problem with John’s swimming shorts! So we presented them all his shorts, and after a 3 persons discussion they picked and approved one pair so eventually we made it in. That afternoon it was very quiet in there and was only another couple in the pool with us. And that’s where we met Nina and George, the delightful poets, writers who were spending 6 months in Panama and have already been in El Valle for 2 months. We exchanged email addresses to arrange a hike together one day and they also told us about El Valle’s best kept secret which was a genuine small Italian place where the Italian couple bakes the best pizza. Didn’t have to twist my arm to check this place out so after we said goodbyes to our new friends, John and I walked up to the Italian house to book one of their 4 tables for that evening. The pizza was absolutely one of the best pizzas I ever had and what was better than the pizza is the home-made squash pesto with gooey soft dough as a starter. Absolutely a real treat!

The following day we drove down the hill, parked up and walked around town in the hope to find a lot to park up for a few nights. As every square meter in El Valle is private property we didn’t have much luck first but when we were walking down a street by an area that looked like to me as a building site a couple of American guys, Mark and Robert asked us if we were looking for a place to stay. They were about to open their hostel (still working on the swimming pool, and making few touch-ups) and the rooms were ready for guests. We told them that we have an RV and looking for a patch of land to park up. They remembered seeing us in town a few days back and Mark, the owner offered us to stay behind the hostel building on a huge grassy, tree filled area, next to the stream. It was a very nice place. John, for return offered to help them setting up their home page, take some photos and create a facebook page for the business. So now we had a great place to stay just minutes walk from the centre. We could fill up with water and use their internet.


At this point we were in the area for quite a few days, we knew our way around town now, made some friends, went for a lovely hike with Nina and George, also met a few Canadians who invited us for drinks to their house, we even managed to find an “Irish pub” on St. Patrick’s day! Meanwhile we were waiting to hear from the shipping agent about our shipping and keeping in touch with our traveller friends The Dutchies, Petra and the Family, John was working on the hostel’s website.

One afternoon, we were just coming back from a walk when The Dutchies rolled in! A quick arrangement with Robert about the camping and, as in the good old times they were parking next to us with Dunya cooling in the shade under Burt. It was lovely to have old friends. And more was coming…


A couple of days later Petra rolled in with Boris then the following day The Overlander Family. It was like a little overlander party and we were all having a nice time. Of course we visited the hot spring again, went for hikes and dinners to the discovered good restaurants. It was here where Erica and Michel made their decision to sail back home rather than shipping to Colombia. It is the end of their trip for now but this is what they wanted and they changed their booking. So the last day we all organised a little “good-bye do” for them which turned out to be a very nice party -and what we didn’t know then that this was our last time to see them on this continent.


John and I decided to move the next day. The police inspection needed for the shipping was coming up in a few days time and till then we wanted to see a few things around Colon and do some shopping in Panama City so we said see-you-laters to everybody, goodbye to Erica and Michel, Mark and Robert and left.

We spent almost 10 days in El Valle where we met Nina and George, enjoyed some activities and had the best pizza!

Now we are getting ready to leave Panama, leave Central America and looking forward to South America, as some say “The real-deal” of the Americas.

But before that, next the Panama Canal and San Lorenzo…

72. PANAMA -Pacific beaches

After a wonderful 3-4 days in Boquete with its fresh cool air we were on the road again.

Johnny was organising the shipping not just for us -as Betti, John, Burt, but for another two vehicles (the Dutchies and another Dutchie, Petra and her bus Boris) So we kept in touch with these guys and the Brit Overlander Family (who we met in Nicaragua) By the way The Overlanders will be on the same ship too though they booked it separately. Anyhow we learnt that these three are actually together somewhere on the beach in Costa Rica and will be crossing to Panama in the next few days so we undoubtedly meet at some point.

In the meantime we made a plan to visit the Pacific side of the country. Soon after we cross to South America, we won’t have beaches so we thought “one more time!”. John looked up a cool-sounding little surfing beach, Santa Catalina bit off the beaten track and a long way to get to but thought it will worth it.

As we were rolling down the super glam 4 lane highway from Boquete to David (50km) leaving the cool air behind us, the temperature was rising and didn’t stop till 36C. Then we had another 200 km ahead of us in the heat. It was actually a lovely drive but the heat was getting into our heads and were getting a bit agitated. We finally rolled in to Santa Catalina. I liked it at first glance; a few nice looking houses, a few restaurants and cafes with fairy lights, yoga classes and some hippy stuff.

We had a couple of places (some surfers cabana/camp places) with wifi and restaurants in minds where we thought it should be OK to park up but no. One of them didn’t really want vehicles and the other was awful, a desert with absolutely still air, no shade just the bleaching sun. Both wanted a ridiculous amount for park up. After trying a few more places we found on our way we ended up on the public beach and it was just fine. We just wanted wifi and eat out somewhere nice. Where we parked up eventually was a little beach restaurant and John and I immediately visited it for a couple of ice cold beers.

132 Beach camp_Santa Catalina

Here we met a delightful Canadian couple (Kate and Joseph) who just got married. As we were sitting there chatting we got invited to a small beach party that night as well. Somehow the rest of the afternoon turned in to a lovely social gathering. Joseph and Kate came to visit Burt. We opened our finest white wine (which is always the one and only Chilean boxed Clos) some beers and snack on top of Burt, watching the sunset. Then decided to spend dinner together back in the little restaurant and visit the beach party together later on where we met some good laugh pot heads but it was excellent fun.

The following morning we considered to stay as the company was great (some new people from the bonfire last night too) But the heat and the airlessness made us decide to leave. So as they say in nautical terms, we caught the trade wind to move on with it (haha)

Johnny looked up another, and the last chance for higher elevation place, El Valle before we will have to roll down the hills for the shipping. Samantha (satnav) said it is nearly 300km so the chance to get there the same day was slim though we knew a proper RV park (possibly the first since Guatemala) on the way.

It was sizzling hot and airless all the way to Santa Clara (where the RV park is) and we did everything for not to stay there but after visiting the beach first where they advised us that it is prohibited to park on the beach and the two restaurants didn’t want us there we had no choice. At least this RV park has a swimming pool! and that was the only thing I cared about at that point. John did not like the place at all so we had a bit of a squabble. The facilities may have been fine, finally we had wifi here too but the owner was a miserable, very unfriendly woman and that always makes it harder to give them 20 bucks. (plus she had about 15-17 endangered small and large birds locked up in small cages -later we were told that she has monkeys and other mammals at the back yard too)

We stayed here a very short one night and the next day we were out of there. We only had about 50km to go from here so we knew that we will be back to lovely cool air by the end of the day.

Next, El Valle…

71. PANAMA -Boquete

We crossed the border at the Caribbean, at Sixaola as supposedly this is the quiet and hustle free border. Well, it took over 4 hours for us -the longest border crossing we had. And it wasn’t particularly complicated just a lot of waiting around.

Once we were in Panama we had a pleasant drive along the northern coast then in to the mountains. We spent our first night in a national reserve area, although the land where we found the camp spot was a huge oil operation and they had their oil pump station there. We were invited, by the guard to stay by his house on a flat spot. As we were parking up he popped out to get a huge bag of organic cucumbers for us! In return we offered him a pineapple and a couple of mangoes -as they are rare at this elevation and as we found out, he stays here 2 weeks a month, 24/7 so the fruit were like treat for him. They to catch the sunset he took us for a quick hike to the pump station where the view was spectacular. It was so nice to have cooler temperature again, after a few weeks and we had a good night sleep here.

The next morning we left early and headed to Boquete, a popular mountain town at over 2000m elevation where there was access to Panama’s only volcano Volcán Barú. This re is also famous of its coffee plantations, and this area is the last chance to see quetzals, the wonderful birds we haven’t managed to see since southern Mexico.

On our way to Boquete, we swung by a hot spring where we thought we might stay for a night and move on the next day but it was unspeakably hot and humid and just a thought of a HOT spring made our brain melt so after a quick look we decided to keep going…

Boquete at first glance didn’t exactly blew our minds. (remembering our guide book said something about this town being one of the four best places in the world to retire.) Boquete got this title in 2001 and today one who visits here can see the fruits of this statement. Enormous gated communities dot the hillsides where once was lush forest and where they not only regulate who else can move in and the colour of the houses (beige) but that what size of dog you can only keep.

We parked up in town and walked around to have a feel of the place. We found the local fire department and filled up with water, found a buffet-type of canteen where locals, small and big, some tourists, some expats, young and old come to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Grab a tray and choose your food for a few dollars. Great place for people watching too. Spotted a few tourist offices where offered quetzal-tours (which I thought would love to see before we leave), caught up with emails at one of the few free-wifi spots then decided to stay somewhere outside of town for the night.

We headed up to the volcano. After the national park entrance there’s a dirt road leads up to the top of the volcano. We heard it is a challenging road but thought we try to drive up a bit. In about 4kms we found a wonderful spot. Really fresh and cool air, lush green hilly surrounding and lots of birds.

131 Volcan Baru_Boquete

It was towards the end of the day and I was getting dinner ready as John was outside enjoying the view. Then all of a sudden he whisper-shouted me “get me my glasses and come out, quietly!” I quickly did what he said and there they were: a pair of quetzals! They landed on the tree right next to Burt. Stunning birds.

Back in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico where we spent a week with our birder friends, Kathi and Josh, I bought (and Kathi too) a cool quetzal T-shirt. Josh and Kathi said that now I have to see a quetzal, and they said that it will be easy in Guatemala as certain areas are full of them. But we never did. Well, we actually never made a special effort to visit those areas thinking there are still other countries… So I was extra, EXTRA pleased to see a male AND a female here at the last opportunity.

During our first night here we heard people walking by. Checked the time and it was around 2AM. In the morning John said that according to the book lot of people walk during the night to get to the top of the volcano by sunrise when it is the clearest to see both coasts, the Pacific and the Caribbean (one of the 2 spots in Central America where you can see both sides)

After breakfast we packed some lunch, plenty of water and headed to the top. We were passing people walking down. They were the ones hiking all night, enjoying the sunrise and the view up there, and now walking back down to town without sleep. We offered them some french toast I packed earlier and some water. The walk up isn’t particularly pretty, it is on a dirt road where small 4×4 jeeps making their way up with tourist who are not in to hiking. We had one these jeeps passing by us, then it broke down so we passed them, then they caught up and passed us one again, then broke down again and so on…

As we reached the top at 3478m we were gobsmacked. A huge part of the crater was shaved level and were about 17 radio antennas put up with its maintenance buildings. Man, I didn’t expect that! And strangely, no one (not the guide book nor any of the hiking-Byers mentioned it) Odd. Although we were there, actually I think John found the tower business fascinating and went to explore some of them. There was a nice little summit point with a white cross for the hikers there however, so we climbed up and just enjoyed the view for a while. Although it was cloudy the view was still marvellous and we had our lunch on the top of the world.


On our way down we collected 6 bags of rubbish too. It took 8 hours and 20 kms to get up there have a half an hour snack then walk back down to our spot. It was a good day.

We had a second night at this nice spot and the following day we decided to go on to a coffee tour. Well, at least me as Johnny isn’t as fascinated in the process of coffee-making as I am, besides he rather wanted to get on with booking the ship from Panama to Colombia.

My tour was in the afternoon so John and I, once again visited the local canteen for an early lunch and did some shopping before I was off. The tour took 3 hours and they showed us around on the plantation and one of the factories, then another then back to the coffee roasting shop where we started for some tasting.


Back in Hungary, yonks ago, I started with my friends and managed a tea shop, which for I had to attend to a tea training in Vienna so for me the coffee tour was fascinating and I am very pleased I finally got to visit a plantation and learn about the process. Besides I love coffee so totally worth it. After the tour we met a couple of ex-pats in the coffee shop and had a long chat with them then we tucked ourselves away for the night outside of town.

At the end Boquete didn’t grow on us as a town but we loved our 3 days here. The town has a few things to offer and I’m so glad we visited the volcano and did a coffee tour. AND we saw quetzals without a tour guide.

Next, Pacific beaches…