Biking -- There's no better way to get around El Valle than by bicycle. The terrain is perfectly flat and mostly paved, with some bumpy side roads that have potholes and rocks. Around the edge of town, a couple of dirt roads head high into the hills, if you're looking for more of a workout. Many hotels rent bicycles to their guests, or you can rent from Don Pepe (tel. 983-6425), for $2 (£1) per hour, $6 (£3) half a day, or $12 (£6) full day; or from Residencial El Valle (tel. 983-6536) for $2 (£1) per hour, or $10 (£5) for a full day. Both locations are next to each other on Avenida Principal.
Canopy Adventure -- This exhilarating, adrenaline-fueled activity involves zipping from tree to tree while strapped in a harness connected to a pulley on a steel cable. The adventure begins with a 30-minute walk to a high platform that is flush with the canopy (the uppermost branches of the forest). A guide gives instructions and demonstrates how the equipment works and how to put on the brakes using a thick leather glove; from here you let gravity do the work. The full tour includes four "zips," which are connected by platforms that gradually descend from the canopy, allowing you to appreciate tropical vegetation from different vantage points. You also get to ride over the 150-foot Macho Falls. If you don't have much time, you can do a quick zip (15 min.) closer to the Canopy Adventure entrance, for $11 (£5.50) per person. The full tour takes about 1 1/2 hours, although the actual cumulative time you ride is less than 15 minutes. Part of the experience is spending time on the platform to observe wildlife, the reason the canopy opens daily at 6am, when the animal world is most active (they close at 5pm). The full tour costs $42 (£21) per person, and children must be at least 6 years old to participate. Canopy Adventure also offers an easy-to-moderate guided hike through the rainforest for $25 (£13) per person, or you can pay $2.50 (£1.25) for a 15- minute walk near the waterfall, where you can swim. Wear sneakers or hiking boots, not flip-flops, and long pants or shorts that are long enough not to ride up while you're seated in the harness. It should go without saying that skirts are not the ideal garb. The Canopy Adventure (tel. 264-5720; www.canopylodge.com) is owned by Canopy Lodge, and it is located at the Chorro El Macho on the west side of town, about 3km (1 3/4 miles) from the market. It is recommended that you make a reservation on weekends or during the high season, December through February.
Hiking & Bird-watching -- More than 350 species of birds have been recorded in El Valle, placing the lush valley on the list as one of the top five spots in Panama for bird-watching. Canopy Tower, a bird-watching lodge, recently built their second property here to offer a place to view birds commonly found in foothills, rainforest, and cloud forest. A prime spot for bird-watching here is at Cerro Gaital National Monument, which covers the northern slope of El Valle. This national monument also offers one of the best hikes in the area, a 2 1/2-hour, easy-to-moderate loop trail that reaches a lookout point where, weather permitting, you can see the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and even as far as the Panama Canal. The trail is pretty straightforward, but it's always better with a guide who can point out wildlife and make sure you don't get lost. Cerro Gaital is administered by the ANAM park service, which charges a $3.50 (£1.75) entrance fee per person.
The second hiking area is a 3-hour, moderate trail at La India Dormida -- which means "Sleeping Indian Woman" and refers to the outline of the western peaks that locals claim resembles a reclining woman. (Have someone point it out to you -- it's hard to make out at first.) It is advisable that you walk this trail with a guide as it is not clearly marked. There is a swimming hole along the way, so bring your swimsuit.
Horseback Riding -- Riding horseback is one of the best ways to appreciate El Valle's gorgeous mountain views. Rent horses from a woman named Mitzila (tel. 6646-5813); she and her team offer horseback riding for $8 (£4) per hour, or they'll send you out with a guide (limited English spoken) on Calle El Hato. Horseback rides lope along for beginners, while advanced riders note that rocky trails for the most part prohibit full-tilt gallops.
Hot Springs -- Pozos Termales (no phone) are springs without the hot -- that is, there are a couple of muddy, tepid pools with minerals that ostensibly alleviate ailments like arthritis and rheumatism. What Pozos promotes is fangotherapy, or caking yourself in mineral-rich mud, waiting on a metal bench for it to plaster, and washing it off in a shower. The end result is much softer skin, but although the complex is neat as a pin, this is no glamour spa, rather a public concession with picnic tables, a meandering stream, and a couple of tiny pools that can get too close for comfort on weekends when dozens of visitors come to soak their aches away. The complex is open daily from 8am to 5pm, and costs $2 (£1) adults, 50¢ (25p) children under 12, 75¢ (40p) seniors.
Spas -- Crater Valley Adventure Spa has a limited-service spa that offers massages, a tiny sauna, and an outdoor whirlpool, and they have an attractive outdoor pool, ringed with hammocks and lounge chairs, that they'll let you use even if you are not lodging at the hotel. (Crater Valley prefers low-key day visitors and no groups.) Surely the best spa in the area is the Casa de Lourdes, which opened recently. This elegant hotel has a full spa including massage, whirlpool, Turkish bath, fangotherapy, and a solarium. If you come in the morning, you can lunch at their fabulous restaurant afterward (the pool here is at their restaurant and not private enough to encourage swimming).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.