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Explore Panama’s El Valle de Anton, the mysterious valley of square trees

4 min read

Sitting on the second largest inhabited dormant volcano in the world, this place is a dangerous choice for any settlement. However people have lived in the area for centuries, even with the possible threat of eruption….but there is something else unusual happening there.

We are a few miles north of the Panama Canal Zone, in a small town, El Valle de Anton, a few hours’ drive away from Panama City, where lies the so-called Valley of Square Trees, a unique tourist attraction where trees of the cottonwood family…have rectangular trunks.
Unique in the world, this group of square-shaped cottonwood trees grows in a valley created from the ashes of the giant volcano, El Valle de Anton.
Featuring hard-right angles, the trunks of the square trees have baffled tourists and scientists alike for several years. Eventually, some experts from the University of Florida took saplings of the mysterious trees to see if they retain the same characteristics in a different environment, and concluded that their square shape must have something to do with conditions unique to the valley in which they grow. Evidence that the cause of this bizarre phenomenon is deep-seated of the place they called home is indicated by the fact that their tree rings, which represent its growth, are also square.

The Valley of Square Trees is one of Panama’s most controversial tourist attractions, for the simple reason that many people just don’t believe that there is anything special about the place.
Most of the “arboles quadrados” in El Valle de Anton are Quararibea asterolepis, a species native to Central and South America known for the unusual shape of its trunk.
And, about tourists, some like the myth of the square trees and this unique volcanic crater they grow in, but some are convinced that the square shape of some trees is perfectly natural, considering their species.

Either way, whether or not there is something magical about the Valley of Square Trees or it’s just a clever marketing ploy to draw tourists into the country, El Valle de Anton remains one of the most intriguing places on our planet.
Adventurers hiking near the trees should also take note of the local and endangered brightly-colored yellow frogs, which is actually a toad.
This ‘frog’ though is only believed to live in this valley in the wild, and it is considered one of the most beautiful frogs of Panama with its bright yellow/golden and black spots. But as nice as it may look, it is a poisonous little thing….so don’t touch, as It’s toxin on the skin has caused circulatory and respiratory functions to fail, and even death.

Other interesting things to take in while visiting this place would be a visit to the Chorro El Macho Waterfall featuring a drop of over 60 meters, and another smaller one, the Chorro Las Mosas.
There are also pre-columbian Petroglyphs to appreciate nearby, that remain a mystery as well. Some believe they are a map to something, for example caves or trade routes.
But hot springs can also be enjoyed, along with horseback riding, bird watching, and hiking.
Probably the most interesting one is the hike to the top of the mountain locally known as Sleeping Indian.
It’s said to offer a captivating view to the valley below, but also a legend which gives the mountain its name, La India Dormida.
As story goes, the Princess of the Chief of Indians living in Panama long ago fell in love with one of the Spanish Soldiers who fought against the tribe.
One of the strongest fighters of her tribe, however, loved her as well, and when she did not return his love, he chose to leap to his death in front of her. This caused her great sadness to which she decided to leave both her tribe and her true love. She died, missing the land she had been born. To memorialize her story, the Mountains are said to have taken form of the Sleeping Princess, and so the Mountains do look like a sleeping Indian Princess….

Images from web – Google Research