3 million years ago a large volcano destroyed itself in a massive eruption that left a crater 5km across, the second largest in the world.
Nestling inside the crater is El Valle, a tranquil mountain town with a pleasant year-round spring climate: a favourite retreat for wealthy Panamanians being just 2 hours by road from Panama City. It's a good place to relax and explore, and a delight for walkers, with trails leading across flower-strewn mountain slopes, lush cool forests with babbling mountain streams and ancient burial grounds.
Attractions including canopy tours, the 80ft El Chorro El Macho waterfall and Pozos Termales hot springs, where you can soak in thermal waters or take a dip in mineral-rich volcanic mud baths.
Traders from indigenous communities arrive from around the country to set up stall at the vibrant Sunday market, offering traditional handicrafts including the distinctive woven basketry of the Embera people who live in the forests of Darién and the carved woods of the Ngöbe Buglé, from the western provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro.
You can also find the beautiful hand-stitched 'molas' of the Kuna community.
Santiago and the Azuero Peninsula
The Panamerican Highway leads onwards via the bustling city of Santiago between the mountains of the Central Cordillera and the Azuero Peninsula.
The peninsula is a bastion of country life and folk culture-small farms, cowboys, fiestas, and ladies in ruffled pollera dresses, with a coast that's dotted with surf beaches.