The laidback mountain village of SANTA FÉ has become popular as a retreat from the “backpacker trail” – which ironically has put it firmly on the must-do list. Like El Valle, the village enjoys lush hillsides and a cool microclimate, but the scenery is far more impressive and, unlike El Valle, Santa Fé is a genuine thriving village – rather than a weekend playground for Panama City’s elite. It is famous for its co-operatives, which were founded in the late 1960s by a young Colombian priest named Héctor Gallego, who wanted to help local farmers get a fair price for their goods. For reasons that are unclear he was persecuted and eventually murdered by General Noriega’s henchmen but his presence lives on here: a statue of him marks the village entrance and a foundation in his name continues to help local farmers. There’s a wealth of outdoor activities here, including hiking, tubing, horseriding and waterfall trips.

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