Since Cana ’s elevation is nearly 500 meters, the forest here is premontane, and it’s neither as hot nor as buggy as one might expect. The valley offers beautiful views of the surrounding hills, which are covered with lush virgin forest. There’s also a cloud-forest camp on the mountain itself, at 1,280 meters, where it can get cool in the evenings.
Five main trails originate from Cana, not counting a short trail near the station that follows railroad tracks to an abandoned locomotive. The Boca de Cupe Trail is the longest. It continues for a solid two days, all the way to the village of Boca de Cupe . Hiking in for at least a few kilometers is well worthwhile. It’s a mostly flat trail offering spectacular birding and the chance of seeing larger wildlife.
The Machinery Garden Trail is a lovely and exotic two-kilometer loop that features both nature and the rusting remains of the 19th-century mining operation.
The Seteganti Trail leads down to the Río Seteganti. Visitors can easily explore all these trails during a brief visit.
The Pirre Mountain Trail is a somewhat strenuous nine-kilometer hike that leads three-quarters of the way up Cerro Pirre to the cloud-forest camp. The hike takes 4–5 hours at a reasonable clip. The hike down takes about three hours.
It’s absolutely worth the effort. The trail itself leads through beautiful primary forest alive with animals. On a single trip I encountered large groups of spider monkeys crashing through the trees, a fer-de-lance snake, and, of course, dozens upon dozens of flamboyant birds.
The cloud-forest camp itself is a pretty impressive operation. A full field kitchen is set up in one large thatch-roofed hut, and tents with pads are set up in another. The camp can accommodate about two dozen guests. It’s relatively cushy for its location.
Generally all you have to take is a day pack; the cook and staff bring the food and water and set up the tents. (Tips are much appreciated; the guides can suggest amounts.)
The view of nearby Cerro Setetule and the forested valley is breathtaking, and the nights are a riot of forest sounds. Big animals have been known to wander through camp at night.
The truly dedicated can continue a bit farther up the mountain on the Cloudforest Trail, but the summit can’t be reached from this side of the mountain. There’s a slim chance of spotting the rare golden-headed quetzal on this trail.
Guides lead all these hikes. Do not attempt to venture out anywhere alone.
It’s hard to exaggerate just how special the Cana area is. It’s an enormous expanse of nearly pristine tropical forest, an overwhelming oasis of biodiversity. It’s not cheap to get there and the trip is a bit of an adventure, but nature lovers will likely find it the highlight of their trip to Panama.