THE SEARCH FOR THE RESPLENDENT QUETZAL – PANAMA

Quetzal Boquete

The search for the Resplendent Quetzal – Panama. Hiking the Los Quetzales trail for arguably the world’s most beautiful bird

From Isla Bastimentos – Bocas del Toro our final stop in Panama was the small mountain town of Boquete. Now, this was our kind of place! Set in the countries highlands, surrounded by coffee plantations and stunning views of Barú Volcano National Park, Boquete was breathtaking! It’s a popular hiking destination, with numerous hiking trails, including the famous (Sendero) Los Quetzales Trail. On this trail it’s possible to see the beautiful but elusive Resplendent Quetzal bird. And, that was what we had come to find, with a bit of luck!

Boquete

Arriving late in the afternoon, we had a few hours to check out the town and chill on the balcony of Hostal Gaia, with frequent Rufous-tailed hummingbird fly-bys.

Rufous-tailed hummingbird - Boquete
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Los Quetzales trail – Volcan Baru National Park

The following day, we caught a collectivo from the main street of Boquete to the office at the Alto Chiquero trailhead at 7.30am, for a self-guided hike on (Sendero) Los Quetzales trail, located in the Volcan Baru National Park. The ride took around 30mins on a hilly, windy road, passing beautiful scenery. When we arrived at the trailhead, we signed in at the office and a member of staff offered us information about the hike. There was a map on the wall, which we took a photo of, as there were no maps to take with us. The entrance was free at the time (June 2018).

Like most people who hike the trail we were hoping to spot one of the elusive Resplendent Quetzal birds. Being there during their mating season was not intentional, but a bit of a bonus, as it brings the birds to a lower elevation than normal, which increased our chance of seeing one.

The length of the entire hike was about 6km each way, on an easy to follow trail which was well marked. The first 3-4 km of the trail was easy to moderate, with one reasonably easy river crossing to negotiate.

Hiking the Los Quetzales Trail - Barú Volcano National Park

That did, however, lure us into a false sense of security. The incline after that point quickly started to build, with steep uneven steps replacing the gently inclining trail, which we weren’t expecting. We hadn’t quite reached the mirador when the weather started to turn and the sky started to look ominous. We decided to turn around and start making our way back down as steeper section of the trail would have been a nightmare to hike in the rain.

In search of the Resplendent Quetzal - Boquete, Panama

Despite the gloomy weather, the hike was beautiful and had been exactly what we were hoping for. We saw several species of birds along the way including a fleeting glimpses of a few different Hummingbirds. An ever-moving and highly animated Collared Redstart (Whitestart) was a highlight, despite its reluctance to pose for the camera.

We could hear the Resplendent Quetzal all around us, but had failed to see any at that stage. Then suddenly, we heard one which we thought was quite close. And then as we looked ahead, we saw one sitting in a tree directly in front of us! It was absolutely stunning. At that moment, we saw something fly overhead, which turned out to be a pair of Quetzals. We then realised that there was another one in a tree nearby. The seemed to be everywhere, but before we knew it, they all flew away. We stood there stunned by the fact that we had just seen at least 5 Quetzals!! It was an incredible moment that a lot of people don’t get to witness. Our amazing moment was only enhanced by a troop of Howler Monkeys passing by overhead just moments later.

resplendent quetzal
Resplendent Quetzal – Male

Eventually, we made our way back to the office having hiked around 10 km. We’d seen everything we had hoped to see and more. A couple who we had passed in the park kindly offered us a lift back to town after we signed out of the park. They took a different route back than the collectivo. And, this drive back to town was a truly stunning.

Summary

We loved Boquete, just our sort of place. Had the weather been a little better, we would certainly have been tempted to stay a lot longer and try a few of the other hiking trails. But, as it was, it was a great way to finish our time in Panama, before starting our three weeks in Costa Rica.


Getting there from Bocas del Toro

  • Take a water taxi from Bastimentos to Bocas Town – 10mins US$3p/p
  • Catch a water taxi Bocas Town to Alimantre – 45mins US$6p/p (buy your ticket at the dock)
  • Take a taxi from Alimantre dock to bus stop – 5mins US$1p/p
  • Catch a minibus from the bus stop in Alimantre to David (Biqueye bus station) 4hrs US$8.45
  • From Biqueye bus station in David, catch a chicken bus to Boquete 1h

Getting to/from the Alto Chiquero trailhead

  • From Boquete, collectivo’s depart regularly from the main street to the Alto Chiquero trailhead, approx 30mins departs regularly (or when full), $3 each way.
  • If doing a return hike, take a collectivo back to Boquete when you are finished. Be sure to check when the last collectivo heads back to town though.
  • If you’re super fit and keen, you could walk the 8kms to/from town to the trailhead, however, the road is windy and hilly. You’ve been warned!
  • If you only want to hike one way, you would need to catch a taxi to/from the west end of the trail at Cerro Punta. A one-way ride takes around 1.5hr and will cost up to US$50.

Getting to Boquete from Puerto Jimenez – Costa Rica

  • Take an early morning bus from Boquete to David – 1-1.5hrs US$1.75
  • Take a minibus from David to Paso Canoas (border) – 1hr US$2.20
  • Walk to immigration and get stamped out of Panama
  • Continue straight ahead to Costa Rica immigration (on your right) and get stamped in
  • Walk back towards Panama and there is a bus station on the right
  • Take the next bus to Golfito (the bus can stop right at the ferry, you will need to buzz to get off) – 2 hr 1500CRC
  • Cross the road and take the next ferry to Puerto Jimenez – 30mins 3000CRC. The ferry departs every 2-3 hr, with the last ferry being around 5 pm

Hiking the Los Quetzales trail tips

  • Resplendent Quetzals mating season is between February and May, which is the best time to see them in Boquete.
  • Hiring a guide will definitely enhance your chances of spotting Resplendent Quetzals, as they know what they are looking for.
  • Ask the staff at the office what areas of the trail are the best to spot the Quetzales. The birds that we saw, were in the exact area the staff member had pointed out to us before we started the hike.
  • If you’re keen to see the Resplendent Quetzal and are doing the hike without a guide, then it’s well worth googling the birds call prior to your hike. You generally hear the birds long before you see them, so if you know what to listen out for, you’ll have a far better chance of seeing them.
  • Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the hike!
  • Take lots of water, like loads! Many accommodation providers in Central America provided water refills. Travel with a good size reusable water bottle. It not only saves money but, far more importantly, saves on plastic waste. It gets hot and there’s nowhere to buy water once you start the hike.
  • Take a rain jacket – remember you are hiking in a cloud forest so it may well rain at any time.
  • Don’t hike off the trails. Although well signposted, people have gotten lost doing the hike and some have not been found.
  • If you aren’t keen on hiking uphill at all, consider starting the trail from Cerro Punta as the trail back to Alto Chiquero is entirely downhill. You would need to catch a bus from David or a taxi to get to Cerro Punta to start though.

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