A quest to spot the most beautiful bird: The Quetzal trail, Panama

One of Central America’s most picturesque hikes runs between the mountain town of Boquete and the lesser known Cerro Punta in Pamana. Both lay in different valleys putting them a good three-hour bus ride away from each other. They are also linked by the famous 9-kilometre Quetzal trail, squeezed  between two dead end roads, for a total of about 23 kilometres. Given the elevation gain, it is easier to hike it from Cerro Punta to Boquete, descending about 1,000 metres through the cloud forest. To maximize our chances to spot the rare quetzal bird, we decided to walk it from Boquete to Cerro Punta and back, over two days!

Our adventure starts as we hike up along the road. Leaving Boquete behind, the houses make place for coffee farms and we soon start to gain elevation. Knowing that the actual trailhead lies another 8 kilometres north of us on that steep road, we are happy to get a lift to the Alto Chiquero Ranger Station. “You are very lucky!” says the resident ranger enthusiastically. Indeed, the trail has just been reopened after days of rain! We write down our names, inform him about our plans, and off we go.

Expecting a very strenuous hike with the highest point at 2,500 metres and a slippery trail, we are prepared to face some challenges. The path is surprisingly easy, though, and really well marked. The first serious obstacle is the 8-metre wide Río Caldera simply cutting off our trail. Too lazy to get our Gore-Tex hiking boots off to cross it, we slowly make progress, keeping our balance on the traitorous stones with our hiking poles.

Constantly surrounded by a wide variety of colourful flowers and hummingbirds, we continue our way. Gaining altitude, the wooden steps get slippery and force us to focus on our feet instead of the surrounding fauna and flora. Keeping our eyes and ears open, we identify many frogs and beautiful birds. But so far, no trace of the resplendent quetzal. As it is supposed to in the cloud forest, the weather changes and a slight drizzle spoils the view at the Mirador. About 3.5 hours after leaving the Alto Chiquero Ranger Station, we arrive at the Cerro Punta one. It is cold and grey, so we quickly pitch our tent before cooking a simple meal using the ranger’s basic facilities.

After a windy and cold night, a beautiful sunrise light bathes the slopes of the Baru volcano. An orchestra of birds makes us alert for the quetzal call, but the long-tailed multicolour bird cannot be heard.

Hiking back to Boquete, we are mimicking the quetzal call, but the only one we will see is a painting entering the town! Known as one of the most beautiful birds, the national bird of Guatemala that is so precious that its currency is named after it, is becoming rarer and rarer. As a matter of fact, it figures on the list of threatened species. Conserving its cloud forest habitat is vital, as these precious birds do not reproduce in captivity. Even though our quetzal-spotting mission has failed, we have very much enjoyed the stunning scenery along the Quetzal trail.


Travel tips:

  • The easiest way to reach the trail head is by cab from Boquete.
  • Along the road between Boquete and the ranger station, three waterfalls on private land can be visited. This is another steep hike!
  • Take a visual tour of Panama!
  • For the GPS track of the trail & the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area, refer to our interactive map (short tutorial):

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Panama, Quetzal trail PIN

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5 thoughts on “A quest to spot the most beautiful bird: The Quetzal trail, Panama

  1. So sad that you couldn’t spot the bird, but it seems that the trail with its views was still worth it. Although the bridge does look quite dangerous…

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