If you have ever visited Panama you are probably familiar with the gorgeous green bird that is featured on nearly every tourism piece you come across. This bird is the resplendent long-tailed Quetzal, one of the most beautiful birds in the world. It is no stranger to the beautiful town of Boquete, where my husband and I enjoy part-time international living. I finally got a chance to see the legendary bird, that is said to be the vision for the Phoenix in MesoAmerican mythologies, while birdwatching in Boquete on a local tour partially sponsored by Boquete Outdoor Adventures. Regardless of what bird you are looking for, birdwatching in Boquete is quite the haven.
We started our tour from the office in the center of downtown Boquete where we had a van that drove us to our hiking trail. We parked and began our journey through beautiful landscape and lush greenery with brightly colored flowers littered throughout the countryside. Our hike was a total of around 1 1/2 miles, with very uneven terrain, some steep slopes and a few iron bridges to cross dynamic waterfalls and creeks along the way.
Birdwatching in Boquete
Our first sightings were a variety of brilliant orange and black butterflies and the very prestigious and rare Nero Glasswinged butterfly. They photographed magnificently against the vibrant green leaves.
Our guide, John, pointed out several different birds: wrens, finches, white-tailed hawk, plus the amazing purple-throated mountain gem hummingbirds and elegant euphonia. He would also set up his telescope on a tripod in a split second to give us a closer view of the birds we encountered. The birds were amazing and the sounds of all their songs in the silent forest was magical. John led our group of 7 on a day full of excitement and education, my first birdwatching experience. A few of the people found this trip on Trip Advisor and had very high expectations going into it. No fear, John delivered a perfect tour and plenty of fun along the way. I can see why he is ranked so high on the site and people knew all about him prior.
Along our hike John stopped to munch on some of the local foods such as watercress, guavas, berries, and a strange fruit. It is called a tree tomato and was fuzzy like a plum, which he wiped off with a leaf. He sliced open the tree tomato and inside it looked like a lime and tomato mixed together, though tasted extremely tart and sour. John cooks with them and uses the juice for his salad dressings. I can see where that would be delicious and tangy.
The Woes of Being a First Time Hiker
Being a first timer and not really knowing what is expected of this tour, I would have thought, especially with the age of the group and people attracted to this kind of excursion, that we would go several places and just walk a short distance on flat ground. Boy was I wrong! Everyone was full of energy and ready to tackle the uneven terrain, regardless of the scorching sun. I left my water bottle in the vehicle since I did not know we would be on this trail the entire time. After the second hour, I was so thirsty and we came upon a spray in the pipeline full of crystal clear spring water. John cleaned a big leaf in the water and set up a funnel to fill an empty bottle he had to give me a drink. Boquete water is wonderful all the time but this fresh, ice cold, spring water, was a little drink of heaven. I was greatly appreciative.
We hiked to our destination, a 2000 year old Cedar, which would take about 40 people hand in hand to wrap around the base of it. It is the oldest known tree in Panama, The way they determine the tree’s age here is the height and shape of the trunk. This tree had weathered two volcanoes and since they know the dates of those volcanoes, they know the approximate age of the tree. Also we learned that trees in this area cannot be dated by the number of rings inside as they do not have them since there is no dormant period.
Chasing the Resplendent Quetzal
Before we left the tree for our descent down the mountain, John rapidly shushed everyone as he put his ears and years experience to work by listening to the birds calls. It was the almighty Quetzal. John climbed around the trees and up the hillside trying to find them. As our group patiently waited, he finally came back to us and asked if we saw the male Quetzal fly over our head. We had not.
Feeling unsuccessful, and given up hope for seeing the spectacular wonder of Central America, we turned to head back to the Jeep. Lo and behold, we came across three Quetzals, a female and two brilliantly colored males in the same tree. We were in awe as the lovely birds came into our sight and we were finally able to witness them in for ourselves. Seeing the birds through John’s telescope was amazing, you could see each feather and make out all of the markings. We all clicked hundreds of pictures and now had smiles splashed across our faces.
The Quetzal was believed to have been around since 1832 and is Guatamala’s National bird, displayed on their flag. It was sacred to both Mayan and Aztec cultures and they referred to the bird as “god of the air”. The Quetzal is a bird in the trogon family and the name translates to “tall upstanding plume tail feather”. Quetzals live at very high altitude, which makes the cloud forests of Boquete a perfect home for the brightly colored beauties.
Finally we started down the mountain, stopping two more times to see another five Respondent Quetzals, all more beautiful than the next. One bird was a baby, under the age of three, because he did not have tail feathers yet. He was primarily royal blue in color and gorgeous. The last one we spotted was the most magnificent, with tail feathers over three feet long. What a sight!
A Happy, but Tiring and Hot Day
For the next hour, we finished hiking down the path, tired, sore, and happy as larks from our great day of being one with nature. We boarded the bus and headed back to town. John did an amazing job, welcomed all comments & questions, and was very knowledgeable. I see why his reviews are so positive! I was impressed with not only his skill and customer service attention, but with the company and their attention to details and organization. Our tour left timely and everything was prompt, which is not how I typically find Central American activities or way of life. I will definitely be booking another tour with this Boquete Outdoor Adventures in the future and keep in mind that John also guides coffee tours and hot springs.