World-Class Birdwatching in Boquete, Panama
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, Eddie, 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.
My tour started from Boquete Outdoor Adventures in the center of downtown Boquete where a van drove us to our hiking trail. The journey through beautiful landscape and lush greenery with brightly colored flowers littered throughout the countryside. The distance of our hike was around 1 1/2 miles, with some very uneven terrain, steep slopes, and a few iron bridges to cross. We saw gorgeous waterfalls and rippling creeks along the way.
Rare Finds 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. 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 were 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 tour 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 his name is mentioned so many times on the website.
Tasting the Wild Foods
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.
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.
Interesting Tree Discovery
As we hiked to our destination, we encountered a 2000-year-old cedar. It is known as the oldest tree in the country of Panama. It would take about 40 people hand-in-hand to wrap around the tree base. John told us that the way they determine the tree’s age in Panama 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 bird’s calls. It was the almighty Quetzal. He climbed the trees looking to find them. As our group patiently waited, John came back to us and asked if we saw the male Quetzal fly over our head. We had not.
We had given up hope at seeing the wonder of Central America as we headed back to the Jeep. Lo and behold, there they were! Three Quetzals (female and 2 brilliantly colored males) in the same tree. We were in awe as the lovely birds came into sight and we were finally able to see them in for ourselves. Through the telescope, we could make out each feather and the precise markings. We began clicking hundreds of pictures.
The Quetzal was believed to have been around since 1832. It is Guatemala’s National bird, and displayed on their flag. Sacred to both Mayan and Aztec cultures, the natives referred to the bird as “god of the air”, though its name translates to “tall upstanding plume tail feather”. Quetzals live at very high altitude, which makes the cloud forests of Boquete the perfect home for the brightly colored beauties.
Finally, we descended the mountain, stopping two more times to see 5 more quetzals. One was a baby under the age of three. It yet didn’t have tail feathers. He was royal blue in color and gorgeous. The last quetzal we spotted was the most magnificent with tail feathers over three feet long!
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.