Panama is a pretty small country, with less than 400km (250 miles) separating Santa Catalina in the Pacific Coast from Bocas del Toro in the Atlantic coast. Nevertheless, motivated both by the desire to see Panama’s interior and the need for a break from the country’s peculiar buses, we decided to make a pit stop in Boquete.
Close to the slopes of ‘Volcan Barú’ (a volcano that stands as Panama’s high mountain, at 3,475 meters), Boquete combines backpackers looking for jungle hikes with a resident population of Americans and Canadians that wanted to retire in Panama but couldn’t take the humidity of the coastline. It’s also a place that you will never see advertised in Brazilian travel agencies (I’m not going to tell you why, it’s much more fun if you ask a Brazilian friend).
Our original idea was to join a tour up ‘Volcan Barú’, a brutal 27km (17 the miles) hike that includes a section where you need to climb 1,600 meters in just 6 km. The reward for those that get there on a clear day is an incredible view with the Pacific on one side and the Atlantic on the other. (Un)luckily no guide was available, so we had to figure out an alternative plan. Musing over our predicament while eating a huge taco with fries (if you need to succumb to comfort food, a town full of American expats is the perfect place to do so), we decided to try out the Quetzal Trail.
The Quetzal Trail, one of Boquete’s most popular trails, is named after this weird looking bird. Found between Southern Mexico and Western Panama, the quetzal played a big role in indigenous mythology and today is particularly remembered in Guatemala (where it is name to the local currency and part of the country’s flag). Oh, and it also inspired a muppet.
Besides the hike itself, which is beautiful, the main goal of doing the Quetzal Trail is to spot a quetzal. Bird watching was not high on our list of priorities for this trip, but we decided to give it a try. Armed with an eagle-eyed guide and a pair of binoculars, we dutifully started the hike with our necks cranked up.
I always assumed that bird watching was only done by 60+ seniors using weird hats, but it’s actually quite fun! Unlike less fortunate groups we crossed paths with, we managed to see not one but two quetzals, a male and a female. In contrast to wildlife in Galapagos, wildlife here keeps its distance from humans, so we couldn’t take a photo with our paltry cameraphones. Fortunately our guide had a cool camera and took photos:
As for the hike itself, the trail was pretty easy to follow, leading us to believe that jungle hikes during the rainy season are a piece of cake after all. Little did we know what was waiting for us in Bocas del Toro…