Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera, Guatemala – The invisible Quetzal

The Quetzal is a story for itself. Mayan feather trimming, Guatemalan heraldic animal and domestic currency at the same time – the exceptionally beautiful bird has to fulfil many tasks. The timid animal inhabits the cloud forests from Mexican Chiapas down to Panama, but in Guatemala it became national symbol. The rare threatened species owns a resplendent outward appearance: metallic blue-green plumage with green headwear, blood-red chest mark and green tail feathers that can grow up to one metre long. The bird loves the cool and humid altitudes, which are highly threatened by deforestation and the resulting climate change. At least as adult the animal exclusively feeds on a vegetarian diet from avocadoes and other fruits.

In the cloud forest nature reserve in the district of Baja Verapaz a Quetzal sanctuary called Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera was established. The extravagant representative of the Trogon family is said to live here, but it is difficult to observe it. There are two hiking trails in the park. The short one is 2 km. On the long one we have to walk many – very many – steps. Within 4 km we hike from 1600 to 1900 m of elevation and down again, we have to add another half kilometre for a little spectacular viewpoint. Generally we have to say that there are excellently developed hiking trails in all climatic zones of Guatemala. We have missed this a bit in Mexico.

A Costa Rican guide explained me some years ago the difference between rain and cloud forest. In the rain forest it rains. In the cloud forest it rains as well. If not, there are clouds. I can only confirm that. Dense clouds enter the forest and darken it even more. Then it starts to pour down. It is very difficult to see anything between the Guaruma and avocado trees, bamboo perennials, the tree ferns, bromeliads and orchids. Finally it is the same to us than to most Guatemalans, even to most people in the world: We have never seen a Quetzal. That doesn’t change after the hike.

The Quetzal reserve is close to the town of Cobán. They took 50 GTQ entrance fee and 20 GTQ for camping pp. There are nice sites for tents, but we don’t even fit in the parking lot since the entrance is too low. Flexible and helpful as the Guatemalans are they open the gate to the staff entrance where we can park in the backyard. Not the prettiest spot, but safely locked and trailhead at the same time. There are many different animals like insects and snakes, so long sleeves and pants plus sturdy shoes are recommended. Some mosquitoes and all horseflies are unimpressed by mosquito repellent. (Quetzal sanctuary Mario Dary Rivera: N 15°12’50.4’’ W 90°13’04.4’’)

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