Baru volcano Volcan

In the Chiriqui Highlands of Panama, near Boquete, is the country’s highest mountain: Volcan Baru. Yes, it’s a volcano and was once a much higher one. When it blew its top last time, it really blew its top. Much of it went flying through the air, basalt rock landing in far-flung places.

Hopefully it’s done for a while because the lovely little town of Boquete is right under it. As my guide said, “Why should I worry about North Korea? I’m living under the equivalent of a nuclear bomb.” Chiriqui Highlands Panama

My 13.4 km (8.4 mile) hike began with the bucolic scene at the top, the highlands’ abundance of flowers in force and Baru in the background. It progressed through primary rainforest, cloudforest, and back to rainforest again, with the vegetation changing regularly along the way. I was planning to take in the flowers, see some crazy vines, and if I managed to find a Quetzal in a tree, a great bonus. On the way in my guide and I came across some birdwatchers with mega-lenses who had come up short.Quetzal trail birds

But apparently my guide John of Boquete Custom Tours was better than their guide. About a third of the way through the hike, he heard one and we stayed put while he called out to it. A few minutes later, the real male Quetzal wanted to defend his territory or get a look around, so he left his hidden perch, flew over us, and then went back to his tree. If I were the type who ticked off boxes on a chart, that box was checked.

Turns out it was just the beginning, however. About an hour later we heard two of them making noise and ended up seeing both—a male and a female. From a distance, of course, and I didn’t have a camera with a lens weighing 20 pounds. Or a tripod. So we’ll have to make due with this photo here.

Later we caught another one, so four for the day. At the end of the hike, in the distance through the binoculars we could see a  3-wattled Bell Bird. That’s almost as rare as the Respendant Quetzal. Apparently I have to visit the Darien to find something rarer in the Americas than these two.

We also caught site of this clear-winged butterfly, which is also quite reclusive it turns out. My lucky day.

clear wing butterfly PanamaEven if all these creatures had not shown up on cue, it was a great day for a walk in the woods. Just one piece of advice: spray DEET on your legs and spray your shoes and socks with something or use perjfjf treated clothing like ExOfficio BugsAway pants or socks with InsectShield treatment. The chiggers in this area (including Boquete) are voracious. You won’t know you’ve been chomped on until a day later…

For more on this area, see the Visit Panama site for the region.

See our detailed reviews of the two best hotels in Boquete in our Luxury Hotels of Panama section.