Biotopo del Quetzal

Wildlife Reserve in Alta & Baja Verapaz

In the lush cloud forests south of Cobán is the Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera nature reserve, commonly called Biotopo del Quetzal.

You need a fair bit of luck to see a quetzal, as they're rare and shy, though you have the best chance of seeing them from January to June. Even so, it's well worth stopping to explore and enjoy this lush high-altitude cloud-forest ecosystem, which is the quetzal's natural habitat.

Early morning or early evening are the best times to watch out for the quetzal – they're actually more prevalent around the grounds of the nearby hotels.

Two excellent, well-maintained nature trails wind through the reserve: the 1800m Sendero los Helechos (Fern Trail) and the 3600m Sendero los Musgos (Moss Trail). As you wander through the dense growth, treading on the rich, spongy humus and leaf-mold, you'll see many varieties of epiphytes (air plants), which thrive in the reserve's humid atmosphere. Deep in the forest is Xiu Gua Li Che (Grandfather Tree), some 450 years old, which germinated around the time the Spanish fought the Rabinal in these mountains.

The reserve has a visitor center, a little shop for drinks and snacks, and a camping and barbecue area. The ruling on camping changes from time to time. Check by contacting Cecon, which administers this and other biotopes.

At certain times the mosquitoes can be vicious: bring bug repellent and make sure you use it.