In Search of the Quetzal Bird in Biotopo del Quetzal in Guatemala

Beautiful green and red Quetzal bird in Biotopo del Quetzal in Guatemala

After exploring Antigua in Guatemala, our next destination was to be Semuc Champey. We soon discovered the journey between the two isn’t straightforward. The most popular way of getting from Antigua to Semuc Champey is by tourist shuttle, however, it takes about 9 hours if there are no delays. Not fans of long bus journeys (especially Andy) we decided to stop overnight part-way in Biotopo del Quetzal.

I’m a bit of a wildlife geek and love getting off the beaten track so was excited at the prospect of hopefully spotting the resplendent quetzal bird, the reserve’s namesake and the beautiful national bird of Guatemala.

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In Search of the Quetzal Bird in Biotopo del Quetzal

Beautiful green and red Quetzal bird in Biotopo del Quetzal in Guatemala

Otherwise known as the Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera (after its founder) the Biotopo del Quetzal or Quetzal Reserve, is a protected cloud forest covering 2,580 acres, about one hour from Cobán. The reserve aims to protect its rapidly diminishing swath of cloud forest and its inhabitants including the quetzal bird. It has become one of Guatemala’s favourite and best spots for bird watchers and nature lovers.

The reserve opens daily from 7 am to 4 pm and costs Q40 ($5.20 USD) to enter. You can also camp overnight if you wish for another Q20 ($2.60 USD), but you must arrive before the gates close at 4 pm.

The Resplendent Quetzal

Male Quetzal Bird in Biotopo del Quetzal with bright green feathers and tail and red breast.

The Biotopo del Quetzal is the endangered habitat of the resplendent quetzal bird. This shy, elusive bird has iridescent green and scarlet red plumage and a crazy spiky hairstyle. The male sports an impressively long streamer-like tail. Although not guaranteed there’s quite a good chance of spotting a quetzal bird in the reserve. Read on to find out if we managed to see one. 

Hiking in Biotopo del Quetzal

Hiking Trail in Biotopo del Quetzal, dirt trail surrounded by green rainforest

Even if you don’t get to spot a quetzal bird in the reserve it’s still worth visiting. There are all kinds of other flora and fauna including many other species of birds, butterflies, insects, ferns, orchids, and trees. There are also some nice waterfalls.

Only a small section of Biotopo del Quetzal is open to visitors. Two well-kept trails start from the visitors’ centre creating a circuit through the cloud forest. The Ferns Trail is 2 km long, whilst the Moss Trail is 4 km long and part of them are combined. The longest trail climbs about 300 meters up the mountain to a viewpoint through the dense cloud forest. There’s also a side trail you can take to a waterfall where you can swim.

Sadly we only had time to do the shorter hike as we only stayed one night and our bus was at 1 pm. This was still a nice hike through the cloud forest, the shady canopy offered a welcome reprieve from the sun and the flora was amazing. We saw so many strange plants, ferns, mosses and mushrooms we’d never seen before, along with plenty of colourful butterflies and various insects.

Waterfall in Biotopo del Quetzal

Because we didn’t hike the long route we didn’t make it to the main viewpoint or waterfall, although we did find a smaller waterfall. The short trail was still fairly tiring as it’s mostly uphill (until you come down again), so I would expect the long trail to be even more so. There are plenty of rest spots for you to catch a breather so just take plenty of water and you’ll be fine.

If you’re trying to do your bit for the environment like us, a filter water bottle is a great idea. It means you don’t have to carry so much water, reduces single-use plastic waste and makes any water from a river, stream or waterfall safe to drink. We love the Water-to-Go filter water bottles (use the code CTWT15 at checkout for a 15% discount on the EU website or US website.

Also, remember to take insect repellent as there are plenty of biting insects about and some sunscreen for the open stretches of the hike.

Spotting the Elusive Quetzal Bird

As I mentioned before Biotopo del Quetzal is home to the resplendent quetzal bird. Although it’s shy, if you get lucky you may get to spot it whilst you’re in the reserve. The best time of year to see quetzal birds is just before or after nesting season in March or June. The best place to see them is near the aguacatillo tree in the carpark around 7 am or 4 pm where you might spot them eating the avocado-like fruits.

I guess you’re wondering if we managed to spot any quetzal birds…well we did but not whilst we were hiking in the official Biotopo del Quetzal. We arrived to start our hike a little too late and the day before when we arrived, the gates had already closed. Luckily, it didn’t matter as we’d managed to see two quetzal birds, a male and a female, near the restaurant of Ranchitos de Quetzal, where we stayed.

I was just walking down to the restaurant after getting changed when I saw a commotion of staff and Andy running between the restaurant and the road with binoculars. I was glad to have my travel binoculars handy and managed to just catch a brief glimpse of a quetzal before it disappeared. I was a bit disappointed as I couldn’t see it all that well.

All was not lost though and shortly after one of the guys who worked at Ranchitos came running over with some huge powerful binoculars on a tripod, pointing towards the trees. We joined him and were able to get a much closer look at both a male and female quetzal bird in all their glory. They were stunning birds and we felt extremely lucky to see them.  

Where to Stay in Biotopo del Quetzal

Being a bit out of the way, accommodation near Biotopo del Quetzal is fairly limited.

We stayed at Ranchitos del Quetzal (paid for ourselves), which seemed to be the best option for us.

Entrance to Ranchitos del Quetzal, path lined with green trees, plants and colourful flowers.

Its location was ideal for us with our limited time as it’s right next door to Biotopo del Quetzal. We took one of their standard private double rooms which had two double beds and a single bed so could easily sleep a family. It was fairly simple, but very clean and suited us perfectly. They also have a variety of other room types on offer all at fairly reasonable prices.

Ranchitos del Quetzal is a family-run lodge that was created 30 years ago to help protect the habitat of the quetzal bird. Nowadays through the interactive workshops and accommodation they offer, they can sponsor and follow up on social and educational projects of research, conservation and reforestation.

Onsite at Ranchitos del Quetzal are two hiking trails that join together in a loop, which can be easily walked in about an hour. Fairly near the start or end of the loop (depending on which way you go), there’s a little waterfall in which you can take a refreshing dip.

There’s also a restaurant onsite serving simple but tasty traditional meals at a good price. The icing on the cake is the high likelihood you’ll be able to spot a quetzal bird or maybe multiple quetzals right in the trees above the restaurant.

Yo Lo Vi Graffiti at Ranchitos del Quetzal

Check out the walls of the restaurant which are decorated with graffiti from past visitors. It all states ‘Yo lo vi’ (‘I saw it’) or in some cases ‘Yo no lo vi’ (‘I didn’t see it’), referring to if they spotted a quetzal bird. Annoyingly we completely forgot to add our ‘Yo lo vi’. If you don’t see a quetzal bird you’re more or less guaranteed to see several beautiful hummingbirds which buzz around the feeders in the morning and late afternoon.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Ranchitos del Quetzal and only wished we were able to stay longer than just one night.


How to Get to Biotopo del Quetzal

It’s likely if you’re visiting Biotopo del Quetzal you’ll be doing it either from Antigua on the way to Semuc Champey, another unique travel destination in Guatemala or vice versa. Unless you’re happy to fork out a fair amount of cash for a private taxi you’ll probably need to take one of the tourist shuttles that run that route once a day in each direction.

Take a Tourist Shuttle With GuateGo

The easiest way to get to Biotopo del Quetzal from Antigua is by arranging a tourist shuttle online through GuateGo, which provided us with a complimentary tourist shuttle from Antigua to Biotopo del Quetzal. GuateGo is a trip-planning website for Guatemala. It allows you to compare different methods of transportation and purchase tickets for your trip online.

When we took our trip, Biotopo del Quetzal wasn’t a scheduled stop on the route. Despite this GuateGo arranged for us to be dropped off there and collected again the next day to continue our journey to Lanquin for Semuc Champey.

Note: Since we took the tourist shuttle to Biotopo del Quetzal from Antigua, GuateGo has added Biotopo del Quetzal as an official destination on their website which is great.

The shuttle journey to Biotopo del Quetzal ran smoothly. We were collected on time from our hostel in Antigua, then continued to pick up other passengers before leaving Antigua. There was then a quick technical stop about halfway through to use the bathroom and buy snacks.

The weather took a turn for the worse later on in the journey so the driver had to slow down, making us a little behind schedule. This was fine of course because of safety first and all that. By the time we arrived at Biotopo del Quetzal, it was raining hard, so we were relieved when the driver dropped us off right outside our hotel to save us from getting too wet.

We used GuateGo to book all our tourist shuttles around Guatemala. We’d recommend them to anyone looking to book reliable, convenient and affordable tourist shuttles throughout Guatemala.

If you want to see the resplendent quetzal bird then a visit to Biotopo del Quetzal is a must. If you’re not a bird fan it’s still worth a visit to enjoy some wonderful hikes through the amazing protected cloud forest.

Have you visited somewhere less touristy in Guatemala? Would you recommend it?

Planning Your Trip to Guatemala?

Planning your trip to Guatemala? Here are some of our recommended useful resources to help you have the best time possible.

TRAVEL INSURANCE IS AN IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION! World Nomads offers cover for travellers in over 100 countries and True Traveller is a great option if you’re from the UK or EU.

SafetyWing is another solution, particularly for digital nomads and long-term travellers.

● Use Wise (formerly Transferwise) for sending or receiving money internationally. It’s cheap, easy and transparent.

● Find amazing flight deals on Skyscanner and Kayak.

● Compare rental car prices on

Book other ground transportation with 12Go and  Bookaway.

● usually have the best hotel prices.

● Our go-to for self-catering accommodation is Vrbo.

● Discover fantastic trips and activities with Viator and GetYourGuide.

● Check out Bookmundi, G Adventures, and  Intrepid Travel for group holidays and tours.

Read More Guatemala 

The Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

11 Fantastic Things to Do in Antigua

Volcan Acatenango Hike Adventure

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In Search of the Quetzal Bird in Biotopo del Quetzal in Guatemala
In Search of the Quetzal Bird in Biotopo del Quetzal, Guatemala
Searching for the Quetzal Bird in Biotopo del Quetzal in Guatemala

Partnership Disclosure: GuateGo provided us with a complimentary tourist shuttle from Antigua to Biotopo del Quetzal. This did not influence my post in any way and as always I’ve provided a balanced and honest review. Read more in our full Partnership Disclosure.

Tanya Korteling

Tanya is the founder and head content creator for Can Travel Will Travel. She combines freelance SEO, CRO, Data and Marketing consultancy with exploring the world. Passionate about adventure, nature, wildlife and food, she incorporates these in her travels as much as possible. She also loves immersing herself in new cultures. She's visited hundreds of destinations in 50+ countries and lived in 4 countries. Tanya worked as a Data Planning Manager and Digital Marketing Strategist before leaving the UK in 2016 with her husband Andy, to travel, live and work abroad indefinitely. Together they share their experiences and useful information to inspire and encourage others to do the same.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Joshua

    Great blog post! Really helping me plan our trip to maximize birding potential!
    Do you know if visitors can hangout and watch the feeders without actually staying at Ranchitos? Im looking for a place to see some hummingbirds on the east slope of the mountains!

    Thanks so much!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      I’m glad it was of help. Yes I’m sure you can go and hang out in the restaurant at Ranchitos so long as you buy something to eat and drink.

      AND it’s a great place for spotting Quetzals too in the morning and evening!

  2. Marion

    Incredible! I’m adding this to my bucket list of places to visit! It sounds like a wonderful experience. I’m glad there are actions taken to protect this beautiful bird. How nice of the staff to have helped you observe them! That says a lot about the people living and working in the area, I think.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Yes it was def worth a visit!

  3. Julia

    Such a beautiful place! And lovely pictures, especially the birds look impressive!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Quetzals are so cool – especially their crazy hairstyle 🙂

  4. Ann

    Oh wow, they are so beautiful, what colours! 😀

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Yes they are – their plumage changes colour depending on the light too!

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