Cerra Punto and the Quetzal Trail to Boquete

Trip Start Dec 03, 2007
Trip End Mar 29, 2008

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Flag of Panama  ,
Friday, February 1, 2008

Cerro Punta is a beautiful little town on the other side of Volcan Baru
from Boquete. At about 2000 metres above sea level, it is the highest
village in Panama and has wonderful views over the countryside. The
area is important for the vegetables grown here (onions, tomatoes,
peppers, coffee), for dairy farms and for race horse breeding. Much of
the primary forest has been cleared out and the mountains are
checkerboarded with gardens.

A good friend of ours, Scott, had been to Cerro Punto and recommended that we stay
in a wonderful B&B called Cielito Sur. As we had stayed in $20 a
night hotels for the past 2 months, we decided to treat ourselves to
this wonderful place and splurge by paying $75 a night. We cannot begin
to tell you how much we enjoyed our stay. The property was beautiful
with little rivers flowing through it, lovely artwork, 9 types of hummingbirds flying
right outside out door, colourful flowers, butterflies galore, a filling
breakfast, and wonderful hosts. A group on an Audubon society outing
came onto the grounds and were oohing and aahing as they caught sight
of the colourful tanagers that they were spotting on the feeders. The B and B was
definitely a lovely place and one that we would like to recommend.

Wild orchids are found in trees everywhere in Panama. Not far from Cerro Punta,
in a little village called Guadeloupe, there is an orchid nursery that
is the 6th largest in the world - Finca Dracula. It is named after the
Dracula Orchid of which there are 124 species in the greenhouses of this nursery.
The boy who gave us a tour told us that the Dracula Orchids only wake up at night. During the day their heads droop. When he lifted up the petals of the flower we would see where the name dracula came from as we could see a little evil looking face in the centre of the flower. Some of their rare orchids sell for $5000 a piece. In another month most of the orchids will be in bloom but even what we saw was impressive - orchid flowers as small as pinheads to those that were as big as our hand.

After the orchid tour, we went for supper to an Argentinean restaurant where we were asked to be the models in a photo to be placed in a Restaurants in Panama magazine that will be published in June of this year! We certainly didnīt look great as we had hiked to Guadaloupe and were not wearing restaurant type clothes. The wind had blown our hair all over and we were not the most presentable. Oh well, we were foreigners enjoying a Panamanian restaurant. There is more to this story but it would be easier to tell it in person when we return.

We had heard about an ecological mountain trail that was 12 kilometres long, windy and rough, that joined Cerro Punto to Boquete called  The Quetzal Trail, Sendero de los Quetzales.  Before we left Boquete, we had decided that we would walk home to Boquete following this trail, from one side of Volcan Baru to the other, with thoughts of maybe seeing another Quetzal bird.  Even though we had read about this trail, we were a little naive going into it, but it was a wonderful hike that we paid for in aches the next day.

In Cerro Punta, one of the hardest parts of the hike was to get to the trailhead. The 4 wheeldrive taxi was only able to take us up a short distance and we had to walk up an extremely steep hill for 1 hour, extremely steep! I felt that I had a big workout even before we got to the trail. We knew that from Cerra Punto to Boquete it was mainly downhill so after a little rest at the ranger station, we headed out. The areas that the trail crossed reaches altitudes that vary between 1,950 and 2,600 meters. The rough and windy trail goes through a dense cloudforest. The whole time that we walked it was raining, or dripping, or misting. Apparently the rainfall is above 3000 mm annually and it is always humid but cool. The median temperature is 14 degree C. Because of the constant wetness the trees are huge, the soil is muddy and moss covers everything. You will see this in the photos. We had to be very careful of where and how we walked. Every step we took had to be planned for the 4 hours that we were on the trail. In order to look up or around, we had to stop walking. The photos will describe the trail better than I can describe them. It was an incredible journey.

We did not see any quetzals but did see a variety of birds. What was really interesting was that they were not afraid of us. In fact, many little birds would actually fly to a branch right in front of us and look at us as if they were checking US out. I guess that they donīt see many people. There were no flying, biting bugs.

So after 4 enjoyable hours of walking in the rain, negotiating landslides that wiped out parts of the trail, fallen trees, slippery moss on stones, mud, stairs with questionable handrails and missing steps and decisions regarding fording a river we finally got to the last leg of the walk - The Lamenting (or Whining) Hill. Can you imagine ending a hike by having to walk uphill on an incredibly steep īroadī for another hour? There was a reason for the name of that part of the trail! Just to let you know, we were very proud of the fact that we completed the trail in the time that we did. We still had to walk from the ranger station home. A sign said 3 km to Boquete but we learned later that a 1 was missing from the sign. It was supposed tor ead 13 km. Thank heavens a family in a 4 wheel drive drove us part way down the hill and then we were picked up by a truckdriver delivering vegetables. We thankfully joined the potatoes, onions, green peppers and carrots in the back of the truck for the ride into town. It goes without saying that we slept well that night!

Tips on what to wear if hiking the Quetzal Trail:
- long quck dry pants, T shirt, shirt, breathable waterproof jacket, hat, Smartwool socks, good trail shoes (ours are Vasque) or hiking boots, walking stick if you like using them 

Tips on what to take in a daypack if hiking The Quetzal Trail:
- penknife, whistle, basic first aid kit, small flashlight, lighter or matches, medical insurance cards, identification,
camera, binoculars, pen, little notebook, extra pair of dry socks and a T shirt, tissues, handiwipes, CELLPHONE, raincover for the pack or garbage bags, power bars, trailmix, cheese, crackers, and lots of water.

Tips about the trail:
Leave before 10 in the morning. Give yourself time.
Wear good shoes. You do NOT want to sprain an ankle. We saw no one on our hike.
Do not believe the distance signs.
Prepare your knees for big drops on the trail.
Have a good rainjacket that will keep you dry and warm.
Expect to get wet.
Expect two splits in the trail and stay on the main trail.
Do not wander far from the main trail. After awhile the forest all looks the same.
Be prepared for the significant uphill walks at the beginning and end of the trail.
It is far easier to walk from Cerra Punto to Boquete than the other way around.
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