Los Quetzales National Park

The cloud forest in this part of the Talamanca Cordillera has been protected by the Los Quetzales National Park (Parque Nacional los Quetzales) since 2005 on an area of 4850 hectares.

It stretches south of the Panamericana about 20 kilometres before and behind the junction to San Gerardo de Dota (if you come from San José). At kilometre 70 (from San José, note the yellow painted kilometre posts on the roadside!) a road branches off sharply to the right and leads over 800 metres to Paraíso Quetzal on the territory of the Finca Eddie Serrano. Ornithologists and bird lovers from all over the world consider this private section of the cloud forest to be one of the best places to observe the Quetzal (this also applies to the area around San Gerardo de Dota). Especially during the breeding season (January to June) the shy birds are easy to spot, at least when accompanied by a local guide. When quetzals establish their breeding territories, the males fly high above the canopy of the forest, and groups of up to 10 animals move loudly through the cloud forest. Quetzals nest in semi-rotten upright tree stumps where they lay their nest holes. After the breeding time, Quetzals undertake only short hikes into food-rich forest-areas. The magnificent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is the biggest bird in the family of the trogons, its upper-tail-coverts that are up to 80 cm long, drop out after the breeding season. The fruits of wild avocado trees (Lauraceae) are a main component of its food, which is why the Quetzal has a key function in the distribution of this tree species. Los Quetzales National Park is home to the Quetzal and many other bird species, including Trogons, Tanagers and other highland species, as well as some endemic hummingbirds.

The name Quetzal is derived from Nahuatl “quetzalli” (glowing tail feather). These feathers were considered an important symbol of power and status by pre-Columbian peoples in Central and South America. The famous “Penacho”, Moctezuma’s legendary feather crown, consists of 450 Quetzal feathers.

The further journey to the pass of the Cerro de la Muerte, the mountain of death, leads over the highest stage of the Panamericana in Costa Rica. When the road was not yet asphalted and the traffic not yet motorized, many people died on foot or on horseback while crossing the Talamanca Kordillere for several days. To the summit of the Cerro de la Muerte (3419 m), which is dotted with mobile phone masts, a road leads through dwarf forest and finally into the vegetation zone of the Páramo, which begins above the tree line (approx. 3200 m) and is typically reserved for the high valleys of the South American Andes. Here, bushes are only found in crippled forms, while ferns and perennial herbs dominate instead. Also conspicuous are over-man-high plants from the families of composite plants, lobelias and bromeliads. The official park entrance is at kilometre 75 of the Panamericana, before the junction to San Gerardo de Dota. The Los Quetzales National Park does not have any official infrastructure such as a visitor centre, ranger service etc..