I hiked the Quetzal Trail with a group of four (myself included-- no guide) in late July 2012. The trail is officially closed by the government, though in theory it is still possible to do. We made the trek from Cerro Punta to Boquete. While the area is gorgeous and we made it ok, I probably would not recommend doing this hike. There really isn't a trail anymore, so you spend your time bushwacking through the jungle, hoping that eventually you'll make it to Boquete.
But... If you do end up doing it, here are some notes from our trip. I'm not saying any of this is right-- we spend the majority of our time walking in the creek or through the bushes, but it's helpful to know a bit about the area if you try it.
We left David at 8:00 AM and took a bus to Cerro Punta. The bus ride took two hours and the scenery was fantastic, so that was nice. Cerro Punta is a really small town. We waved down a four wheel drive taxi, and hired him to take us all the way to the ranger station in National Park Volcan Baru. The taxi drive cost $24 USD for four people (not sure if that's appropriate, just a benchmark for what we paid). The "Trailhead" really isn't that far from where the bus let us off, but the ranger station is quite a bit uphill, so I'd say it's worth doing. It was a 15-20 minute drive, basically all uphill, some of it on unpaved roads. Taking this taxi would cut at least 2 hours of hiking out of the trip.
At the ranger station, there is a yellow house, great views, and when we were there, no one present. On the plus side, that meant we avoided paying a ten dollar fee to enter the park, but on the downside, there was no one there to get information from, and there were no maps to speak of.
We started hiking down the trail to the left. The first half mile or so there was a clear, wide trail through the forest. While slippery (expect to fall at some point) and not very well maintained, what we were hiking on was clearly a trail. It was very green and pretty. After about 15-20 minutes, the trail came to an abrupt halt, and there was a very steep, rocky slope, probably caused by a landslide. We slowly made our way down the valley, which took some time, hoping that we would pick up the trail again once we descended. We did not find the trail once we got down, and ended up following water through some thick brush, trying our best to walk in areas that looked like they had been walked on before (though it would be hard to call it a trail).
After aways, zigzaging across a small stream, we came to a bit of clearing where there was an small house. In this area, there was a trail, so we walked on that. A little ways past the hut, there was a waterfall against the mountain backdrop. Getting here took about 1.5 hours.
After stopping for lunch in front of the waterfall, we saw a small, old wooden sign that pointed to Boquete one way (to the right, going down), and Cerro Punta the other way (up and to the left, pretty clearly marked trail). We walked towards Boquete, staying close to the river, and the trail then dissapeared. Trying to walk in what looked like the footsteps of past hikers, we walked through a meadow, crossed the streams a few times (at one point there was a a dilapadated wooden fence across the stream), and steadily descended in the valley. We walked for another hour. Eventually, it was hard to see any footprints at all.
In time, we came to an area where there was barbed wire running over the river, and the river formed a medium sized cascade/waterfall (big rocks-- you would not be able to walk down it). It was hard to see any sign of the trail from here. We went to the right of the waterfall, walking through some dense jungle, and descended further down. The next 45 minutes to an hour was tricky. The vegetation was very dense, the river was tricky to cross in places (at this point we would just walk through the river, as our shoes were pretty wet), and there was no real sign of a trail. It seemed as if in some places, there were areas that looked cleared (only marginally) or had been walked on previously, so we tried to walk along those areas, though for some stretches it was just pure jungle.
After around 4-4.5 hours of hiking (total), we eventually ran into the trail, which was cleared, well-marked, and unquestionably what we were looking for. The trail was to the left of the river (going downhill), maybe by 30-45 yards. After finding the trail, we walked down (passing another house). The trail was basically adjacent to the river and from here it was pretty clear how to get to the other entrance of the park. The trail eventually hit a road, with a big uphill (at the top of the hill there were some farms and pine trees, and another ranger station), that eventually became paved. After cresting the hill, we began our decent along the steep paved road to Boquete. At this point, you are back in civilization, and if you speak some Spanish you can always ask someone for directions to Boquete (basically just walk down)
The walk is scenic (looking over farms) and lush, though very steep. Getting to Boquete from here took about two hours. About 20 minutes after passing the ranger station, two members of our party jumped in a cab (costing two dollars a person), that took them into town. The walk back was long, but pleasant. Stop for strawberry milkshakes on the outskirts of town.
1. This is a difficult hike through the jungle. You need to be fit to do it and have good shoes. You'll get wet, pricked by thorns, and muddy.
2. Start as early as you can
3. The river eventually goes to Boquete-- when your lost, keep moving down and stay closeish to the river.
4. Bring a lot of water and food; wear long pants if you have them
5. Do in a group; don't even think about doing it alone
Also, remember that this might not be totally correct. For the majority of the time, I felt hopelessly lost and we were just kind of making our way through the jungle and were not on a trail. I just thought this would be helpful in case you find yourself in the same situation.
I would not recommend the hike to be honest-- to many variables and too much uncertainty (the only other people we saw hiking that day, two fit guys in their mid 20's, turned around at the barbed wire running across the river because there had been no sign of a trail for a long time). If you really want to do a big hike in National Park Volcan Baru, I would recommend going to Boquete and hiring a guide (should be easy to find) to lead you on a night trip up to the top of Volcan Baru (you leave around midnight, hike for a while, rest, then summit at sunrise and then walk back to town).
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