Last updated on August 24th, 2023
Looking to see the Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica? One hour away from San Jose and not even inside of a National Park you can see the Resplendent Quetzal in San Ramon, Alajuela during mating season.
I didn’t know for a long time that I (Ligia) lived so close to them … they nest every year in the cloud forest that is 40 minutes away from our house.
Yes, I discovered the legendary resplendent quetzal, while I was doing research for a university project and realized that he was at the top of every naturalist´s must-see-list.
While I started working in tourism people, talk about how much tourists want to see him, but I didn’t understand this rare obsession with a bird until I started practicing more hiking and birdwatching.
Well, the Resplendent Quetzal capture your attention as soon as you have in front your eyes.
It was bigger than I expected, bright colors and I was surprised to feel so impressed by him!
Now, I understand why the bird was sacred to the ancient Maya and Aztec peoples.
Why do resplendent quetzals are favorite birds?
According to National Geographic article:
The resplendent quetzal is an aptly named bird that many consider among the world’s most beautiful.
They are favorite birds for ecotourists and bird watchers here in Costa Rica.
Also in Guatemala, the quetzal is their National Bird, having it on their flag. Their currency also is called “Quetzal” and “Quetzales” in plural.
Let’s have a closer look at this vibrantly colored animal:
COMMON NAME: Resplendent Quetzal
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pharomachrus mocinno (costaricensis)
FAMILY: Trogonidae – Trogon
SIZE: Body, 15 to 16 in; tail, 24 in
WEIGHT: 7 to 8 oz (180 – 225 grams)
DESCRIPTION: The male is easy to recognize, due to its hull-shaped crest (punk head) that extends forward to cover the base of the beak (bright yellow by the way). In addition to its long tail.
The female and the juveniles do not have a crest but have a tail with distinctive stripes and a gray breast.
Adults: Bright green in large part, elongated wings along the chest.
Historically were seen as Mayans chiefs, as spiritual protectors and also represent a tremendous cultural pride for the countries they call home like Costa Rica.
These type of trogon is one of the most dazzling and culturally significant bird in Central America.
For their beauty and also what they represent for the tropical forest, historically and biologically, we can consider the quetzal as the top of favorite birds.
Is it worth to see the Resplendent Quetzal in San Ramon?
The answer will be definitely: YES! Here are some reasons why:
Close to San Jose: Seeing this bird is almost everyone’s primary goal in visiting the cloud forest. People usually think in Monteverde to Cloud Forest, but there are other parts where you can see the Resplendent Quetzal like San Ramon because have Cloud Forest also. You can do a one day tour if you are short time!
If you are going to La Fortuna or decide to stay your first night here and are in the mating season of the quetzal, why not give a try?
The breeding season (and best viewing): In Costa Rica usually happens between mid-February until June can be extended July. Traditionally related with the season of the trees that have the fruits that they eat. They elaborate the nest with a similar cavity like woodpeckers and usually lay two eggs (light blue color) per nest.
Not many tourist = more chances: We can guarantee you since this is not a famous spot (yet), this is one our favorite places in Costa Rica to spot quetzals in uncrowded and beautiful surroundings plus the owners of the spot sites help you a lot to find them (highly recommended).
Support of the local economy: I know you will hear us saying this a long the blog. However, the guides are locals who own the land and decided to protect it because they understood the value of having species like Quetzals. So they will have identified the nesting trees, and for a fee, you will have more chances to appreciated and photograph these beautiful birds.
3 important resplendent quetzal facts.
- BIOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE:
In addition to its aesthetic beauty, quetzals are due to their role as seed dispersers and as indicators of environmental degradation due to their apparent habitat specificity (Espinosa de Los Monteros Solis, A., 2001).
These guys are lovers of wild avocado trees (“Aguacatillos”), I understand them I LOVE AVOCADO, well I know their avocado is different, and other fruit from trees in the laurel family (Lauraceae) .
Something interesting about them is they have physical adaptation eat fruits with larger seeds.
In other words, the esophagus has an elastic, thin wall with rings of circular muscles that wheis likely to facilitate with the regurgitation of large seeds or pits. They can be perched in a branch for 25 minutes not moving, just digesting.
- CALLS/ SONG:
Their warning is described as
The song: Rendered as
Other places to see resplendent quetzal in Costa Rica.
Monteverde, Costa Rica:
Famous in the world for the Cloud Forests, ziplining and hanging bridges. The tourism billed the area as the place where you can see the most famous bird of the cloud forest, the Resplendent Quetzal.
During the peak of the season around a thousand day are practically guaranteed sightings. Monteverde is in the North Central Region.
San Gerardo de Dota:
We realized that Bird-watchers from around the world come to this small mountain town since the area attracts high-altitude species.
With fresh mountain air, this area is an example of sustainable tourism, no big hotels, mostly owned by families who know the best spots to observe the fabled Maya bird.
The town is located next to Los Quetzales National Park. The area around San Gerardo is full of private hiking trails that are next to the National Park.
Los Quetzales National Park:
In 2005, the government of Costa Rica created a National Park in honor and also to protect such a celebrity, the elusive resplendent quetzal.
The area is full of bird-life, the quetzal is one of the many species that you can see there. Unfortunately, the park doesn’t have any facilities for tourist, asides the ranger station and restroom. You can read more about our visit to Los Quetzales National Park.
Braulio Carrillo – Sector Barva Volcano National Park:
Another National Park that host the Misty Cloud Forest is the Barva Volcano. We hear the Quetzal around February, definitely since is a conservation area the population of quetzals is in this area.
Not as popular like the other areas this National Park offers the possibility to do a one day tour also from San José and Heredia while at the same time is protecting the water resources for the city.
Learn how to visit this National Park and kill two birds with one stone, not literally obviously, what I mean is visit a volcano with the chance to watch the resplendent quetzal.
We hosted a tour for a NatGeo in San Ramon.
Well, life sometimes surprises us, and as I said before, we have the quetzal in our hometown.
We started hosting this tour for birdwatchers or people that are looking for a less touristy spot to observe the quetzal.
Since we have a good relationship with the owners of “Valle Los Quetzales,” the project where I did my final project for university and as a local tour guides visit this place is easy for us.
We had a guided experience with a group of birdwatchers, including a NatGeo explorer in the group. The trip was a success, and pretty cool pictures were shooted that day. Like this one:
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? @filipe_deandrade | A male Resplendent Quetzal. These beautiful birds are the Elton John of the avian world. Their vibrant feathers and far reaching tones are sure to make you feel like you’re being held tightly by all the worlds tiny dancers (IDK where I’m going with that). The males use their long tails (shown in the 2nd photo) to win over females. Its actually more difficult to fly with those feathers, especially at high elevation, but during courtship displays they fly as high as they can as if to say “look how high I can fly in spite of rocking these baggy bell-bottoms, I am strong and powerful, you should mate with me.” In the 3rd slide, you can see the quetzal regurgitating an avocado seed. They will swallow the whole avocado and then rid of the seed later. The seeds then germinate on the forest floor and help build more avocado trees, circle of life huh? In the 4th slide is a video of us in awe of the bird and you can hear me whispering “yes” while shooting. I didnt know I do that, that’s weird. When you get birders together and they stalk a certain species then find it, the collective energy is that of a bull trying to hold in a sneeze. All in all, the thrill of the chase with wildlife doesn’t always pay off but when it does, “can you feel the love tonight?” Another terrible attempt at an Elton John reference. Love y’all wildlife warriors. Thank you to @exploretikiziablog and @estebanherdeza for guiding this photo safari. #wilduntamed #costarica #puravida #quetzal
Want a to experience a birdwatching tour with us?
We can put in the right direction and help you to photograph the Resplendent Quetzal in less thick cloud forest while you are supporting the locals to preserve it.
So if you are coming here between February until June/July add the Resplendent Quetzal in your things to do here.
You can get more details about this experience clicking “Start planning your trip”, we love that people experience nature at the same time supporting the community. You won´t regret it!