Discover Ranchitos del Quetzal: One of the Best Places to See the Resplendent Quetzal in Guatemala

Ranchitos del Quetzal is a stunning private natural reserve nestled in the heart of Guatemala’s Baja Verapaz region. Known for its lush cloud forest and incredible biodiversity, this reserve offers one of the best opportunities to see the resplendent quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird. The serene environment, combined with its commitment to ecological conservation, makes Ranchitos del Quetzal one of the best things do in Guatemala for nature lovers and birding enthusiasts. In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know to make the most of your visit, including my personal experiences that made my trip unforgettable.

Endemic bird species in Guatemala, the quetzal

The Guatemalan Cloud Forest

Ranchitos del Quetzal is part of the Guatemalan cloud forest ecosystem, characterized by its high humidity, mist, and rich biodiversity. The cloud forest is home to an array of flora and fauna, including orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and mosses, as well as various species of birds, frogs, and mammals. The unique conditions of the cloud forest create a magical, almost otherworldly atmosphere, where every step reveals a new marvel of nature.

The cloud forest in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala at Ranchitos del Quetzal.
The cloud forest in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala at Ranchitos del Quetzal.

The ecological significance of the Guatemalan cloud forest cannot be overstated. This environment supports a diverse range of species, many of which are endemic and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The preservation of this ecosystem is crucial for maintaining biodiversity and ensuring the survival of countless species.

Early morning guided hike at Ranchitos del Quetzal through the cloud forest.
Early morning guided hike at Ranchitos del Quetzal through the cloud forest.

During my visit, I was captivated by the beauty of the cloud forest. The hiking trail at Ranchitos del Quetzal takes you through this enchanting environment along a river with various pools and small waterfalls where you can take a dip if you don’t mind the super cold water. The flora and wildlife were spectacular, from colorful orchids to playful coatis. It was a truly magical experience.

Ranchitos del Quetzal in Guatemala, what to do in las Verapaces

One of the Best Places to See the Quetzal in Guatemala

Ranchitos del Quetzal is renowned as one of the best places to see the resplendent quetzal in Guatemala. Located close to the Biotopo del Quetzal, Ranchitos offers several advantages over its more famous neighbor. Unlike the Biotopo, where quetzal sightings can be rare and elusive, Ranchitos del Quetzal provides a higher likelihood of encountering this magnificent bird, thanks to its strategic location and the careful management of the reserve.

Where to find the quetzal in Guatemala, birdwatching tips in Guatemala

The reserve offers a variety of guided tour options, a full-service restaurant, and comfortable accommodations, allowing visitors to stay overnight and increase their chances of seeing the quetzal early in the morning. This combination of amenities and natural beauty makes Ranchitos del Quetzal an ideal destination for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Hiking trails at Ranchitos del Quetzal, cloud forest in Guatemala

I visited Ranchitos del Quetzal with my dad and my son, and it was an amazing experience that allowed us to immerse ourselves in nature. Staying at Ranchitos allowed us to get up early and really take advantage of the gorgeous trails. Ranchitos del Quetzal is also known for being one of the best birding spots in Guatemala.

For me there is nothing that recharges me and reenergizes me as much as feeling connected with nature. Being able to wake up surrounded by nature and hearing the birds singing while watching the forest around me enveloped in a misty cloud was magical. It was also a great bonding experience for my son and dad as they hiked and explored together. If you’re a nature lover this is a place you need to add to your Guatemala itinerary!

Ranchitos del Quetzal

How to Get to Ranchitos del Quetzal

Ranchitos del Quetzal is conveniently located along the highway connecting Guatemala City to Cobán. Here’s how you can get there:

  • Driving from Guatemala City: The drive takes approximately three hours. Head north on the CA-9 highway and then take the exit toward Salamá/Cobán.
  • Driving from Antigua: The journey takes about four hours. Drive to Guatemala City first, then follow the same route to Cobán.
  • Driving from Cobán: It’s about an hour’s drive from Cobán. Head south on the CA-14 highway, and Ranchitos del Quetzal will be well-signposted along the way.

How to get to Ranchitos del Quetzal

For those who prefer public transportation, you can take a bus to Cobán and either join a tour or take another bus directly to Ranchitos del Quetzal. Several tour operators offer private tours from Guatemala City, Antigua, and Cobán, which can include multiple day trips exploring the beautiful Las Verapaces region.

Best Time to See the Resplendent Quetzal in Guatemala

The resplendent quetzal is a year-round resident at Ranchitos del Quetzal, making it one of the best places to see this magnificent bird in its natural habitat. While the breeding season from March to June is generally considered the optimal time for sightings, as males display their vibrant plumage more actively, visitors have the opportunity to encounter quetzals throughout the year. Early mornings are particularly ideal for spotting these birds, so an overnight stay at Ranchitos del Quetzal can greatly enhance your chances.

Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala's national bird

Despite the high likelihood of sightings, it’s important to understand the challenges faced by the quetzals. Due to significant deforestation in the region and along their migratory routes, these birds are now confined to the areas where they can find food and shelter within the reserve. This unfortunate reality means they can no longer undertake long migrations, as they would not survive the journey.

During April and May, quetzals spend more time deep within the forest, searching for nesting sites in preparation for the breeding season. Although their calls echo through the mountains, the dense canopy can make them harder to spot. Nonetheless, the experience of exploring the cloud forest and potentially encountering a quetzal amidst the lush surroundings is always rewarding.

By visiting Ranchitos del Quetzal, you not only increase your chances of seeing these beautiful birds but also support the vital conservation efforts that help protect their habitat and ensure their survival.

More Than Quetzal Sightings: Birding at Ranchitos del Quetzal

Ranchitos del Quetzal is not just about quetzals; it’s a paradise for bird watchers. The reserve is home to a wide variety of bird species. During our stay, we took the early morning birding tour, which was a highlight of our trip. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the local bird species, making the tour both educational and enjoyable. 

Birding at Ranchitos del Quetzal in Guatemala

Birding in Ranchitos del Quetzal offers a chance to explore a variety of birds in the Sierra de Chuacús region. Connected to other reserves like Biotopo del Quetzal, it forms an important link between cloud forests in Sierra de las Minas and Alta Verapaz. Here, you’ll find birds that thrive in mid-elevation cloud forests, including the Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Violet Sabrewing Hummingbird and Tawny-throated Leaftosser.

Violet Sabrewing at Ranchitos del Quetzal, Guatemala
Violet Sabrewing at Ranchitos del Quetzal, Guatemala

Additionally, typical cloud forest species like the Highland Guan, Slate-colored Solitaire, Common Chlorospingus, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, can also be spotted. And species like the unicolored Jay, and Azure-hooded Jay are very common in the area. 

Birding in Ranchitos del Quetzal
Getting close and personal to an friendly unicolored jay.

Ranchitos del Quetzal is is within walking distance to the Biotopo del Quetzal, and the Ram Tzul private reserve giving you even more opportunities to observe local birds.

Other Things to Do in Ranchitos del Quetzal

While birding is a major attraction, Ranchitos del Quetzal offers a range of activities for nature lovers:

  • Hiking Trails: The reserve has well-maintained trails that take you through the enchanting cloud forest. One notable trail follows a river with small waterfalls and pools where you can take a refreshing dip if you don’t mind the cold water. I loved exploring these trails with my dad and son, and it was a great bonding experience for us.
  • Guided Tours: Knowledgeable guides are available to enhance your experience, offering insights into the local flora and fauna. They can also tailor the tours to your interests, whether it’s birding, photography, or general nature walks.
  • Wildlife Sighting and Nature Photography: We saw many different birds, frogs, and even a coati. The night tour is also a great way to see different wildlife that comes out only at night. The reserve provides numerous opportunities for capturing the beauty of nature and the ethereal magic of the cloud forest. 
Coati at Ranchitos del Quetzal nature reserve.
Coati at Ranchitos del Quetzal nature reserve.
  • Supporting Conservation Efforts: For a small fee (about US $6), you can plant a tree in the reserve, contributing to the habitat of the quetzal and other wildlife. This personal and meaningful act helps support the ongoing conservation projects. My family and I planted a tree, and it felt really special to contribute to conserving the quetzal’s natural habitat in such a personal way.

Planning Your Visit to Ranchitos del Quetzal

To make sure you have a great visit to Ranchitos del Quetzal, here are some important tips and information:

  • Hours of Operation: The reserve is open every day, but it’s a good idea to check their website or contact them directly for the latest details on hours and availability.
  • Entrance Fees: The entrance and self-guided walk cost approximately $6 per person and gives you access to explore the natural trails of the reserve. For a guided service, there’s an additional fee of around $7.
  • Booking Tours: You can book tours in advance on the Ranchitos del Quetzal website. The birding tour costs about $40 per person, and the night tour is around $40. Prices might change depending on the tour and if you’re staying overnight.
  • Accommodations: The reserve offers cozy rooms with clean facilities and hot showers. Staying overnight is a good idea so you can join the early morning birding tours and night tours. Room prices range from aproximately $40 to $65 per night, depending on the type. You can book directly on their website here.
  • Restaurant: The on-site restaurant serves tasty, home-cooked meals at affordable prices, usually between $5 and $10. The food is authentic and feels like a meal cooked at home, with generous portions that will fill you up after a day of exploring.

Ranchitos del Quetzal restaurant

Tips for Visitors:

  • Be patient and bring positive energy, seeing the quetzal is not always possible.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes for natural, sometimes muddy trails.
  • Bring long pants, a waterproof jacket or poncho, and a hat to protect against rain.
  • Use insect repellent 
  • Consider bringing a book, magazine, board games.
  • It can get chilly at night during the colder months so bring an extra blanket if you get cold easily.
  • Don’t forget your camera and binoculars for bird watching.
  • Move quietly and slowly to avoid startling the birds.
  • Wear neutral-colored clothing to blend in with the environment.
  • Get up early for the best chance to see the resplendent quetzal and other birds and wildlife.
  • Take one of the guided tours, I can’t recommend this enough as the guides are trained to find bird species, and you will have a much better chance of seeing the quetzal on a guided tour.

Tips for visiting Ranchitos del Quetzal in Baja Verapaz Guatemala

Things to Consider

  • Trails can get muddy, so consider that when choosing your footwear. 
  • Since the reserve is in a dense forest with many trees and mountains, so there is no Wi-Fi service.
  • You can pay with all credit or debit cards (there’s a 5% fee). A 24-hour ATM is available just 5 minutes from the reserve.

How to Reserve:

  • Contact Ranchitos del Quetzal through their website, at [email protected], or on their Facebook page here.
  • Share any questions and your desired visit dates to check availability. They will respond with the steps to confirm your reservation.

Recommended Itineraries

For a day trip from Cobán, start your journey early in the morning to reach Ranchitos del Quetzal. Begin your adventure with a birding tour led by knowledgeable guides. During the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to spot various bird species and learn about their habitats. After the tour, enjoy a delicious, home-cooked meal at the on-site restaurant. The authentic Guatemalan dishes are both satisfying and affordable. Spend the afternoon exploring the well-maintained trails. Discover the beauty of the cloud forest, with its rivers, pools, and waterfalls. If you’re up for it, take a refreshing dip in the cool water. Head back to Cobán in the late afternoon, filled with memories of a day well spent in nature.

Hiking in Guatemala's cloud forest at Ranchitos del Quetzal
Hiking in Guatemala’s cloud forest at Ranchitos del Quetzal

If you opt for an overnight stay, arrive at Ranchitos del Quetzal in the afternoon and check into your cozy accommodation. Take some time to explore the trails and take a dip in the waterfalls. You can explore on your own or with a guide. The lush greenery and diverse wildlife will captivate you. Enjoy a hearty dinner at the restaurant, with generous portions of authentic, home-cooked food. Join the night tour to see the nocturnal wildlife that comes alive after dark. Look out for unique species like frogs and possibly even a coati.

Ranchitos del Quetzal hiking trails

Wake up early the next morning for another birding tour. The early hours are the best time to spot the resplendent quetzal and other bird species. Have a delicious breakfast at the restaurant, fueling up for more exploration. You can spend the rest of the day exploring the trails at the nearby Biotopo del Quetzal or for a more challenging hike head to the waterfall trail at Ram Tzul nature reserve.

Conservation Efforts at Ranchitos del Quetzal: Protecting a National Treasure

Ranchitos del Quetzal was established to protect and preserve the cloud forest and its inhabitants. The reserve is involved in various conservation projects, including reforestation, habitat restoration, and educational programs for local communities and visitors. By visiting Ranchitos del Quetzal, you’re supporting these crucial efforts.

Things to do at Ranchitos del Quetzal
Planting a tree at Ranchitos del Quetzal.

During my visit, we loved being able to plant a tree that feeds the quetzals and are planning to come back in a few years to see how our trees are doing. It felt really special to contribute to conserving the quetzal’s natural habitat in such a personal way and I love that Ranchitos del Quetzal makes you part of this conservation effort by letting you take part in the reforestation and support of the quetzal’s natural habitat. 

History of Ranchitos del Quetzal: A Natural Reserve Born From the Love of the Cloud Forest

The reserve’s history is rooted in a deep commitment to conservation. It was created in the mid-1970s by Julio Álvarez Ponce and Julio Álvarez Arrué, who envisioned this site as an oasis for quetzals and all the flora and fauna that thrive in the cloud forest of Baja Verapaz. In the 1980s, the project to reforest the finca began. Initially, the two ranchitos or cabins built were mainly for enjoying family vacations and visiting grandparents. Over time, the area’s popularity grew due to the countless sightings of quetzals here, and people started showing an interest in visiting. This is how Ranchitos del Quetzal was born as a private nature reserve open to the public.

Quetzal at ranchitos del quetzal

The region has always been significant due to its association with two of Guatemala’s national symbols: the Monja Blanca and the resplendent quetzal. However, deforestation has severely impacted the quetzal population. Quetzals that used to migrate and forage over large areas now have restricted habitats due to the damage along their migratory routes. This has made Ranchitos del Quetzal one of the few safe havens where these birds can thrive year-round.

I had the opportunity to talk with Edna Alvarez, whose passion for conservation and dedication to protecting the resplendent quetzal’s habitat is genuinely inspiring. Edna shared how the reserve aims to be self-sustaining through educational projects and visitor contributions, which fund the care, research, and preservation of the habitat. The reserve offers rustic trails through virgin jungle, observation spaces for various birds and insects, and personalized tours to educate visitors about the cloud forest and the natural movements of the quetzal and even the option to contribute to restoring the quetzal’s natural habitat by planting native trees.

Planting trees and helping to restore the cloud forest ecosystem at Ranchitos del Quetzal

The work at Ranchitos del Quetzal has been challenging. It has required the support of many who value and contribute to conservation efforts. Thanks to visitors and their support, the dream of maintaining a land where the quetzal can always live continues. The present generation is tasked with continuing this mission, creating lasting precedents, and nurturing a love for the cloud forest.

Why Ranchitos del Quetzal is A Must Visit if Your Traveling Cobán and the Verapaces

Ranchitos del Quetzal is a hidden gem in Guatemala, offering unparalleled opportunities to see the resplendent quetzal and immerse yourself in the beauty of the cloud forest. From birding to hiking, there’s something for every nature lover. My experience at Ranchitos del Quetzal was unforgettable, from the warm hospitality to the breathtaking natural scenery.

I highly encourage you to visit and support this incredible reserve. The conservation efforts at Ranchitos del Quetzal are vital for protecting the unique biodiversity of the cloud forest, and your visit can make a difference. Embrace the magic of Ranchitos del Quetzal and contribute to the preservation of one of Guatemala’s most precious natural treasures.

During my visit, we loved planting a tree that feeds the quetzals and we are planning to come back in a few years to see how our trees are doing. It felt really special to contribute to conserving the quetzal’s natural habitat in such a personal way.

Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz

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