Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera
Also known as the Quetzal Biotope ($3.50, 7 a.m.–4 p.m. daily), this 1,044-hectare protected area is one of several biotopes administered by University of San Carlos’s Center for Conservation Studies (CECON) and is conveniently situated along Highway CA-14 at Km. 160.5, about an hour from Cobán. Though quetzal birds are easier to spot in the Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve, the elusive creatures are said to frequent the yard of some local eating establishments (Biotopín Restaurant and Ranchitos del Quetzal), where they like to feast on the fruits of the aguacatillo tree.
The Quetzal Biotope’s convenient roadside location means that if you’re on your way to or from Cobán, you should at least stop in for a look. You might just get lucky and see one of Guatemala’s most beloved national symbols, with its exotic green plumage, long tail feathers, and bright red breast. Your best chances are between February and September. Plan on being up early if you want to see them.
Exploring Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera
Only a small part of the reserve is open to visitors, though there is plenty to keep you busy. There are two trails beginning at the visitors center, winding their way through the exuberant vegetation. The shorter Los Helechos (The Ferns) trail is two kilometers long, while Los Musgos (The Mosses) trail is twice as long. While you may or may not see a quetzal bird, you’ll certainly see a dense growth of epiphytes, mosses, ferns, and orchids along the well-maintained trails. Both trails pass by some nice waterfalls where you can swim.
Trail maps are available for $0.75 at the visitors center, where there is also an exhibit. A small shop sells snacks and drinks and there are camping and barbecue areas. Check with the guards before camping, as it may or may not be allowed at the time of your visit.
Accommodations and Food
A number of comfortable lodgings are alongside the road in the vicinity of the biotope. The first place you’ll find, coming from Cobán, is Ranchitos del Quetzal (tel. 2434-5919), where eight basic rooms in thatched-roof huts or concrete structures with electric hot-water heater cost $7 per person. The restaurant here serves basic, inexpensive meals ($1.50–4) and there is a trail to a waterfall and swimming hole 40 minutes away. Quetzals are sometimes seen here.
Across the street from the biotope is Restaurante Biotopín (tel. 5202-0528 or 2473-9017, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. Fri.–Sun.), serving snacks, barbecued meats, burgers, hot dogs, and other picnic fare in an open-air dining room facing the woods.
Farther along the highway at Km. 158.5 is Hotel y Restaurante Ram Tzul (tel. 5908-4066, ramtzul [at] intelnet [dot] net [dot] gt, www.m-y-c.com.ar/ramtzul, $40 d), with comfortable accommodations in wooden cabins, all with private bath. A large restaurant tastefully constructed using 3,500 bamboo shoots serves good food three meals a day. The lodge is on a private 150-hectare forest preserve. A 45-minute hike leads to a pretty waterfall.
Another lodge on a private forest reserve is Posada Montaña del Quetzal (Km. 156.5 on the road to Cobán, tel. 6620-0709 or 2332-4969, reservaciones [at] hposadaquetzal [dot] com, www.hposadaquetzal.com, $36–46 d), where you have a choice of staying in standard rooms or family-size bungalows. There are firm beds and an on-demand hot-water heater. The rooms can be moldy, which is common in these cold, humid parts. There are two swimming pools, a Ping-Pong table, and a trail leading to a waterfall 30 minutes away.
Getting to Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera
Any bus heading along the Cobán–Guatemala Highway can let you off at the biotope, though be sure to let the driver know you’re getting off here. The entrance is at Km. 160.5.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com