Manu National Park, in the Amazon rainforest of Peru, was established in 1977 and in recognition of its uniqueness it was included in UNESCO´s “World Heritage Site” list ten years later. Manu is internationally acclaimed as one of the most bio diverse areas on Earth. Access to Manu is by road or air from Cusco, Peru.
Approximately half the area of Switzerland, the Manu Biosphere is a complete ecosystem with protected watershed embracing Andean montane cloud forest, tropical lowland forest and the Alto Madre de Dios and Manu river drainage systems. The biosphere itself is subdivided into national park and two adjacent zones, one for tourism and the other for cultural subsistence. It is home to over 1000 species of birds, 15,000 species of plants, over 200 species of mammals, and untold numbers of insects, and within its heart remain yet uncontacted peoples.
Manu retains healthy populations of jaguar, tapir, anteater, black caiman, giant otter, and among the 13 species of monkey we find the unique pigmy marmoset, the smallest monkey in the world, and the nocturnal night monkey. Because of Manu’s low human population and their continued use of traditional hunting techniques, the animals in the park show little fear of man and are more readily approachable than in many other rainforest locations. Manu, therefore, offers unparalleled animal watching opportunities.
Wildlife aside, however, the journey into the park itself is amazingly spectacular and not to be missed. Access to Manu is normally by road from Cusco, Peru. The two day trip from Cusco to the entrance of the Manu Reserved Zone carries you over the Peruvian Andes mountains to an elevation of 4000 m, past pre-inca ruins and down through the cloud forest on the eastern side of the Andes, and finally into lush, lowland rainforest. Roads remain largely unpaved and wind their way precariously past cascading waterfalls, deep gorges, and precipices. Manu is truly a complete experience.
||Cloud Forest-Atalaya-Manu River
|Day 3 & 4
||Lake Salvador and Lake Otorongo
||Lake Salvador – Macaw Lick
Manu is considered by many the finest ecotourism destination of the entire Amazon jungle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the Earth´s most biodiverse nature park and, because of the absolute absence of hunting pressure, it is the best location for viewing large animals, such as giant otters, black caiman, harpy eagles, jaguars, giant anteaters, tapirs and 13 species of monkey.
Leaving Cusco early in the morning, we begin an 8-hour journey over the Andes by bus, stopping for a coffee at the beautiful colonial village of Paucartambo. Continuing, we climb to the highpoint of the Manu Biosphere at about 3,530 m before descending to the cloud forest. In these mysterious surroundings we take a hike to the lek of the incredible cock-of-the-rock, to see the ‘performance’ of the males right under our eyes. We spend our first night in the rustic lodge Posada San Pedro (appr. 1,600 m).
Cloud Forest-Atalaya-Manu River
At daybreak we continue by bus to tropical lowland rainforest, stopping along the way to visit a coca plantation and a little rescue center for animals. Arriving at the small village Atalaya at 650m, we change into a motorized canoe to navigate some 2 hours down the fast Alto Madre de Dios River. We join the people doing the 9-day tour at the Hot Springs of Shintuya for a relaxing mineral bath, before going on to Pantiacolla Lodge, right at the foot of the Pantiacolla Mountain Range. We visit its extensive trail system to see more of its over 600 bird species, its eight monkey species, and its other mammals such as peccaries, ocelots, squirrels, bats etc. At night we visit Ranacocha, “Frog Lake”, to look for tree frogs, poison dart frogs and others. Overnight in Panctiacolla Lodge.
DAY 3 & 4
Lake Salvador and Lake Otorongo
On the morning of the third day we turn up the Manu River for a 6 hour ride into the heart of Manu’s Reserved Zone. From this vantage point we will have great views of riverside birds, sunbathing caiman, and the enormous aquatic guinea pig, the capybara. We reach our camping huts deep inside Manu in the afternoon. This will be our base for the next two days. During this time, we will hike through virgin forest and explore one of the most beautiful lakes of the Manu basin, Lake Salvador, by catamaran. There is a chance to see a huge variety of colourful birds, numerous species of monkey and with luck, a family of giant otters. There is another hike in this habitat-rich forest, that will end in Lake Otorongo and a 20 metre-high observation platform overlooking the lake. At night we can explore the forest by torchlight or go moonlight caiman-spotting on the lake.
Lake Salvador – Macaw Lick
After a final walk through the forest surrounding Lake Salvador (flight schedule of 5-day travelers permitting), we return back down the Manu River. Joining the Madre de Dios River we arrive at Blanquillo, near the claylick for macaws, where we spend the night in the jungle lodge Tambo Blanquillo.
At first light we head to the macaw lick to watch the dazzling spectacle of hundreds of parakeets, parrots and macaws eating clay. In the afternoon we visit another one of Manu’s beautiful oxbow lakes and visit a 42-meter high canopy tower. Going back up the river we stay again at Yine Lodge, or camp next to it, depending on availability.
Back on the boat early in the morning, we head downstream to the small mining village Boca Colorado. Here and in Mazuco later on, you can see the negative effects of certain human activities on the delicate ecological balance of the rainforest. We take local transportation till crossing the Inambari River. On the other side, our bus is waiting to take you over a newly paved road, through beautiful cloud and elfin forest. Near Cusco, you have stunning views of the Ausangate Mountain. Cusco is reached in the early evening.
Photographs courtesy of the talented: José Maria Fdz. Diaz Formenti
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