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
||Pantiacolla Lodge-Yine Lodge
||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 (approx. 1,600 m).
Cloud Forest-Cocha Machuhuasi-Pantiacolla Lodge
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 40 minutes down the fast Alto Madre de Dios River. Then we take a 30 minute walk to one of the very view lakes on the Alto Madre de Dios River. You can go around this small lake on traditional balsa rafts and from there admire the enormous rainforest variety in aquatic birds, such as the moscovy duck, neotropic cormorant, anhinga, the white-necked and capped herons and the prehistoric looking hoatzin. Usually the water is clean enough to be able to see many tropical fish we may know from aquaria at home. It is common to see squirrel monkeys or others, in the trees around. In the late afternoon we continue down the river to Pantiacolla lodge, right at the foot of the Pantiacolla Mountain Range. The forest of Pantiacolla Lodge is a very special rainforest: this is where the Andes and the lowland tropical rainforest meet and it provides you with a chance to see a good selection of birds and plants from bóth zones as well as endemics to the area. Your first walk will be at night, exploring the forest by torchlight looking for insects, snakes and the only nocturnal night-monkey, or ‘douricouli’, on Earth. We spend the night in Pantiacolla Lodge.
Clay lick for parrots – Monk Saki Trail
Early in the morning, around the same time the howler monkeys start their morning ritual of howling, the boat takes you to a nearby parrot lick: you can see at least seven species, among which the blue-headed and yellow crowned parrots, the white-eyed parakeet and the small blue-headed and chestnut fronted macaws. Their spectacle is both loud and busy! Afterwards we visit the trails of Pantiacolla to see more of its over 600 bird species, including the pale winged trumpeter, the piping guan and the rare black tinnamou, its eight monkey species, such as the dusky titi monkey or the elusive monk saki monky, and its other mammals such as the white lipped and collared peccaries, ocelots, squirrels, bats and red brocket deer. Here glasswing butterflies are common on the shady trails and Callicores and Panaceas at the open areas. With luck, one will meet the famous morpho butterfly with its iridescent blue wings. At night we visit Ranacocha, “Frog Lake”, to look for tree frogs, poison dart frogs and others. Overnight in Panctiacolla Lodge.
In the morning we walk on some of the many trails around the lodge, and hope to see more monkeys and maybe coatis or even a tayra hunting for small creatures in the trees. By now, we can start to distinguish some of the trees in the forest, such as the ceiba (kapok), the capirona (naked tree) and several palm species. After lunch, the boat takes us to the Hot Springs of Shintuya for a relaxing mineral bath, before joining up with the people doing the 7-day tour. The night is spent again at Pantiacolla Lodge.
Lake Salvador and Lake Otorongo
With first day light of the third morning we continue by boat to turn up the Manu River for an 8-hour ride into the heart of Manu’s Reserved Zone. From this vantage point we will have great views of riverside birds, such as the black skimmer, snowy egret, yellow billed tern and the exquisite roseate spoonbill, sunbathing caiman, black and white, and maybe the enormous aquatic guinea pig, the capybara. We reach our Camping Huts deep inside Manu in the afternoon. This will be our base for this and the next day. During this time, we will walk through virgin forest to be impressed by giant trees such as the shihuahuaca, the mahogany, brazil nut and rubber tree. We will explore one of the most beautiful lakes of the Manu basin, Cocha Salvador, by catamaran, to see a huge variety of colorful birds, such as the agami heron, sun grebe, red capped cardinal, amazon kingfisher, tropical kingbird, yellow rumped caciques etc. Here the big spider monkeys like to hang out in the trees around the lake and with luck, you can see, from the front row, a day in the life of a family of giant otters. There are other trails to walk in this habitat-rich forest around another lake, Cocha Otorongo. It has a 20m high observation platform overlooking the lake. This silt filled lake has a coverage of floating vegetation, and the wattled jacana to walk on top of it. At night we can explore the forest by torchlight or go moonlight caiman-spotting on the lake.
Lake Salvador – Macaw Lick
An early morning start boating down the Manu River gives us a good chance to spot one of the bigger and rarer animals at the river shores. It could be one of the over 5 meter long black caiman, or a tapir or giant anteater, a sloth swimming across or even the most magnificent of New World cats, the jaguar. Joining the Madre de Dios River we arrive at Blanquillo, near the claylick for macaws. That afternoon we climb the 42-meter high canopy tower, which gives us an excellent view over the resplendent rainforest canopy. 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, among which the tui and cobalt-winged parakeets, parrots, including the orange-cheeked parrot and big macaws eating clay. Among the big macaws, this clay lick is mainly for the red-and-green, with every now and then a scarlet or blue-and-yellow macaw. In the afternoon we visit another one of Manu’s beautiful oxbow lakes Cocha Camungo. We spend the night again in the jungle lodge Tambo Blanquillo.
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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