Manu National Park
Manú National Park has a biodiversity that rarely can be found in any other place on Earth.
The isolated park comprises the catchment basin of the Manu River and part of that of the Alto Madre de Dios River. It holds an extremely broad range of ecosystems, resulting in high diversity and a high degree of endemism. Virtually all flora and fauna species are present in abundant numbers: more than 15,000 species of plants are found in Manú, up to 250 varieties of trees have been found in a single hectare and the park is home to over 800 species of birds. Furthermore, it’s a refuge for globally threatened mammal species such as Giant Otter, Giant Anteater, Ocelot and Jaguar.
Community Perspective: Philipp has well-explained the options for visiting; be aware that it at least takes a tour of multiple days. If you can afford it, go for a tour into the Reserved Zone, as described by Els. Memorable will be the enormous variety of trees, plants and monkeys.
Map of Manu National ParkLoad map
I visited the reserved zone of Manu for 2 days and the trip from Cusco included in total 7 days/ 6 nights. The programme of most tour operators is similar so there is no need to describe it in detail here. You can just check the websites. We drove by transporter from Cusco to Atalaya and then by boat up to Casa Matchiguenka which is one of few of the current lodging options in the real WHS part/ core zone. We booked with Bonanza tours and the tour was operated by Amazon Wildlife Experience which is run by the brother of the owner of Bonanza. So it was the same as with Bonanza only that they laid acquired customers together. We were 8 tourists, one guide, one cook and either a driver or a captain and his boat assistant. The real price was 1290 USD p.P. but as we went to the office in Calle Suecia in Cusco end of August and were flexible and negotiated we could book the same tour for the 14th of September for 750 USD p.P.. Some in our group booked only 6 days and there was not much difference. You don´t miss out on anything only that after a long day you drive all the way back to Cusco instead of staying another night close to Atalaya port and some more bird and monkey watching in the cloud forest. Also a good option to save money.
Maybe good to mention that we almost had a huge accident. Our metal boat with roof with 8 tourists and 5 staff people on board had a motor issue right after the start on Río Madre de Díos close to Atalaya. The river is huge even in the lowest water level month of September and suitable for rafting. The connection between the brand new motor and the tank broke down, so that the motor didn´t have fuel anymore. By this we were left with the river and only had 2 paddles for the guide and the boat assistant to keep control which was not sufficient. First a huge palm tree hit the boat and could have stabbed someone. Afterwards we hit with the long side of the boat a rock wall and almost sunk as the water almost ran on the opposite site into the boat due to the hard hit. Everyone was ready to swim and sacrifice all equipment. We were lacking one life vest. Luckily we didn´t sink, could navigate to the next beach with the current and fix the connection between motor and tank. However before we had 5 minutes of horror and in my opinion unsufficient security measures even though it was more than none. More paddles and maybe an alternative navigation option might be helpful in the boat.
The trip was amazing as Manu is full of wildlife and nice jungle flora. Especially bird enthusiasts will love it. We've been to PN Madidi in Bolivia before and it was quite similar. Unique was the clay licks in Manu where the animals obtain minerals from the soil. We watched the Tapirs at night doing that after a walk through the forest at Bonanza Reserve and the butterflies and monkeys at daytime along the riverbanks. Also close to the Casa Matchiguenka there is a clay lick in the forest were the macaws feed at lunchtime. They're really careful and are easily scared away by humans. After two hours of slow approaching they were finally on the wall for a short time. Special are also the giant otters in Colcha Salvador next to Casa Matchiguenka. We saw one from the catamaran with paddles in the lake how it was first chased by a caiman and then caught a fish and ate it at the shore. Also some of our group saw the silhouette of a jaguar in the morning along the banks of Río Manu but the sun was unfortunately blinding us and then it disappeared. At night many exciting insects, frogs and spiders can be seen. On the drive to Manu one passes through cloud forest with beautiful birds like the nationsl bird of Peru Cock of the Rock and the colourful Golden Headed Quetzal.
Here is a list of all "big" animals that we saw so mainly mammals, birds and reptiles. Probably a lot of spelling mistakes and Genglish but gives you an idea. The ones in brackets we have only seen without picture:
(Golden Crown Fly Catcher)
Cinnamon Fly Catcher
(Blue banded Tucan)
Golden Headed Quetzal
Cock of the Rock
(Dusky Green Oro Pendola)
Verci coloured Barbed
Brown Capucciner Monkey
Ruffous crested coquette
Yellow Bellied Dacnis
Lemon Throated Barbet
(Faciated Tiger Heron)
White Eyed Parakeet
(Chestnut fronted Macaw)
Cobalt winged parakeet
Great Black Hawk
Yellow Side Neck Turtle
Red Howler Monkey + Albino
(White Wing Swallow)
Brown Kapuziner Affe
Red Rocket Deer
Horsefly --> sticht schmerzhaft, blutig und ignoriert Insektenspray
(Screaming Piha) --> Nur gehört. Lieblingssingvogel
(White fronted Kapuziner Monkey)
(Red Cup Kardinal)
Hoatzin (Asthmavogel, Prähistorikal Bird / Stinky Birds)
Red Cap Kardinal
Social Fly Catcher
(Whute Wing Swallow)
(Greater Yellow headed Vouture)
Blue Common Gallinule
Red and Green Macao
(Yellow Rump Casseke)
(Rufescent Tiger Herond)
Long Nose Bat
Red throated Karakara
Razor Billed Curassow
Blue and Yellow Macaw
Yellow footed Turtoise
Nackte Menschen Mashco Piro (oder Calato = nackt)
Diamante Dorf Yine (oder Piro) Tribe Name der Menschen die mit den Mashco Piro sprechen können
Creamsome Crested Woodpecker
(Blue throated Pipin Guan)
(Little Blue Heron)
Red Belly Macaw
Andean Mott Mott
Speckled Face Parrot
Colubridae Schlange (Chicotillo, Species: Chironius cf. Multiventris Family: Colubridae)
I would recommand bringing good binoculars and cameras for all the wildlife watching. Our group were all young and only brought smartphones, but we could take pics through the telescope of the guide. Binoculars we rented from the agency for 25 /S per day.
We had Revilino as a guide and I can really recommand him. He is experienced, kind, takes care of each individual and the group and has a lot of knowledge. He comes and lives from the jungle in Boca Manu. He speaks very good English and knows many plant and animal names in Spanish, English and Latin. Mainly he knows birds and mammals and reptiles. Also he is really good in spotting animals.
Manu National Park is a fascinating piece of nature in the Amazonian rainforest. However our guide saw it endangered by humans. There is petrol below the surface which makes it industrially interesting and of course loggers want to cut the trees. But also the native people endanger it. The real indigenous are the Mashco Piro which still run naked through the jungle and live as nomads with low contact to people. It's dangerous to meet them as we can not communicate with them. They have already killed two civilised locals on encounters with bow and arrow. Even more dangerous for the forest though are the Matchiguenkas as they as well as the Mashco Piros are allowed to hunt and cut trees in the national park. However they originally came from the mountains/ Cusco region. Now they use their privilege to kill special animals and cut special trees to sell it. The park rangers belong to the same ethnia so they will not stop them. Our guide claimed that it's quite attractive nowadays to be a Matchiguenka. Apparently they finance their rifles etc. by the money from tourism. Also the Mashco Piros will settle down after they have received enough technology from civilised humans and by this harm the park more, thinks our guide. There is already basic trade between them and the natives in Diamante at Río Madre de Díos who can communicate with them.
Manu national park is a beautiful example of rainforest in South America with exciting flora and fauna.
Read more from Timonator here.
Visit: June 2019. Manu NP can (only) be reached by joining a tour from Cusco. I went on a 5 days tour to the Cultural Zone and focus on the different tours.
Zona Cultural vs Zona Reservada
Manu NP is huge, but only a relatively small part can be accessed. If you want to spend your tour mostly in the core zone, you need to book a trip to the reserved zone. The shortest tour I found was 6 days. The 5 days reserved zone tour Els did is no longer offered, as it was not profitable. Tours to the reserved zone include on each way an 8 hours bus ride to Atalaya port (half of the road unpaved) followed by an 8 hours boat ride to Boca a Manu, the entry point to the reserved zone. The flights to Boca a Manu are no longer available since 2012, so no short cuts possible at the moment. This also means that out of 6 days you will be using 3 just to get there and back. From what I heard animal sightings in the reserved zone are far more common. There are lodges inside the reserved zone, so you don’t have to sleep in a tent.
The cultural zone can be done in 3, 4 or 5 days tours. Driving from Cusco to Atalaya you will actually cross the core zone several times at the south western tip of the park (from where my picture is). This zone is in the highlands (around 4000m). the problem is, that it is not really the zone you would expect, when thinking of Manu. We did a walking tour within the core zone, around a small lake. Later you enter the cloud forest, also partially in the core zone. There we did another walking tour, spotting some wild live such as monkeys and even Peru’s national bird, the Cock of the Rock. We spent 3 of 4 nights in a jungle lodge in the cultural zone. The lodge is in the jungle strip, between the river and Manu NP. There is probably not much difference between this jungle and the jungle in the core zone a few kilometres away. It is thick virgin forest with all the animals you can expect in Manu (Jaguars, Pumas, Tapirs, etc). The difference is, that there are villages nearby on the other side of the river and that it is not in the core zone. Due to the proximity of humans, the animals are much shyer and hide even better. How many animals you see also depends on the guide. I had both a rather unmotivated and a highly motivated guide and the latter makes the experience so much better. We did daily walks in the jungle and managed to see frogs, lots of spiders, monkeys and an armadillo. Further, the whole area has a huge variety of birds. I quite enjoyed these walks and was happy with the quantity of animals I saw. I just wished I was in the core zone. It was rather a nice jungle trip and not visiting a WHS. If you don’t want to spend too much time and money, I highly recommend a trip to the cultural zone. It will be a good experience anyways. If you are only in for the tick, you can even book a 3 days tour. You won’t see much of the jungle, but you will enter the core zone in the mountains, so it will count. I would also like to give a shout out to the cook. Food was excellent during the whole trip.
Booking a tour
I want to prevent you from making the worst mistake I made: don’t book online! There are relatively few companies executing trips to cultural and reserved zone. But there are countless small travel agencies in Cusco selling them. They compete with each other and you can bargain. Basically it doesn’t matter too much who you travel with. They all have the same activities in the cultural zone (jungle wals, visit a lake, hot springs) or the reserved zone (oxbow lakes). Prices online range between (only) USD 100 more till absolute fantasy prices. Here is the price range for the tour I did (5 days cultural zone): I booked online with Macaw Adventures and payed USD 450. Pantiacolla, the operator Els suggested, asked for a whooping USD 815. The people I met in the lodge, all paid different amounts for different packages. USD 250 for 4 days, USD 180 for 3 days, etc. Basically there are just some buses going there and you can be mixed up with others with more or less the same package. Sold out seemed not to be a problem in June. Rather not enough people. If you want to do the reserved zone I have no idea what a good price is. The offers from the companies I contacted were USD 810 for 6 days by Macaw adventure and USD 1550 for 7 days by Pantiacolla. If you don’t book ahead, of course you run the risk not to travel on your desired date. But if you do, you can be sure that you will be overcharged.
I might go back and visit the reserved zone, but not before they reinstalled the flights to Boca a Manu. The idea to travel 40mins instead of 1.5 days sounds like something to wait for.
Only a 3 days trip organized from Cuzco through Manu Peru Amazon (November 2013). Not enough to see the real jungle but least enough to have impression how it is in Amazonia.
Road from Cuzco to Salvacion (via Paucartambo) crosses National Park borders at Acjanaco (there are signs of NP) and than continues to Pilcopata (and Salvacion) within so-called Cultural Zone of Manu (Zona de Amortiguamiento).
Even being aware of the lenghth of stay it is one of best jungle experience so far - variety (and diversity) of animals and plants to be observed there is enormous, I truelly recommend to go there for longer period (and probaly go further north to Manu River and so-called Zona Experimental).
I have been in the Manu National Park and must say is for sure one of the best places in the world to be visited. Due to the non easy access way, nature there remainded more untouched than in others Amazon reservations, that is mainly the reason why is easier to spot mammals and birds. Insekts species we saw there are unbeliveble, those that somebody could not imagine that exist.
Our guide was so knowledge and patience showing us useful plants, vines and teaching us how to live in the Amazon, we made fire and we bath us in beutiful rivers every day.
I stay volunteering on a campsite, helping to develope a project that protect the Cultural Zone of the Manu National Park, during this month I learnt a lot and I would never forget this experience.
For those interested you can visit the web page:
They offer affordable options to visit the Park
I am the first to write a review about this WHS - no wonder since it sees only ca. 2500 visitors a year. The Reserved Zone of Manu National Park can be reached from Cuzco with a couple of tour companies. I went there on a 5-day tour with the well-organized and recommended Pantiacolla Tours. It is possible to fly in and out (there´s a tiny grass airstrip at the Yuni Lodge), but I choose to drive down from Cuzco for 1.5 days through the cloud forest until the port of Atalaya at the Madre de Dios River. This way you´ll see the landscape change dramatically, and there are already plenty of birds to see along the road including the Andean cock-of-the-rock and the quetzal.
The tour company had put "binoculars" at the no. 1 spot of the packing list. And indeed they proved to be essential, as the wildlife here is not easy to see with the naked eye. The rainforest is very thick, and many of the species have disguising colours.
We navigated the Manu River for hours, always being the only ones on the river. Both white and black caiman are a common sight here, lying around at the river's characteristic beaches. We saw one black caiman about 4 meters long. Also, we happened upon two tapirs scrambling upon the river bank. Tapir is a rare sighting, even scarcer than the jaguar. Unfortunately, we missed out on the latter one during this trip.
On short hikes through the forest, it was easy to spot monkeys. They live high in the treetops, but are noisy and sometimes show off. We saw brown capuchins, squirrel monkeys, the very elastic spider monkeys (a joy to stare at), and the impressively strong woolly monkeys. And in the jungle camp, we were awoken each morning at 5 a.m. by the throat singing of the howler monkeys. We did get a good look at them too.
The Manu River has created a number of oxbow lakes. Lake Salvador and Lake Otorongo are the most notable ones. We visited Lake Salvador two times, once in the late afternoon and once in the early morning. The word "pristine" could have been invented just to describe this precious lake. The thing to do here is looking for Giant Otter. The first day we were not lucky: they had moved away from the spot where the guide knew they lived. But on the second morning, we saw three adults at their breakfast. One had caught a very large fish, almost half his own size. He was loudly eating it. A really fun thing to watch. They are called Giant Otters as they can get 2 meters tall (including their tail), but they did not look that big to me. Birds we saw at the lake include the punky hoatzin and the wonderful green ibis. Groups can watch and look for the animals at this lake by using a wooden catamaran.
We were less lucky at Lake Otorongo, where there is only a viewing platform.
What I will most remember about this trip though is the enormous variety of trees and plants. I got bored by forests in Australia, but Manu NP is really extraordinary in its variety. It is fully packed with green leaves in all different sizes, shapes and colour shades.
Read more from Els Slots here.
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