Rio Abiseo National Park
Rio Abiseo National Park is home to a large number of species of flora and fauna, as well as over 30 pre-Columbian archaeological sites.
The park comprises an isolated river basin covered by forests, transitioning into a mountain landscape at higher elevations. The critically endangered Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey is known to live in the park and relies on it for its survival as a species. The most famous archaeological site in the park is Gran Pajatén, a ruined settlement that was occupied between 900 and 200 BCE, and 200 BCE to 600 CE.
Community Perspective: This is one of the most difficult to visit WHS in South America; Wojciech managed to set foot in the park after a harrowing drive, and also provides practical tips for future visitors. Timonator arrived from the North by boat.
Map of Rio Abiseo National ParkLoad map
We´ve made it to the Río Abiseo National Park in Peru! Apparently it´s one of the more difficult places to visit in South America but with the knowledge I have gained I thjnk it is quite feasable for everyone now. Nevertheless it cost me an investment of at least 3 days of travelling and planning to make it. And I´ve only visited a tiny corner of a vast national park that has different habitats and geographical regions that are mainly impossible to easily visit and also has a cultural aspect with the Gran Pajatén which I was not able to visit either. If you want to visit the Gran Pajatén you can contact Nestor (see Wojciech´s review) and he might be able to arrange something. I think officially it´s prohibited to visit for tourists but he told me that he could arrange something during May to July when river levels are easy to cross by hiking.
In my case I have stayed 2 nights in the Abiseo Lodge just next to the park ranger house and only a 10 minute boat ride from the official NP territory on the complete other side of the park than Gran Pajatén. This lodge is accessible from Juanjui which you can reach from Tarapoto. In my case I took the 21 hour overnight bus from Trujillo (Chan Chan) to Tarapoto (movil bus was really comfy for 30 USD) and then 3 hours by minivan/colectivo to Juanjui. This is the website of the lodge and the travel operator that offers stays in the lodge: Website. Thanks Els for sharing so that I could visit 😉. The family Nikolov conservation area is just next to the national park and has space on both sides of the territory. The owners Kevin and Maria live in Virginia, but their nephew Peter is running the tour agency and was also our guide. I will come back to his role later in the text. The lodge is in "high jungle", meaning it´s not flat and low like Amazonian rainforest but on about 300 meters above sea level. This causes different flora and fauna. You will not find piranhas, caimans and some other animals here. Also there are hardly any mosquitos luckily. Though I got a wasp sting from an insect that attacked me. Generally it´s less abundancy of wildlife compared to for example Parque Nacional del Manu. However it´s still jungle. You will sweat hard while walking through the jungle. The lodge doesn´t have a lot of visitors. The last visitors were in the lodge 5 months before us. Actually they don´t have a huge focus on the national park or flora and fauna, but it´s more a focus on adventure & nature holiday. They have great, natural places just outside the official national park that nevertheless give you an idea of the flora and fauna of the national park obviously as it´s just a few meters away along the Río Abiseo in the hilly forests. I will explain the places in the following.
From Juanjui, which is a small town, we traveled 30 minutes by car to Huicungo, which is a village next to Río Huayabamba. With a boat it´s a 30 minute ride against the current to the river mouth of Río Abiseo which runs into Río Huayabamba. From there its another 1,5 hours against the current to the lodge. A boat assistant was needed as some passages of the rocky river are flat. In one part we even needed to get of the boat and walk while the captain and his assistant needed to push the boat through the river until it got deeper again. I wonder how this works in dry season (May- September more or less).
After leaving the stuff in the lodge we travelled by boat into the National Park/WHS for about 30 minutes to the Catarata Maquisapa. This is the only place that we visited in the WHS. So for hardcore travellers who just want to tick of the WHS my recommendation is: Fly from Lima to Tarapoto (maybe 2 hours), drive to Juanjui (about 3 hours). The next day you drive by car and boat to the waterfall Maquisapa (4 hours one way) and back to Juanjui the same day and then youn have it. However I would recommend to stay 2 nights in the lodge and explore a bit the surroundings. It´s also really beautiful and a calm spot in the nature without other people. The Catarata Maquisapa is a nice waterfall coming down maybe 15 meters from a rocky wall into a natural pool. We took a bath in the shadowed water under the trees after a 15 minute walk and some climbed up a few meters on the slippery wall to jump into the pool. It´s a cool place! Just at the entrance of the walk is the rapid San Jeronimo which can only be passed by boat in rainy season as otherwise the huge rock prevents to go further upstream. The catarata Chivy can be reached deeper in the park if it´s accessible.
The next day we hiked to the Cueva de los Franceses, which is a cave on the other side of Río Abiseo in the Nikolov conservation area. Offically the walk is 2 hours one way. We took 7 hours for the whole experience as we looked out for birds and monkeys. Especially the yellow-tailed woolley monkey we wanted to see as it almost only lives here. It´s not uncommon to see it here but we were unlucky throughout the 3 days. We saw some monkeys in a tree in the distance but we could mainly see the tree movement only. With the Merlin app I detected quite a few calls from birds. There are many tucans and parrot-like birds but also others. However often it´s hard to find them especially if you don´t have a good guide or expert. You can enter the cave and walk quite deep into it. There are stalagtites and stalagmites and bats are flying around. At some point the offical end is reached. Though you can climb deeper and reach an underwater water channel in which you can swim. However it´s not recommended and is quite challenging. Better is to explore the other end of the cave from the Quebrada of Churros as we did on another day.
In the evening we walked a bit more than an hour to the twin trees which are two big trees that stand next to each other and are really similar. However it was not too spectacular. Nevertheless the walks in the jungle are always great looking to wildlife and plants. We walked back in the night and saw a tiny snake and a lot of insects and spiders. Also we detected a quite big river crab.
On the final day we kayaked 5 minutes into the Quebrada de Churros. It´s a very stony creek and you can not paddle really long. But it's very beautiful as the stones were formed by the water. In a pool you jump into the water with your life vest and can climb up the the entry of the cave next to a small waterfall. In the following we swam into the cave which is partially deep and is the source of the creek that runs into Río Abiseo. I found it quite uncomfortable with the combination of dark cave, swimming and a bat flying around my head especially as a few weeks back an English girl in our hostel in Huaraz was bitten by a dog and needed to fly back to London to get the medical treatment as she didn´t have a rabias vaccine. We have it and the bat didn´t bite or attack us but I felt quite helpless in the water. My fiance found the experience fantastic though. Afterwards we paddled back on the Río Abiseo a few minutes to the lodge. We asked if we could paddle all the way back to Huicungo but we were not allowed to do that. Some passages of the river are quite dangerous and technical I believe and could be rafted and the boats were not the best plus we don´t have wild water kayak experience. But it felt like a great idea.
In terms of organisation we were first in contact with the owner Maria from the US. She gave us the number of Peter, her 40 year old nephew, who lives in Juanjui and runs the tour agency. In the end he organised our tour and was also our offical guide. The problem is that he is really good in talking but not so good in doing things. Almost every individual wish we had in advance he forgot or failed to organise it. For example he promised binoculars or a pick up from a car in Tarapoto to travel to Juanjui. During our three ours in Tarapoto he was not even reachable by phone even though we were in contact just a few minutes before our arrival. The biggest fail was that after we paid him after our arrival in the night he went working as a waiter instead of resting. At 6 a.m. we waited for our pick-up. At 7 a.m. we called his father who had picked us up the day before from the terminal in Juanjui and brought us to the hostel. Peter was not reachable by phone. We found him sleeping in his house as he worked until 4 a.m. Additionally it seemed that he had a hangover. The rest of the day we was basically sleeping at every occasion. At least he also forgot to charge us with another 130 USD for the last day for the two of us as discussed before as the official price was 600 USD for the 2 of us for 2 days only and we stayed 3 days. The prices on the website were much higher. In addition the his respectless behaviour towards us as clients he is also not having a lot of knowledge in the jungle. The extreme example is that he is afraid of night walks because of the jaguar. However there are not many jaguars and the night walks were always our highlight in the jungle so far due to the high activity of insects. Peter told us he will also cook for us which made us think how we will manage that when he is also our guide. In the end only his father was cooking for us and he never contributed anything. His personality is that he wants to show that he is doing everything but in fact all the other people do everything and he is quite lazy. Finally he was also pushing us all the time during the excursions due to time while we looked out for wildlife. He doesn´t have any clue where to find monkeys or birds. In the moment when we saw trees moving in the distance due to monkeys he pushed us to continue and promised a better spot to see them but it never came. He seems to be acting more in his own interest in the tour than in our interest.
The good part was that our captain Dante, a kid from the nearby jungle of now 28 years, was with us all the time druing the tours. He is not an educated guide (neither is Peter) but he has super knowledge of the plants and trees. Peter always asked him about what the plants are called. Additionally he was a super kind person and was acting in our interests. He was as excited as we were exploring the surroundings. I would recommend contacting him and try to arrange a tour with him. Maybe he would need to involve Peter also as his family owns the land but than you have at least one good guide. His family runs a cacao plantage that we visited on the way back to Huicungo. This is his number: +51 926 215 701. He doesn´t speak any English I think but lives very modern and is communicative. Also Peter only speaks a few words in English I believe. We only spoke Spanish.
Let me know if anything remained unclear in the description. I hope it makes the park more accessible for everyone.
Read more from Timonator here.
Site visited in June 2022. Rio Abiseo is undoubtedly the most difficult WHS to visit in Peru and one of the most difficult in South America. Traveling to such places is especially exciting, so I couldn't let it go while planning a trip to Peru with my family.
You can get to Rio Abiseo in two ways: from the east, from Tarapoto (which has connections to Lima), where you can visit the lower part of the park with tropical forest, or from the west, where the gate to the park is Pataz and you visit the high-mountain part of the park, with archaeological sites, including the most famous Gran Pajaten. For logistics reasons, I only considered the western route. Besides, I am not sure if the eastern route covers the core zone or only parts of the Abiseo River outside the national park.
Rio Abiseo National Park is officially closed to visitors, but you can find offers for trips there on the Internet, so I suspected it was not that tragic. Long before we left, I got in touch with Nestor (whatsapp +51961844611), a guide who offered the opportunity to visit Gran Pajaten from Pataz. Due to the huge differences in height (over 1000 meters), he recommended using mules and trekking from Pataz for at least two days when traveling with small children. Later, however, our contact broke off, but I know that Nestor can be a good fixer for those who want to visit Rio Abiseo from the west.
Even without official permission, we decided to try it. The road from Huamachuco to Pataz scared me a bit - Google Maps shows 146 km to cover in six and a half hours, so the average is slightly higher than 20 km / h. The reality turned out to be even worse: this road is terrible - in a really bad condition, narrow, with a chasm on one side, often over 3000 m above sea level. (see photos) Especially dangerous when a truck is coming on the other side and you need to find a safe way to pass each other.
Despite renting a SUV, the road took us more than 7 hours. We finally we reached Pataz, destroying the plastic underbody covers on the way. In Pataz, accidentally stood in front of the town hall, went in and asked about the possibility of visiting the national park. I got a contact to a very nice mayor who is also one of the heads of the national park. The mayor said that he would organize permits to the park, a guide and mules especially for us - the total price for one day should be around $ 500 for 4 people. The problem came with the mules because it took all day to get them organized. We didn't want to wait that long, so we thanked him and quit. Plan B had to be implemented.
Plan B was to get into the park without a permit. Near the village of LLacuabamba, 90 km and 4 hours from Pataz, there is a road that turns into the national park. We took it, but there was a watchtower at the border of the park - further entry was impossible without a permit. Luckily there was also a side bouncing road (to a place called Las Tres Lagunas). I drove it, got out of the car out of sight of the rangers, crossed the stream that was the border of the national park, and walked a good kilometer into the park. Unfortunately, I didn't see anything special - nice mountains surrounded by clouds - but the core zone was for sure passed! My wife and children did not want to do this, frightened by a herd of bulls grazing nearby and heading straight for them.
After returning, I persuaded my wife and children to cross the stream and formally "tick" the park (the bulls had already gone several hundred meters away). They did, but on top of that, my wife and son got their shoes wet - a good souvenir from this unique place!
From Llacuabamba we had a long journey to the nearest WHS Chavin - 430 km and 15 hours of driving, which I did in two days. The road was slightly better than the one to Pataz, but still very difficult. In the end, we traveled over 650 km and over 25 hours on dirt roads to check the Rio Abiseo National Park. It was the greatest effort we have made for any particular WHS. Was it worth it? Certainly yes, memories will stay with us forever!
To include cultural heritage criteria (iii) as well
Additional info on Archeological sites
Derived from 2 former TWHS: Pajaten Archaeological Complex and Rio Abiseo National Park
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