Manu National Park
The biological diversity of Manú National Park exceeds that of any other place on earth. The park comprises the catchment basin of the Manu River and part of that of the Alto Madre de Dios River.
Overall, more than 15,000 species of plants are found in Manú, and up to 250 varieties of trees have been found in a single hectare. The reserve is a destination for birdwatchers from all over the world, as it is home to over 500 species of birds, nearly the total for all of North America and 10-15% in the whole world. Furthermore, there are at least 13 wildlife species in the park that are globally threatened such as Giant Otter, Giant Anteater, Ocelot and Jaguar.
Its vegetation consists of tropical lowland rainforest, tropical montane rainforest and grasslands.
Before becoming an area protected by the Peruvian government, the Manú National Park was conserved thanks to its inaccessibility. The park remains inaccessible by road to this day.
Map of Manu National ParkLoad map
Visit May 2011
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 of about 4 meters long. Also we happened upon two tapirs scrambling upon the river bank. Tapir are a rare sighting, even more scarce 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 tree tops, but are noisy and sometimes showing off. We saw brown capucins, squirrel monkeys, the very elastic spider monkeys (a joy to stare at), 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 look 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 Otter as they can get 2 meters tall (including 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 of 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 leafs in all different sizes, shapes and colourshades.
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
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