The lung of the planet extends through most of South America. Covering with its great green cloak a large part of various countries. Among all these countries, Peru is fortunate to occupy a part of this beautiful and unique green mantle. While Machu Picchu is considered the jewel of the Inca Empire, Manu National Park could be considered “the cherry on the dessert” in matters of the jungle and wild nature worldwide. It is a remote place and isolated from the biggest world cities. Also, this beautiful park is one of the last bastions of this fragile ecosystem that is continuously attacked by logging, rubber, and illegal mining companies. That is why together with Machu Travel Peru we have prepared a small article about the Manu in the Amazon Jungle in Peru, its main characteristics, and the best form to visit it.
Everything you need to know about the National Park of Manu
- The beautiful Manu National Park
- Manu location
- National Park geography
- History of Manu
- Zones of Manu Park
- Flora and fauna
- Best activities in Manu
- The best time to visit Manu
- How to get there
- Enjoy the Manu surroundings
- Get lodging in the middle of nature
The beautiful Manu National Park
The National Park of Manu is a large Nature Reserve located in the southeast of Peru and known for its awesome biodiversity. Its more than 2 million jungle hectares are crossed by the Amazon river and host an unbelievable species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and fish. Without mentioning its great variety of flora and climates, Jaguars, black caimans, anacondas, macaws, and a diversity of monkeys among others will wait to be watched.
The Manu national park, with elevations that go from 300 to 4200 meters above sea level, is located in the Amazon jungle, southeast of Pèru, in the department of Madre de Dios, and northeast of Cusco. Therefore, if you are in the surroundings of Imperial City, you can take the opportunity to enter one of the most amazing sectors within all of Peru. The other door entrance is the city of Puerto Maldonado.
National Park geography
This incredible park is made up of 2 million hectares of extension and numerous landscapes. It begins by bordering the Andes mountains and extends to almost 4,000 meters above sea level and descends to 300 meters in the Amazon basin. Even it goes through the cloud forest that is about 2,000 meters high. To be specific, it is one of the few parks on the continent that has the entire spectrum of ecosystems in the entire Amazon. Also, the variety of Amazon rainforest animals is unbelievable! and not to mention its diversity in flora and climates. Tropical forests, cloud forests, and its Andes snow make up this impressive reserve within the Peru Amazon.
History of Manu
A. Pre-Columbian history
It is known that the zone was already occupied by native Amazon tribes even before the Incas arrival. Proof of that is the famous petroglyphs of Pusharo, founded by the Spanish priest Vicente de Conytagoya in 1921 on the right bank of the Shinkibenia river, a tributary of the Palotoa river. Also, other petroglyphs were found in the Qeros river, on the great rock “Xinkiori” which is legendary for the tribe community of “Huachipaeris”. Its date of creation and its purpose remains a mystery to many scholars.
Even, there is an archaeological site called Mameira located on located at the headwaters of the Piñi Piñi and Alto Tono rivers.
B. Incas times
There is not much reference to the place in Inca times. It is only known that the Inka Pachacutec and later his son Tupac Inka Yupanqui annexed it between the years 1400 and 1471.
C. Colonial and Republic history
With the arrival to Peru of the Spanish in 1524, besides to looting and extracting wealth from the Inca Empire, they began to investigate the areas around Cusco. In this way, the Europeans founded the province of Paucartambo (east side of Cusco) in 1567, due to its location close to the Peruvian Amazon. This province and the town of the same name served as a checkpoint for all merchandise, inputs, and more goods that came from the jungle to the city of Cusco.
In 1567, the Spanish Juan Alvarez Maldonado started an expedition for 37 days from Paucartambo into the deep jungle. That same, in the month of May, the Creole Manuel de Escobar mounted another expedition from the Madre de Dios River to the Manu River.
D. Current times
The Manu National park was created in 1973 with 15,400 square kilometers. Thanks to its high biological diversity, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 and a Biosphere Reserve in 1977 (only a specific area of 2,600 square kilometers)
Zones of Manu park
The National Park is divided into three main areas. These are known as the Manu Reserved Zone, the Manu Cultural Zone, and the Restricted Zone. Please note that depending on the tour you want to enjoy, it will be necessary to book your tour months in advance.
A. Manu Cultural Zone
Access to the cultural zone can be done independently, but it is always advisable to do it together with an experienced certified travel agency company. This area is the closest to the Cusco region, therefore, it is the most visited among the others. Inside, you will have the opportunity to meet various local indigenous communities that are willing to receive tourists. If you plan to enjoy one of the many Machu Picchu and Amazon tours, you will surely be visiting this area.
B. Manu Reserved Zone
Visitors who seek to visit this area can only do so with a few tourist companies suitable to operate in the area since a special permit is needed. However, some researchers and specialized groups can enter here with the particular permission of the Peruvian government. But why? Well, because throughout this area there are a greater number of uncontacted native communities (native people isolated from civilization, many of them savage and primitive) It is advisable to book a few months in advance your permissions and tours, always through an authorized travel agency, to this zone.
C. Restricted Zone
The restricted zone is, as its name mentions, limited to the passage of local or foreign tourists. It is made up of large sections of the virgin jungle that are home to numerous indigenous tribes, isolated from the outside world. Passage to this place is prohibited except by specialist park rangers and researchers authorized by the Peruvian government.
Flora and Fauna
If we tried to identify each species of flora and fauna in Manu, our whole life would not be enough. The great biodiversity in Peru and specially on the nature park makes Manu a true paradise to many species of the Peruvian Amazon. Below, you will see the most representative data of:
The Manu National Park is a treasure box regarding which Flora is concerned. More than fifteen thousand species of plants (It means 10 % of the world’s vascular plant species!) registered, 250 types of trees, and endemic tropical zones like rainforests with dense foliage, meandering lakes, and extensive grasslands are proof of it. Nowadays, forty percent of the National Park is registered, and the medicinal plants are the main characters, all of them were used by native tribes in the Reserve and Restricted zones of the Park and contribute to medicinal compounds to around the world. If you take Amazon tours from Cusco, your tour guide will explain to you the medicinal benefits of each plant of Manu, because they are local and know the area where they were born very well.
Like other nature reserves, the variety of Fauna in the National Park is recognized all over the world. More than 1200 species of butterflies, 99 species of reptiles, 222 species of mammals, 140 types of amphibians, 1000 species of birds, 2300 types of insects, and 1000 species of fish. The list is endless, and the most representative animals here are the Ronsoco (The largest rodent species in the world) that live in wetlands and near riverbanks throughout Manu. The Otorongo (of the same species as the jaguar) wanders through the undergrowth.
The Black Caiman, that is a specie of giant crocodile that lives on the banks of rivers and is submerged underwater. The fearsome Anaconda, a giant boa constrictor that is the inspiration for jungle legends and myths. The harpy eagle, which is the aerial predator par excellence within the Manu, or the primate species that live in families, can find them hanging from the branches highest of the trees, making noise, and scaring the intrepid visitors.
Best activities in Manu
The great extension of the Manu gives infinitive options to enjoy. And with the fantastic activities that the National Park has to offer, it will make you want to try more. Perhaps, travel to Tambopata or another national reserve. Keep in mind that being activities in the Peruvian Amazon, the services of a travel agency are needed. Depending on the activities to be carried out, the tours can cost from $140 (joining a group tour, of a few days, does not include transportation to the park) up to $950 or more (private tours, all included)
Among the wide range of activities, we can find the following.
1. Look at the macaws in clay licks
Any visit to the Manu has to include a tour of the macaw clay licks. It is here that hundreds of brightly colored macaws gather to obtain the necessary minerals and salts in their diet. It is one of the best experiences available within the jungle. Anyone with an interest in birds will be fascinated.
2. Enjoy a night walk
Being able to experience a mysterious walk through the jungle after dark offers a unique opportunity. You will have the opportunity to see nocturnal animals that are not usually active during the day. Among the different animals that you can see, you will find amphibians and exotic insects like some small mammals, rodents, tarantulas, snakes, and more.
3. Photograph the cock of the rocks bird
If the birds in Tambopata (another close National Reserve) weren’t enough, take a trip to Manu Park. The Cock of the Rocks is the national bird of Peru. It is known for having bright red color and a rather ostentatious courtship dance. A trip to the Park is the perfect opportunity to spot these bird specimens. If you are lucky, you will be able to appreciate the elaborate dances they perform in an attempt to attract a mate.
4. Appreciate amazing giant river otters
Manu National Park is known for its particular fauna. Many of them can be fully developed because the majority of Manu zones are protected from human presence and animals can have one less predator. Therefore, some species are big in comparison to other types around the world. The giant otters are no exception. These live in lakes and coastlines of rivers, hunting, eating, and playing in family. Even, a typical otter can reach the size of 1.8 meters. Unbelievable! Seeing them is a privilege.
5. Navigate through Lake Salvador
Within the depths of the Reserved Zone and quite far from civilization, is Lake Salvador. The experience may not compare to that of Sandoval Lake, but you will find an abundance of wildlife around. You will have the possibility of spotting monkeys, alligators, capybaras, and river turtles among other specimens while you slowly navigate on an artisanal raft guided by a local guide.
6. Visit local communities
Some of the most important settlements in the Cultural Zone have options to receive tourists. Therefore, one of the best things to do in Manu is to meet the different indigenous peoples that inhabit this area. You will have the opportunity to learn about the traditional lifestyle of the communities. Also, the option to visit local communities is included in very few tours in Peru. So it is a great opportunity that you cannot miss.
7. Take a canopy hike
If you are looking to see the jungle from a different perspective, then you have to try canopy walks. Being able to climb the treetops and enjoy the walks is an unparalleled experience. When it comes to the rainforest, a lot of the action happens above the treetops And so a walk through the canopy gives tourists a deeper understanding of life in the jungle. The different communities of primates can be watched in this form.
8. Sunrise at Tres Cruces
As we mentioned before, Paucartambo is an ancient town, founded by the Spanish, and used as a checkpoint for merchandise and products coming from the jungle. In current, the festivity of Virgen del Carmen (Carmen virgin) is celebrated on July 16 and it is taken advantage of to visit the look view of Tres Cruces (Three Crosses) located 60 km from it. From this look view, the visitor can enjoy seeing the summit of Ausangate snow to the green foliage of the treetops of the Manu. However, the main attraction here is the sighting of the Three Crosses, a natural phenomenon in which sunlight unfolds and is diffused by the humidity of dawn, turning one rising sun into three. The spectacle is best appreciated between May and August (dry season) around 06 in the morning.
9. Go rafting in the Kosñipata Valley
This valley is found passing Paucartambo town and taking the shortcut of Acjanco Pass (more than 12,600 ft), the valley is located on the eastern flanks of the Andes, as they fall towards the Amazon river basin, where the thick ists settle. Hence its name Kosñipata (smoke place). In the valley, the visitor can practice rafting (Kosñipata River) on levels 3, 4, and 5. Biking by both flanks of the river, where you will enjoy the best rainforest in Peru.
The best time to visit Manu
Normally, the National Park can be visited throughout the year. But it is recommended to visit most of the attractions in the dry season (May to September) Although inside the Amazon it is not usually completely dry because occasional rains occur throughout the entire year, and it is frequently very humid, and the heat can be unbearable, it is better to visit it in this season than the rainy one. The Rainy Season goes from October to April (Hard rains with electric storms can cause muddy paths and overflow of rivers and lagoons, making impossible the visit to the Peruvian Amazon) Even mosquitoes and other insects can be very annoying in the rainy season.
Otherwise, it is true that the Reserve is a visual paradise, and the activities like Bird Watching or looking at the macaws in clay licks can be better approached in the rainy season, you must have good gear and certain clothes apt to the rain. That is why it is convenient to know what to pack for a tropical holiday.
Weather in Manu
You can find colder climates in low zones; up to 95ºF in the mornings and 77ºF at night (25ºC-35ºC) On the other hand, warmer weather sets in high zones. However, in both cases, the temperature usually is warm on days and nights. Another important piece of information is that after rain, the temperature can descend to 50ºF (10ºC)
“Surazo” or “Friaje” (Coldness) is when usually cold and polar winds come from the south (Patagonia) and settle in the cloudy mountains and the tropical forest of the Peruvian Amazon between May and August. During this time, the temperature can lower up to 46ºF (8ºC)
How to get there
The most accessible points where depart all tours and transportation heading to Manu National Park are Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. First, you have to arrive at one of these points, frequent flights connect Lima, the Peruvian capital, with Cusco and Puerto Maldonado, besides bus services. From these points:
- From Cusco: There are buses that depart from the San Sebastian district or San Salvador town heading to Manu, passing by Paucartambo town and Kosñipata Valley. The trip lasts 7 hours. Or you can hire private transportation and drive following the same route. However, as you are visiting a vast and extensive Nature Reserve, it is recommendable to do it with tour services, or through a travel agency.
- From Puerto Maldonado: Once arrive in Puerto Maldonado, you will have to head to Santa Rosa village. From there, cross the Iñambari river to Carlos port. Then, you will continue to navigate and head to Boca Colorado (Trip 45 minutes) Madre de Dios River up.
- Boca Manu: There is a little aerodrome where charter light aircraft land. From this point, the passenger can continue their trip, by boat, to their lodgings inside Manu.
Enjoy the Manu surroundings
Through the many tours on Amazon in Peru, you will be able to know much more than the Manu.
- Iquitos: If you want to enjoy other places, you can go to Iquitos on a wonderful combined tour. Although they are in quite remote places, they make up the essence of the tourist places of the Peruvian Amazon. Taking a luxury cruise to navigate through the Amazon river in the northeast part of Peru, and seeing different types of wild animals while enjoying the best of Peruvian gastronomy, combined with other activities like casinos, and live music bands at night among others is an unforgettable experience.
- Tambopata National Reserve: Near Iquitos, you can visit the well-known Tambopata National Reserve and stay in a wonderful Tambopata lodge, where you can live the best experiences with your family or partner. Although this park is more touristy, has fewer restrictions than Manu, and has more visitors, the activities here do not drop in level. Navigate the river doing bird watching, take night walks, climb the treetops, and much more.
Get lodging in the middle of nature
The Manu National Park offers peace, nature, and calm to all visitant who wants to disconnect from the world. Similar to lodges in Tambopata, here, the lodgments are implemented with furniture and decorations made with materials from the area. Even, the same structures are built with local materials like Caoba, and Cedro woods inter alia. Bungalows and eco-lodge will be waiting for you with all necessary services (hot shower, drinking water inter alia)
Usually, the travel agencies that operate tours in Manu have contact with many great lodgings in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. An example? Casa Machiguenga is a local lodging; bungalow administrated by the same native tribe. If you want to know more, you can contact us!
“MY FAVORITE THING TO DO IS GO WHERE I’VE NEVER BEEN”
Among the different jungle destinations, Manu National Park is one of its most incredible. Despite being a more remote place and more difficult to access, you will have the opportunity to see those elusive animals. In Machu Travel Peru, we hope to have encouraged your next travel plans. The Amazon is a magical and adventure-filled destination. You cannot miss this astounding park full of wildlife to observe!