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Manu National Park, Peru [2022] – Daring the Amazon Rainforest

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Covid-Related Travel Update July 2022 – Peru is now open to international travelers. Travelers must show proof of vaccination. Those who are unvaccinated have to show a negative covid-19 test issued up to 48 hours before boarding. Find the complete information on the official website of the Peru government. My guide to tourist visa for Peru for Indians would be helpful.

An Adventure to the Manu National Park, also known as Parque Nacional Manu, in the Amazon Rainforest Peru

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My Fascination with the Amazon Rainforest and Deciding to go the National Park Manu, Peru

Amazon, the world’s most biodiverse tropical rainforest, covers nine South American countries — Brazil (60% of the Amazon), Peru (13%), Colombia (10%), and the rest lies within Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.

As a little girl, I used to see the Amazon forest on television. My parents and I watched the National Geographic and Discovery channel every evening for hours. During dinner we switched channels because my mother couldn’t eat while the lions and jackals devoured their dead deers. But as she took her last bite, papa would put the Discovery channel back on. And the dense jungles of Karnataka, ochre shrub lands of Rajasthan, and the most mysterious of them all — the Amazon — would spellbind us.

manu river manu park Amazon Rainforest in Peru
Manu river in the Manu National park in Peru. Part of the Amazon rainforest.

After backpacking in Chile for five months, I decided to continue traveling in South America. While looking for things to do in Peru Cusco, I discovered I could visit the Amazon from there. Else I would have had to go to the faraway town of Iquitos which is only accessible by flight or boat. That trip would have needed more planning and a yellow fever shot, too.

Not many people know that Cusco is the gateway to the Manu National park, locally known as el Parque Nacional del Manu (in Spanish). When I saw the big posters put up by travel agencies that boasted Peru Amazon tours from Cusco, I couldn’t stop myself from going door to door. I wanted the tour details and pricing.

Travel companies told me Manú National Park is a dense forest within the Amazon Rainforest. Out of the entire Amazon which is spread over 5.5 million square km in Peru, Reserva Nacional del Manu occupies 17,000 square km. Reserva Nacional signifies that Manu park is a national reserve forest. Located at the meeting point of the Tropical Andes and the Amazon Basin, it is considered to be terrestrial biodiversity heaven.

The Manu rainforest is not endemic to malaria or yellow fever. So I didn’t need a yellow fever vaccination.

Going to the Amazon is one of the must things to do in Peru, and was sort of a dream of mine. I wasn’t going to miss the chance for anything in the world.

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My trip to the Parque Nacional Manu started from here.

Reserving a Guided Tour to El Parque Nacional del Manu, Peru

I could choose from several three to seven-eight days trips. But another thing to remember is that we were in March. It was raining in Peru day and night. I didn’t know when I would be backpacking Peru again so I ignored the monsoons and decided to go.

I booked a four-day tour to Manu National Park with a company located near the Cusco main plaza. The tour cost was about two hundred US dollars.

But the night before the tour, the guides came to my hostel and told me they had to cancel the trip due to a landslide in the Manu jungle. They offered to take me to another part of the Peruvian Amazon. The new tour would have adventure activities like zip-lining but hikes or nature walks weren’t part of it.

I took my refund and told the guides I would contact them later to arrange another excursion. I am sure they knew I wouldn’t go back to them.

While roaming around Cusco the next day, I went to another travel office. I enquired about tours to Manu Park. A friendly travel agent said they had been taking tourists to Manu and didn’t know of any landslides. Within five minutes I walked out of their office with a confirmation of a four-day tour from Cusco.

Now I just waited for the journey to begin.

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A butterfly in National Park Manu

Visiting Manu National Park from Cusco

A tempo traveler arrived to pick me up from the hostel early in the morning. The journey to my sacred Amazonas had begun. 

We drove all day from Cusco to Parque Nacional Manu. The long drive into the Manu Reserve took us through snaky roads canopied by thick Amazon rainforests. I still can’t believe I was there. I peed at the foot of a mountain while the guides arranged our lunch on the roadside. 

After eating a fresh meal of chicken, rice, and salads, we got on the road again. The guide started spotting eagles and jungle owls now and then. He asked the driver to stop, jumped down from the vehicle, and peered through his binoculars. 

We were too excited to be quiet. Friendly banters began in no time. Apart from me, the group had a German couple and an Israeli guy. Peru is not busy during the rainy season so we had the luxury to be in a small group. 

The noise of the cicadas and the solitude of the jungle enveloped us so thickly that we forgot there was another world outside. And that was the kind of isolation you like. 

In the distance, I saw tall mountains covered by thick trees. I had been told Manu National Park was a mix of many kinds of forests.

The massive gradient in the altitude of the Manu Reserva Nacional has given way to an ecological diversity that is not easy to find anywhere else. Manu’s landscape consists of high Andean grasslands, mountain cloud forests, and lowland rainforests among several other forest types.

vegetation in manu national park peru amazon rainforest
Manu Rainforest, Peru

Thick clouds sat over the entire forest. Later we also crossed the road that had been swept away by the mudslide and seemed to be reconstructed recently.

Accessing the Amazon jungle in monsoon isn’t easy. We were lucky we didn’t get stuck in a landslide or didn’t stumble upon a washed-away road. But remember we are talking about the Amazon rainforest, and those forests are never completely dry.

cloudy day river forest Parque Nacional Manu
Manu River, the Peruvian Amazon

Manu Park is home to two giant rivers. Fed by various estuaries in the mountains, the Manu River swiftly curls through the lowland forests. Then it joins the Madre de Dios River (mother of god) at the Southern edge of Manú National Park.

After driving almost all day long, we got into big boats. Then we rowed through the overflowing Manu river to reach our eco-lodge — our stay for the first night. The lodge was deep inside the Amazon forest and was as quiet as it could get. 

boat ride manu river Manu Peru Tours el Parque Nacional del Manu
The boat we took to arrive at the Lodge in Manu Park, Peru

Marshy lowlands surrounded us. Tall trees were strewed in between and that night they stood silent. 

Our guide Carlos told us the lodge rooms were turned into dorms on busy days in the peak season. But as we were in the low season, I had the entire room to myself. 

After a hot shower, we headed for dinner. 

buffet lunch on a manu national park tour in reserva nacional manu Peru Amazon
Dinner on the Parque Nacional Manu tour, the Amazon.

When the sumptuous dinner buffet was served, I understood all our meals were going to be big. Along with fresh food, came the tour itinerary for the next day. 

Wake up in the morning. Drive for three hours. Visit an animal rescue center. Then a boat ride for half an hour. Arrive at a new lodge. Walk. Lunch. Free time. Walk. Explore the lake. Dinner. Sleep. 

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A bridge over the Manu river, Manu National Park Peru

The next day we drove for three hours to arrive at another village inside the Manu rainforest. We were there to visit the animal rescue center. 

Carlos warned us about over-friendly monkeys and told us to keep our distance from some of the crazy ones.

It seemed like no problem to me. 

macaws sitting on their caretaker animal rescue center Manu national park the peruvian amazon.jpg
Oh, I didn’t mention the macaws. Animal Rescue Center, Manu, Peru Amazon

Soon several monkeys, pigs, and macaws sniffed, licked, and climbed us. The animals had been rescued from poachers and villagers.

Capybaras, turtles, and other animals roamed around freely. But out of all the creatures, the boar felt the most at home. He followed us everywhere and didn’t miss a chance to rub his face against our crotches. Then the capybara decided to play hide and seek while the monkey didn’t let go of the German girl. 

Well, let me cut the story short and say, all is well that ends well.

with animals with the author in rescue center parque nacional del manu Peru Amazon Jungle
Animal Rescue Center, Parque Nacional Manu, Peru

After a short drive, we took the boat to another jungle lodge in Manu. That was our stay for the next two nights.  

The new rooms had attached bathrooms. The Manu river flowed at some distance. Thorny flower bushes adorned the garden in front. Hummingbirds swarmed over those blooming tropical flowers. Blue, black, green, red. I had never seen such colorful hummingbirds.

Thick clouds threatened us from above. The dining hall was on the first floor of a building behind the rooms. From the balcony of the dining, the view was surreal. 

Amazon Eco Lodge Peru manu reserva nacional
View from the dining. Red roofed huts were our stay for the night.
El Parque Nacional del Manu, Peru

I hoped to get stuck in that forest. Sipping mate from that balcony, chasing the squirrels, and watching the rainfall over the Amazon jungle, I was sure I was at the beginning of time and earth had just been born. 

We devoured another large buffet, put on our long gumboots, and set on a jungle expedition. Forest was slippery, and we had to maneuver our way through thigh-deep wetlands. It had been raining for months.

wetlands Parque Nacional de Manu
Swamps

The walk was followed by a short nap. We were woken up to be taken to the lake Otorongo.

boatride manu national park peru amazon rainforest peru
lake Otorongo, Parque Nacional Manu
boat ride in Amazon in Peru

The German couple looked pretty romantic perched on that bamboo raft as it floated away in tranquility. Birds chirped around. Some squeaked to tell us they didn’t like the intrusion.

But we weren’t there to bother them. 

First get out of the raft without falling on your face. Done. Then get onto the high viewpoint and spot birds. Done.

I saw pied kingfishers for the first time in my life. Amongst several birds (whose pictures I don’t have for I didn’t have a good camera), we also saw big termite and ant houses. 

As we floated on the lake, the forest swayed in the cool wind. The Amazon was breathing. 

frog in Reserva Nacional del Manu Park peru.jpg
Spotted during a night walk in the Manu forest, Peru

Another classy dinner and we were out for a night walk. Colorful, and highly poisonous, snakes and frogs welcomed us. They look frozen in their positions. Spiders and other insects scurried away upon the sights of foreigners.

Don’t worry about the poisonous inhabitants of the jungle as they like to mind their own business. You don’t bother them, they don’t bother you — that is the rule of the jungle. 

After such a thrilling walk in the jungle, either you would sleep like a log or you would stay up all night. My tired body chose the first option and I didn’t realize when the morning knocked at my door. 

But it wasn’t morning yet. The guide woke us up to take us to the clay walls. Macaws and other parrots of Amazon breakfast on those walls, Carlos said. 

You must have watched videos of red, blue, and yellow macaws feeding in groups on clay. Most of those videos must have been shot in the Amazon.

With binoculars, we saw macaws eating mouthfuls of sticky clay. But why do these macaws eat clay? It will help them digest the poisonous fruits and nuts they eat. They flutter, slip, and poke each other to find room on clay walls every day without fail. Our guide said.

As you focus on the macaws, don’t forget to scout around the riverbank for some of the most colorful stones you would ever see. 

Back at the lodge, I watched the lush Manu river gushing at full speed. The river has nowhere to go yet it always seems to be going somewhere. 

manu river Parque Nacional del Manu
Manu River

The monsoon had made the Amazon pretty romantic but we had to pay a price for the romance. 

The guide took us on a forest walk. But as we arrived at the beginning of the trail, we saw that the entire area was flooded. Wading through the swamplands was the only way to explore the area.

But what about snakes?

After discussions about braving the marshes with our trousers folded until thighs or being carried on the shoulders of the young guides, we decided to let go of the walk. But first we picked up some ripe papayas and bananas from the village plantation.

amazon forest peru.jpg
Beautiful and lush Manu forest in the Peruvian Amazon

Fishing in the river was the new plan. We got on the boats to go to the river bank. But hey. Where were the nets?

You wouldn’t need any, said the young guide who flirted with me boisterously during the entire trip. 

Before I understood, he took off his t-shirt and jumped in the Manu River. While I was still trying to believe what I had just seen, he came out holding a giant fish. 

The fish shook and fluttered in his hand. The guide put her over the stony river bank and jumped in the water again.

Three big fishes in a minute. A new world record. 

When I paced up to the fish, the German girl trotted ahead of me. She said she wanted to kill the fish as they don’t feel any pain. 

I have a video of her hitting the fish in the head with a stone. Instead of letting the fish die slowly and seeing her struggling to breath, we should kill her quickly. That was her idea.

I am not sure of that no-pain part anymore. (Read more about fish and eating seafood responsibly in my Penang food guide.)

After fishing, we went for another walk. We were all getting stuck in the thigh-deep wetland and wouldn’t have made it if the guides didn’t pull us out. 

snake in manu national park Amazon Peru

We saw more frogs, snake, and butterflies.

All of us had hoped to see some big cats but they were hard to find in the monsoon. The forest was so thick you couldn’t see beyond a hundred meters. 

To win over the limited visibility, we decided to go to the top of a hill. From there we would get a better view of the Manu National Park, we thought. That mountain hike turned out to be a memorable one but not for the right reasons. 

Our group of four was hiking up a steep mountain with Carlos. As the weather was humid, we sweated continuously. 

The couple wasn’t enthusiastic about going all the way to the top so they asked the guide to take them back. The Israeli guy and I wanted to do the hike, so we kept climbing on our own. 

The guide gave his machete to the guy to clear plants and branches out of our way. But he swung the machete left and right without a thought. With every swing of his arm, a few green branches came crashing down. 

Soon he climbed up on a log. The guide had asked us to go around the logs and not over them. But the guy had already climbed the log. I also decided to go over it. 

But once atop, I got scared. I was about to get down when the guy offered his hand. 

As he was extending his hand towards me, he slipped and fell. His arm slid against the sharp machete in his hand. A stream of blood gushed from his wound. We started descending quickly to get him down. 

Meanwhile, the zipper of my shoulder bag broke. Now I had the machete in one hand and my broken bag in the other. The guy ran down while I balanced myself carefully.

I fell three times on that slippery forest. By the time I arrived at the lodge, he had already been taken to a doctor in the nearest village.

Amazon forest in Peru.jpg
The log doesn’t seem high now but at that moment it was high enough.

I recited the incident to all. Carlos wasn’t happy about us climbing the log, but I think he was more disappointed with himself for letting us go alone. 

I felt bad for not being able to walk over the log by myself. To cool off, I went to a nearby waterfall. The cook must have followed me there, and I am thankful, else I would have stayed stuck in that swamp my entire life. I stood on the rocks under the waterfall for a while. When I walked back, the cook followed.

At dinner, he called me his queen. That was our last dinner in the Amazon rainforest in Peru. 

The next morning we walked out with our backpacks. As we took the trail behind the lodge, Carlos pointed to something on the ground. Foot marks of a mother and baby leopard, he almost screamed. We were just fifty meters away from our lodge. The leopards must have been there the previous night for we hadn’t seen the footmarks during our evening walk.

Just the thought of the mother and baby leopard walking so close to our huts thrilled us. I wished we had seen the cats. But Carlos said we were lucky we didn’t stumble into a mother cat.

With our bags on our back, we walked out of the mysterious jungle in silence. The drive to Cusco from the Reserva Nacional Manu took us the whole day. 

Everyone was too tired to talk. It was a huge experience for all of us, and we said goodbye with a heart full of memories. 

I had been to the Amazon, and a dream had come true. That was all that mattered in those moments.

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How to travel to the Parque Nacional de Manu, Peru?

The Manu park is part of the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. Cusco city is the gateway to these forests.

Parque Manu is divided into three zones — the cultural zone, the reserved zone, and the restricted zone.

The cultural zone — Local communities in the cultural zone are said to host tourists. But to be sure, ask at the tourist information center in Cusco.

The reserved zone — You can only access the reserved zone with an authorized tour company.

The restricted zone — Several uncontacted tribes live in the restricted zone and entry isn’t allowed.

The plaza del Armas of Cusco and many other areas are flooded with travel company offices. Check the reviews of the tours online or ask at your hotel.

My 4-days trip from Cusco to Manu National Park cost me about 200 US dollars. It is okay to negotiate a little as the companies quote a high price.

The tour includes the return transfer from your hotel in Cusco, a guide throughout the tour, accommodation inside the forest, food, permits, and activities. So you don’t need any cash once you have paid for the tour. But do keep some money with you just in case. 

Book a little ahead of time in the high season.  

Related Read: If you are going to Cusco you shouldn’t miss a trip to Machu Picchu. The linked guide has all the information on planning a cost-effective trip to Machu Picchu on your own.

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What is the best time to visit Peru Amazon and the Manú National Park?

I visited Manu at the beginning of March. It was the peak monsoon season in Peru. The rains and the overflown rivers had flooded the jungle lowlands. You couldn’t see beyond a hundred meters as the thick undergrowth, dense bushes, and plants patted the jungle.

As the forest was thick, we didn’t spot many wild animals. They didn’t come out looking for water, like they do in the dry season.

The entire forest was slippery. Some of the dry areas had converted into marshlands, and we couldn’t walk without getting stuck in the waist-deep wet mud. Driving is also a bit risky for you might get stuck in a landslide.

The one benefit of visiting the Amazon in monsoon is you can navigate deeper into the forests through the fresh water routes. Also the forest is lush and full of life.

The monsoon lasts from November to April. And the driest months are May to October. 

The best time to visit Manu forest would be the months of June, July, and August. Having said that, let me tell you the weather in Amazon Peru is unpredictable and it rains in the forest all-year-round.

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Do you need a yellow fever vaccination for Reserva Nacional del Manu?

Manu jungle is not endemic to Malaria, so you don’t need a yellow fever vaccination to visit the park. But Iquitos does need one.

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What to carry to the Parque Manu (or to the Amazon Peru in general)?

Travel Essential for El Parque Nacional del Manu, Peru

  • Good hiking shoes for women and good hiking shoes for men – A must-have in South America.
  • A rain jacket – Don’t go to South America or the Amazon without a rain jacket. But sometimes it rains so hard the guides will give you large ponchos.
  • Warm jackets for men and for women – For the cold mornings.
  • Swimwear for women and swimwear for men – You might be near a waterfall or can take a dip in the river in some places and seasons.
  • Yoga pants for women and men – suitable for the long ride to the Manu reserve and to walk in the jungle.
  • Hiking socks for women and men.
  • travel towel – Carry a light travel towel like this one to save space.
  • first-aid kit – Always carry one while traveling. The guides bring basic medicines, too.
  • Lifestraw water bottle – Comes with an inbuilt filter, and you can fill it anywhere.
  • Memory foam travel pillow for a good sleep while traveling.
  • A good camera – Nikon D3400 is a very good choice for the price. I use Nikon for all my photography now (the pictures in the article though have been clicked with my phone for I have been using Nikon only for the past nine months). This camera comes with two lenses, and the one with the higher resolution if perfect for bird photography if you are interested.
  • A day hiking backpack – You would need a sturdy backpack to take on a hike.
  • A hat 
  • Strong sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Flip flops – To walk around in the lodge
  • Flashlight – Please don’t go without it.
  • A strong mosquito repellant
  • Bring at least a few pairs of change as you might get wet often.
  • A few disposable bags for wet clothes and your phone and camera to save them from getting wet. 

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Responsible travel tips for making the most of the Manu Park, Peru

  1. Please don’t make noise. Or else you will scare the animals away.
  2. Don’t pollute the jungle with plastic and trash.
  3. Don’t throw off a cigarette butt without putting it off.
  4. Don’t harm the wild animals or shout at them or throw something at them or feed them.
  5. Treat the locals and the guides kindly.
  6. Don’t waste food in the buffet.
  7. Stay with the group and follow your guide.

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amazon+sunset+brazil.jpg
Source

Other Essential Travel Guides to Help You Plan a Trip to South America

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Would you love to visit the Peruvian Amazon? Does National Park Manu in Peru seems like a good place to be?

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2 thoughts on “Manu National Park, Peru [2022] – Daring the Amazon Rainforest”

  1. Hi Barbara.

    Thanks for writing to me. I am sorry for replying to you so late.

    You are doing such a great thing. Your family must be so proud.

    I am glad my story has helped you find your own. Hope all is well.

    Thank you,
    Priyanka

    Reply
  2. I read your story of your trip to Manu National Park. I would like to thank you for writing it. Very informative and interesting.
    My brother went to Peru in 1995. He has been on 2 other world journeys. He has written journals on each of the trips. I am transcribing his journeys into stories with his pictures. Unfortunately he past in 2017 with ALS. So I am transcribing his stories for his son. I am now doing his south America journey and he is a bit sketchy on how his trip to Manu National Park went. Since I can’t ask him I wanted to do a bit of research on Manu tours and came across you story. Your story to helped me understand about his path he took on his tour.
    Thank you again. I just had to write you.

    Reply

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