Blissful four days in the Manu National Park, Amazon Rainforest Peru
I visited the Manu National Park, part of the Amazon Peru, exactly three years ago.
You would wonder why I didn’t write about my Amazon trip earlier. Why pen down my Amazon story now after three years?
I didn’t write this article before as I didn’t have great pictures of the Amazon jungle for I was clicking with my phone camera back then.
But as I have been getting a lot of questions from readers who have planned their South America trip using my articles, I finally decided to write a piece that gives all the information on the Amazon en 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 within Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
As a little girl, I had seen the Amazon forest on the television. My parents and I used to watch the National Geographic and Discovery channel every evening for hours.
Though during dinner we would switch to some other channel for my mother couldn’t tolerate the gory images of lions and jackals devouring their dead deers, papa would put on Discovery channel as soon as my mother took her last bite.
The dense jungles of Karnataka, the dry ochre land of Rajasthan forests, sultry Africa, and the most mysterious of them all — the Amazon — spellbound us for hours.
After I backpacked in Chile for five months, I decided to continue traveling across South America. I didn’t plan a trip to the Amazon but what could have stopped me from going there when I was so close to the forests that I had dreamt about for years.
While traveling in Cusco, I discovered that I could visit the Amazon from there. Else I would have had to go to the faraway town of Iquitos, only accessible by flight or boat. That trip would have needed more planning.
Not many people know that Cusco is the gateway to the Manu National park, known as Parque Nacional Manu in Spanish.
When I saw the big posters of travel agencies that said we arrange Peru Amazon Tours from Cusco, I couldn’t stop myself from going door to door of these companies to ask the tour details and pricing.
Tour agencies told me that Manu National park or Parque Nacional del Manu is a dense forest within the Amazon Rainforest, Peru. Out of the entire Amazon in Peru that comprises 5.5 million square km, Manu National Park, a mere 17,000 square km park, is a considered terrestrial biodiversity heaven for it is located at the meeting point of the Tropical Andes and the Amazon Basin in Southwestern Peru.
The massive gradient in the altitude of the Manu Biosphere Reserve has given way to an ecological diversity that is not easy to find anywhere else. The landscape ranges from high Andean grasslands, mountain cloud forests, and lowland rainforests amongst several other forest types.
Also, as the Park is not an endemic area for malaria or yellow fever, the guides told me that I didn’t need to get a yellow fever vaccination for any of the Manu National Park Tours.
It was clear that if I had a chance to go to Manu park, I shouldn’t miss it. After all, going to the Amazon is one of the must things to do in Peru.
I could choose from several 3-day to 7-8 days trips.
But another thing to remember was that we were in March. Monsoon had hit Peru with torrential downpours.
I didn’t know when I would go back to backpack Peru so I ignored the monsoons and decided to go.
I booked a four-day Manu park tour with a company near the Cusco main plaza. I have forgotten the name of the agency, but if you walk from the plaza in the direction of the Peruvian consulate, that is on the Av El Sol, you would find this tour company on the righthand side of the road.
I vaguely remember that the price of the trip was about 200 dollars.
But as destiny works, the night before I had to leave, the guides from the company came to my hostel and told me that due to a landslide on the way to the Manu jungle, they had to cancel the trip. They offered to take me to another part of the Amazon rainforest of Peru where the company arranged adventure activities like zip-lining etc but didn’t do any wildlife hikes or nature walks.
I got my refund and told the guides that I would contact them later to arrange the same trip. We both knew that I wouldn’t go back to them.
While roaming around the next day, I couldn’t stop myself from going to another travel company and enquiring about the various Manu tours from Cusco. A friendly tour agent told me that they had been taking tourists to Parque Nacional de Manu and that they didn’t know of any landslides. Within five minutes I walked out of their office with another ticket to a four-day Manu national park tour.
Now I just waited for the trip to begin.
A tempo traveler arrived to pick me up from the hostel in the morning. The journey to my sacred Amazonas had begun.
We were to travel all day long from Cusco to Manu National Park to reach our first night stay in a lodge deep inside the jungle.
Apart from me, the group had a German couple and an Israeli guy just out of his military service. Peru is not busy during the rainy season so we had the luxury to be in a small group.
The long drive into the jungle took us through snaky roads canopied by thick Amazon rainforests. I still can’t believe I was there. I remember going to the bathroom at the base of a mountain while the guides and the rest of the group arranged 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. As soon as he asked the driver to stop, we would jump down the vehicle and hold his binoculars to make sense of the bird-y figures he was always pointing his finger to.
The excitement in each one of us was too much to be held inside. Friendly banters began in no time. The noise of the cicadas and the solitude of the jungle enveloped us such that we forgot if there was another world outside. And this was the kind of isolation you like.
In the distance, I could see tall mountains covered in thick trees. Near us, a mix of tall and short patches of thick vegetation made the jungle seemed like a mystery.
The park was a mix of different kinds of forests as I had been told.
The entire forest was watched by layers of thick clouds that didn’t move most of the time we were in the park. Later we also crossed the road that had been swept away by the mudslide and seemed reconstructed only a day earlier.
Accessing the jungle in monsoon isn’t easy. We were lucky that we didn’t get stuck in a landslide or didn’t stumble upon a washed away road.
But remember that you are talking about the Amazon rainforest so you can never find a time when the jungles are completely dry. The Manu park is also home to two giant rivers.
Fed by various estuaries in the mountains, the Manu River swiftly curls through the lowland forests, before it joins the Madre de Dios River (mother of god) at the Southern edge of Manu national park, also known as Manu Reserva Nacional or Reserva Nacional del Manu.
After driving almost all day long, we rowed through the overflowing Manu river on big boats to reach our eco-lodge — our stay for the first night. The lodge was in the middle of the jungle and was as quiet as it could get.
The thickets of the marshy lowland forest surrounded us, and tall trees stood strewed and silent.
Our guide Carlos told us that the lodge rooms were dorms on general days when a lot of tourists visit the forest in peak season. But as we were visiting the Manu park in the low season, I had the entire room to myself.
After a hot shower, we headed for dinner.
When the sumptuous dinner buffet was served, I understood that all our meals were going to be big. Along with fresh food, came the itinerary for the next day.
Wake up in the morning. Drive for three hours. Visit an animal rescue center. Do a boat ride for half an hour. Arrive at a new lodge. Walk. Lunch. Free time. Walk. Explore the lake. Dinner. Sleep.
After driving for three hours the next day and doing our usual rounds of bird and animal spotting along the way, we arrived at another village. We visited an animal rescue center there.
Carlos said that we would meet over-friendly monkeys and other animals and that we would have to keep our distance with some of the crazy animals.
It seemed like no problem to me.
Soon monkeys, pigs, and macaws seemed too eager to climb us. These animals were rescued from poachers and villagers and were cared for in the rescue center. At one time, I had a sloth and a monkey on my front and back, and I felt as if I had lived in the jungle my whole life.
Capybaras, turtles, and other animals roamed around freely. But out of all the animals, the boar felt the most at home. He was always walking behind one of us and didn’t leave any 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 his hold over the other girl from the group.
Well, let me cut the story short and say, that all is well that ends well.
After a short drive from the rescue center, we took the boat to another lodge where we stayed for the next two nights.
The new rooms had attached bathrooms, and the Manu river flowing at some distance away from us. Thorny flower bushes adorned the garden in front. Hummingbirds swarmed over these blooming tropical flowers in groups. Blue, black, green, red, I don’t recall how many colors I saw when these tiny birds fluttered at the speed of light.
Thick clouds threatened us from above.
The dining hall was on the first floor behind the rooms. From the balcony of the dining area, the view was surreal.
You should have seen that same view from behind the curtain of rain.
A downpour would wish you to pray to the universe that something happens and you get stuck there. Sipping mate from that balcony, looking at the plants nearby, change the squirrels away, listening to the hummingbirds, and watching the rainfall over the Amazon jungle felt as if we were at the beginning of time and earth was just getting formed.
Looking all classy in our long gumboots, we went for a walk in the forest after devouring another large buffet.
The forest was slippery, and we had to maneuver our way through thigh-deep wetlands. It had been raining for months.
A small nap was followed by a rafting trip on the lake Otorongo. We were going to spot birds that inhabit the lake.
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 that they didn’t like the intrusion.
But we weren’t there to bother them.
If you can manage to not fall while getting out of the raft, you would see many birds in the jungle from the high viewpoint. That was the first time I saw pied kingfishers. Amongst several birds, whose pictures I don’t have for I didn’t have a big camera, we also saw big termite and ant houses.
As we floated on the lake, the forest swayed in the cool wind. Amazon was breathing.
Another classy dinner and we were out for a night walk. Colorful and highly poisonous snakes and frogs welcomed us silent and frozen. You need not worry about these 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.
Spiders and other insects scurried away upon the sights of foreigners.
I bet that after such a thrill walk in the jungle either you would sleep like a log or you wouldn’t sleep at all. 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 knocked to wake us up to take us to the clay walls that are the breakfast tables of macaws and other parrots of Amazon.
You must have seen videos of red, blue, and yellow macaws feeding in groups on clay. They fly, flutter, slip, poke, and fight to find some room on these clay walls that seem to have all the space for the long march of macaws who visit the walls every day without fail.
But why do these macaws eat clay? With the help of binoculars, you can see macaws eating mouthfuls of sticky clay that will help them digest the fruits and nuts they eat, some even poisonous ones.
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 enjoyed the monsoon while sipping mate and looking at the lush river gushing at full speed.
The river has nowhere to go yet it always seems to be in a hurry.
The monsoon had made the Amazon pretty romantic but we had to pay a price for the romance.
The guide had arranged for us to do 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 enter the trail.
After a few conversations about braving the swamps with trousers folded until thighs or getting carried on the shoulders of one of the young guides, we decided to forget about the walk. But not without picking up some ripe papayas and bananas from the village plantation there.
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 fluttering my eyes trying to believe what I had just seen, he came out holding a giant fish in his hand.
The fish flapped her body in his hand as if rattling for water. But the guide placed her over the stony river bank and jumped again in the water to get more fish.
Three big fishes in a minute. A new world record.
When I paced up to see how the fish was doing, the German girl paced up ahead of me. She said she wanted to kill the fish as they don’t feel pain.
I have video proof of her hitting the fish in the head with a stone. I think she thought that instead of letting the fish die slowly and let her struggle for breath, we should kill her quickly.
After fishing, we went for another walk. We all were getting stuck in the thigh-deep wetland and wouldn’t have made it if the guides didn’t keep pulling us out of the mud.
We saw another set of frogs, snake, and butterflies.
You must be wondering that I haven’t mentioned anything about the leopards or other big cats of the Amazonas. The big cats were hard to find in the monsoon. The forest was so thick that you couldn’t see beyond a hundred meters.
Due to the obscure visibility, we thought of going to the top of an Amazonian hill to get a better view of the landscape. This mountain hike would turn out to be a memorable one but not for good reasons.
Our group of four was hiking up a hill with Carlos. The forest was wet and slippery. The mountain was steep. 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. As the Israeli guy and I wanted to do the hike, we kept climbing.
The guide gave his machete to the guy so that we could clear our way of the overshooting plants. But he started swinging this machete left and right without a thought. With every swing of his arm, a few green branches came crashing down.
After a few minutes of beginning our walk, he climbed up on a log that was on our trail. Though I remembered that the guide had asked us to go around the logs and not over them, when I saw the guy already at the other end of the log, I decided to go over it as well.
Once I was standing over the high log, I got scared. I was almost getting down when the guy said he would come back to help me.
As he was extending his hand towards me, he slipped and fell over.
His arm slid against the sharp machete in his hand. We both saw a stream of blood gush from his wound. We started descending quickly to get him medical help.
Meanwhile, the zipper of my shoulder bag broke. Now I had the machete in one hand and my broken bag in the other. I couldn’t catch up with the guy on the slippery downhill. He needed to be quick, and I was taking time to descend.
So we said we will meet later and he ran down the hill. While coming down, I fell three times. By the time I arrived at the lodge, he had already been taken to a doctor in the nearest village.
I recited the incident to all. Carlos wasn’t happy about us climbing on the top of the log, but I think he was more disappointed about letting us go alone.
I felt bad about not being able to walk over the log by myself. To cool off, I went to a waterfall that was about 150 meters away from us.
The cook must have followed me there, and I am thankful, else I would have stayed stuck in that marshland my entire life. I went to the waterfall and spent some time under the freshwater falling heavily on the rocks beneath.
Soon our last dinner in the Amazon rainforest in Peru was on the table.
The next morning brought a surprise when Carlos pointed out the footsteps of a mother and baby leopard just fifty meters away from our lodge. Maybe the leopards were there the night before 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 that we were lucky that we didn’t stumble in the cats as a mother leopard isn’t friendly.
With our bags on our back, we walked out of the mysterious jungle in silence. The drive back to Cusco from the Manu national park 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 is all that mattered in those moments.
How to travel to the Parque Nacional Manu, Peru?
The Manu park is part of the Amazon Rainforest Peru. The city of Cusco is the gateway to these forests.
Manu national park is divided into three zones — the cultural zone, the reserved zone, and the restricted zone.
The cultural zone — I have read that you can enter the cultural zone on your own, but I am not sure. The cultural zone has local communities that host tourists. I think it would be better to ask the tourist information center in Cusco about how you can visit the Manu national park on your own. This is something I might do the next time I am in Cusco.
The reserved zone — You can only access the reserved zone with an authorized tour company.
The restricted zone — As the name says, you can’t go there as its a restricted zone and several uncontacted tribes live there.
In the absence of the information about how you can travel to the Parque Nacional of Manu yourself, you need to book a tour with an authorized tour company from Cusco. Then choose from a range of 3 to 8-day trips that start from Cusco and bring you back to Cusco.
The plaza del Armas of Cusco and many other areas are dense with travel companies. Make sure you check the reviews of the company online or ask at your hotel about the credibility of the tour agents.
The price of my 4-days trip was about USD 200 after a negotiation. Don’t be shy to negotiate as the companies quote a high price.
Even though a lot of people tell you that the Amazon tours in Peru are sold out for months in advance, don’t get disheartened until you ask the travel agents. If you plan to go for a Manu tour in the high season, then you might want to book a little ahead of time.
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 basically need almost no cash once you have paid for the tour. But do keep some money with you just in case.
Traveling to Manu National park from Cusco takes about an entire day.
You can visit the Amazon Jungle in Peru from either Cusco or Iquitos. Iquitos is accessible by flight or boat. But remember that you have to get the yellow fever vaccination done to go inside the Amazon from Iquitos.
If you want to visit Amazonas, the best countries to access the forests are Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. So if you are not planning to go to Peru, you can look at any of these countries and plan a trip to the Amazon there.
What is the best time to visit Peru Amazon and the Parque Nacional del Manu, Peru?
I visited the national park of Manu at the beginning of March, which is the peak monsoon month of Peru.
The rains and the rivers had flooded the lowlands of the jungle, that was at its thickest. You couldn’t see beyond 100 meters as the thick undergrowth, dense bushes, and plants patted the jungle.
The monsoon made it very difficult to spot animals. As the forest was thick and you couldn’t see far ahead, we didn’t spot many wild animals.
Also in the dry season, the animals come out of their hideouts in search of water. But in the monsoon, they have plenty of water and food everywhere.
Walking and hiking were also tough and risky in the monsoon. 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 that you can navigate deeper into the forests with the new water routes.
Having said all these bad things about monsoon, I loved my visit to the Manu national park in the rainy season. The forest was lush and full of life.
Maybe the next time I visit the Amazons in the summer to get a closer look at the diverse wildlife.
But even in the summers, the Manu park and other parts of the Amazons aren’t completely dry as rains, humidity, and heat are some features of tropical forests.
Here are the different seasons of Manu national park —
Monsoon season — November to April
Driest months — May to October.
The best time to visit Manu Rainforest Peru would be the months of June, July, and August. Having said that, let me tell you that the weather in Amazon Peru is unpredictable and it rains in the forest all-year-round.
Do you need a yellow fever vaccination to go inside the Parque Nacional de Manu? Do you need a yellow fever vaccination for other parts of the Amazon in Peru?
As I have already said in the article that Manu park is not endemic to Malaria, you don’t need a vaccination for yellow fever to visit the park. But you would need a yellow fever vaccination if you go to Iquitos.
What to carry to the Manu Reserva Nacional or to the Amazon Peru in general?
Responsible travel tips for making the most of the Manu Park, Peru
- Please don’t make noise. Your noises might scare the animals away.
- Don’t pollute the jungle with plastic and trash.
- Don’t throw off a cigarette butt without putting it off.
- Don’t harm the wild animals or shout at them or throw something at them or feed them.
- Treat the locals and the guides kindly.
- Don’t waste food in the buffet.
- Stay with the group and follow what your guide says.
Some other travel guides that will help you plan your trip to South America
- Essential Guide to planning a South America Trip
- Comprehensive Travel Guide to Chile – Answer to all your Chile travel questions
- Important Spanish Travel Phrases – Survive in South America
- Experiential Tips on Learning a Language By Yourself – 24 practical ideas that helped me master Spanish
- A One-Stop Bolivia Travel Guide – You wouldn’t need to read anything else about Bolivia after reading this guide
Tell me, would you love to visit the Amazon in Peru? Does Reserva Nacional del Manu seem like a good place to be?
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