Magical Manu Park

Recently I guided two of our guests on a five day trip to the rainforest of Manu and it was a very memorable experience. I spent many years of my life as a naturalist guide in the reserved zone of Manu Park and have a deep connection with the forest, so I was very happy to go back to one of my favorite places on the planet.

We left Cusco at dawn taking the road past the Inca complex of Pisac and up to the highlands where we could see definite signs of the severe night frost only beginning to lift. It was a spectacular sunny morning and we briefly stopped at the first pass to enjoy breathtaking views.

After stretching our legs we continued our journey to the colonial town of Paucartambo which had been the gateway to the Antisuyu of the Incas. We soon ascended the pass of Acjanaco with its páramo vegetation draped in a thick impenetrable mist. Once again we walked a little to enjoy the magnificent flora of ferns and lichens as well as some flowering orchids, Gaultheria, Bomarea and other plants. We were thrilled to spot an Andean Guan in the mist.

Further down the vegetation became more dense and much taller as we descended from the elfin forest into the cloud forest. The fog began to lift and we caught glimpses of the road ahead which led down the thickly carpeted green mountains.

In the afternoon we reached San Pedro just in time to watch the males of the Andean-cock-of-the-rock gather at a lek to perform their weird dance and display in order to attract females. Sheer magic! The males are very gaudily colored whilst the females who take care of the nest all alone blend in perfectly with the environment. We saw some females approaching the lek which created a lot of excitement amongst the males.

We spent the night in a magical Lodge tucked away inside the cloud forest built entirely of natural materials.  Here we enjoyed a candlelit dinner with only the sounds of the forest surrounding us.

In the morning the hummingbirds woke us up buzzing behind our bedrooms. A few elusive mixed flocks of tanagers came to visit, too. We spent time studying the amazing orchid garden and had a hearty breakfast in the garden, surrounded by trees and overlooking the river.

Our onward road journey led us to the lowland forest past the Kosñipata Valley and on to Atalaya, the first navigable port on the Alto Madre de Dios River. As we arrived at the viewpoint overlooking the river and spectacular scenery below we were delighted to spot Dusky Titi Monkeys and Brown Capuchin Monkeys.

In Atalaya we boarded our motorized dug out canoe for the short journey to our Lodge on the other shore of the river. We spotted some Cormorants and a Great Black Hawk on the way. A ten minute walk took us to our Lodge where we had lunch and then watched the numerous Hummingbirds, Tanagers and some Speckled Chachalacas visiting the garden. The Lodge had been a tea plantation many years ago, but was turned into a wildlife sanctuary and over the years it had become famous as one of the birding hotspots of the area. Unfortunately, the river had eaten away a very large chunk of its terrain and trails in the lowlands. We climbed the trail into the montane forest to the 30m high watch tower from where we had splendid views over the river.

One of our most magical moments was when we managed to surprise a family group of Capybaras at the small oxbow lake. We must have spent around half an hour gently coming closer to them as we took our pictures. The Capybaras, however,  remained undisturbed. We also spotted a Black Caiman, a Black-collared Trogon, Dusky Titi Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Brown Capuchin Monkeys and the weird pre-historic looking Hoatzin birds.

One morning a short journey downriver took us to the parrot lick. We could see a few Scarlet Macaws and the smaller Mealy Parrots and Blue-headed Parrots waiting on the tree-tops nearby. There weren’t many birds around though and most of the other tour groups that had been waiting there gave up and left. Our perseverance was rewarded by some of the smaller parrots eventually coming down to feed on the mineral-rich clay. We finished our trip with a visit to the oxbow lake of Machuwasi near the settlement of Salvación. On the trail leading to the lake we followed a noisy troupe of Squirrel Monkeys. Once at the lake we took out one of the punts which enabled us to watch more Hoatzins (they were amazingly undisturbed by our presence), Horned Screamers, a Limpkin and some Black-capped Donacobius as well as Blue-Throated Piping Guans.

It was a great trip with fantastic wildlife and unforgettable sceneries!

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