Manu National Park Peru
I traveled through Peru and Bolivia during July last year. I had many great experiences but my favourite was the 6 days I spent in Manu National Park. I'd always wanted to visit the rainforest in South America and I'd always planned to go somewhere in Brazil but when my best friend asked if I wanted to go to Peru with her and her husband I realised it would be a good opportunity to visit the rainforest there. I'm really glad I did, the park contains more species of animal and plants than any other part of the world: 1000 species of birds, 13 species of monkeys, several species of macaws and parrots, the Harpy Eagle, Black Caiman, Tapir, the endangered Giant Otter, Black Caiman and the impressive Jaguar. I didn't see all of these, but to visit a place of such ecological importance was a very special experience for me.
We booked our tour of Manu with Peru Discovery which turned out to be a great choice of company to go with. It was pretty expensive (?580 for 6 days) however it was definitely worth the money.
The night before leaving for Manu, George, who founded Peru Discovery with his wife, came to our hostel in Cusco to have a chat with the 3 of us about our forthcoming trip. He was a lovely man and put us at ease by answering any questions we had because to be honest, having never been to the rainforest before we were slightly apprehensive! He told us about all the poisonous snakes that inhabit there, along with large herds of peccary (wild boar – apparently the animals which posed the most threat to humans in the forest), pumas, jaguars and the infamous bullet ant. Then he went on to tell us that although these could potentially cause great harm to us, the risk was very small and we had more chance of a giant palm leaf falling on us and killing us! This was an interesting thought to go to sleep with that night!
So the next morning George picked us up from the hostel in his jeep at 6 o clock. We drove through the sacred valley which was beautiful and we stopped to take pictures of the impressive Inca terraces. We then stopped again in a very small village where George took us to a bakery – a house which had a furnace in the back yard – where they were baking bread filled with cheese and onion which was delicious, there was a hint of smokiness! Then we continued in the jeep and began to climb in altitude, and the road became more graveled and narrow. At this point we were having a very interesting conversation with George about the past and present political situation in Peru, he was very knowledgeable about this and the 3 of us learnt a lot! Anyway, I should be writing about the rainforest itself so I'm just going to say that the journey took 6 hours from Cuzco, along roads that would have been particularly dangerous had it been the wet season, and after passing an ambulance I was reminded of the remoteness of this place that we were going to! I began to really hope that I wouldn't have any encounters with a bullet ant or a giant palm leaf for that matter!
When we finally arrived at the entrance to Manu, we met our guide, Daniel, and Alfredo who was to be our cook, who were with another group. We bid our farewells to George and thanked him for the fun and informative journey we'd had with him and Daniel drove the jeep from there. (George returned to Cusco with the other group).
We had lunch in the rangers lodge and signed the visitors register. It was so amazing to be going to a place which had such a limited number of tourists visited every year (approx 3000) and which was half the area of Belgium. Somewhere deep inside Manu there were tribes who had barely / never been contacted before!
After lunch, Daniel took us for a walk. It was misty and quite eerie! We were in the cloud forest, at an altitude of 4,800m. We saw lots of delicate orchids, small birds, some fauna which looked to me like it could have been on jurassic park, and even puma footprints.
We pitched our tents at around 5pm that evening on a little mound, a few minutes walk from a shell of a building in which we'd had the option to sleep that night. We opted for the great outdoors even though that evening the mist was so dense and it was pretty freezing! We'd been told that the view that we'd have if the mist had cleared by the morning was totally worth it! It was a cold night but come the morning I saw the best view I've ever seen. We were way above the clouds which looked like a sea below us. The sun was rising, causing an orange glow, and pushing through this sea of clouds were hills covered by thick, dark green forest. We were to be walking down to this forest later that day. We followed an old Inca trail. We walked for 8 hours and it was great to witness the change in the fauna as we descended. Also the change in climate, from freezing to warm and even more humid!
(in this pic:our tents with the amazing view)
I just have to mention the stars we saw the previous night! I grew up in a remote part of Wales but the night sky there is nothing compared to the sky we saw on the hilltop. Daniel got his telescope and showed us various constellations and the 4 of us were lucky enough to see the coolest shooting star, it looked like something you'd draw for a cartoon! It was a bronzy colour and it looked like we were so close to it, and it had the longest star dust trail!
Anyways, after our 8 hour trek we stayed in an amazing wooden lodge on stilts called Tambo Paititi. It was lit up by candles and we were lucky enough to be the only ones staying there that night! The sound of the forest was beautiful and Alfredo's cooking was delicious! I'd been worried about what we'd have to eat in the jungle but this was honestly good enough to serve in a restaurant! We went for a night walk and saw huge crickets and grasshoppers and frogs and moths which glowed!
The next day we had a 3 hour drive. We ended up in a small village where we loaded our bags onto a boat. By the way, we were relieved that we were allowed to take any luggage we wanted with us on the trip – we each had a large rucksack, and these were transported from place to place by Alfredo in the jeep. This saved us any worry about where to keep our stuff while we were away.
So we took the boat for about an hour to our next lodge, Tambo Eyori. This was just as nice as the first, and was looked after by a lovely man called Julio who had his own garden there where he grew pineapple plants among other things. Julio had grown up in the jungle and had a talent for mimicking various animal calls. That evening Daniel took us to see a place where macaws go to roost. We saw scarlet, chestnut fronted and blue and gold macaws. The sound of them calling was amazing. It was getting dark by now so we headed back for the lodge and as we were walking a large group of cute little monkeys (I can't remember the name of the species now, but Daniel told us at the time, he was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife in Manu!) They were really curious, many of them stopping to peer down at us, before heading on through the trees!
Back at the lodge we had another delicious dinner and a little relax on the hammock! The sleeping quarters of the lodge were separated from the eating quarters by a long wooden pathway raised about 2 feet off the ground. It was quite funny, the 3 of us used to walk along this fairly quickly, particularly if we were by ourselves as we'd been told that jaguars had been spotted around the lodge on occasions! Daniel said we'd be ok if we took our torches with us but this didn't us from being really wary!
The next day was a long but laid back trek into the jungle. We saw plenty of wildlife, the coolest in my opinion being the bullet ant! George and Daniel had both told us about these small but formidable creatures, and after that they ended up being mentioned in conversation many times! Apparently if you get bitten by one of these it feels like you've been shot and it can be a couple of days before the pain subsides! So when we saw one on a tree we were pretty excited! Compared to a British ant it's HUGE!
We also saw a couple of massive termite mounds. Julio mimicked a monkey call but unfortunately we didn't see any that day. We saw jaguar footprints, Daniel and Julio were able to tell that they were the prints of a large male. Even though we were reassured that the jaguar is very shy of humans and it only attacks in rare cases, usually if it's injured and can't catch it's usual prey, we didn't linger long if we had to use the bushes!! We reached a large river, it was nice to be out in the open after a couple of hours in the dense vegetation. We went swimming in the river, which was beautiful. I thought there'd be no way we could swim due to piranhas!! but there was no sign of life in there whatsoever, the water was beautifully clear and there was soft sand on the river bed, it was perfect!
The next morning we woke at dawn and were picked up by a boat. About 15 mins later we stopped at a flood plain and got out to watch macaws and parrots on a clay bank across the river. Many flew overhead. We had to be as inconspicuous as possible as they could easily be disturbed. As the sun rose, the birds began to leave and we headed back to the lodge. It was time to bid farewell to Julio and we left on the boat, back to the village where we'd boarded the previous day.
That afternoon, we went rafting down the Madre de Dios river. The rapids were only level 2 but we got to get out of the raft and float down the river for the last 20 mins which was a great experience!
(The boat ride)
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Then we returned to Tambo Paititi for our last night in Manu. We went for another night walk with Daniel. The next morning we went swimming in the river, the water was considerably colder here but it was lovely nonetheless! We helped Alfredo bring a table down to the riverside where we had lunch while drying off!
Back to Cusco. This was definitely my favourite experience in Peru, I'd recommend a trip to Manu to anyone who loves nature! Honestly I'm not a rep for Peru Discovery, I just thought they were really good! But Manu will be amazing however you choose to explore it…