The biological diversity of Peru’s remote Manu Biosphere Reserve is, quite simply, unparalleled. Manu is home to Peruvian indigenous tribes, some choosing to live in voluntary isolation. With over 800 species of birds and more than 2,000 unique varieties of plants, including giant orchids, palms and fig trees, Manu is probably as close as you’ll ever get to a superbly intact transect of virgin tropical rainforest, and (of course!) it’s an absolute must on your Peru travel list.
The trip to Manu, an adventure and a treat in itself, can be reached via a short 35 minute flight from Cusco to Boca Manu, followed by a 90-minute motorized canoe ride, or a breathtaking and unforgettable 165 kilometer (102 mile) overland journey through the Andean highlands, abundant cloudforests, as well as the lush and steamy lowland Amazon jungles. The drive typically lasts 8 hours, including stops in Andean towns and various stopovers for walking and exploring.
The Manu Wildlife Center is a jungle lodge located on a remote bend of the Madre de Dios River, which offers 22 spacious and sustainably sourced bungalows. All rooms have private tiled hot water showers and bathrooms, large windows overlooking the gardens, which attract birds, butterflies and mammals, and beds that are covered by mosquito nets. Amazon-inspired meals are served in the spacious cedarwood dining area and drinks can be enjoyed in a separate bar and lounge area. The Wildlife Center also has two canopy towers, which are perfect for birdwatching (hummingbirds, toucans, parrots, etc.). During the day, guests are taken out on excursions by expert guides either by boat or on foot to some of the national park’s best wildlife hotspots including a huge macaw clay lick, miles of monkey-rich trails and oxbow lakes, where frolicking (and very photogenic) giant river otters, caimans, hoatzins, majestic jaguars and the elusive lowland tapir can been observed. According to Conde Nast Traveler, “Manu Wildlife Center has become a base of choice for elite bird watching tours, wildlife documentary crews and people willing to spend good money to be treated well.”
Another option is the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge (named after the Rupicola peruviana, Peru’s dancing red-and-black national bird), located in the pristine Manu cloudforest, on the lush eastern slopes of the Andes, and in the peaceful, mosquito-free Kosñipata Valley. The Lodge offers 12 double-occupancy wooden bungalows with private bath facilities, balcony, and a separate complex where hearty and healthy Peruvian food is served in a large dining platform (vegetarian and other special diets can be catered to, upon request). In addition to colorful birds; spectacled bears, woolly and capuchin monkeys, ocelots, and quetzals inhabit the surrounding forest, and trail circuits near the lodge offering guaranteed wildlife and exotic plant sightings.
Bird and wildlife enthusiasts and even the Indiana Jones types, may want to boat up the wild Manu River to stay overnight at the Manu Tented Camp or Albergue Machiguenga, located across Salvador Lake, which is the largest and most stunning of the 13 oxbow lakes in the area. This simple yet comfortable low-impact lodge features spacious double-occupancy room-sized (5X3X2.2m or 16.5X10X7 feet) and fully-screened tents with hinged, lockable doors, extra-long twin beds, mosquito nets and solid wooden floors. An elevated screened dining room and separate complex with hot water showers and flushable toilets are also available to guests.
The best time to book your trip to Peru and to the magical Manu jungle is during the dry season (May through November). Remember that the Amazon rainforest is hot and humid all year-round and daytime temperatures can easily reach 35°C, or 95°F, so remember to pack some light clothes.