The three main birdwatching routes in Peru require different levels of physical effort, taking into account the different environmental conditions to be faced and the physical condition of the visitor. Several important factors should be taken into consideration.
It is important to consider that the Northern Route covers lower altitudes than the other routes. One of the main locations is the Porculla pass, which is the lowest pass in the Andes at an altitude of 2,100 masl.
The alternative route does involve higher altitudes, as it follows Cajamarca — Celendín pass (3,000 masl) — Balzas — Barro Negro pass (3,150 masl) — Leymebamba — Utcubamba Valley and finally joins the main Chiclayo — Tarapoto road at Pedro Ruiz.
Temperature is a vital factor to consider when planning your route. It can get very hot in the coastal cities, especially during the summer months (December-March). The route also crosses zones that are higher than 1,800 masl, which means that the climate can vary considerably.
The level of comfort varies according to the destination. The choice of accommodation is growing, with a wide variety of small lodgings in the main destinations. This means that it is now possible to sleep in the area where you are birdwatching, unlike several years ago when it was necessary to camp in those destinations or stay in towns far away from the birdwatching locations.
The route is crossed by the North InterOceanic Highway. The high birdwatching potential of this road was taken into consideration when it was built, so there are now various publications that provide information about the flora and fauna of the area.
Like the Northern Route, the Central Route crosses Peru from west to east, but it reaches altitudes of 4,000 masl in just one day. Many locations are home to endemic birds which live at altitudes higher than 3,000 masl and that, in some cases, even exceed 4,800 masl (Anticona — Ticlio pass). It is essential to be physically prepared or to consult a doctor before visiting some of these locations. Equally, medication for personal use and any other requirements should be procured in advance, since there are only limited opportunities for buying certain items.
Visitors must take into account the differences in temperature that characterise a journey along this route, as a result of the changes in altitude. It is recommended that visitors wear plenty of layers, especially if they are visiting the highest areas, where the temperature can drop below freezing. On the other hand, the coastal regions and the low jungle can see temperatures of 30°C between October and April. Recommendations include sun protection, long-sleeved clothing and insect repellent.
The accommodation that is found in the inter-Andean valleys along this route is usually more comfortable than that located in the higher areas, which tends to be quite basic and does not offer guests an oxygen service. Following the descent from the Andes towards the eastern flatlands, the range of accommodation improves, with the option of staying in comfortable jungle lodges.
The Southern Route is a large, circular route that allows visitors to start on the coast to the south of Lima and begin the ascent to the Andes gradually. Possible starting points include Pisco (Route of the Liberators), Nazca (via the Pampa Galeras Bárbara D’Achille National Reserve - RNPGBA) or Arequipa, passing through Puno and Lake Titicaca as far as Cuzco, the capital of the ancient Inca Empire. The Southern Route is traditionally the most popular.
The South InterOceanic Highway makes it possible to travel from the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the city of Puerto Maldonado and on into Brazil. This allows visitors to extend their route and to cross the continent as far as the Brazilian Atlantic coast from the cities of the extreme south, such as Moquegua and Tacna. The road provides services to travellers, including birdwatchers, and has helpful signs and pictures to guide visitors and explain the environment.
The Southern Route has a range of high quality accommodation and offers specific guest services, for example in Cuzco and Puno, where many lodgings have oxygen available to help visitors with altitude sickness. It is important to be well prepared for the altitude of the main destinations along this route. The cities of Arequipa, Puno and Cuzco are over 2,000 masl and visitors who go trekking in the area around the snow-capped peaks that are found along the route can reach altitudes higher than 5,000 masl.