The Manu National Park, a World Heritage Site, is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. It is located in the departments of Cusco (Paucartambo province, Kosñipata district) and Madre de Dios (Manu province, Fitzcarrald and Manu districts), and includes the entire basin of the River Manu. Located in the south of Peru, on the eastern side of the Andes mountain range and bordering the Amazon basin, it is the only park in Latin America to cover the full range of environments, from low, tropical jungle to cold, high grassland over 4,000 metres above sea level.
The park was established on 29 May 1973, covers an area of 1,716,295.22 hectares and is one of the best destinations for nature tourism. The low basin of the River Manu is marked by the lush Amazon plain. Five areas are recommended for tourism, each with a high diversity of flora and fauna: Salvador, Otorongo, Juárez, Pakitza and Limonal. All offer navigable circuits through the lakes and swamps, where visitors can see river otters and black caimans.
One of the main attractions of the park is the clay licks, a habitat for flocks of macaws as well as other species of fauna, who come here looking for food. The park contains some 221 species of mammal, including the otorongo (jaguar), black panther tapir, collared peccary, deer, capybara and spider monkey, among others. In terms of birds, highlights include the harpy eagle, jabiru, roseate spoonbill, jungle goose and cock of the rock. Inside the park there is an 18 metre tall metal tower and an elevated walkway with a platform that makes it easier to spot birds and take in the immensity of the forest from the treetops.
For a spectacular view visitors can climb to the Tres Cruces (Three Crosses) lookout point and enjoy both the sunset and two contrasting landscapes: the Andean highlands and the cloud forest. The best time to go is between May and August when the sky is clear and it is possible to see the sun come up twice during the same dawn, due to a natural phenomenon.
The Manu has one of the most renowned Amazon research centres: the biological station of Cocha Cashu. There is also an information centre at the Limonal security post.
A large part of the park is indigenous territory: 30 peasant communities live here and speak Quechua as their first language, and there are various native Amazonian tribes in the region, including the Matsiguenka, Amahuaca, Yine, Amarakaeri, Huashipaire and Nahua. There are also other indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. The cultural wealth of the area is demonstrated by the archaeological sites that have not yet been studied.
Services inside the park: hostels, information centre, toilet facilities, park rangers and radio.
Services outside the park: boat/launch hire, police station, medical station.
Activities: Observation of birds, flora, fauna and scenery, walking, camping, research studies, photography and filming.
Weather: The lower zones enjoy an average temperature of 35ºC during the day and 25ºC at night. However, during the year the temperature can drop due to prolonged periods of heavy rain. At these times, the maximum temperature during the day is 18ºC and the minimum temperature is 10ºC at night. The rainy season runs from January to March, but there is a chance of rain all year round. The best time to visit is between April and December.
Access by land: 224 km from the city of Cuzco via the Cuzco-Paucartambo highway (10 hours 30 minutes in a 4x4) to the town of Atalaya, and the journey continues by boat on the Alto Madre de Dios river to the Limonal Control Post, the entrance to the National Park (7 hours by boat). The route then follows the River Manu into the park. It is also possible to fly to Boca Manu in a small plane from Cuzco (40 minutes).
Note: Permission to enter the Manu National Park for tourism purposes is restricted to tour operators, who then offer a range of services and packages within the park. It is not possible to enter as an individual. Photography and filming is charged at 10% of the taxation unit.
Entry fee: River Manu lower basin: S/. 150.00 Acjanaco sector: S/. 10.00 (prices subject to change).