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The Manu Biosphere Reserve / Flora & Fauna / Getting to and from Manu Biosphere Reserve / Tours to Manu / Tour Operators /
The Manu Biosphere Reserve
The Manu Biosphere Reserve is one of the most pristine areas of rainforest in the Amazon and consists of the entire drainage basin of the Manu River. There are very few human settlements in the park, and there is no hunting or fishing. Tourism is strictly controlled and visitors are only allowed into the park if accompanied by a registered guide and with a registered tour operator. Tours must be organised in advance, and all of the agencies have offices in Cusco. It is also possible to organise tours from Lima or abroad, although all operators work with one of the ten official operators allowed into the park. It is possible to visit the Manu area without entering the reserved zone, and much good wildlife can still be seen. However, there is less control on human activity in the area outside the park.
The Manu Biosphere Park consists of two zones: the Manu National Park, which can only be entered by professional biologists with a special permit; and the Manu Reserved Zone, which can be entered by tourists, but only with an organised tour. There are buffer zones around the park, often referred to as the Cultural Zone, although this is no official protection for this area. The Manu National Park covers 1,532,860 hectares, and the Manu Reserved Zone another 260,000 hectares. Manu contains 13 different ecological zones ranging in altitude from 200m to 4,000m, meaning that it has an incredible variety of flora and fauna.
In 2000, almost 3,000 visitors entered the Manu reserved zone compared with 20,000 who visited the Puerto Maldonado area. Although there are no official limits of the number of visitors, the expense of visiting Manu means that numbers are self-limiting. Additionally, agencies are strictly controlled and are only allowed to visit certain parts of the reserved zone, and even then only allowed in for three days at a time.
Tours to the Manu reserved zone are expensive, ranging from about $500 for the cheapest, taking the bus in and out, to almost $2,000 when staying in one of the lodges. The reason for this is that the transport costs are expensive due to the distances involved. Flights to Boca Manu are $116 one-way. However, it is sometimes possible to get discounts on official prices. If an agency has a tour leaving in a day or two and still has spaces, it may be willing to offer a discount to try and fill a place. It can be worth shopping around the see if this is the case.
The Manu Biosphere is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, containing 97 mammal species, 800 bird species, 60 reptile species, 78 amphibian species and over 3,000,000 invertebrates.
Mammals in the park include the spectacled bear, the deer, the puma, the pygmy marmoset, the red howler monkey, the squirrel monkey, the tapir, the collared peccary, the giant otter and the jaguar. Reptiles that can be seen include the white caiman, the black caiman, the anaconda, the boa constrictor, the yellow-spotted sideneck turtle and the tortoise.
The area is a real wonderland for birders, and the 800 varieties include the harpy eagle, the jabirus, the roseate spoonbill, the Orinoco goose, the cock-of-the-rock, the macaw, the toucan, the king vulture, the tiger-heron and the hoatzin.
Additionally, the park contains some wonderful flora, with the puna offering much typical vegetation of the highlands. The cloud forest has heterogeneous woods with trees covered with epiphyte, many varieties of orchids, mosses, lichen and ferns. The rainforest contains trees over 60m tall and 3 metres in diameter, including cedars and mahogany. There are over 5,000 plant and flower species in the rainforest.
The only way of entering the Manu reserved zone is to take an organised tour from Cusco. The companies will organise transport for you, whether it is by plane or bus and boat. It is possible to visit the Manu area without entering the reserved zone itself, and there is some good jungle here. Tours can be organised from Cusco, and will again include transport. Alternatively, it is possible to take a bus from Cusco to Pilcopata and on to Atalaya from where you can navigate down the Madre de Dios River. It may be possible to organise a jungle tour with a local here, although few tourists try this alone and so there is little infrastructure for independent travellers.
There are ten operators who are allowed into the Manu Reserved Zone and most of these offer similar programmes, although the exact details may vary, as may the type of accommodation. Most companies give the option of either flying in and out to Boca Manu, or taking a bus and boat there. Flying is considerably more expensive, although it saves a lot of time. It is also possible to combine a flight with a bus and boat journey, and so flight in and bus out, or the other way round. A good combination is to take the bus and boat in and fly out as this gives an opportunity to see the area descending into Manu, which is very beautiful and contains interesting wildlife. The choice of method of transportation will obviously depend on each person’s time and money constraints.
Tours that bus and boat in to Boca Manu usually spend a night or two between Paucartambo and Pilcopata, about 8 hours from Cusco. Here there are several lodges operated or used by the different agencies. They are usually close to some cock-of-the-rock nesting areas, and it is often possible to see these wonderful birds in the morning. There is much other wildlife in the area. Buses then go on to Atalaya, a few hours further, from where boats go down the Madre de Dios River to Limonales, near Boca Manu at the entrance of the reserved zone, about six hours from Atalaya. Most agencies camp here and offer night-time jungle walks. Passes to enter the reserved zone must be shown at Limonales. People who fly into Boca Manu usually meet up with a group that has entered by bus and boat here.
From Limonales it is a five-hour boat trip up the Manu River to Cocha Salvador where most agencies camp for two nights. Camps are comfortable, with good tents, toilets and showers. On the boat ride to Cocha Salvador, much wildlife can be seen on the riverbanks, and most jaguar sightings are from the boat. There is a lodge at Cocha Salvador, the Casa Machiguenga, which is owned by a local community, and is shared by a number of the operators offering tours to Manu. This is used on a rotational basis by each operator, and tours including accommodation at the lodge are more expensive than camping tours. A family of giant river otters lives at Cocha Salvador, and it is usually possible to see them from the shore of the lake or from one of the jetties onto the lake. There is also a catamaran, which can be taken out onto to lake to get closer to the otters. Use of the catamaran is regulated, and each agency can use it for two hours. As Cocha Salvador is the main camping base it can get quite crowded, although most tours are planned to avoid other groups. Apart from Cocha Salvador, tours into the reserved zone usually visit Cocha Otoronga where there is a 20m-high canopy platform for a view into the treetops. This is excellent for spotting bird life.
The afternoon of the third day in the reserved zone is spent returning to Boca Manu. Some tours have the option to return to Cusco from here, either by plane or by bus and boat. Other tours carry on down the Madre de Dios River to Cocha Blanquillo, outside of the Manu Reserved Zone, where they spend a couple of nights. Here there are several lodges, although some groups also camp. Near Cocha Blanquillo there is a macaw lick that, although smaller than the one in the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone, is still very impressive. There is also a tapir lick and a family of giant river otters nearby. There is also a canopy walk in the area. Although there is more human interference in this area than in the reserved zone, it still offers an excellent chance to see wildlife.
Some agencies that offer tours to Manu do not actually enter the reserved zone, preferring to head straight to Cocha Blanquillo. This is even the case with some of the agencies that have authorisation to enter the reserved zone. These agencies claim that entering the reserved zone means spending too much time riding up and down the river in a boat, and less time exploring the jungle. They would rather spend all the time based in one place giving more time to explore the jungle on foot. Other agencies claim that although much time is spent on a boat when entering the reserved zone, this is actually one of the best times to see wildlife, as most wildlife is alongside the river. Most big cat sightings are from a boat riding up or down the Manu River. As the reserved zone is so much more protected than the rest of the jungle, the chances of seeing such wildlife are much greater inside the reserved zone. Apparently, one in three trips to the reserved zone in 2000 with one particular operator had big cat sightings.
Flying into Boca Manu or back to Cusco can save almost two days in either direction, although flights are expensive at $116 each way. If wanting to take the plane in one direction it is generally better to fly back. Most agencies that take the boat and bus back do not stop or see much wildlife on the return, whereas they will do so on the way in.
The Manu National Park office in Cusco (Av. Bastidas 310, T240898, open Mon-Fri 9am-12.30pm, 3pm-4pm) has some general information on the national park, although it is not really set up for tourists but rather for administration of the park. It is currently in the process of setting up a feedback service on the agencies operating to Manu. The ten agencies that have permits to offer tours to the reserved zone are listed below.
Manu Nature Tours
Av Pardo 1046 T 252721 F 234793
Portal Comercio 137, Plaza de Armas
This is the most expensive of the operators into Manu and owns its own lodge in the reserved zone, the Manu Lodge. This is in a beautiful setting and has the big advantage that it is set in an area that is not visited by other operators, so you are unlikely to see people apart from those on your group. Manu Nature Tours also owns the Manu Cloud Forest Lodge in the cloud forest descending to the national park, which is used for tours that enter by bus.
8-day/7-night tours to the reserved zone, entering by bus
and leaving by plane cost almost $1,900 per person.
5-day/4-night tours to the reserved zone, entering and leaving by plane cost approximately $1,500.
4-day/3-night tours to the reserved zone, entering and leaving by plane, cost $1,300.
The company also offers camping trips, which are significantly cheaper.
Av Pardo 895 T 226671 F 236706
An established operator to Manu, with good, but expensive, tours. Accommodation is in lodges (Amazonía Lodge, Manu Wildlife Centre), apart from in the reserved zone where it is camps.
9-day/8-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and flying out, cost $1,595.
6-day/5-night tours to the reserved zone, taking the bus in and flying out cost $1,235.
4-day/3-night tours to the Manu Wildlife centre at Cocha Blanquillo, flying in and out, cost $1,200 per person.
InkaNatura operates the Manu Wildlife Centre along with Manu Expeditions. This lodge is not actually inside the reserved zone, but downriver from Boca Manu near the Cocha Blanquillo. The lodge is the most luxurious in the area and even has hot water. Tours operated by InkaNatura fly in and out, and there is no option to drive in. InkaNatura Travel does not generally enter the reserved zone, although it is one of the agencies that has authorisation.
5-day/4-night tours to the Manu Wildlife centre, flying in and out, cost $1,150 per person.
4-day/3-night tours to the Manu Wildlife centre, flying in and out, cost $990 per person.
Plateros 363 T/F 251872, 244751 firstname.lastname@example.org www.cbc.org.pe/manuvilca
One of the mid-range Manu operators, Vilca operates tours into the reserved zone. A good guidebook to the Manu National Park is included in the price of the tour. Accommodation is in lodges (Pilcopata, Tambo Blanquillo) on the way to the reserved zone and at Cocha Blanquillo, and in a camp in the reserved zone.
8-day/7-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and out, cost $620.
6-day/5-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and flying out cost $720.
5-day/4-night tours to the reserved zone, flying in and out, cost $790.
Plateros 360 T 238323 F 252696 email@example.com
Another mid-range operator offering tours to the reserved zone. Accommodation is in lodges (Tambo Blanquillo) at the Cocha Blanquillo, and camping at other locations.
9-day/8-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and out, cost $750.
7-day/6-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and flying out, cost $820.
5-day/4-night tours, taking the bus in and flying out, cost $750
Caiman Manu Tours
Plateros 359 T 254041 F 254042 firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a relatively new mid-range Manu operator. Accommodation is in lodges on the way to the reserved zone and in the Cocha Blanquillo, and camping in the reserved zone.
9-day/8-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and out, cost $580.
8-day/7-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and flying out cost $680.
5-day/4-night tours to the reserved zone, flying in and out, cost $725.
Peruvian Field Guides
Plateros 362 T/F 243475 www.peruvianfieldguides.com
This is one of the newer agencies offering tours to Manu, and it is therefore easier to bargain a bit with them. It was established by three Peruvian guides who used to guide for other agencies. Most of the tours they offer do not enter the reserved zone, although they do also have tours that do enter. Accommodation is all camping.
8-day/7-night tours to the reserved zone, taking the bus in and out, cost $500.
8-day/7-night tours not entering the reserved zone, taking the bus in and out, cost $400
6-day/5-night tours to the reserved zone, taking the bus in and flying out cost $620.
7-day/6-night tours not entering the reserved zone, taking the bus in and flying out cost $520.
Ecological Adventures Manu
Plateros 356 T 261640 F 225562
The largest agency operating tours to Manu, Ecological Adventures Manu claims to have taken 1,000 visitors into the reserved zone in 2000. Accommodation is in lodges (Tambo San Pedro, Erika) on the way to the reserved zone and in a camp in the reserved zone and at Cocha Blanquillo.
8-day/7-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and out, cost $550.
7-day/6-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and flying out cost $650.
5-day/4-night tours to the reserved zone, flying in and out, cost $725.
Portal de Panes 143, Plaza de Armas T/F 237292
One of the newest operators to Manu, offering relatively cheap tours. Accommodation is all camping.
8-day/7-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and out, cost $540.
6-day/5-night tours to the reserved zone and Cocha Blanquillo, taking the bus in and flying out cost $630.
4-day/3-night tours not entering the reserved zone, taking the bus in and flying out, cost $385.
5-day/4-night tours to the reserved zone, flying in and out, cost $755.
International Cusco Adventures
Portal de Carnes 359
This company also has permission to enter the reserved zone, but its trips do not typically enter.
In addition to the ten operators who are allowed into the reserved zone, many other operators claim to offer tours to Manu. These tours do not enter the reserved zone, but still include some good wildlife near Cocha Blanquillo. These tours are considerably cheaper than tours to the reserved zone, and can cost as little as $300 for an 8-day tour, including transport, camping accommodation and food. However, as the operators are not regulated, the tours are more open to abuse.
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