Adventures in Peru, Part 1: Manu National Park

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After arriving in Peru and visiting Cusco for a few days (more on Cusco in a later post), our first major adventure was our tour of Manu National Park. DSC_0614Since we only had 16 days in Peru, we had to make some tough decisions about what we wanted to see and do.Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail were the reason we were going, so those were set, but we had to figure out how we wanted to spend the rest of our time. We debated between going to Tambopata, Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca and Manu National Park. Deciding to go to Manu National Park meant missing out on Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon, but if we were going to go to the Amazon, we wanted to get the full experience and spend a considerable amount of time there.

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We are very happy we decided to do the 6 day trip to Manu, and thought it really wouldn’t have been worth it to do it for a shorter amount of time because it is quite a far journey by mini bus and boat.

DSC_0281Why did we chose Manu National Park over Tambopata? I read quite a bit on the difference between the two and ultimately decided on Manu National Park because it was more remote, less inhabited, less tourist laden, and had more real jungle adventures than the typical 4 day trip to Tambopata. DSC_0444Also, Manu Naitonal Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and according to UNESCO, is the most biologically diverse park in the world. Due to the size and the range of altitude the park covers, you are able to experience a variety of different ecosystems, from the cloud forest to the lowland forest and grasslands. Therefore, you have a better chance to see varying species of animals in each of the different ecosystems.

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If you are looking for more of a plush, relaxing journey, it is certainly available, but you may not be able to see as much of the park, as you are likely only going into the DSC_0424cultural zone of Manu, not the biosphere/reserved zone. Most of the lodges we stayed in did not have electricity and were basic in terms of accommodation. DSC_0485We opted for this type of trip because we wanted to see as much wildlife as possible, and we wanted to get the full experience of being immersed in the jungle. We actually enjoyed being in such a different environment. It helped us relax, unplug, and be completely disconnected from modern society and stresses for awhile. I actually miss it! (except the bugs, don’t miss those…)

The tour company we decided to go with was AmazonTrailsPeru.net (there is also a .com company, but that is a different company not affiliated with this one). I did quite extensive research on the companies and decided to go for this one because:

1. They guaranteed a departure even if it was just the 2 of us (which it ended up being just the 2 of us)

2. They were in our budget and were more moderately priced than others (maybe the price difference would account for the difference in accommodation or food, but we were happy with everything). We enjoyed the accommodations we had and we were barely in the lodges much anyway.

3. I read the reviews about our guide, Abraham, and that was what truly made my decision and was the most important factor for me. If you don’t have a good guide, you probably won’t have that great of a trip. AbrahamAbraham was incredible. He was knowledgeable, engaging, almost as enthusiastic about seeing animals as we were, and could spot the tiniest bird in the tallest tree with his naked eye. He was genuinely interested in you learning about the culture of the park, the flora, the fauna, and the inhabitants. He was also so knowledgeable and passionate about the area that we always felt completely safe and taken care of. I would highly recommend Abraham and AmazonTrailsPeru.net if you are thinking of a trip to Manu National Park.

So what was the trip to Manu like? It truly was an unique and incredible experience!

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IMG_0780Day 1: Most of the first day we spent driving from Cusco, over the Andes Mountains and down in to Manu National Park. DSC_0255We made a stop at a pre-Inca cemetery called Ninamarcas Chullpas, a few other stops for walks to look for animals/various plants, lunch, and a visit to a platform where you can watch the Cock of the Rock (the Peruvian national bird). DSC_0341 - Version 2We happened to pick up an old lady that Abraham knew and she rode the rest of the way with us so that we could drop her at her house. Bambu_bedsOur first night we stayed in the Bambu Lodge and also participated in a night walk to check out creepy animals like spiders, snakes, huge “24 Hour Ants” (named because their bites sting for 24 hours), fireflies, caterpillars, grasshoppers, toads & whatever else we could find.

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Day 2: We traveled by mini-bus to the end of the road (with a few nature walk stops – one especially great stop was through an orchid “farm” where a local raised and took care of a variety of orchids).

DSC_0403In Atalaya, we bought a couple of snacks, transferred our stuff from the van to our boat, and started making our way down river to Boca Manu.  In Boca Manu, we made a quick stop in the small village, and then continued to our lodge, called Hummingbird Lodge for that night.  The boat ride was about 6-7 hours. We looked for animals and slowed/stopped a few times when we saw things and then also ate lunch on our trip. DSC_0452We went for a walk around the lodge and saw some macaws, other birds, a giant tree that had a natural DSC_0487“rope swing” (which I of course had to try), and then we came back to the lodge in time to watch the hummingbirds feeding on the flowers near our room. Awesome experience to watch them and the sun set on the river! tarantulaAfter tea time, we went on another night walk in which we encountered some large tarantulas, a scorpion/spider hybrid (strange!), monkeys, birds, and a snake. After dinner, we headed to bed for the night.

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Day 3: We had breakfast and then took another walk around the lodge to see what we could find. DSC_0554We saw a ton of birds – macaws, woodpeckers, toucans, and a chestnut gill aracely, a variety of fungus and mushrooms, and an anteater nest (sadly, no anteater though). IMG_0799We packed up, and took the boat for another few hours to our next lodge. We encountered some Capybaras (world’s largest rodent), black and white king vultures, horned screamers (a bird related to geese), egrets, and other birds on the way!
My favorite was the Capybara…I had been waiting for those! After we arrived at the lodge, we walked a couple of trails to get to the Tapir observation platform. IMG_0804capybaraWe camped out here for the rest of the day and night. We saw capuchin monkeys, bull frogs, bats, parakeets, a few other birds, and I saw a tayra, but T was sleeping and didn’t wake up in time! No luck on the Tapirs that night, but it was fun to sleep on the platform in the jungle.

 

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Day 4: We woke up crazy early (4 AM) and headed back to the lodge, got ready for the day, and headed to the Macaw Clay Lick early. DSC_0834On our way we saw our first caiman, more capybaras (with a baby too!), and spider monkeys. We spent the morning at the clay lick, at breakfast, and watched the activity. It’s quite a comfortable platform with a few other groups there as well, but not too crowded. This is one of the few times we encountered other people/groups. DSC_0741At the clay lick we saw macaws (scarlet, green, and blue/yellow ones), a red cardinal, a kin fisher, blue headed parrot, red neck woodpecker, smooth billed ahi, black billed seed finish, amazonian parrotlet (small parakeet), hawks, and parakeets. It eventually started to pore, which unfortunately scared the macaws away before they went down to the clay. Once the rain settled down, we walked another path following Abraham and his machete to find some sloths. DSC_0835We saw a mom and a baby together in a tree sleeping, and then decided to return to the clay lick because the weather was looking up. This time, everyone else had left, so we had the platform to ourselves! We had lunch and stayed for another two hours until the macaws finally returned and went down to the clay. We walked back to the boat across the river to an oxbow lake called Blanco Lake. DSC_0840This was an absolutely gorgeous and peaceful boat ride around the lake where we encounteredDSC_0940 a few river otters (a mom, dad and baby), a pre-historic bird called hoatzin, red howler monkeys, brown capuchin monkeys, and a few other birds. With the sun setting soon, we walked through the forest to an observation platform at the top of a huge tree where we saw toucans and macaws, and then headed back to the lodge by boat, watching the sun set on the river.

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Day 5: Woke up around 5 AM to hope in the boat and head to Camungo Lake for a paddle around the beautiful DSC_1037lake in a catamaran while enjoying breakfast.DSC_1018 After breakfast we saw 2 caimans, one which was called over using a cry a baby lets out when in trouble (so cool to watch!). Once the mother decided we weren’t her baby in trouble, she swam away. We also saw squirrel, howler, and more capuchin monkeys. We saw a ton of birds – egrets, pre-historic birds, macaws, horned screamers (man they are loud), vultures, cardinals, and a few other smaller species. DSC_0972After awhile on the lake, we took the boat back to the lodge, had lunch, then set out on another walk around the trails. DSC_1048We stumbled upon a poisonous dart frog! We then continued on to another observation platform and sat up there awhile to see what we could find. We saw white headed parrots, an owl (it was small and cute, and we could see it close to us on a branch near the tower), blue/yellow and scarlet macaws, vultures, white-tailed tobins, and a few other birds. DSC_1024We headed down from the platform after being inundated by wasps and bugs and walked around until we came to the Tapir platform. We stayed for a few hours, and lucked out after dinner because 2 Tapirs crossed the clay lick! DSC_0013_2They are known as the “cows of the jungle” and are super easily scared. We decided to sleep back at the lodge rather than the platform because we saw the Tapirs and needed to pack for the trip home.

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(Yes, the above monkey is sticking his tongue out at me)

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Day 6: We took the boat for a few hours down the river to Puerto Colorado. IMG_0823Along the way we saw a ton of birds, more capybaras, and one last caiman. From Puerto Colorado, we took a dirt road in a truck to Puerto Carlos, then took a water taxi across the river, and met up with our mini-bus for the long drive back to Cusco. The drive up from the lowland jungle, back through the cloud forest, and then over the mountains was mesmerizingly beautiful. It was a pleasant way to end our amazing visit to Manu National Park.

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