from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The
rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York, London,
Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com
The permit in Cusco for
Zones B and C - severe restrictions for Zone A with Nahua
Permits to visit Manu are granted to groups only (mainly to
established tour companies operating out of Cusco), and done
so according to quotas, in order to limit the number of
people in the reserve at any one time and throughout any
particular year. It's virtually impossible to get permission
by going it alone, and no settlers, hunters or missionaires
are allowed in, while tourists are allowed into Zones B and
C only as part of organized visits with guides, following
the basic rules of non-interference with human, animal or
vegetable life. Zone A is restricted to the occasional
scientist (usually biologists or anthropologists) and
indigenous groups, including the recently contacted Nahua
[native] people. However, if you're a naturalist,
photographer, or can demonstrate a serious interest, then it
is sometimes possible to gain a special permit for
restricted areas; contact INRENA in Lima (p.559).
All of the necessary provisions and equipment should be
bought in Cusco, and this is one journey where you'll
definitely need as much petrol as you can muster [purchase]
(a 55-gallon drum is probably enough) [for payment to a
canoe guide later]. A sleeping mat is also a good idea even
if only to sit on during the long journey to Shintuya
; if the truck
is carrying fuel, wear old clothes and cover your baggage
properly. If you can afford one luxury, make it a sturdy
pair of binoculars, preferably brought with you from home
Approaching the reserve
Flight to Boca Manu:
Manu Biosphere Reserve is better reached from Cusco than it
is from Puerto Maldonado. Flying direct to Boca Manu will
dramatically affect the price and the amount of time you get
in the reserve (it's only a 30-45min flight but costs
$300-400), and twin-engined planes can be chartered from the
airport in Cusco.
Note the one-way traffic: From Paucartambo
onwards, the precipitous and
gravelly nature of the road down through the cloud forest to
the navigable sections of the Río Alto Madre de Dios means
that access is supposedly limited to one direction per day,
except Sunday, when it's a free-for-all. You can travel down
on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and back up on Tuesday,
Thursday and Saturday (p.560).
Buses from Cusco to
Most people travel there on transport
organized by their tour operators; otherwise, buses operated
by Gallito de las Rocas (Avenida Manco Capac 105, Cusco, T.
084-277255) go to Pilcopata
and usually beyond to Salvación
at about 10am most Mondays and Fridays ($7, a 10-14hr
journey depending on road conditions).
Trucks from Cusco to
Trucks, generally loaded to the brim with
beer, fuel and passengers, leave Cusco from Avenida Huascar,
and some from the [Jirón] Coliseo, every Monday, Wednesday,
Friday and Sunday for Shintuya
($6; a 20-30hr journey in good conditions) (p.560) resp.
18-24 hours journey (p.568).
From Cusco to the Manu
reserve in details
The only viable way of visiting
is by joining an organized tour through one of
the main Cusco agents, which is safer and generally cheaper
than doing it yourself. However, you can travel
independently as far as Boca Manu, but unless you've secured
a highly exclusive special permit
you then have to head away from the reserve on one of the
canoes that go most weeks (cargo and river permitting) to
Puerto Maldonado. For this you'll need to be well stocked
and prepared for a rough voyage of several days - plus a few
more if you have to hitch along the way. The only
significant settlement en route is Boca Colorado
confluence of the Ríos Colorado and Madre de Dios, a small
gold-miner's service town full of vermin [insect beings],
human and animal. Remember, this region is well off the
beaten tourist trail and is relatively wild territory,
populated by colonos
indigenous Indians, and even smugglers and terrorists
The first four-to
six-hour stage is by road to the attractive town of Paucartambo
stupendous narrow roads with fine panoramas of the region's
largest glaciated mountain of Ausungate, a major apu
- or god - for the
Incas and also the locals today. From Paucartambo onwards,
the precipitous and gravelly nature of the road down through
the cloud forest to the navigable sections of the Río Alto
Madre de Dios means that access is supposedly limited to one
direction per day, except Sunday, when it's a free-for-all.
You can travel down on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and
back up on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (p.560).
It's another 30km to the
turn off to Tres Cruces
, at the reserve's southern
tip; from here the road winds down, at times along narrow
stretches of quite bad track with drops of well over 300m
only a few feet away. Somehow the beauty overrides the
scariness for most people, and a surprising amount of
wildlife can usually be spotted as the track continues
downhill - Andean guans, mountain motmots, woodcreepers,
oropendulas and the brilliant-red gallo de las rocas
(the national bird of
Peru) can all be seen. Of course, you're more likely to get
a glimpse of these if you're traveling with a good guide who
has a ell trained eye (p.560).
Settlements in the high
jungle on the way
The first settlement you come to in the high jungle is Chontachaca
, which is
Quechua for "Chonta Bridge" (chonta
being the common hardwood palm
whose wood is used throughout the Peruvian Amazon for Indian
bows and arrow points). Vehicles rarely stop here, and
shortly beyond you pass through the slightly larger Patria
frontier-type village, where coca is grown in some
quantities. Turkeys, pigs and children play beside the road
and the town's grassed-over, neglected concrete fountain
says a lot about this place, which is more noted for its
cock-fighting fiestas than anything else. Around here the
jungle is being cleared for cash crops and, occasionally so
much vegetation is being burned that planes are occasionally
unable to land in Cusco because of the rising smoke (p.560).
At the next town, PILCOPATA
the road crosses a river over a new steel bridge; to the
right, a rickety old wooden one is left to decay in memory
of a (p.560)
truck that destroyed it and fell into the water in the
mid-1990s. Most buses and trucks stop here for the night,
and there's a basic hotel, a few small shops and a simple
market here. The road then skirts [follows] the Río Alto
Madre de Dios.
The forest around here hides some fascinating petroglyphs,
etched onto boulders by Indians before the Spanish arrived.
However, these are along the Río Pishiyura, hidden in the
restricted area of Manu and reported to be protected by a
still largely unacculturated group of Mashco-Piro Indians
shoot arrows at intruders.
This is also one of the areas where the legendary Inca city
of gold - El Dorado, or Paititi - is reputed to lie.
The following day takes you on to the small riverside
settlement of Atalaya
(10-12hr from Cusco); some tours cross the river to spend
the night at an old hacienda which has been converted into
an attractive tourist lodge - Amazonia Lodge (half board),
600m above sea level on the edge of the cloud forest. The
food here is excellent and it's one of the few Peruvian
jungle lodges to have solar-heated showers; the owners can
be contacted in Cusco (Ramiro Yabar Calderon, Calle Matara
334, T. 084-231370, e-mail: email@example.com.
They offer full board and excursions in the region and
frequently work with Manu Expeditions. There are also a few
restaurants in town (p.561).
Twenty minutes down the road from Atalaya, at the pueblo of
before Shintuya, the Manu Biosphere Reserve has an office
where your guide will usually be expected to show his
permits. There are also a couple of rough hostels and one or
two places to get some food - a bowl of jungle soup or, if
you're lucky, fish with manioc.
Two hours beyond Atalaya, at Shintuya
, the road finishes. There's no
hotel, but there's no problem about camping if you ask
permission - the best spot is beside the small stream that
enters the main river (the water is cleaner here) (p.561).
Shintuya: Self destruction
by timber, trucks, and gold
Trucks, mostly carrying timber, go from here to Cusco every
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The Dominican Mission here has been in existence for forty
years, though recently many of the indigenous members have
left after making good money with their chainsaws - some of
them now own trucks to facilitate the supply of timber out
to Cusco and beyond (p.561).
Keep a watchful eye on your baggage, as Shintuya also has a
sizeable transient population, passing to and from the
gold-mining areas downriver [with mercury contamination of
the rivers] (p.561).
Find a canoe in Shintuya -
and go further - Boca Colorado - Boca Manu - Piro natives
in Diamante on the air strip
Normal boats between Shintuya and Boca Manu are irregular, 1
daily on average, a trip of 6 hours (both directions)
But if you're traveling independently, you can charter your
own canoe when you look for one with a reliable boatman /
guide, and if you've brought some of your own fuel to
bargain with, it should be relatively easy to find a decent
deal at the mission; the Moscosa family (especially Cesar,
Pepe and Darwin) are reliable guides. Boats from Shintuya
cost from around $300 for a week (though it can be double
this if it's a busy season); if it's beg enough, and most
are, the boat can be shared between as many as seven or
eight, and the price of an extra week isn't that much more.
Remember that tings happen on a different timescale in the
Peruvian jungle, so get the boat organized as soon as you
arrive, and try to make an early start the next day. If it
can be arranged, it's a good idea to take a surplus, small
dugout canoe for entering smaller channels and lagoons.
Alternatively, you might be able to catch one of the cargo
boats prepared to take passengers direct to Boca Colorado
Downriver, in a lancha
with outboard motor, it's half a day down the Alto Madre de
Dios to Boca Manu
a mere 300m above sea level and little more than a small
settlement of a few families living near the airstrip. There
are no hostels here (people do camp on the other side of the
river, but these are mostly visiting Indians or tour groups)
and while there is a small shop here (prices double (p.561)
those in Cusco, with no guarantee of supply), the population
mainly serves the gold-mining settlements downstream towards
Close by is the native Piro community of Diamante
for managing the airstrip, a major link to Cusco. In 1983,
when it was controlled by cocaine smugglers, this was the
scene of Hollywood-style drama, when an unmarked Colombian
plane overloaded with cocaine crashed into the vegetation at
the end of the airstrip. The gang leader had his men torch
the plane after the crash; its remains are still there in
the undergrowth. The Peruvian army later regained control of
the strip, but now the Piro make a little money from each
flight that uses it and sell good, cheap artesanía at the
small hut that serves as the airport terminal.
Tours in the Manu reserve
Accessible only by boat, any expedition to Manu is very much
in the hands of the gods, because of the temperamental
jungle environment; the region experiences a rainy season
from December to March, and is best visited between May and
August when it's much drier, although at that time the
temperatures often exceed 30°C (86°F) (p.557).
The highlight of most organized visits to Manu is the trail
network and lakes of Cocha
(the largest of Manu's oxbows, at 3.5km
long) and Cocha Otorongo
both bountiful [very rich] jungle areas rich in animal,
water and birdlife (p.558).
There are quite a few organized tours competing for
travelers who want to visit Manu. Many are keen to keep the
impact of tourism to a minimum, which means limiting the
number of visits per year (it's already running well into
the thousands). However, they do vary quite a bit in quality
of guiding, level of comfort and price range. If you go with
one of the companies listed below, you can generally be
confident that they have a good reputation both for the way
they treat their tourists and the delicate ecology of the
rainforest itself (p.562).
Tour operators in the Manu reserve
[Jirón] Plateros 359, Cusco, T. 084-254041, Fax 254042,
A relatively new company, but with some experienced and
professional guides, Caiman specialize in Manu, basically
offering 4 days and 3 nights from around $300. Their 6- to
9-day tours are better, since they do include exploring
within the Manu reserve itself, including Lago Otorongo,
with a chance of spotting the giant river otter family that
lives there (more in the region of $500-600).
Ecological Adventures Manu
[Jirón] Plateros 356, Cusco, T. 084-261640, Fax 225562,
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.manuadventures.com
Jungle-trip specialists and one of the first operators
running trips into Manu, with their own vehicles, boats and
multilingual guides. Their camping-based tours are cheaper
than most, with the 8-day option going in and out by bus,
but they also offer shorter options which go in by bus and
out by plane. Tour-only price for 5-night trip from $580.
[Jirón] Plateros 359, Cusco, T./Fax 084-253773, Fax 251872,
e-mail: MANUVILCA@terra.com.pe, www.manuvilca.com; or: Calle
Saphi 456, T. 084-681002
Manu specialists, they have a good reputation and their
guides are well informed, taking eco-tourism seriously.
Their 8-day tour includes camping in Zone B, plus a visit to
the macaw lick at Blanquillo as well as 3 nights in albergues
, from around
$600-790, depending on whether you take a bus or plane in.
They also offer 5- and 6-day trips, including flights to
and7or from Boca Manu from around $720.
-- in Cusco: Avenida Sol 821, second floor, Cusco, T.
-- in Lima: Via InkaNatura Travel, [Jirón] Manuel Bañon 461,
San Isidro, Lima, T. 01-4402022, Fax 4229225
InkaNatura offer customized travel, from 4 to 5 days,
operating from the Manu Wildlife Center, where one of the
nearby highlights is the world's largest tapir salt-lick.
They also accommodate people at the Cock of the Rock Lodge
6hr by road from Cusco, in one of the best cloud-forest
locations for birdwatching. $1050-1150; discounts available
to groups of 6 or more. The lodge is owned and operated
principally by Selva Sur, a Cusco-based nonprofit
conservation group. Bookings through its own in-house travel
agency, InkaNatura Travel.
Urbanización Magisterio, 2nda Etapa G-5, PO Box 606, Cusco,
T. 084-226671 or 239974, Fax 236706 (Mon-Fri 9am-1pm, and
3.30-7pm, Sat 9am-1pm), www.ManuExpeditions.com
One of the best and the most responsible companies, run by a
British ornithologist, They offer 3- to 9-day camping
expeditions into Zone B and to the Manu Wildlife Center,
with solar-powered radio communications and a video machine.
The guides and service are top-quality, and they speak
English; they offer air and overland transfers to Boca Manu
(they have their own overland transport), and food, beds (or
riverside campsite) and bird-blinds are all included.
$688-1595; discounts available to South American Explorers'
Manu Nature Tours
Avenida Sol 582, Cusco, T. 084-224384, Fax 234793, e-mail:
A highly professional company that operates Manu Lodge
, one of only
two within Zone B (p.562),
where you can join their 4- to 8-day programs. They also run
3-day trips to Manu Cloud
in their private reserve by the
southeast boundary of Zone A, where torrent ducks, gallos
and event woolly monkeys are often seen. $268-299 for Manu
Cloud Forest Lodge, $1040-2065 for 4- to 8-day programs;
discounts available to South American Explorers' Club
[Jirón] Plateros 360, Cusco, T. 084-238323, Fax 252696,
A company with a growing reputation for serious
eco-adventure tours. Their cheapest option is also the
longest, a 9-day tour that takes groups in and out by bus
and boat, while the more expensive 5- to 7-day trips go in
by road and out by plane from Boca Manu. They have an
excellent lodge on the Río Alto Madre de Dios at Itahuania,
and their tours into Zone B are based in tents at prepared
campsites. $675-795; discounts available to South American
Explorers' Club members (p.563).
From the Manu reserve to Puerto Maldonado
The boat back from Boca Manu to Shintuya goes irregularly, 1
daily on average, a trip of 6 hours (p.568).
Or you also can go:
Down the Madre de Dios
Boats from Boca Manu to Puerto Maldonado are going
irregularly. The trip is 2-4 days (p.568).
It is possible, if you are adventurous, to follow an
unregulated overland route with few facilities from Boca
Manu to Puerto Maldonado. Although you're more likely to
have already found a boat going downriver from Shintuya,
many will also pick up at Boca Manu for the one-day journey
downstream ($10) to the sleazy gold-mining frontier town of
known as Banco Minero
at the mouth of the Río Colorado.
Boca Colorado has a number of very basic hotels, but all
have rats running around - they can be heard scampering
across wooden-planked floorboards when the town generator
goes off and the settlement's televisions fade into silence
at 11pm every night.
There are also a few simple restaurants serving surprisingly
tasty food. It's possible to camp but, again, don't let your
gear [luggage] out of your sight. From here it's at least
one more day ($10-15 as a passenger in boats going in the
same direction, depending on the speed of the boat) on the Laberinto
- from where
it's a two-hour bus ride to Puerto Maldonado (p.563).