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Travel Guide to Manu in Southern Peru

Part of the magic when reaching Manu is knowing that you are among the very few people who actually get this chance… 

Manu is a place that many travelers dream of visiting but only a minority end up coming to. The area is so extensive and time-consuming to navigate through that only the most adventurous people will get to explore it in depth.

Manu is for those who really want to disconnect from the modern world, and for those who get excited hearing not only toucans, and howler monkeys, but also the ancient tongues of the peoples of the Amazon.

A little clarification before we continue:

Simultaneously existing is the Manu National Park (by designation of the Peruvian government) and the Manu Biosphere Reserve (designated by UNESCO).Simultaneously existing are the Manu National Park (by designation of the Peruvian government) and the Manu Biosphere Reserve (designated by UNESCO).

The former was designated in 1973, extending over the entire basin of the river of the same name. The latter, announced in 1977, added nearby provinces, including human colonies in the designated area.

The aim of UNESCO’s approach was to achieve natural preservation by integrating the places´ culture as a whole.

Later, in 2007, the park was extended to a total of 1,716,295 hectares and is now also recognized as a World Natural Heritage Site.

It’s worth noting that according to the political divisions, one of the three provinces that form the Madre de Dios department is also called Manu.

The most common way to access this stronghold of biodiversity and indigenous cultures (like the Huachipaeri, Harakbut, and Matsigenka, along with completely uncontacted/isolated tribes) is by land transportation. 

(You can read our blog on How to get to the Manu National Park if you want to get more in-depth information.)

What we can tell you for sure is that going there by land transportation is an experience not to be missed! You will witness the spectacular transformation of the landscapes as you make your way from the Andes to the Amazon. 

Simultaneously, you will feel the change in humidity and temperature – a reason to be well prepared.

That being said, we also recommend you read our article on What to pack for your trip to Peru, where you will find information about the jungle, but also about any other destination in Peru.

There is also another tip that we want to emphasize here: visits to Manu should not be shorter than 4 days. 

Manu offers that once-in-a-lifetime experience that everybody is looking for. Prepare yourself well or leave it all in our hands and let us customize your Peru trip if you prefer. 

We have been traveling to Manu almost since the very beginning of our operations, and we are proud to say that we are good at it.

We have great partners in the native communities you will visit, but also have a lot of experience with foundations/NGOs that provide the best scientific tours for anyone interested.

Howler monkeys up in the canopy of Manu rainforest | Responsible Travel Peru
The Howler monkey, the loudest inhabitant of the rainforest

Our recommendations for your trip to Manu, Peru

Your transportation will depart from Cusco super early

So, make sure to have a good rest the previous night, because a long journey lies ahead of you. 

Luckily, it is full of stops for sightseeing (this is one reason why the trip down to the jungle takes so long – but we’ve no doubt that it’s worth the extra effort).

One clarification is needed: when using public transportation (only for “Manu Community and Wildlife Experience” tour) there will be no stops other than the mandatory ones, like for having lunch at a restaurant.

Andes and cloud forest

First, you will quickly pass through the picturesque town of Paucartambo, known for its festival of La Virgen del Carmen that takes place in July, and also for its stone cobbled bridge that dates back to colonial times.

Either before or after Paucartambo (depending on the weather and visibility conditions), you will see the ancient mausoleums of Ninamarca and the Acjanaco Pass. From the latter, you can catch a first glimpse of the cloud forest before we descend into the rainforest.

Also not far from Paucartambo is a very special place called Tres Cruces. This forest clearing is the perfect spot to watch stunning sunrises, but it’s also notable for a unique phenomenon. Between May and July, and especially during the winter solstice on 21 June, your view from Tres Cruces will be optically distorted, with double images, halos, and multicolored lights being a part of the famous natural display.

The difference in elevation will be about three thousand meters depending on your final stop, so again, we recommend you to read this helpful Peru packing list and packing tips blog to be well prepared.

Torrential river and lush jungle in Manu | Responsible Travel Peru
A glimpse of one of the many climate zones present in Manu

Rainforest of the Amazon plains

It is most likely that your first night will be spent with our friends at the Manu Learning Centre, a place which is mostly dedicated to research and education but also provides great opportunities for tourists. It offers excellent accommodation and meals. 

Here, you can walk along the forest trails guided by the staff of researchers. You can also observe parakeets, parrots, macaws and other birds come to get nutrients from the exposed soil of the cliffs next to the river, a behavior called ‘clay licking’.

For the following days, we recommend you to stay at Shintuya and Shipetiari. These two villages are very close to each other and are inhabited by native people drawn from two different ethnic groups.

In Shintuya, you will meet Walter from the Harakbut people. Walter is one of the most talkative and approachable people you will ever get to know in Manu. He will guide you to Aguas Calientes (a common name for natural hot springs) where you will enjoy the revitalizing warm waters. 

You can hardly see the human intervention in the design of the pool (making it different to most hot springs found across the country), which makes it look quite magical. Most probably, you will be the only one dipping and swimming by the time of your visit. 

Aguas Calientes also offers rustic accommodation in case you want to stay longer and take part in regular activities at the orchard or go to a nearby small waterfall in the area.

Then, a few kilometers away, at Shipetiari Port, you will most likely be picked up by Gregorio with his boat. He has the warmest, most welcoming smile of the Matsigenka. A few minutes later you will be disembarking on the opposite bank of the river to stay at the Pankotsi lodge (Pankotsi means “home” in Matsigenka language – appropriate, right?). 

The construction of this lodge was a communal effort to generate extra income for the village. In Pankotsi you will get to enjoy solitude. 

The Matsigenka, though, are always nearby. With them, you can spend time preparing Masato, making arrows, or watching weaving demonstrations. You can also go textile shopping if you wish to.

By this time, you will probably already have seen an array of fascinating flora and fauna. But to help you see even more wildlife and natural beauty, we will take you on visits to the Oxbow Lakes and on night walks.

Close up of a Night Monkey in Manu | Responsible Travel Peru
To spot a Night Monkey in the wild your only chance is to participate in jungle night walks

Manu offers a big collection of opportunities, so if you want to go even further with your experience, Casa Matsigenka is the ultimate option. Getting there will require a considerably long boat ride over the river, but the reward is fabulous. Stay alert for any wildlife spotting, or just relax and enjoy the vast extension of untouched nature.

Group walking on a trail around Pankotsi lodge in Shipetiari, Manu | Responsible Travel Peru
Jungle trails open the otherwise almost inaccessible bush to visitors

Archaeological remains in Manu

Within the boundaries of the park are also various pre-Columbian archaeological remains. The ones most known are the Casa del Inca, the Pusharo Petroglyphs, and the Rostro Harakmbut

Casa de Inca

De Casa del Inca or “Inca House” are archaeological remains of Inca presence in the Amazonian department of Madre de Dios. 

The Peruvian National Park Service (SERNANP) reported that there is evidence of the presence of the Incas in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve (RCA in Spanish), located in the province of Manu.

Seven years ago, the first expeditions began with the aim of finding evidence of a cultural register in the ancestral territory of the RCA, and after a thorough investigation into the cultural mapping of the native Harakbut people, it was decided to recognise it.

The distinction was awarded heritage status as part of the joint work and participation of co-management between RCA, Sernanp, and the Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and tributaries.

The cooperation between the local stakeholders furthermore seeks to promote and recognize the diversity and cultural heritage of this protected natural area.

Pusharo Petroglyphs 

The Petroglyphs of Pusharo is a unique and extensive ancient rock art site within the Manu National Park. In Manu’s interior, there are still unexplored and little-known areas. 

The petroglyphs are rarely seen by outsiders because of their remote location inside the park and an official government permit is required for entry. 

The petroglyphs are huge, standing up to 3m high in some areas. Pusharo is over 2000 years old. The petroglyphs are thought to be Amazonian in origin and of mystical or shamanic significance to the current inhabitants of the area. 

Others believe that there is an Inca component and that the carvings constitute parts of a map to the lost city of gold known as “Paititi” that remains hidden somewhere on the Pantiacolla plateau in the jungle of Manu.

Rostro Harakmbut 

The ‘Rostro Harakbut’ or “Harakbut Face” is a sacred place of pilgrimage for the Harakbut people who have lived in the Madre de Dios region since ancient times. 

The Rostro Harakbut was recognized as a site of Cultural Heritage of the Nation for its great value and cultural transcendence. The site is also located within the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve.

With this, it is recognised as part of the identity and ancestral history of the Harakbut indigenous people, which highlights the importance of conserving and maintaining the natural environment in which it is located.

It is a stone colossus of unknown origin, as it has not been definitely determined whether it was carved by man or is a product of nature. It is in the shape of a male face looking out into the jungle and is located on the ledge of a rock that rises above a waterfall.

For the Harakbut people, this is a sacred place where they have congregated since ancient times, as it is believed that it was carved by their ancestors to symbolize the masculinity of their chief or ancestor.

How Manu connects to other destinations

Being so isolated and remote, Manu is not well connected with any destinations other than Cusco. It makes an adventure to Manu a little more challenging, yet its remoteness is part of the magic. 

To travel between Cusco and Manu, you will need to drive.  

Consider the easy way to experience Manu…

If you prefer to let local experts plan your itinerary for you, consider taking a look at our Custom Itineraries Section

We have more than a decade of experience in tailor-making unique travel experiences throughout our beautiful country. 

We’ll do all of the work for you and all that’s left for you to do is look forward to your dream trip!

If you have any questions concerning this blog or any of our tours, please get in touch.

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