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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. It is a place that many travelers dream of visiting but only a minority really ends up coming here. 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 are the Manu National Park (by designation of the Peruvian government) and the Manu Biosphere Reserve (designated by UNESCO). The former was declared in 1973 extending over the entire basin of the river of the same name. The latter, declared in 1977, added nearby provinces, including human colonies in the designated area. The aim of this approach of the UNESCO was to achieve natural preservation by integrating the places´ culture as a whole. Later, in 2007, the park was extended to a total of 1.716.295,22 hectares to the, and it is now also recognized as a World Natural Heritage. 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 Huachipaeri, Harakbut, Matsigenka, but also completely uncontacted/isolated tribes) is by land transportation. You can read our blog on How to get to the Manu National Park as well 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 miss. 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; reasons to be well prepared.

There is also another tip that we want to emphasize here, and that is that visits to Manu should not be shorter than 5 days. 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 of Peru.

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 trip if you prefer that. 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 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

What we recommed for you when traveling to Manu

Your transportation will depart from Cusco SUPER EARLY! So make sure to have a good rest the previous night, because a long way 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 believe that it´s a good one).

Andes and cloud forest

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

Before and after passing through Paucartambo, but depending on the weather and visibility conditions, you will see the ancient mausoleums of Ninamarca, and then the Acjanaco pass. From the latter, you can catch a first glimpse of the cloud forest before we descend into the rainforest.

The difference in elevation will be about three thousand meters depending on your final stop, so again, we recommend you to read our blog to be well prepared for the trip.

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 and also observe parakeets, parrots, macaws and other birds come to get nutrients from the exposed soil of the cliffs next to the river, a behaviour called clay lick.

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 (that are two different ethnic groups).

In Shintuya, you will meet Walter from the Harakbut people, the most talkative and approachable person 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 hot water even if it is hot outside. You can hardly see the human intervention in the design of the pool (different from most places all over 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 share 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 the Gregorio with his boat. He has the nicest 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, how appropriate right?). The construction of this lodge was a communal effort to generate extra income for the village. In Pankotsi you will enjoy solitude, but only a few kilometers away like the Matsigenka. 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 moment, you will probably already have seen millennial green giants and other animals of different sizes. But to help you see the last ones as well, we will take you on visits to oxbow lakes and the 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 array 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 the boundaries of the park also various pre-Colombian archaeological remains can be found. The ones most know are the Casa de Inca, the Pusharo Petroglyphs and the Rostro Harakmbut. 

Casa de Inca

De Casa de 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 it is evidence of the presence of the Incas in the Amarakaeri communal reserve (RCA), 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 recognising the diversity and cultural heritage of this protected natural area.

Pusharo Petroglyphs 

The Petroglyphs of Pusharo are a unique and extensive ancient rock art site in 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 its native creators. 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 of the Harakbut people who have lived in the Madre de Dios region since ancient times. 

The Rostro Harakbut, was recognised as 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 was carved by their ancestors to symbolise the masculinity of their chief or ancestor.

The monument’s designation was part of a process of many years of articulated work between Sernanp and the RCA.

In this way, the government assures, the first step towards the promotion of this monument and the RCA as part of the tourist offer of the Madre de Dios region is marked. An initiative that will not only generate socio-economic benefits for the local populations, but will also allow the sharing of the living culture of the Harakbut.

How Manu connects to other destinations

Being so isolated and remote, Manu is not well connected with any destinations other than Cusco. As mentioned above, you can get here from this city by car.

Consider the easy way

If you prefer real experts to 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. 

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ABOUT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL PERU

RESPONS’ mission is to improve living conditions in Peru through developing and promoting sustainable tourism. We’ve implemented a business model in which all areas of human relations are respected, and - equally important - respect for the planet is incorporated.

Following this business model, we practice fair trade, foster cultural identity, promote equal opportunities, and we preserve the environment that surrounds us and other species.

Together with you we improve, day by day, on the always-demanding path towards sustainability.

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