The Manu National Park is divided into three zones: the "core zone", only accessible for scientists and researchers; the "reserved zone", only accessible for a limited number of tour operators and their tours; and the "cultural zone" which is openly accessible and where local people live in small villages. Chances to see exotic wildlife are by far higher in the reserved zone than in the cultural zone.
Flora and fauna
There is a lot of tropical wildlife to be seen in the National Park, including jaguars, giant otters, several species of monkeys (red howler, black spider, capuchin, squirrel monkeys), caymans, turtles.
Birds are abundant, including macaws, herons, cormorants, hawks, storks and many more.
The climate is usually hot and humid. Bring light clothes, preferably with long sleeves to protect against mosquito bites.
There are two way to get to Manu:
- To enter by a combination by bus and boat, and leave through the same boat/bus combination. This option can be a long trip.
- By plane from Cusco arriving directly to the jungle lowlands. It will take about 40 to 45 minutes.
Fees and permits
Entrance tickets are required for visiting the Manu Reserved Zone in regular programs up 5 days. These tickets are requested by the rangers at the Limonal Ranger Station (reserved zone boundary). Official tour operators purchase admission tickets from the Sernanp office in Cusco that they generally include in their tour packages. The ticket cost varies depending of the number of days you stay inside the reserved zone, so for example, for 2 nights the rate is 60 soles and for 3-5 nights, 150 soles. To visit the cultural zone, short tours of 3-4 days don't require admission tickets at all.
There are 8 tour operators who have the licence to take tourists into the reserved zone. Tours start from Cusco and usually take between 4 and 10 days. Prices range between US$350 (cultural zone) and $1800 depending on the length of the trip and the operator. All tours are guided by studied biologists (this is a rule of the park administration).
Be careful when booking your trip and try to book directly with one of the operators, as travel agencies will happily sell you the tickets, take a massive commission and just book you on a tour with an operator you don't know in advance. Make sure to ask about all the tour details before you book (accommodation, extra fees, English-speaking guide if needed, food, jungle walks, other activities). Also try to bargain about the price!
Tour operators that offer tours into the reserved zone:
- Expediciones Vilca. With a price of (around) US$700 for an 8-day tour by one of the cheaper operators. Nonetheless reliable.
- Pantiacolla. Rather expensive tours guided by a Dutch biologist.
- SAS Travel
- Wild Watch Peru, long day programs are hosted at the Casa Matsiguenka Lodge in the most pristine region of the park while shorter tours are led along the Cultural Zone and overnights at Guadalupe Lodge. Group departures from $299 on a regular 3-day program.
There are several lodges and camps in the Manu area.
Manu Wildlife Center is an awesome place to see lots of birds, monkeys and other wildlife. Cabins are clean, with hot water, but no electricity. Food is very good. Various trips are available from canopy stands to one of only a few known Macaws clay licks, where hundreds of Macaws come every morning to eat bits of clay which aids their digestion.