TRIP TO MANU

manucaiman The land trip starts when the sun's first rays cross the city of Cusco. The ascending bus route passes numerous rural towns on a zigzagging road overlooking the Vilcanota River and its tributary, the Huasac. On both sides, the slopes are covered with small crops in brilliant shades of green and yellow, where local people are at work, dressed still in their typical colonial-era clothes and hats.

Paucartambo is nearly three hours from Cusco. It is a picturesque rural town strongly rooted in Andean tradition and the proud host of the Virgen del Carmen celebration (which is celebrated with typical food, dances, parades and a central mass on July 16 each year ). Half an hour after passing Acjanaco, the first park warden station signals the entrance to the Manu Biosphere Reserve and the beginning of the fascinating cloud forest of the Kosipata valley. A turn-off from this spot leads to Tres Cruces, an observatory from where a uniquely spectacular sunrise over the Amazonian plain can be seen in June or July.

manucaiman From Acjanaco the road descends steeply into the dense fog that crashes against the eastern slopes of the Andes. Here, the perpetual humidity produced by fog condensation, has nurtured dense forests of twisted trees wrapped with moss, lianas, orchids, bromeliads, ferns and other epiphytes, which cover every centimeter of the steep hills punctuated by the creeks and waterfalls which appear among the vegetation. This is the habitat of a little over 300 species of birds, including eagles, cock-of-the-rock, hummingbirds, parrots, quetzals, trogons and tanagers, which swarm in search of food with little fear of visitors. The mammals are more timid and discrete, ranging from the big Andean bear, the lurking puma and the Andean fox, to sneaky squirrels and curious monkeys.

Continuing the descent, one reaches the deepest part of the Kosipata river valley, between Santa Isabel and San Pedro (it is possible to find adequate lodging here). It is common to spot the beautiful cock-of-the-rock here in groups of six or eight bright red males engaged in courting the same dull brown female in a boisterous display of agility which no visitor should miss.

During the warmer hours, particularly on sunny days, it is possible to see large groups of butterflies near the creeks that run across the stony road. One of the most impressive species is the vivid metallic-blue Morpho butterfly. Its slow and capricious flight resembles a delicate mirror dance certain to tempt the visitors to make a brief stop on the road. At night the character of the forest changes. Larges groups of small frogs gather in a deafening festival of song, each one louder and more raucous than the next. While the trees are visited by the rodents and marsupials that feed on their fruit, the shores of the creeks witness the passage of large felines. The only evidence of their silent passing are the tracks they leave in the sand.

manucaiman In the morning the voyage continues, bound for the great tropical humid forest. The trip takes three hours, passing through the small villages of Chontachaca and Patria, to arrive at Pilcopata, one of the most important settlements in the Reserve. The village lies at the edge of the Pilcopata River, close to the Tono River, which is a good place to go rafting. Nearby, the indigenous community of Santa de Huacaria offers excursions for tourists into the forest. After crossing the bridge at Pilcopata, the road take us to the dock at Atalaya.

From Atalaya, we continue downstream to Alto Madre de Dios River. Wild animals can still be seen along the shores, although as a result of hunting by local people, they are less frequent than in the Reserved Zone. After approximately six hours, the journey ends where the Alto Madre de Dios River joins the Manu River to create the great Madre de Dios River. Here, the small settlement of Boca Manu is the commercial hub of the area and marks the entrance to the Manu Reserved Zone. By air, light aircraft take travelers from Cusco to the Manu aerodrome and in less than one hour one finds oneself in Boca Manu. The trip then continues by motorized canoe towards the Manu Reserved Zone, navigating upstream along the winding Manu River. In the Reserved Zone, "cochas" (oxbow lakes) have been designated as campsites. The obligatory stops are "Cocha Otorongo" and " Cocha Salvador", where there is a chance to observe playful giant river otters. In this zone only two places offer the facilities of a lodge, one is located in " Cocha Jurez" and the other one is in "Quebrada Salvadorcillo". Another lodge is due to open soon called "Refugio Romero", which is one hour away from Limonal.

manucaiman The trip through the Reserved Zone takes visitors upstream along the Manu River. Here life unfolds as it has done for thousands of years. In the river, black skimmers fly over the surface of the water, capturing their prey within sight of visiting tourists. Groups of noisy macaws cross the sky bound for the collpas (areas of the riverbanks where birds come to feed off the clay deposits). Hundreds of parrots and parakeets flock to the collpas in a colorful and bustling display. Dozen of butterflies flutter around in large groups looking for salt and minerals on the noses of yellow spotted sideneck turtles (taricayas), as they warm themselves under the sun on fallen tree trunks. Meanwhile, the white caiman patiently awaits its prey on the sandy banks, while the beautifully-colored great royal vulture searches for carrion from the sky. Just some of the many creatures that make up the bustle of life on the banks of Manu river.

It is in the forests which surround the "cochas" where one can truly witness the diversity of forest life. These lakeshore forests harbor hundreds of species of birds, mammals, insects, fish, reptiles, plants, fungi and countless other living organisms. It is not difficult to see groups of black spider monkeys or "maquisapas" while walking along the forest paths (trochas).