Manu National Park – Short Trips from Cusco
Traveling to Manu from Cusco, it would a good travel option?. This appears a common question for most tourists who wants to visit the rainforest and experience wildlife near Cusco. How that can be possible if they only limited time? Before to write this article I was searching for forums of short tours into Manu at the major traveler’s platform; Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, what I found was a bunch of suspicious material. As a lifetime guide in Manu National Park and Tambopata – Puerto Maldonado. I have decided to write this article that can help people to better organize a trip to one of the most biodiverse parks in the world. Here are some recommendations for choosing the best short trips to Manu National Park
1: Tour focus
A classic mistake is to go with rigid programs that do not focus on forest exploration–this puts you in a straitjacket and often the itineraries do not leave enough time for searching for animals or exploring the wilderness. Too much time may be lost covering cultural aspects along the journey that have less relevance to a real nature and wildlife excursion especially if you have booked a short trip.
As everyone knows time is valuable when traveling. we strongly believe that any rainforest trip should be optimized to focus on exploring the forest as much possible for the greatest chance of spotting wildlife, or at least footprints of large mammals such as ; tapirs, wild pigs and Jaguars rather than filling up on cultural activities of visiting bakeries, churches, museums, causing you to arrive late to the lodge.
Where to put more time… during a short tour into Manu?
All tours depart from Cusco which is an archaeological and cultural epicenter. As a matter of fact, tourists stay there before or after the journey into the jungle. You are better off visiting historical and cultural attractions in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, or Machu Picchu as well as while trekking.
The villages you could see along the Manu Road have similar cultural roots to the Andean ones since most of them are Quechuan descendants who have established themselves in the jungle.
Therefore, it is not worth making long stops on the way to the lodge for things that you will likely see before or after your Manu tour.
The lodge plays an important role in defining your experience in the rainforest. Check-in advance which lodges or campsites your program will include. If possible, search on Google Maps to make sure the sites are isolated from human disturbances–at least 4 miles from major towns and away from the main road is best.
Off the beaten track Lodges
If your tour goes along the edge of the Park (not protected legally by the government) or Manu Cultural Zone a potential weakness of the lodge or campsite maybe its location in the vicinity of villages, communities or the main road which is surrounded by secondary growth vegetation.
These areas do not guarantee wildlife encounters at all (probably mainly mosquitoes and their predators, frogs). A strategic location for a lodge would be inside a private reserve or adjacent to the protected zone of the Park, where the primary forest remains healthy. This is much better for wildlife observation; where there are large macaws, caimans, large monkeys, even tapirs, these and other bio-indicators speak for themselves on the topic of forest quality.
3: The importance of Guides
Poor or poorly-equipped guides can ruin even the best-planned trip. It is worth your while to research the quality of your guides.
Nowadays, one good indicator is the equipment they use, depending on the destination. If animals are seen far in the distance, good spotting scopes should be provided for observation.
Experienced naturalist guides also can usually identify animals by subtle sounds that emerge from the forest. A dedicated guide should also be able to describe the cultural aspects of the places while traveling in the tour vehicle. This helps to optimize your time since you can learn about some of the history and culture without delaying the journey. On the way to Manu, there is always something to explain–about the cloud forest, high mountains, local traditions, and customs, etc.
4: Group size
It’s unpleasant but tolerable to travel packed in a group of 10 people. It’s disastrous to try to see elusive animals in overcrowded vehicles and boats. Be sure to get straight answers about how many others will be on your tour and in your vehicle. By simple logic, a larger vehicle moves more slowly due to the conditions of the road.
Big groups go packed in a bus so even more time is wasted embarking and disembarking the vehicle, not to mention for meals, bathroom breaks, and pictures, further slowing down the trip.
In contrast, small groups travel in minivans, SUVs, or 4x4s which are more easily maneuvered on the Manu Road. The journey into the park doesn’t take the entire day, leaving you more time to enjoy your stay in the forest.
Conclusions – Manu Tours from Cusco
The Short tours into the Manu rainforest are worth but your trip has to be optimized and designed for real nature and rainforest activities so you can get a true taste of wilderness and have a better experience even if just by going to the edge of the Park.
Additionally, the edges of parks are where the big battles for conservation happen. This is where most eco-tourism and conservation projects are doing their best to maintain the balance between agricultural/commercial land use by the community and wildlife habitat preservation.
These are the shields that protect the integrity of Manu National Park. By supporting these projects, you help to favor the conservation of the rainforest over its destruction for other purposes.
We hope you have found this advice useful and have a better idea for what to look for in a 3- or 4-day tour of Manu National Park.
Photo Credits: Dean Turley