The largest national park in Peru and home to one of the highest levels of animals and plants on Earth, Manu National Park is an impressive protected area at around 1.5 million hectares. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to an incredible number of species and includes habitat from the Andes down to the lowland rainforest. There are some fantastic things to do in Manu National Park and the surrounding rainforest. Although visitors aren’t permitted in the national park itself, you can visit the Reserved Zone at the park edge and the connected rainforest surrounding Manu, which is not much of a problem as wildlife is free to roam throughout the area. We will point out some recommendations below and include the best tours and lodges to experience this incredible area.
Visit Lake Salvador in the Reserved Zone
The most beautiful lake on the Manu River, Lake Salvador is located in the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park and is one of the area’s largest at 3.5 km across. Located near the lake is the Manu Tented Camp or Manu Park Wildlife Center, which you can visit on the Manu Adventurer Tour to combine the Reserved Zone with the highly recommended Manu Wildlife Center. Enjoy tours of Lake Salvador to spot the resident family of giant river otters. You can see the otters playing, hunting and eating fish at the lake edge where they are often resting on floating logs.
Many different animals visit the lake, such as capybara, the world’s largest rodent, many different monkeys that visit the lake in the mornings, caiman crocodilians, and lake-living birds. At the edge of the lake, the trees attract the many different monkeys, including howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchins, titi monkeys, marmosets, and woolly monkeys. You will also see different colorful birds, such as the scarlet, chestnut, and blue and gold macaws, and also the lake-living and water birds, such as anhingas and hoatzins. Fluttering over the lake, you are likely to see the large and colorful butterflies, including the famous blue morphos.
From the Manu Tented Camp, you will head out onto the lake aboard small catamarans that move silently over the water to maximize wildlife-watching opportunities.
Visit Lake Otorongo in the Reserved Zone
The Manu National Park is the largest in Peru and contains one of the highest levels of wildlife on Earth. From the Manu Tented Camp on the Manu Adventurer Tour or other Manu Reserved Zone program, you will head out with your rainforest guide to find many different plants and animals. There are many different animals you can see on Reserved Zone trails to the beautiful lakes, including 13 different types of monkeys, capybara, and colorful birds. Lake Otorongo is full of wildlife and home to many different fish, lake birds, and is a good place to find giant river otters. A great feature is a 50-foot tower to scan the rainforest and lake for different animals, which is good for spotting toucans and parrots.
Travel from Andes to Amazon
Manu National Park is a very large protected area at 1.5 million hectares and contains Amazon Rainforest but also a significant amount of Andean forest. Often regarded as one of the most impressive nature experiences on the South American continent, you can take a spectacular journey from high in the cloud forests down to the lowland Amazon Rainforest. Enjoy stays at a cloud forest reserve by the Manu National Park to see many different hummingbirds, spectacled bears, woolly monkeys, and a diversity of colorful birds and butterflies. Enjoy guided tours in the cloud forest reserve followed by a descent down the Andean mountains with spectacular scenery.
When you reach the Amazon Rainforest, you will notice the transition in temperature and the presence of different South American animals. Enjoy a visit to the Manu Wildlife Center in a reserve connected with Manu National Park by continuous rainforest to see one of the Amazon’s largest macaw clay licks. See hundreds of bright and colorful macaws as they visit the clay for salt and to neutralize toxins found in the macaw diet. Enjoy visits to oxbow lakes to see giant river otters and visit a tapir clay lick to wait to watch South America’s largest land mammal. In addition to the fantastic clay licks near the Manu Wildlife Center, you will head out into the rainforest for find animals living among the trees, such as interesting birds and several different monkeys. To enjoy the basic Andes to Amazon experience, you can choose the Bio Trip, but if you want to add an experience to Manu’s Reserved Zone, you can pick the Manu Explorer or the Manu Macaws & Tapir Tour.
See Giant River Otters
One of the favorite wildlife sightings in the Manu Rainforest, giant river otters are an endangered species and the world’s largest otters species. The otters are very social and can reach an impressive 1.8 meters in length. They have individual throat patches and communicate with other members of their family group with a series of whines, squeaks, and snorts. A predatory species, in Manu’s oxbow lakes you can often see the otters eating fish, which they hunt together as a group. The otters are very curious and often watch you as you visit their home while carrying on with their usual behavior. There are many different lakes with resident otters in the Manu region and you can see them on tours to the Manu Wildlife Center and while in the Reserved Zone on Manu Tour Programs like the Manu Adventurer.
Enjoy a Tapir clay lick
South America’s largest land mammal, tapir are a strange looking horse-like animal that feeds on leaves, buds, and shoots in the Amazon Rainforest. They can look quite cumbersome, which is misleading as they can ascend practically vertical and slippery river banks when required.
Around the Manu Wildlife Center are a network of rainforest trails leading you through rainforest. We will set off one evening on the colpa trail where you will find a 5 meter (17 foot) observation tower and the tapir clay lick. Research has shown that this particular tapir clay lick is the most active in the entire Amazon Rainforest and between 8 and 12 600-pound tapir visit the lick to obtain much-needed salts and to neutralize toxins in the tapir diet. We will climb up the tower and rest on freshly made mattresses and pillows, complete with mosquito nets, waiting for these fascinating animals. Although you may need to wait from 30 minutes to 1 or 2 hours, you can sleep on the mattresses and your guide will gently wake you to observe the animals. This is the best place to see tapir in Amazonia where you can see several of the animals up close.
Watch hundreds of macaws at the macaw clay lick
The brightly colored macaws are one of the symbols of the Amazon Rainforest and it’s fantastic to see these beautiful birds flying over the forest, however, the best places to see different macaws for the best photographs are the Amazonian clay licks. These are areas where hundreds of macaws visit to obtain much-needed salts and to neutralize toxins found in the bird’s diet. Several different species live in the Manu National Park region, such as blue-and-yellow macaws, scarlet macaws, red-and-green macaws, chestnut-fronted macaws, red-bellied macaws, and blue-headed macaws. The hide to watch the macaws at Manu Wildlife Center has individual chairs and is a great place to watch with binoculars or photograph the birds. The macaws often visit the clay in groups of two or three and the main species we will see are the scarlet macaws, which are often the most iconic for Amazonia. This is one of the best macaw clay licks in the Amazon Rainforest and the rainforest of southern Peru has more clay licks than anywhere else in the rainforest.
Find many different monkeys
The favorite animals to see while trekking through the Amazon Rainforest are often the abundance and diversity of different monkeys. There are 12 different species to spot in the Manu rainforest and the Manu Wildlife Center has 30 miles of forest trails surrounding the lodge. These lead through some of the best places for wildlife viewing in the Manu region. Monkeys you’re like to see on forest walks include howler monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, including the favorite emperor tamarins, marmosets, and titi monkeys. Some of the more curious species and especially the little squirrel monkeys will often follow you through the forest and drop down twigs to investigate your presence in their rainforest home. Your highly skilled guide will point out the different monkeys to see and you will often see entire troops making their way through the trees. In the mornings, you may hear the tell-tale call of the howler monkeys, which are thought to be the world’s loudest land animal thanks to a specially shaped hyoid bone. The howler monkeys are among the largest in the New World and their calls can travel three miles through the Amazon Rainforest.
Try your luck catching sight of wild Jaguar
Deep rainforest lodges like the Manu Wildlife Center are the best places to improve your chances of spotting wild jaguar in the Amazon Rainforest. The Manu Wildlife Center has one of the highest probabilities of seeing these cats in Amazonia and data from the lodge show around 10% of all guests are lucky enough to have a jaguar sighting. Because of the incredible size of the Manu National Park, the abundant lakes and clay licks, it helps support a healthy population of jaguar. When seen, they are often sunning themselves by the river or resting on logs in the sunshine. Because of the fantastic chance of seeing the main iconic Amazonian animals, such as macaws, tapir, giant otters, and a chance encounter with jaguar, Conde Nast Traveller mentioned that the Manu Wildlife Center offers the “most intensive wildlife experience in Amazonia” and we can certainly understand why. Jaguar are the third largest cat on the planet and have one of the most powerful bites of any feline, which means they can feed on heavily armored animals, such as different turtles. The power and beauty of the jaguar has been held with high regard by any culture that was lucky to live alongside them, including the Inca. Seeing these majestic cats free in the Manu Wildlife Center rainforest or on the Manu Tour Programs is an incredible and memorable experience.
See dancing cock of the rock birds in Manu Cloud Forest
Peru’s national bird is a fantastically red dancing bird called the cock of the rock. They live high in the Andes and can be found in the Manu National Park’s cloud forest. The Andean environment is home to one of the world’s highest diversities of species and you can find a different set of flora and fauna to the rainforest lowlands. Enjoy spotting a fantastic diversity of hummingbirds, chance sightings of woolly monkeys and spectacled bears, see capuchin monkeys, and spot many different colorful butterflies.
Positioned in a cloud forest reserve beside the Manu National Park, you can find the Cock of the Rock Lodge. Enjoy guided tours in the reserve to see many different animals and fascinating plants, and visit the display ground (lek) of the colorful cock of the rocks. We will watch these birds at the lek near the lodge where the males dance and show off their beautiful coloration. The Cock of the Rock Lodge itself is composed of 12 double-occupancy wooden bungalows with private bath facilities. The lodge sits about 1,600 meters (5,200 feet) above sea level in the Kosñipata Valley and is surrounded by a private reserve. The reserve covers 5,060 hectares (12,500 acres) of cloud forest and protects magnificent vegetation and a high diversity of animals.
Enjoy a birdwatching tour in the Manu region
The trip is similar to the Bio Trip tour from Andes to Amazon but with a very focussed tour on the incredible bird life. You will enjoy visiting the Andean Cloud Forest at the Cock of the Rock Lodge and descend the Andes to the Amazon Rainforest. These rank as two of the most species-rich areas on Earth for birdlife and should be on the list of every serious birder. Some birds you’re likely to spot in the Andean clouds include giant hummingbirds, creamy-crested spintails (an endemic species), chestnut-breasted mountain-finches, scribble-tailed canasteros, chesnut-bellied mountain tanagers, band-tailed fruiteaters, barred fruiteaters, and gray-breasted mountain-toucans. Of course, at the Cock of the Rock Lodge we will also see the Andean cock of the rock and visit their lek to watch the fascinating courtship dances.
As we traverse the Andes, we will visit a diversity of habitats and climatic zones, including highland puna, grasslands, elfin forest, cloud forest, and the lower Amazon Rainforest from the Manu Wildlife Center. While here, enjoy a large macaw clay lick, a canopy tower, and many rainforest trails to see many different species. Birds you’re likely to spot include woodpeckers, tanagers, macaws, toucans, and parakeets. We will also enjoy visiting a tapir clay lick to see South America’s largest land mammal and a lake to spot the fantastic giant river otters. While at the lake, we’ll be on the lookout for the abundant lake-living and water birds.