The Andean Cloud Forest is loosely defined as forest at such a high altitude that it’s penetrated by cloud cover. This gives the rainforest a mysterious feel and cooler climate. Cloud Forests are some of most threatened and biodiverse forest the world offers, which places considerable importance on its protection. The Peruvian Cloud Forest, such as the Manu Cloud Forest of Manu National Park, is some of the most pristine Cloud Forest there is.
Manu National Park is a protected area in southern Peru covering 1.5 million hectares of mostly tropical rainforest. The park protects the entirety of the Manú River watershed and most of the tributaries of the upper Madre de Dios River. The park includes lowland rainforest at 150 meters above sea level, right up to the Manu Cloud Forest and beyond at 4,200 meters above sea level.
The Cloud Forests hide some mysterious animals and some are quite distinct from their neighbors in the lowland Amazon, such as the spectacled bears. Other animals to find here include yellow-tailed woolly monkeys, a variety of hummingbirds, interesting plants, and the capuchins. The Manu Cloud Forest is also the home of Peru’s national bird, the spectacularly colored Cock of the Rock.
Cock of the Rock in Manu Cloud Forest
The Cock of the Rock is a fascinating bird. The males perform dances in specific areas to attract mates, which are known as leks. The males display how showy their plumage is and how well they can dance. The reason for this is sex i.e. to try and show a potential mate that their genes are superior to competitors and that they will sire the most desirable children. The males and females of this species look very different. The males have the bright and showy red plumage whereas the females are much darker. This is to say that it’s the males who work to attract the females whereas the females simply choose who they want to mate with. After mating, the males have nothing to do with raising the offspring and even the nest is built solely by the female.
Cloud Forest Wildlife
In general, 1700 different birds live in the tropical Andes with around 600 species you cannot find anywhere else on Earth. Of the 1700 different birds, it’s the hummingbirds that most people have a special fondness for. Their delicate frames and aerobatic prowess as they feed from chosen flowers is sure to delight. The Peruvian Andes is home to world’s largest hummingbird, Patagona gigas, as well as a high diversity of other species. However, the most threatened animals are the frogs, which are facing a worldwide decline. The Peruvian cloud forest contains 40 species, including several classified as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable. It was this diversity that inspired the conservation organization Peru Verde to purchase farm land and turn it into a Cloud Forest protected area. Because of the distinct climate at this altitude there is a high amount of endemism, which is to say animals and plants that are found nowhere else on Earth.
Cusco is the best known city in Peru as this was the capital of the Inka Empire and is the base city to get to the famous Machu Picchu. The city itself is a recognized world heritage area as many buildings are archeological sites. The Spanish colonists built colonial architecture on the ruins of the Inka buildings, which makes for fascinating walks around the streets. Cusco is well known as the base for Machu Picchu but is lesser known as the base for getting to the Manu National Park and the Manu Cloud Forest. From Cusco, you can also combine the Cloud Forest with tours to the lowland Manu rainforest to see Giant Amazon Otters, several different monkeys, colorful macaws and a good chance of seeing jaguar and tapir, South America’s largest land mammal.
To emerge into the Cloud Forest from Cusco is a stark contrast from the rest of the Andes and the lowland rainforest. You will first pass thought grasslands and stunted trees into the elfin forests then to the lush Cloud Forest with giant ferns, an abundance of orchids, bromelids, ephiphytes and monster begonias. The first animals you see are sure to be the countless birds living in this lesser visited section of South America.
The Cock of the Rock Lodge
A fantastic lodge to base yourself for your Manu Cloud Forest tour is the Cock of the Rock Lodge (accessed from Cusco, Peru) where you will be very close to the display ground of the Cock of the Rock birds mentioned above. Situated on the lush green eastern slope of the Andean mountain range, you will tour the Cloud Forest with your naturalist guide to experience this remarkable part of Manu National Park.
The Cock of the Rock Lodge is composed of 12 double-occupancy wooden bungalows with private bath facilities and sits at an elevation of about 1,600m/5,200 ft in the pleasant and mosquito-free Kosñipata Valley. The lodge supports a private Cloud Forest reserve of 5,060 hectares (12,500 acres).
Close to the Cock of the Rock Lodge is a trail winding its way through an unusual bamboo forest with many opportunities to see exotic plants and birds. If you decide to stay longer at the Cock of the Rock Lodge, there is also a longer trail system you can enjoy to see some of the other Cloud Forest inhabitants.
Staying in pristine Cloud Forest of Manu National Park, you can easily see Peru’s national bird, the Cock of the Rock, as the lodge is located right next to the bird’s display ground. On forest walks you can see Cloud Forest animals like spectacled bears, colorful birds and monkeys.