First a brief intro to both of these areas and then we’ll suggest some representative tours for you to decide between Manu National Park or Iquitos for an Amazon tour. Both Manu and the Iquitos Amazon are home to exceptional tours and both offers something a little different, so your choice depends on your own personal preference.
The Manu National Park is Peru’s largest national park and full of incredible wildlife sightings. This is probably the most famous area of Peruvian Amazon and won’t disappoint if you have a fascination for Nature. The Manu region contains highly diverse tropical forests home to many different Amazon animals, such as various different monkeys and birds, different clay licks brimming with colorful parrots and other animals, and wildlife-filled lakes.
The other main gateway to Peru’s Amazon, Iquitos provides entry to the northern Amazon Rainforest surrounding the Amazon River. From Iquitos, you can enjoy fantastic cruises deep into the wildlife-full Pacaya Samiria National Reserve or enjoy poison dart frogs and many different monkeys in the adjacent Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve.
Manu National Park Amazon Tours
The Manu National Park region is full of fantastic wildlife and is the largest park in Peru. Located in Peru’s south, Manu contains both cloud forest and lowland rainforest providing a way to tour from Andes to Amazon within the same general area. This tour starts in Cusco and as many people visit Cusco for Machu Picchu, the Bio Trip is a convenient option while being regarded as one of the best nature tours in South America.
If, however, you would like to focus on the lowland rainforest of Manu, you can get a short flight to Puerto Maldonado to enjoy the Manu Wildlife Center, which is located in a private reserve near Manu National Park. Visitors are prohibited inside Manu National Park itself, but this isn’t a problem as the main interesting clay licks, most attractive lakes, and some of the best places for a lodge are located along the park boundary. Wildlife is also free to roam between the national park and surrounding forest, and is practically in equilibrium.
At Manu Wildlife Center, you are located near a tapir clay lick and macaw clay lick for outstanding wildlife sightings. This is one of the only lodges in South America where you can see a tapir clay lick, macaw clay licks and giant otters all at one Amazon lodge. You will then tour the rainforest with your naturalist guide searching for an abundance of wildlife, including several different monkeys and fascinating birds.
The inner parts of Manu National Park are off limits, but if you would also like to visit the reserved zone of Manu, you can combine the Manu Wildlife Center with Manu Tented Camp on the Manu Adventurer. Your chance of spotting larger wildlife will be higher at Manu Wildlife Center, but there is a higher diversity of animals, especially frogs and reptiles, from Manu Tented Camp inside the Manu reserved zone.
Between Manu and Iquitos, Manu is the best option for clay licks, as the Amazon Rainforest of southern Peru contains more clay licks than anywhere else in the rainforest. These are areas where macaws, tapir and other wildlife visit to obtain much needed salts or to detoxify fruits they have eaten in the forest. These areas provide almost guaranteed wildlife sightings. It should be noted that activity on the clay licks does change dependent on the season and you should message the lodge for advice on clay lick activity at their particular area.
Amazon tours from Iquitos
Iquitos is a port city of the Amazon River and is one of the best places in Amazonia for a river cruise. Although lacking in clay licks, the two main protected areas of Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve are full of fascinating and iconic Amazon Rainforest animals and plants, and there are some fantastic Amazon River tours from Iquitos to explore these areas.
Iquitos is also a great place for a deep Amazon lodge and our recommendation from Iquitos is the award-winning Tahuayo Lodge & Amazon Research Center. This tour offers more flexibility than Manu options and you receive a private guide and customized itinerary as standard. Although there are no clay licks, on tours of 6 days or more you can stay at the Tahuayo Lodge Research Center which features a 1000 acre primate research grid to see many different monkeys.
The Tahuayo Lodge features the largest canopy zip-line system in the Amazon and access to the biodiverse Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve. With your private guide, you will explore the reserve to find different animals and plants in the Amazon Rainforest.
Both Iquitos and Manu regions contain different lakes you can visit to see various lake life. Animals you’re likely to see include caiman, prehistoric-looking hoatzin birds, and a number of waterbirds. Lake edges are also great places to spot different monkeys. Giant otters are more likely to be seen at the Manu Wildlife Center in the Manu region but they are also often seen in the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve near Iquitos.
Iquitos is also a great place for an Amazon River cruise as Iquitos is the gateway to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. This is a flooded section of Amazon Rainforest full of wildlife, such as several different monkeys, lots of different colorful birds, and much more. There are different luxury cruises available, which is a great way to explore the forest as you match the pristine and wildlife-full surroundings with high quality service in luxurious comfort. Our recommendation for the Pacaya Samiria Reserve for a luxury cruise includes the Delfin I and Delfin II riverboats, but there are some other options.
Aboard the Delfin I or Delfin II, enjoy gourmet food, luxury linens, large picture windows, spacious and elegant suites, and high class service, all while cruising and being guided through the highly diverse Pacaya Samiria National Reserve to find incredible wildlife spectacles.
So, Manu National Park or Iquitos?
To summarize, the Manu National Park region offers more convenience as you can take the Bio Trip or other combination tour to visit the Manu region directly from Cusco. The area is also one of the best places for seeing macaws at clay licks, where hundreds of birds can been seen feeding from the clay. As well as macaws, this is also a great place to see tapir, which is the largest land mammal on the continent. And, in addition to these fantastic wildlife sightings, visitors stand a 10% chance of spotting wild jaguar.
On the Manu Tapir & Macaws tour, you can also combine the Cock of the Rock Lodge, Manu Wildlife Center and Manu Tented Camp directly from Cusco to tour various parts of the Manu region and make the most of your experience.
Iquitos is the choice for an Amazon Rainforest cruise to visit the fantastic Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. From luxury Amazon River cruises, enjoy fantastic service, gourmet cuisine, and expertly guided rainforest expeditions to see abundant and fascinating wildlife. Luxury cruises are the best choice for comfort as after your expeditions in the Amazon Rainforest, you can relax in a very comfortable 5 star boutique hotel-like environment.
Iquitos is also a great place for a customized or private Amazon Rainforest tour into deep Amazon Rainforest, such as by enjoying a tour at the Tahuayo Lodge. With your private guide, you will then explore the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve and enjoy the Tahuayo Research Center with its 1000 acre primate research grid.
Either way, if you ensure the tour is of high quality, such as the ones listed above, and make sure you’re picking correctly if you have a specific interest, such as seeing macaw clay licks etc. you shouldn’t be disappointed as both of these areas are home to fantastic Amazon Rainforest experiences.