The rainforest of the Manu River is one of the most highly regarded destinations in the Amazon Rainforest. Home to a very high number of animals and plants, this is one of the best places to see an abundance of animals, including the Amazon icons like macaws, toucans, giant river otters, tapir, and even have a higher chance of seeing jaguar.
The Manu River is found in Peru’s southern Amazon Rainforest and can be reached from the Amazon gateway town of Puerto Maldonado just a short flight away from Cusco or Lima. The Manu River runs down the Andes then joins with the Madre de Dios River at the boundary of the Manu National Park. The Madre de Dios then runs past your gateway town of Puerto Maldonado. After merging with other waterways, such as the Tabopata River and Heath River, the Madre de Dios continues through Bolivia and merges with the mighty Amazon River just east of Manaus in Brazil before the Amazon discharges into the Atlantic Ocean.
Surrounding Protected Areas
The protected area surrounding the Manu River is the Manu National Park, which is the largest national park in Peru and one of the most wildlife-rich areas on Earth. The Manu National Park covers around 1.5 million hectares of Andean forest and lowland Amazon Rainforest. Although not permitted in the national park itself, you can visit the Reserved Zone at the Manu Tented Camp on a combination tour with the Manu Wildlife Center called the Manu Adventurer, which we will mention later.
Another reserve around the Madre de Dios River in connected rainforest with the Manu Rainforest is the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. The animals of Manu National Park are then free to roam through the continuous rainforest and into the Amarakaeri Reserve area. The reserve is home to different clay licks, oxbow lakes, and rainforest trails where you can see giant river otters, colorful macaw parrots, several different monkeys, and much more.
People of the Manu River
The Manu National Park is home to several communities of indigenous people including the Amarakaeri, Matsiguenka, Amahuaca, and Huashipaire. There are also a few groups living in voluntary isolation deep within the national park. It is then the communal reserve of the Amarakaeri where you find the Manu Wildlife Center to explore the Manu Rainforest, which you can also combine with a visit to the Reserved Zone.
Animals of the Manu River & Rainforest
The diversity of wildlife of the Manu River and Rainforest is nothing short of incredible. Along the Manu River and in the surrounding waterways and rainforest you can find many beautiful oxbow lakes, such as Lake Salvador, different clay licks, and lush rainforest. Along the Andean portion of the Manu River, you can find the biodiverse cloud forests to experience a contrasting set of species to the lowlands.
The Manu River and other waterways change direction from time to time and leave behind bodies of water known as oxbow lakes, which were shaped by the curvature of the river. These lakes attract an abundance of wildlife and one of the most impressive along the Manu River that you can visit is Lake Salvador. The different oxbow lakes are often home to giant river otters, hoatzins, cormorants, black caiman, and are regularly visited by different monkeys, sloths, macaws, and toucans.
The Manu National Park protects the entire watershed of the Manu River and contains an impressive diversity of species. The iconic animals to find include the giant river otters, black caiman, toucans, and macaws already mentioned, but there are many more. The different macaws you can find in the Manu National Park include the blue-and-yellow macaw, military macaw, scarlet macaw, red-and-green macaw, chestnut-fronted macaw, red-bellied macaw, and blue-headed macaw. There are also many others parrots to find. The macaws visit different clay licks along river banks and the highest concentration of clay licks in the Amazon has been found in this section of southern Peru. The Manu region contains some of the largest and most photogenic clay licks where hundreds of these large and colorful parrots can be seen at one time. To see macaws, a great lodge in the Manu region is the Manu Wildlife Center just outside the Manu National Park where you will visit a large macaw clay lick.
The birds here are incomparable to many other protected areas and even to other countries as there are 1,000 different birds to find. To put this into perspective, there are only around 9,000 birds worldwide, which means over 10% of all the birds on Earth can be found in the Manu region. Many of these species live in the Andean tropical forest, such as the different hummingbirds and Peru’s national bird, the cock of the rock, which can be seen from the Cock of the Rock Lodge beside the Manu National Park.
In the surrounding rainforest, you can find several different monkeys, including the capuchins, squirrel monkeys, different tamarins, marmosets, titi monkeys, and the largest species of spider monkeys and howler monkeys. The monkeys are best seen on rainforest trails or by visiting the oxbow lakes in the mornings, which you can enjoy on different tours of the Manu region, including the Manu Adventurer, Manu Explorer to explore the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park or simply visiting the Manu Wildlife Center just outside the national park. The Manu Wildlife Center also reports that 10% of guests see jaguar, which is one of the highest encounter rates in the Amazon Rainforest.
Manu River Lodges & Tours
To explore the Manu River and Rainforest, there are a few different tour options to combine different Manu Rainforest lodges. You can choose tours to combine the Andes with the lowland rainforest, concentrate of the Manu lowlands & Reserved Zone, or focus on one lodge just outside Manu National Park to have a higher chance of seeing some of the larger Amazon icons.
The Manu Adventurer
The Manu Adventurer starts from Puerto Maldonado in southern Peru and offers a complete tour of the Manu lowland rainforest to enjoy both the Manu Wildlife Center just outside the national park to see a tapir clay lick, macaw clay lick, oxbow lake, and rainforest trails. While touring these areas, we will enjoy spotting several different monkeys, macaws and tapir at the clay, many colorful birds, and giant river otters at the lakes. We will then visit the Manu National Park Wildlife Center (Manu Tented Camp) to visit the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park to tour another beautiful oxbow lake, enjoy other rainforest trails, and enjoy staying inside the park boundary at a low-impact lodge.
The Manu Explorer
The Manu Explorer starts from Cusco to experience the Andean cloud forest and takes you down the mountains to the lowland jungle. The Andean tropical forest is one of the world’s most threatened and yet most biodiverse environments, especially for birdlife. Spot many different hummingbirds, the Andean cock of the rocks, woolly monkeys, and chance sightings of spectacled beards. After your time in the clouds, descend to the steamy lowland rainforest to enjoy oxbow lakes, macaw clay licks, a tapir clay lick, and miles of trails to see many different monkeys and colorful birds. On this tour, you will explore all the main environments of the Manu region to enjoy cloud forest, the clay licks and lakes just outside the national park, and stay at a low-impact lodge inside the Reserved Zone of Manu National Park.
The Manu Tapir & Macaws Tour
Offering a similar experience to the Manu Explorer above, this tour extends your experience by a day to spend more time exploring the Manu region. Combine three lodges of the Cock of the Rock Lodge in the Andean cloud forest, the Manu Wildlife Center in the lowland rainforest, and the Manu Tented Camp in the Manu National Park’s Reserved Zone. Enjoy seeing hummingbirds, the Andean cock of the rock, giant river otters, tapir at the clay lick, hundreds of macaw parrots, several different monkeys, and colorful birds.
The Manu Wildlife Center
The Manu Wildlife Center is located in the Amazon Rainforest just after the Manu River merges with the Madre de Dios River in the communal reserve outside Manu National Park. See a large and very photogenic macaw clay lick where you can observe hundreds of colorful parrots, visit an oxbow lake home to a resident family of giant river otters, tour the rainforest to find several different monkeys, and have a 10% chance of spotting wild jaguar.