The Manu National Park
One of the most attractive areas of Peru to visit, the Manu National Park rainforest contains an incredible richness of animals and plants. Although not allowed inside the actual park itself, you can visit the Reserved Zone on the Manu Adventurer tour from Puerto Maldonado or on some of the combination Amazon tours available from Cusco.
At 1.7 million hectares, this is one of the largest national parks in Peru and one of the most magnificent sections of Amazon Rainforest to visit for nature lovers. Animals are free to move past the park boundary and into adjoining forest where you can find the Manu Wildlife Center. Because of its fantastic position, this lodge provides higher chances of seeing some of the larger and more iconic wildlife than in Manu’s Reserved Zone.
From the Manu Wildlife Center, you can enjoy guided tours through the Amazon Rainforest to spot several different monkeys and colorful birds. This is also one of the best places in Amazonia to see the large and colorful macaw parrots. You can visit a very large clay lick where hundreds of parrots visit the clay. Here, you will have some fantastic photography opportunities as you witness the incredible display of sound and color. These deeper rainforest lodges are the best lodges in Peru for seeing the most animals and fascinating plants
Not only close to a macaw clay lick, the Manu Wildlife Center is also near a hide overlooking a clay lick frequented by tapir, which is the largest land mammal in South America. Combined with these iconic Amazon Rainforest animals, you will also tour an oxbow lake to spot giant river otters. If this wasn’t enough, guests at the Manu Wildlife Center have a 10% chance of spotting jaguar near the Manu River.
Manu also includes the highly diverse cloud forest on the Andes, which contains many hummingbirds, butterflies, and a few different monkeys. You can combine three lodges of the Cock of the Rock Lodge in the cloud forest, the Manu Wildlife Center to see the larger and more iconic Amazon wildlife, and the Manu Tented Camp to actually get inside the Manu Reserved Zone on the Manu Tapir & Macaws tour. This starts straight from Cusco.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
A beautiful section of flooded Amazon Rainforest, the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve sits in the northern Peruvian Amazon Rainforest and is accessed from the city of Iquitos, which is the largest city in the world unconnected to any other by road. Visiting the Pacaya is one of the top things to do in Iquitos, but as this is a flooded tropical forest, the best way to get deep into the Pacaya Samiria is by cruise and there are a few different options available.
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve covers two million hectares of Amazon Rainforest and is the country’s largest reserve. There are a few different communities living within the reserve boundaries that practice sustainable harvesting of reserve resources, such as different fruits, nuts, and fish. One of the different successful initiatives in the reserve is the re-introduction and sustainable fishing of the impressive Arapaima, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish.
On cruises into the Pacaya Samiria, you can will be escorted through the rainforest on skiff expeditions led by some of the best guides available. Enjoy spotting howler monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, saki monkeys and tamarins making their way through the branches as you watch from the comfort of the skiff. The reserve contains a healthy population of jaguar, tapir, two and three toed sloths, and many more. Spot colorful birds flying over the trees, such as aracari toucans, paradise tanagers, and blue and gold macaw parrots.
This particular reserve contains some of the Amazon Rainforest’s most luxurious cruises to treat yourself to top quality service, gourmet food, fine wines, and luxurious comfort. Cruises to consider include the Amazon Discovery Cruise, the Aria Amazon Cruise, the Delfin II, and the luxuriously spacious Delfin I. These rank on our list for the best luxury tours in the Amazon. Aboard each of these fantastic vessels you will be treated to incredible wildlife and the best service available in the Amazon Rainforest.
The Tambopata National Reserve
Part of one of the largest tracts of protected tropical forest, the Tambopata National Reserve covers 274,690 hectares of rainforest and contains a very high diversity of animals and plants. Enjoy some of the rainforest’s largest macaw clay licks to see hundreds of birds gathered at the clay. The Tambopata Amazon is the best choice for a short of budget conscious Amazon tour because it’s so close to the base town of Puerto Maldonado. This means you can be in the middle of fantastic wildlife after only 30 minutes of travel time.
Enjoy spotting several different monkeys, colorful birds, and some fascinating rarer species. Some of the top choices for a short experience of 2 or 3 days include the Sandoval lake Lodge, Posada Amazonas Lodge and the similar Refugio Amazonas Lodge. Both the Posada Amazonas and the Sandoval Lake Lodge are great options to spot giant river otters, a social species often seen playing or hunting together as a pack.
Sandoval Lake Lodge is located on the lake edge and you enjoy daily trips around the lake to spot many different animals. This is perhaps one of the best places to spot a high diversity of monkeys over a short space of time as the monkeys visit the lake for the fruiting trees and foliage.
If you’re interested more in different activities, such as mountain biking though the jungle, canopy climbing up into the trees, kayaking the waterways, or paddle boarding, the top choices include the Posada Amazonas and Refugio Amazonas Lodge. From both of these lodges you will also have some excellent wildlife experiences. The Refugio Amazonas Lodge also seems to be a preferred choice for harpy eagles to make their nests, so make sure you ask the lodge if they have any recent sightings.
If you’re interested in maximizing your wildlife sightings, however, the recommendations are the Tambopata Research Center or the Heath River Wildlife Center. Both of these are deep Amazon lodges located far from Puerto Maldonado where the wildlife is at carrying capacity. You will enjoy seeing many different primates plus the rarer wildlife. Both of these lodges are located near some of the Amazon’s largest clay licks to see the colorful macaw parrots and rank as the best lodges for Tambopata.
You can also combine the Heath River Wildlife Center with the Sandoval Lake Lodge to see the macaws and rarer wildlife with almost guaranteed sightings of the large and playful giant river otters in Sandoval. Both the Manu protected area and Tambopata National Reserve are accessed from Puerto Maldonado and ideal for deep Amazon tours, which can make it hard to choose either Manu National Park or Tambopata for an Amazon tour.
The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve
Located just next to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is a smaller protected area but is home to fantastic diversity of species, including a healthy population of Amazon icons. Enjoy seeing a diversity of birds, such as paradise tanagers, colorful macaws, many kingfishers, and one of the highest diversities of primates in Peru.
The reserve was established to help protect the uakari monkeys, which have a bright red hairless face and are rarely seen. Guests to the Tahuayo Lodge, which is the only lodge with access to the reserve, spot them occasionally if they choose deeper rainforest adventures.
The Tahuayo Lodge offers a private guide and a customized itinerary, so you can focus on your own interests while exploring the reserve. Choose from many different options, such as photography tours, camping, searching for different monkeys, searching for different poison dart frogs, or simply a general experience of the Amazon Rainforest. If you’re after a little more excitement, the Tahuayo Lodge has the largest canopy zipline in the rainforest that has been enjoyed by young children through to their grandparents.
You can find many different animals living in the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve and the protected area covers around 420,000 hectares of Amazon Rainforest. The reserve protects over 600 different bird species and makes the Tahuayo a great place for bird watchers and wildlife lovers. Enjoy spotting the hoatzin at the different oxbow lakes, jacanas, tiger herons, and many wonderful parrots.
This is also one of the best places to spot different monkeys and on tours of 6 days or more you can stay at the Tahuayo Lodge’s ARC with its 1,000 acre primate research grid. Explore the area with your private guide to find saki monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, marmosets, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and possibly some of the rarer varieties. Recently, guests have enjoyed sightings of different giant river otters that have built a home near the lodge.
The Amazon River and its tributaries have created many different oxbow lakes over the centuries, which are where the river once flowed but then changed direction. Surrounding the river on its journey are now lakes that draw fantastic wildlife, such as caiman crocodilians, hoatzin birds, horned screamers, jacanas, tiger herons, parrots, and more.
The Huascaran National Park
Huascarán National Park protects 340,000 hectares of Cordillera Blanca habitat, which is an area of the central Andean mountain range. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site the park includes threatened habitats and a great many animals and plants. As well as home to hundreds of glaciers, this park is also where you find the highest mountain in Peru. Named Mount Huascaran, it measures 6,768 meters (22,205 feet) making it the fourth highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.
The park has around 100 different birds, including the Andean condor and a number of endangered mammals, such as Andean cats and spectacled bears. This is also home to one of the iconic camelids of Peru, the vicuñas.
Within the protected area, you can find fantastic lagoons, beautiful scenery, in addition to the different wildlife. The mountains themselves are what draws the majority of visitors, however. Visitors come to walk and climb the mountains as there are some fantastic hiking and climbing trails within the park. The 300 or so lagoons are all glacial and there are over 600 glaciers still intact.
To reach Huascarán National Park, you can start your adventure in northern Peru from the city of Huaraz. Not just a great place for serious climbers, all visitors can enjoy the region as there are different hikes suited to any difficulty level. That being said, remember that the park is at a high altitude as we are in the Andes, so some acclimatization is required. Walking at altitude is often harder than at lower elevations so make sure you’re prepared. The scenery and wildlife is definitely worth the trek. Some of the lake treks are also remarkable as the glacial lakes have a unique beauty and clarity hard to find elsewhere.
The Titicaca National Reserve
The Titicaca National Reserve protects the famous Lake Titicaca and its wildlife. Titicaca is the world’s highest large-lake and is accessed from the town of Puno in Peru. The reserve was established to protect the wildlife and the culture of the Titicaca area. For example, the Uros community live on the lake’s islands, which are made out of reeds and are thought to have once served a defence function. Nowadays, you can visit the communities to learn about the culture and history of the region.
One of the most famous of the Titicaca animals is the giant Titicaca frog, which lives in the lake and has fascinating folds of skin over its body to help breathe at this altitude. Intense hunting pressure on the frog almost drove it to extinction, but protection within the reserve is allowing populations to recover. Other iconic Titicaca animals in the protected area include the Titicaca duck and Titicaca grebe. In total, the lake area is home to around 60 different birds, 14 types of fish, and 18 different frogs.
The park measures just over 36,000 hectares and a narrow bit of land separates the lake into two bodies of water. The Peruvian water body is named Lake Pequeño and the water on the Bolivian side is called Lake Huinaymarca. The average depth of the lake is around 500 feet (165 meters), but is almost double this closer to the Bolivian shore.
Although the main reason for the area’s protection was to conserve the lake wildlife and Titicaca’s communities, another benefit was to allow managed tourism in the area. Tourism has since been used to help the Uros communities, as tourists buy different souvenirs and food directly from community members.
The Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve
Positioned close to Iquitos city in northern Peru, the Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve is famous for its high amount of endemic white-sand bird species. In addition to white sand forests, you can find a diversity of other habitats, such as floodplain forests and swamp forests.
You can hire a guide at the information center near the reserve entrance to help spot some of the fantastic animals living inside the protected area. They will also help to point out the different habitats where you find the 145 species of mammals, the 100 or so different reptiles and amphibians, and the 475 different bird species.
The reserve covers around 60,000 hectares and it isn’t as large as the more magnificent protected areas such as the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve mentioned further up. Nevertheless, the reserve makes a great day trip while back in Iquitos city. To reach the reserve, you simply need to hail a mototaxi or you can ask your tour operator for a possible add-on experience to your visit to the Tahuayo Lodge as part as a city tour.
In addition to the diverse and endemic birds to see in the Allpahuayo Mishana, there are also a variety of monkeys, including endemic and endangered species, such as the equatorial saki and Goeldi’s marmoset. To give examples of the birds, some of the favorites to find include the Allpahuayo antbird, Mishana tyrannulet, and the elegant pompadour cotinga.
There are number of trails within the area that wind past the many different habitats and you will be given a map of the reserve upon entry while being assigned your tour guide. The reserve also has a collection of medicinal plants, which have importance for rainforest communities and different Amazon fruits. This is a fascinating section of the park to see some weird and wonderful fruits that grow wild in Amazonia.
The Paracas National Reserve
Paracas National Reserve is in southern Peru on the Paracas Peninsula and protects a section of mainland, as well as over 200,000 hectares of coastal waters and different islands. The reserve covers an area where artifacts of the Paracas culture have been found, which is one of the most mysterious of all America’s ancient cultures. The reserve is also the location where archaeologists discovered some of the oldest human remains in the Americas dating back just over 8,000 years. For information on the discoveries as well as learning about the area’s animals and plants, you can visit a small museum at the reserve entrance.
There have been around 100 different archaeological sites identified within the protected area, which you will learn about at the museum. In addition to the archaeological importance, you can find a diversity of different birds that are concentrated around the coastline. There are over 200 different migratory birds that visit the Paracas for part of their lives. As another attraction, you can also take a tour boat to visit the Ballestas Islands to see different birds and sea lions. You should look back when heading away from the shore to see the Paracas Candelabra, which is one of the giant glyph structures in the area.
Near the museum at the reserve entrance is a walkway to a lookout over the bay where you can often see Chilean flamingos. There are a few different lookouts dotted around the park and from some you can enjoy spotting sea lion colonies, birds, and other wildlife.
The Cordillera Azul National Park
The Cordillera Azul National Park protects tropical montane forest on the eastern slope of the Andean mountain range. It covers an impressive area over 1.3 million hectares including lowland forest and entire mountains.
Crossing four of the country’s regions, the expansive area makes the Cordillera Azul National Park one of the largest of Peru’s protected areas. Because of the mountainous landscape in combination with the national park status, there are areas of the park that are in a truly virgin state and have been completely untouched by people.
The park contains over 6,000 different plants that create habitats for around 80 large mammals and nearly 200 different fish species. Over this vast expanse of Andean environment, you can find an impressive diversity of birds with nearly 600 registered species. Some of the mammals living here include otters, spectacled bears, different monkeys, mountain lions, and jaguars. The favorite birds living in the park include harpy eagles and different parrots, including the iconic macaws.
There are also a number of interesting amphibians and reptiles. New discoveries are continually being made and in 2013 a few different lizard species were discovered, which were previously unknown to Science. The new discoveries highlight the reason for the park’s protection as the Cordillera Azul houses many different endangered species and wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.
The Tumbes National Reserve
Located near the border with Ecuador, Tumbes National Reserve covers just over 70,000 hectares and protects wildlife living in the hilly dry tropical forest of the region. The animals and plants here evolved in a different environment to their tropical rainforest and montane forest cousins.
Desert surrounds the protected area and the vegetation you can find within the park is suited to a dry climate. There are mostly small trees, bushes and some cacti. The Tumbes National Reserve is then separated from the rainforest by the Andes Mountains. All of these factors combined mean the reserve is home to some unusual and endangered animals.
The wildlife you can find in the reserve include some familiar animals to other environments, such as jaguar and margays but also some rarer species you can’t find in nearby areas. There are several different monkeys living in the reserve, such as the mantled howler monkeys and white-headed capuchins. Other animals here include river otters and Tumbes crocodiles. Some of the iconic birds you can find include the Andean condors, yellow-faced parrotlets, Peruvian antpittas, grey-backed hawks, and pale-legged horneros. Because of its unique diversity of birds and over 250 species, Tumbes National Reserve is often on the itinerary for different birding tours in northern Peru.
Despite the grand size of the park and its incredible diversity of wildlife, the Tumbes National Reserve is relatively close to the city of Tumbes. Portions of the area have remained more or less untouched for centuries, which is one of the reasons as to why it’s so full of wildlife.
The Cutervo National Park
The oldest protected area in Peru, Cutervo National Park sits in the northern Peruvian Andes and covers over 8,000 hectares of habitat. You can find many different strange animals in and around the area including tapir, spectacled bears, jaguar, ocelot, and cock of the rock birds. In addition to different forest types, the park contains different lakes and rivers. There are many strange and interesting plants that differ from the lowland forests and you can find an abundance of orchids.
The park is accessed from Cajamarca and its Guacharos Cave containing nocturnal birds and streams is a main attraction. You can enjoy different walks in the area and there are also certain places to camp. In addition to main Oilbird Cave, or Gruta de los Guácharos, you also have a couple of others to explore, such as the White Cave (Gruta Blanca) and Bat Cave (Gruta del Murciélago).
There are some excellent trails in the park where you can enjoy fantastic views and walks in the palm tree forests to see a variety of different birds. When you reach the higher areas, you can enjoy beautiful lakes, grasslands, and incredible views.
The Amotape Hills National Park
Protecting a fraction of Peru’s equatorial dry forest, the Amotape Hills National Park is located in northern Peru and accessible from the cities of Piura and Tumbes. Within the protected area, you can find some fantastic examples of orchids, interesting plants, and different animals. The park protects spectacled bears and over 100 different bird species.
The objective of the national park was to protect the Amotape Range and its forests. A hit with birdwatchers, you can find 400 different birds, including a number of endemic species and it’s on the itinerary of many birdwatching tours in northern Peru. Not just a great place for birds, the park protects different mammals, including howler monkeys, neotropical otters, anteaters, deer, ocelots, and jaguar. There is also a population of American crocodiles in the waterways.
You can enjoy some fantastic walking trails through the park leading you passed different animals and plants and through changing scenery. Choose trails over the hills and through the ravines. The diversity of animals and plants here meant the Amotape Hills National Park has also been incorporated into the North-East Biosphere Reserve.
The Pampas Galeras National Reserve
Located near Nasca on the road to Cusco, the Pampa Galeras Vicuña Reserve was set up to protect Peru’s native camelids, the vicuñas. These are related to llamas and are thought to be the wild ancestor of alpacas before domestication. The area has been home to the vicuñas for hundreds of years and it’s a fantastic experience to see them in the hills, although many people wait for the annual shearing event.
The reserve is located at high altitude at around 4,000 and 5,000 meters above sea levels and is mainly covered with different dry grasses. You can also find a diversity of different bushes and shrubs. Covering 60,000 hectares, the altitudinal, almost barren, grassland is the prime habitat for the vicuñas. The park was established because intense hunting threatened the vicuña population, but since protection and employed rangers, the population now stands at over 50,000 individuals. There is also another wild camelid living in the reserve named the guanaco and both species look very similar.
Although hunting has stopped, the local communities are still involved with the vicuñas as every year there is a shearing event in the reserve where the herds of animals are rounded up and shawn. This is tourist spectacle in itself and visitors can observe the event on tours from nearby Nazca.
Any visitor interested in nature or Peruvian and Andean history would enjoy a visit to the reserve as despite sometimes being hard to spot, the vicuñas are unique to this landscape and this reserve is home to 70% of the world’s population. Vicuña wool was highly prized and during the Incan civilization only royalty were permitted to wear clothes made from vicuña wool. It’s also the vicuña that appears on Peru’s flag.
The Rio Abiseo National Park
The Rio Abiseo National Park protects forest on the tropical Andes. You can find a range of animals and plants, and many archaeological sites dating back to before the Incan civilization. The park is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its wildlife and historical sites, which is a rarity that both archaeology and nature are taken into account when listing one site.
The park covers 270,000 hectares of diverse Andean forests and grasslands and is thought to have been a haven for wildlife since before the last glaciation event. The protected area contains a high number of endemic species that live in the different habitats.
The archaeological sites you can find in the Rio Abiseo National Park date back to an impressive 8,000 years. So far, 36 sites have been found, but there are probably many more waiting to be discovered. The sites are often linked to the Chachapoyas culture, a pre-Incan civilization who largely remain a mystery.
Wildlife in the park includes many different bird species, wooly monkeys, king vultures, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, jaguar, spectacled bears, capuchins, and almost 5,000 different plants. There are about 300 different mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish registered in the national park including a number of endangered and newly discovered species.
The Tingo Maria National Park
Attracting 80,000 visitors each year, the Tingo Maria National Park covers over 4,500 hectares and is best known for its owl cave, which in Spanish is called La Cueva de Las Lechuzas. The cave is frequented by bats, oilbirds, and parrots. These make a fantastic spectacle and the cave is one of the main reasons people visit the park.
You can reach the park from the city of Tingo Maria to find many different waterfalls and streams throughout the area. Some favorite places are the Cueva de Las Pavas, Jacintillo Medicinal Springs, and the Cueva de los Tambos. Visitors love coming to the park to enjoy different swimming areas.
You can find around 178 different bird species in the national park, including the national bird called the cock of the rock. This is a magnificent species where the males have a bright red plumage and perform fascinating dances. The dances attract their mates and watching the displays is often a favorite spectacle for nature lovers.
Other animals living in the park include different toucans and parrots, several different monkeys, deer, and tapir, which are the largest land mammal in South America. In addition to the birds flying around the area, you can enjoy seeing dozens of colorful butterflies.
About the Author: Ash Card is a frequent visitor to the Amazon and has a passion for helping visitors get the best experiences from tropical destinations. Ash is a contributor to both TourTheTropics.com and ThinkJungle.com writing about tropical destinations, rainforests and wildlife. Feel free to contact Ash for tour help in the Amazon. When not helping tourists with tours and info, Ash can be found salsa-ing the night away or posing near waterfalls.