Manu National Park is part of the Amazon located in Peru. It includes diverse ecosystems such as lowland rainforests, cloud forests and Andean grasslands. There is a cultural region where you see some wildlife but not a ton, and there’s a reserve area where you supposedly see a little more wildlife. There aren’t a lot of tourists in Manu, so while you’ll see a few other groups, it isn’t swarming with gringos. I didn't exactly love it though... to put it nicely.
A lot of people who do go to Manu use Cusco as their base for tours, so there are several companies there offering tours that will take you there. This post is about the company we booked with (Manu Jungle Adventures), the company we actually went with (Expeditions Manu Vilca), specifics of our itinerary, what we saw in Manu, and my overall opinion of the trip.
Colin had researched a few companies that had good reviews and seemed to be legitimate, but we didn’t book anything online because it’s a lot more expensive to do it that way. We arrived in Cusco around noon, and we spent the next 4 hours booking tours. We visited a couple of different tour companies, and ultimately decided to go with Manu Jungle Adventures for our Manu tour. This was one of the “respectable” companies that Colin had researched online.
We went with a 4 day / 3 night tour. There are some people who do 3 day / 2 night tours, and there are some people who do much longer tours so that you can get into the reserve area. With only 4 days, you can’t reach the reserve area and have to stay in the cultural area where there isn’t as much wildlife.
The cost of our tour started at US $270 per person (if we had booked online, the same tour cost over US$1,000), but we ended up paying US $250 per person. There were supposed to be 4 other people in our group (6 people total), but when we came back that night to pay, we were told that we were going to be lumped in with a group of 10 others (so 12 people total on the tour), and that Expeditions Manu Vilca would actually be running the tour. We were given the option to cancel or a US $20 discount per person. We wouldn’t have been able to find another tour going out the next day, so we took the US $20 discount and crossed our fingers that the tour would still be okay. Colin had also read about Vilca, so we felt okay about the change.
I personally believe that the guy from Manu Jungle Adventures who we booked with knew all along that he was probably going to lump us in with a larger group, but who knows.
I wouldn’t do this tour again with any company. The stuff we saw was not worth the amount of time it took to get there. This could be different if you do a longer tour and get into the reserve area, but I think it would take a lot longer to get there and that I still wouldn’t see enough to make it worth it.
We saw very little wildlife. We saw monkeys for a few seconds twice and a lot of birds from very far away. Bring binoculars. There were other tours of different areas near Cusco that were supposed to have more wildlife, but we also heard from a few companies that the guides feed the animals, and that’s why there are more of them. We didn’t want to be a part of that, so we stuck to Manu where the guides do not feed the animals (it’s very regulated).
Our guide didn’t speak English well enough. He did speak enough English, but he came off as abrasive which I think may have been a language barrier.
The food we had was pretty good. There were two vegans on our trip, and it seemed that even their food was pretty good (which is hit or miss depending on which cook you get for the group). For each meal you could also have instant coffee, hot chocolate, or tea.
Bring a headlamp or at least a flashlight. You’ll need it on the night walk, but also if your lodges don’t have electricity.
I got very bad bug bites from sandflies. Bring a strong insect repellent and use it the entire time.
Bring a rain jacket and rain pants. They were incredibly useful since it rained almost the entire time we were there (unseasonably apparently). Make sure your tour company provides you with rubber boots or bring your own. It’s very muddy, and they also protect your feet and ankles from snakes, etc.
It was chilly while it was raining. We were told it was going to be hot, but luckily we brought clothing for the cold weather as well.
The ride is a bumpy one. The roads are curvy, you have to go through several narrow mountain passes, and most of the roads are unpaved. If you get car sick, make sure you bring meds and try to sit up front.
Day 1 Details
Day 1 is almost completely a travel day. We were told that we’d make stops along the way to do things, but it wasn’t anything notable. A mid-sized bus picked us up at 6:00 AM on Day 1. We made a few short stops for the bathroom, and then we stopped for breakfast around 9:00 AM in a small town. We stopped again for a snack around 12:00 PM (a banana and a roll), and then we stopped for lunch around 2:00 PM on the side of the road. They had a fold out table and little chairs for us, so it was kind of cozy. We finally got to the lodge for our first night 12 hours later at 6:15 PM. It was a long travel day.
I got to see a red bird for a second before the other 11 people jumped in front of me to see it. That’s what happens when you have such a large group (12 people plus a driver, cook, and guide).
We saw some oropendola birds from afar because we spotted their nests, and the guide told us a little about them. He said that each male oropendola bird has 10-15 female oropendola birds that do all the work and have his baby birdies. Then the guide made a joke that the male oropendola birds are lucky that they get 10-15 females. I didn’t appreciate the joke.
The guide also yelled at us for walking away from the group to take photos. We were walking away because everyone else was as well, and the guide hadn’t said what we were doing or told us to stay together.
The lodge we stayed at the first night was nice enough for a lodge in the jungle. It was a private room with 2 double beds pushed together. The bathroom was nice.
For dinner, we had soup and pasta. The vegans even had seitan with their pasta!
Day 2 Details
For breakfast, we had granola, fruit, and bread. We left the lodge at 8:15 AM to continue driving. We saw a few monkeys while on the bus and pulled over to watch them for a few minutes. They were pretty far away.
We got to another small town for a bathroom break, and boarded boats around 10:00 AM. On our way to the next lodge, you can stop and swim in the river if you’d like. I chose not to, but they say that if you do then you will look young for the rest of your life. I didn’t want to have to dry off and change clothes on the boat, so I guess I’ll start looking old soon.
On the boat, you have all of your stuff that you brought with you. We left our electronics in Cusco at our hostel, but if you bring anything that can’t get wet, make sure it’s in a waterproof bag. The wind blows the rain and the water into the boat.
After a 45 minute boat ride, we got to our second lodge. We got dropped off on the shore and walked about 20 minutes to the lodge (again – make sure your stuff is waterproofed because this walk was in the rain). This lodge wasn’t as nice as the first one, and our room didn’t have electricity. The others seemed to after 6:00 PM.
We sat around playing cards (bring cards or something to do here since there is no cell service or wifi) until lunch at 1:00 PM. Lunch was soup, rice, veggies, chicken, and juice.
We boarded the boat again at 2:30 PM and arrived to the jungle 30 minutes later. We spent 2 hours walking around the jungle, and we saw some birds and bugs. See a video of what it looked like here.
At this point, we hadn’t seen any other tourists, so that part was nice at least.
We had dinner at 7:00 PM. If you want beer, they have some, but it was warm part of the time and some of it wasn’t labeled. I’d suggest bringing liquor or wine if you want to drink.
Day 3 Details
We got up at 5:00 AM to see more birds, but it was raining too hard to do anything, so we went back to sleep. The people that were only there for 3 days didn’t get to see the parrots at all because they left after breakfast on Day 3 to go back to Cusco.
Breakfast was at 8:00 AM (pancakes), and we left at 9:40 AM to do another jungle walk. It had stopped raining for the most part, but there were a lot of bugs, and we wore long pants to protect us from the mud and bugs even though it was warm.
On this jungle walk, we saw a couple of monkeys, and the guide hacked his way up a hill with no regard to safety or the plants he was hacking with his machete. We did this for about an hour before the guide said he couldn’t find where the monkeys were anymore. If I were a monkey, I wouldn’t stick around while a man with a machete hacked his way towards me either.
We returned to the lodge for lunch at 1:00 PM. It was soup, quinoa, and guacamole (very good), and there was another group of tourists at lunch. They were the only other tourists that we saw during the tour.
We left at 3:00 PM for another walk, this time in the wetlands. We saw toucans, green macaws, and a few other birds. You need binoculars to see very many of them, but it was cool to watch them fly around. The guide told us some about them as well, so this was probably my favorite part of the tour.
We returned to the lodge around 6:00 PM and had dinner an hour later (pasta soup, rice, beef, veggies, and potato purée).
After dinner, we went on a night walk around the lodge for an hour. The people who only had 3 days did a night walk on Day 2. We saw some cool frogs, big spiders, and other bugs.
Day 4 Details
We left at 5:15 AM to see the famous parrot clay lick. The parrots gather here every morning to eat the clay. It subsidizes their diet, and it’s also a social activity for them and their young. I was thinking this was going to be mind-blowing from how much they talked about it. What I wasn’t expecting is how far away the parrots actually were. You not only needed binoculars to see them, but you needed really good binoculars or preferably a spotting scope. There were maybe 30 parrots there. It was cool, but not as impressive as I was expecting. You stay here about an hour before going back to the lodge for breakfast (omelets, quinoa juice, and bread).
We left the lodge on the boat at 8:45 AM for Cusco. We stopped in the same little town to switch over to our land vehicle. This time though, it was not a bus. We were crammed in the very back of a van with no A/C for a very bumpy ride back into the city. We kept getting slammed into the windows and sides of the van from the bumps.
We got back to Cusco at 7:00 PM. The end. Like I said before, I don’t suggest going to Manu at all, but I definitely wouldn’t suggest either Manu Jungle Adventures or Expeditions Manu Vilca.
See our Peru photos here.
Hi, I'm Sara Monica Patton. I love animals, traveling, and eating. Read more about me in my first blog post here.