If you have the time, the money and a true love of the rain forest, the journey into Manu National Park (located 100 mi/160 km northeast of Cusco) is a must—in our opinion, it's the most worthwhile jungle adventure in all of South America. It covers an area of more than 6,600 sq mi/10,620 sq km, making it one of the largest protected areas in Peru. According to UNESCO, "the biological diversity found in Manu National Park exceeds that of any other place on Earth."
More than 800 species of birds and 200 species of mammals exist within the park's mountains, valleys, lowland jungles and upland cloud forests. These include iconic creatures such as the giant river otter, giant armadillo, jaguars, pumas and, in the more mountainous areas, the Peruvian spectacled bear (of Paddington Bear fame). Human inhabitants are primarily indigenous tribal communities such as the Mascho-Piro, Yaminahua, Amahuaca and the larger Machiguenga group, all of which are nomadic. There are no large settlements within the park.
The park is divided into three zones: the Park Zone (scientists only), the Reserve Zone (tourist activities permitted, but permits and guides required) and the Cultural Zone along the park's southern border, which is open to everyone and offers accommodations. Tours can be booked through adventure-travel companies in Lima and Cusco; most tours last seven to ten days.
Tour operators leave from Cusco, traveling overland for a day through Paucartambo, Pilcopata, and Atalaya, after which the tour group typically takes a motorboat down the Alto Madre de Dios River (about seven hours) before heading down the Manu River and into the park. Alternatively, you can book a tour that involves a 40-minute flight by small aircraft from Cusco to Diamante (near Boca Manu and the main river entrance to the park), saving a significant amount of time and effort. A third and less popular option exists from Puerto Maldonado, involving a combination of cars and boats to Boca Manu, then another boat down the Manu River to the park. Note: Yellow fever is present in the park.
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