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Manu National Park
State: Madre de Dios and Paucartambo
Gateway City: Cusco
Climate: The weather varies greatly in Manu National Park. The Andes mountains are cold and dry, whereas the Amazon rainforest is hot and humid. The rainy season spans October to April. July is the driest month. Fog is common throughout the year in mountainous
Number of visitors per year: 300,000 visitors
The Incas were the first humans to inhabit the area now known as Manu Biosphere Reserve. The sacred ceremonial site Machu Picchu constructed in 1450 perched high in the mountains above the Urubamba River is one of the world’s most environmentally harmonious and sensitive works of architecture genius. The Inca Trail from the summit of Salcantay that winds along ridgetops and many microclimates to culminate at Machu Picchu is a sacred pilgrimage in its own right. Today four indigenous groups inhabit the Manu National Park area: 12,000 Machiguenga, or Yora; 4,000 Amahuaca; 2,000 Yaminahua; and the Mascho-Piro. Forest Indians are nomadic; they rely on hunting, fishing, collecting turtle eggs and shifting agricultural fields of root crops. Some forest Indians have not been contacted by outsiders. Although there are no towns within Manu Biosphere Reserve, there are approximately 70,000 inhabitants who live in 30 rural communities sprinkled in the high Andean zone.
Manu National Park (Parque Nacional Manu) spans a whopping 3,787,646 acres. In addition, the Manu Biosphere Reserve incorporates a 635,060-acre Reserved Zone plus a 91,395-hectacre Cultural Zone, for a grand total of 4,422,706 acres. Manu National Park was internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve as part of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1977. The Manu Reserved Zone was established by Supreme Resolution No. 151-1980. Manu National Park was named as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Best Season to Visit
Organized tours are offered at Manu National Park from May through November. But note that the rainy season begins in October.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The Inca tail to Machu Picchu at Manu National Park follows mountain ridges, not valleys, for mind-bending views. The Inca Trail descends from the sacred summit of Salcantay and culminates at the ceremonial Machu Picchu. The immense ceremonial centers are not the only archaeological remains; the Inca trail is also jeweled with intricate hand-carved stone outposts.
Choquequirau in Manu National Park is often referred to as Machu Picchu’s sacred sister. The architecture is rivaled only by Machu Picchu. This ceremonial center is nestled within a high Andean ridge, 5,000 feet above the Apurimac River. It may have been built for the emperor Topa Inca, son of Pachacuti, who orchestrated building Machu Picchu. Choquequirau was dedicated to worshipping elements of nature, mountain gods and the Apurimac River.
Manu National Park is home to more species of animals than any other area on the planet. There are 1,000 species of birds and 200 species of mammals within Manu Biosphere Reserve. This includes 13 species of monkeys, six species of macaws and 100 species of bats. There are also 12 species of reptiles, 77 species of amphibians and an estimated 500,000 species of arthropods. Manu Biosphere Reserve also envelops three Endemic Bird Areas, which provide critical habitat for 56 restricted range species.
The Giant Otter is globally threatened. Giant Otters are as long as an adult human being is tall! Giant Otters at Manu National Park live in families of three to eight members, which is unusual for members of the weasel family. They are highly vocal and most active during daylight hours.
Emperor Tamarins are grey with large white mustaches. Their mustaches make them resemble German Emperor Wilhelm II; what began as a joke has become part of their official name! Emperor Tamarins thrive in the southwest Amazon basin in the Manu Biosphere Reserve. They are less than one foot tall and weigh less than one pound. Emperor Tamarins are environmentally categorized as Globally Threatened.
The Jaguar prefers the dense rainforest habitat of Manu National Park, though it will roam open terrain. The Jaguar most closely resembles the leopard. It is one of the four big cats of the world, along with tigers, lions and leopards. It is the third largest feline after tigers and lions, and it is the most powerful in the Western Hemisphere. This now globally threatened feline figures prominently in the Maya and Aztec history at Manu Biosphere Reserve.
Woolly Monkeys thrive in the rainforests of Manu National Park. They are globally threatened, and they live in large social groups. And yes, their fur is fuzzy and woolly!
The Andean Cat, also known as the Andean Mountain Cat, is not much larger than a domestic cat; however, it appears larger due to its long fur and very long striped tail. It thrives in the high Andes Mountains with Manu Biosphere Reserve, often above the tree line. This globally threatened feline is one of the most rare felines in the world.
Activities at Manu National Park revolve around hiking and camping. InkaNatura is one of the few local tour operators licensed to operate in the area, providing guided tours for small groups. There is a wildlife tented camp, six different hikes along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Amazon rainforest tours, birdwatching tours, and treks to the Northern Kingdom archaeological sites. You can choose from a range of hikes, from just a few days with no camping to several days of all camping.
- Mammals and birds of the Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru by Bruce D. Patterson, 2006. Published by the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History.