If you’d be happy to admire the rain forest from a distance, then a luxury boat trip along the Northern Amazon might be the way for you to go (see “Exploring Machu Picchu and Peruvian Amazon cruises.”) But if, like us, you seek the closest possible encounter with the sights and sounds of the jungle, then Manu is an ideal destination. With advice from the ecotourism experts at Tropical Nature Travel, we decided to go in September, during the South American spring, a dry season when wildlife is plentiful. We opted for a 6-day, 5-night BioTrip operated by InkaNatura, a leading outfitter; the list price, $1685 per person, included all meals, transport and guides; a 4 day package starts at $1385.
Our adventures began on the first day, as our van traveled down from Cusco, elevation 11,150 feet, to the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge in the cloud forest. The scenic road was rugged, but our engaging guide, naturalist Fiorella Caleni, came up with enough intriguing stops to make the hours race by. With our four fellow travelers, we hiked up to eerie pre-Inca stone tombs and across alpine meadows where tiny flowers bloomed yellow and purple—with matching butterflies. We met three little girls herding alpaca, saw majestic eagles and hawks, and picnicked on crisp fried chicken and quinoa salad. (The return journey, by boat and cab to a commercial flight from Puerto Maldonado was shorter, but much less entertaining.)
During the trip, we stayed in three of InkaNatura’s eco-lodges, which contribute profits to Peru Verde, a national conservation group. All were clean and comfortable; think scout camp with hot showers (sometimes shared), cold drinks and tasty, healthy food. None had swimming pools or air conditioning, and two lacked electricity. But each had its charms. At Cock-of-the-Rock, named for Peru’s colorful national bird, the comical creatures with the tomato-red hoods hooted and danced right next door in their favorite stomping grounds. At the Amazonia Lodge, a former tea plantation, we gazed out at the hummingbirds from the gracious verandah and guzzled glasses of fresh-squeezed lemonade.