Quite possibly the
only accessible piece of virgin rainforest left in the world, Manu is located
in a beautiful and entirely unspoiled corner of south eastern Peru. The
area of the park encompasses parts of the Andean department of Cusco and
the jungle department of Madre de Dios jungle. Manu protects 18,811 sq
km of territory rich in flora and fauna species in a variety of habitats
including high Andes, cloud forests, and lowland tropical rain forests.
This natural paradise
is officially recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. In 1977 they
designated Manu as a World Biosphere Reserve because it contains the best
existing example of bio-diversity in protected areas of rain forest, as
well as endemic areas of cloud forest. Manu is internationally acclaimed
as one of the most biodiverse areas on earth.
The majority of forests
in the world have been altered by humans. Fortunately, Manu has remained
intact and untouched by civilization. It is therefore possible to observe
a variety of animals in their natural habitats, including: Giant Otters,
Black Caiman, the majestic Jaguar, the strange Spectacled Bear, the Tapir,
the Ocelot, 13 species of monkey, and an estimated one thousand species
of birds. (For more information on this topic visit our page
Birds of the Manu Biosphere Reserve). Manu also contains 10% of the world's
vascular plant species, including several species of figs and palms, as
well as countless species of medicinal plants that scientists are currently
cataloguing. A single hectare of forest in Manu can have up to 220 species
of trees, while a hectare of temperate forest in Europe or North America
may only have 20 tree species.
Apart from the wildlife,
the journey into the park itself is spectacular. Access to the entrance
of the Manu Reserved Zone is normally by road from Cusco, a 2 day trip
carrying you over the Andes at 4000m, past Inca ruins and down through
cloud forest on the eastern side of the Andes into lush lowland rainforest.
Roads remain largely unpaved and wind their way along precarious tracks
cut into the mountain side and overlooking deep gorges. The trip is an
adventure in itself.
The Biosphere Reserve
is divided into 3 separate zones:-
1. Core Zone or National
This region is strictly
preserved in its natural state, where a number of indigenous tribes reside.
Only government sponsored biologists and anthropologists may visit with
permits from the Ministry of Agriculture.
2. Experimental or
Reserved Zone (2,570 sq km)
This area is set aside
for controlled scientific research and ecotourism. Entry to the reserved
zone is accessible by permit only. Entry is strictly controlled and visitors
must visit the area with an authorized guide. The only accommodation in the
Reserve Zone is in the comfortable (and expensive) Manu Lodge or in safari-style
3. Cultural Zone (914
This zone is set aside
for two nomadic native groups, where locals still employ their traditional
way of life. The cultural zone is accessible to anyone and several companies
offer lodge based tours within this zone.
The best way to visit
Manu is with an organized tour run by a responsible tour operator. In fact there
are actually only a handful of operators in Peru who run tours into the Reserve
Zone of Manu. The majority of companies that you see offering tours to this part
of the jungle are only acting as agents, so booking directly with the operator
works out cheaper and you can be sure that more of your money is going towards
helping with the conservation of the jungle.