While most visitors to Peru have a visit to Machu Picchu firmly at the top of their must-see lists, the natural attractions of the Amazon Basin draw visitors from around the world to marvel at one of the most bio-diverse regions of our planet.
Manu National Park
Manu National Park spreads over an enormous 1.5 million hectares and rises from the river bed at around 150m above sea level to its towering 4200m summits. The range of wildlife is bewildering: over 150 types of mammal, 100 species of reptile and over 1000 different birds. It is the birds that have long drawn visitors to Manu, with the enticing prospect of seeing a greater variety of birds in one place than anywhere else on Earth. River birds such as egret and heron; colourful kingfishers, hummingbirds and trainbearers; and birds of prey such as kites and hawks are frequently seen within the park.
But despite the abundance of birds there is one animal sighting that is almost guaranteed to be the highlight of a trip to Manu. Jaguars live within the park and some visitors, although by no means all, are lucky enough to see one of the magnificent big cats lazing on a tree in the heat of the day.
Jaguars typically hunt alone and at night and their prey includes pretty much all the other mammals that you’ll hope to find within the national park, such as deer, tapirs and sloth. In fact the jaguar only has one natural predator, the anaconda. That said, as with so many species, the greatest threat to their survival comes from humans. Illegal hunting still goes on at the periphery of the park (their fur can fetch a very high price) while human development means that the jaguars’ habitat continues to shrink.
Manu – What to expect
A trip to Manu will involve very early starts (5am is typical) as wildlife is best spotted in the dawn and pre-dawn light when the nocturnal creatures are still active. The days can be spent floating along the rivers looking out for sightings on the riverbank or flying over the canopy, while the heat of the afternoon makes the perfect excuse for a siesta back at the lodge.
There are two options for getting in and out of Manu – a ten-hour hair-raising bus ride along narrow roads with sharp drop-offs and countless hairpin bends, or a 45 minute flight in a light aircraft. For the majority of visitors the short flight over the jungle is by far the most preferable option!
Image by USFWS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons