Peru: Manu and Machu Picchu

The Manu Biosphere Reserve has the highest diversity of life on Earth and is one of the most important conservation units in the world. This tour provides a superb cross-section of all the habitats. We also visit the world-famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu surrounded by some of the most amazing scenery on Earth.



Day 1: Lima. You will be met at the airport and transferred to a comfortable hotel for the night.

Day 2: Huacarpay Lakes. This morning we will take an early flight to the ancient city of Cusco. Depending on the flight schedule, we may drop our bags off in the hotel (and have a traditional coca tea), or we could head straight out birding to the Huacarpay lakes, about 30 minutes southeast of town. Here we will see a variety of high Andean species such as Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Plumbeous Rail, the exquisite Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Andean Negrito, Rusty-fronted Canastero, Golden-billed Saltator, and more. We’ll look especially for the spectacular and endemic Bearded Mountaineer, which often feeds in flowering bushes near the lake. We spend the night in Cusco.

Bearded Mountaineer will be a major early target near Cusco
Bearded Mountaineer will be a major early target near Cusco (Jose Illanes)

Day 3: Cusco to Manu. Today we will leave very early, first driving several hours on a rough road through scenic intermontane valleys. We will make selected stops for two smart endemics: Creamy-crested Spinetail and Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, and stop for anything else we might encounter along the way. We’ll reach the 11,500 ft (3,500 m) Ajacnaco Pass by around lunch time, and spend the afternoon birding temperate forest downhill towards our lodge, hoping to run into mixed species flocks that could have dozens of brilliant birds like Golden-collared and Grass-green Tanagers, Mountain Cacique, White-collared Jay, Black-capped and Superciliaried, Hemispinguses, Pearled Treerunner, Citrine Warbler, and more. We’ll spend the night in the Wayqecha Cloudforest Research Center, located in pristine elfin forest high in the Andes. It makes a perfect stopover to break up the long trip down the Manu Road, and allows us better coverage of the higher elevations. (Occasionally Wayqecha is unavailable, in which case will spend this night in Cock-of-the-rock Lodge)

Day 4: The Upper Manu Road. It’s hard not to be awed by the steep slopes blanketed with cloudforest as far as the eye can see. Beautiful hummingbirds like Violet-throated Starfrontlet and Amethyst-throated Sunangel flit through the roadside vegetation, and he have a great chance to see Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan. We’ll target some tough birds like Red-and-white Antpitta, and jump out of the bus at the first sign of a mixed-species flock, and may see such gems as Barred and Band-tailed Fruiteaters, White-browed Conebill, Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Fulvous Wren, and White-banded Tyrannulet. We’ll spend two nights in Cock-of-the-rock Lodge. Hummingbird feeders here bring in several species including Green Hermit, Violet-fronted Brilliant, and Booted Racket-tail.

Noisy White-collared Jays roam the cool cloudforest along the Manu road
Noisy White-collared Jays roam the cool cloudforest along the Manu road (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: Cock-of-the-rock Lodge. Just a few minutes drive from our lodge is a spectacular Cock-of-the-Rock lek furnished with comfortable blinds to observe the amazing males during their mating rituals. Along the trail system we can explore the mossy cloud forest, searching for the likes of Moustached Wren, Slaty Gnateater, and Chestnut-breasted Wren. Birding up and down the road we will quickly build up a list of mid-elevation birds, and possibilities include Solitary Eagle, Golden-headed and Crested Quetzals, White-eared Solitaire, Blue-banded Toucanet, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Yungas Manakin, and a dazzling array of tanagers.

Day 6: Lower Manu road & Villa Carmen. After a final morning in the birdy cloudforests we will descend farther down the Manu road, targeting foothill forest species like Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Two-banded and Golden-bellied Warblers, Ornate Flycatcher, and Peruvian Piedtail. In the afternoon we arrive to an new lodge in the foothills, Villa Carmen, where we spend a single night. We will arrive in time for some afternoon birding in the lush rainforest, which is swathed in large stands of bamboo. We will look for some bamboo specialties this afternoon and the following morning, like Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Rufous-breasted Piculet, Striated Antbird, Bamboo Antshrike, Peruvian Recurvebill, Dusky-tailed Flatbill, and the stunning White-cheeked Tody-Flycatcher. We will also be on the lookout for Scarlet-hooded Barbet and Round-tailed and Fiery-capped Manakins.

We'll keep a keen eye on the verbena flowers in the Amazonia Lodge garden for visiting Rufous-crested Coquette
We'll keep a keen eye on the verbena flowers in the Amazonia Lodge garden for visiting Rufous-crested Coquette (Jose Illanes)

Day 7: Villa Carmen to Amazonia Lodge. After a full morning around Villa Carmen, we’ll drive to the Upper Madre de Dios River, where we take a short boat ride across the river to Amazonia Lodge. It’s about a 1 km walk to the lodge, but porters will carry your bags. This comfortable hacienda, located at an elevation of 1750 ft (500 m), will be our base for the next two nights. The lodge clearing has a variety of feeders and flowering bushes that bring in a wealth of hummers as well as tanagers and other species. Some of the regular visitors include Masked Crimson Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Red-capped Cardinal, Rufous-crested Coquette, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Koepcke’s Hermit, and Sapphire-spangled Emerald.Please note: Amazonia Lodge is for sale and it is possible that the tour cannot stay there. Should that happen, we will stay in another nearby lodge instead.

Day 8: Amazonia Lodge. We spend the day birding this famous lodge, which already has a bird list of well over 500 species. It is situated where the last low foothills of the Andes begin to flatten out into the vast Amazonian lowlands. The floodplain near the lodge is covered in second growth only a few decades old, while on the steep hillsides tall primary forest is found. While birding the varied habitats at the lodge, we will see a very rich assortment of birds. Some species we will especially look for include Blue-headed Macaw, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Fine-barred Piculet, Bamboo Antshrike, Black-backed Tody–Flycatcher, and Golden-bellied Warbler.

Band-tailed Manakin is one of many spectacular species on this classic tour
Band-tailed Manakin is one of many spectacular species on this classic tour (Andres Vasquez)

Day 9: River trip. After a few more hours of birding at Amazonia Lodge, we will board our motorized canoe that will take us down the Madre de Dios to Manu Wildlife Center. It’s about a six hour trip, but the boat will make a couple of rest stops, and we usually see some cool stuff along the way, like Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Yellow-billed Tern, Pied Lapwing, a variety of herons, Bat Falcon, Black Skimmer, Wood Stork, Orinoco Goose, and Horned Screamer. We plan to arrive at the lodge before dark, and we’ll spend four nights here.

Days 10-12: Manu Wildlife Center. We have three full days based at this premier jungle lodge, one of the best and most renowned in all of South America. Diversity is spectacular, and we’ll our time birding trails, towers, and oxbow lakes. Large stands of bamboo hold many local and sought-after species, and the extensive varzea, terra firme and transitional floodplain forest hold a mind-boggling variety of bird-life. A canopy observation tower gives us a chance to see the canopy birds at close range, including many species of toucans, aracaris, tanagers, euphonias, woodpeckers, parrots, oropendolas, and others. Some of the more interesting species we will be searching for in the bamboo include Manu Antbird, White-cheeked Tody-Flycatcher, and Peruvian Recurvebill. We also look for the near-endemic Rufous-fronted Antthrush, Razor-billed Curassow, Pale-winged Trumpeter, Pavonine Quetzal, Purus Jacamar, Striolated Puffbird, and Gray-cheeked Nunlet, to name but a few. There will be an optional nighttime visit to the large mammal lick here, which can attract Tapirs, Peccaries and on very rare occasions even a Jaguar.

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Day 13: Macaw Lick and travel to Puerto Maldonado. We need to leave very early in order to reach the clay lick, which only allows entry at dawn to avoid disturbing the birds. Activity varies from day to day, but usually hundreds of parrots and macaws are visible from the blinds. Red-and-green Macaw is a highlight and the beautiful Orange-cheeked Parrot is a regular visitor here. We’ll spend the rest of the day traveling, first by boat and then by van, to Puerto Maldonado, where we spend one night.

Day 14: Travel to Ollantaytambo. Today we take a commercial flight back to Cusco; depending on flight schedules, there may be some time for some morning birding near Puerto Maldonado, where there are some stakeouts for the localized White-throated Jacamar. After a lunch in Cusco, we will drive north into the Sacred Valley to the town of Ollantaytambo for a two-night stay.

Day 15: Abra Málaga. We need an early start as we drive over a very high pass at 14,000 ft (4,300 m) and then down to some beautiful temperate forest in the shadow of the imposing 19,000 ft (5700 m.) Veronica Peak. We’ll start by looking for Inca Wren, Puna Thistletail, Three-striped and Parodi’s Hemispinguses, Scaled Metaltail, Marcapata Spinetail and others, before returning to the pass for a fairly short but tough hike to some groves of Polylepis woodland with several globally threatened species such as Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, White-browed Tit-Spinetail, and if we are really lucky, maybe a Royal Cinclodes. Later in the afternoon, we’ll make another stop to look for the endemic White-tufted Sunbeam before returning to Ollantaytambo.

Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant is a rare and endangered species that inhabits polylepis at Abra Malaga
Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant is a rare and endangered species that inhabits polylepis at Abra Malaga (Nick Athanas)

Day 16: Machu Picchu. After the long day yesterday we will enjoy a bit of a lie-in, though we’ll want to check the grounds of the hotel for White-bellied Hummingbird. and a few other birds. We will catch a mid-morning train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. The rest of the day we will have free to explore the beautiful and fascinating ancient Inca ruins. We will have a local guide to give us a walking tour of the ruins, or you may choose to explore on your own. There aren’t too many birds to be seen in the ruins, but we might encounter the endemic Green-and-white Hummingbird, and can look for Inca Wren if we missed it yesterday. We spend one night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes.

The classic shot, but well worth seeing in real life!
The classic shot, but well worth seeing in real life! (Nick Athanas)

Day 17: Aguas Calientes and return to Cusco. The train usually doesn’t leave until after lunch (though schedules may change), so we should have a full morning to bird the subtropical cloudforest around Aguas Calientes. This area is good for species like Masked Fruiteater, Variable Antshrike, Rust-and-yellow Tanager, Silver-backed Tanager, Gould’s Inca, and Sclater’s Tyrannulet – all birds that we probably would not have seen on the Manu road. Optionally, some people may wish to return to the ruins for a final visit, though you will have to buy another entry ticket and bus fare. We’ll take the afternoon train back to Ollantaytambo, where our vehicle will pick us up and take us back to Cusco, where we spend the night.

Day 18: Lima and Pucusana. We fly back to Lima in the morning, then head south to the fishing village of Pucusana, where the harbor is jam packed with Inca Terns, Belcher’s, Gray-hooded, and Gray Gulls, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, and more. We’ll take a short boat ride to look for Humboldt Penguin and Surf Cinclodes (bring seasickness pills if you are susceptible). Making our way back to Lima, we can target Peruvian Thick-knee and Short-tailed Field Tyrant, and check some wetlands for more waterbirds. We’ll get back to Lima in time to shower and have dinner in an airport hotel before transferring to the airport for departure.

The final day of the trip will see us eyeballing Guanay Cormorants
The final day of the trip will see us eyeballing Guanay Cormorants (Jose Ilanes)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. It’s important to be out early since birding is usually best in the morning. Most breakfasts will be at about 5:30am, with at least three earlier breakfasts when visiting more distant birding spots. On about five days of the trip there will be some downtime after lunch to relax. On a few days, we will likely stay out after dark to spotlight for birds and mammals; some participants choose to skip the occasional afternoon outing and just relax around the lodge. The driving is not too bad on this trip, with the longest being about five hours on day 3, broken up with birding stops. There are long boat rides of at least five hours (depending on water levels) on day 9 and day 13, which are done in a reasonably comfortable, covered motorized canoe.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY:Generally moderate. Most of the birding is done from flat roads and trails, and you can expect to walk 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) per day on average. There is one moderately steep hike on day 15 that can be difficult for some people due to the high altitude; some participants choose to skip this and remain with the vehicle. On at least two other days of the trip, there may be some trail birding on some forest trails with some short, steep sections (a walking stick can help). At Manu Wildlife Center, at least one and possibly two canopy towers will be visited. The towers are accessed by staircases.

CLIMATE: This tour is timed for the dry season, and a wide range of temperatures can be expected. Temperatures in the high elevations can get down to freezing early in the morning, but then warm up to be quite pleasant (about 68°F/20°C) and usually very sunny. In the lowland rainforest, temperatures usually vary from about 68°-90°F (20°-32°C), but on rare occasions cold fronts can cause the temperatures to plunge into the 40°sF (single digits °C), which can be shocking to experience in Amazonian rainforest! There might be a bit of rain, but it is unusual to get more than a brief shower this time of year.

ACCOMMODATION: In the Manu area we stay in jungle lodges in the forest; elsewhere we stay in hotels or lodges in towns or cities. Accommodation is mostly good to excellent, but Amazonia Lodge, where we spend two nights, has shared bathrooms in a separate building next to the lodge. All lodges have hot water. Cock-of-the-rock Lodge and Manu Wildlife Center do not have electricity in the rooms (candles or lamps are provided), but you can charge your gear in the lounge when the generator is running; other hotels and lodges have 24h electricity. Wi-fi is generally not available in the Manu lodges, though it is usually available elsewhere, though maybe not in your room.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, and since much of the birding is in the rainforest, bird photography is usually not very easy. Casual photographers will have opportunities to photograph at feeders at Cock-of-the-rock Lodge and Amazonia Lodge, and from towers, rivers, and lakes around Manu Wildlife Center. Machu Picchu and Abra Malaga offer good chances for landscape photography.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, nearly all European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Tourist visas are currently required mainly for citizens of countries in Africa (except South Africa), Asia, and the Middle East.Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, boatmen, and lodge/restaurant staff; roundtrip airfare between Lima and Cusco; one way airfare between Puerto Maldonado and Cusco; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 17; day-use room in Lima the afternoon of day 18; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to dinner on day 18 (depending on your departure flight time, you may miss the included dinner on the last day); safe drinking water and/or juice as well as tea and coffee during meals; safe drinking water only between meals (some lodges also provide complimentary tea/coffee between meals); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 18; local cultural guide at Machu Picchu the morning of day 16; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other tour participants if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle with driver from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 7, from day 14 to day 15, between Ollantaytambo and Cusco on day 17, between the hotel and the Cusco airport on day 18, and while visiting the birding sites near Lima on day 18; boat transport across the river to Amazonia Lodge on day 7; private boat transport for the group from day 9 to day 13; roundtrip train ticket between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes; one roundtrip bus ticket between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary (only one ticket to Machu Picchu is included, and the ticket is good for one day); a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters in city hotels (if you require their services); international flights; excess luggage charges; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary (such as an additional visit to Machu Picchu on day 17); extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.