Yes, once more it was time to go to the jungle – always a popular idea as it’s full of animals and birds 🙂 This time we were going to visit Manú National Park.
To visit the park you need to go on a tour (except some of the parts on the edge), and to visit deep into the park is quite a long journey. What is and isn’t called ‘Manú National Park’ is slightly confusing – but there are essentially three different areas. The ‘cultural zone’ runs along the edge of the park, and has open access – eg. anyone can go and visit, and there are towns and villages there. The ‘reserved zone’ is deeper in the park, and may only be visited with a licensed guide. There are no towns and villages in the reserved area except for indigenous communites. The ‘restricted zone’ is even deeper in the park and is off-limits to tourists and anyone without a special permit to conduct scientific research – there are also a few indigenous communities living there as well.
The tours start and end in Cusco, which is the nearest city to the park. The tours to the cultural zone are generally 3 or 4 days, and the ones to the reserved zone 5 or 6 days. Yes – it is a LONG way from anywhere…. well, actually not that far I suppose – but access is via a very steep single-track gravel mountain road, and also by boat, so it takes a long time to get anywhere.
The jungle in the reserved zone is VERY unspoilt and pristine, and has areas of primary rainforest – and therefore also has more wildlife – so we decided to just go for it and go on a longer, more expensive tour into the reserved zone. After quite a lot of hours researching the tours on the internet, and contacting various companies for prices, dates, and intineraries – we found the one that we wanted to go on. It was a SIX day / FIVE nights tour to the reserved zone of Manú. Yep – that’s a pretty long tour! In fact, it would be the longest tour either of us have ever been on in our lives! 🙂
We booked with Bonanza Tours – a decision based on good reviews, cost, and the itinerary. The trips require a minimum of four people to run, and the maximum is 10 people. Because of this, you kind of have to be a bit flexible with the dates – eg. if nobody else wants to go on your departure date, then you can’t go! We got a departure date at around the right time for us – but a day earlier than we would have liked – as we were due to arrive in Cusco around 1pm the day before the tour, and the tour left at 4.30am the next day..! (Yes, not much preparation time for us!)
Because the reserved zone takes so long to get to, the tour is basically two and a half days to get to the jungle lodge in the reserved zone, two nights at the jungle lodge in the reserved zone, and then two days to get back to Cusco! Luckily there are lots of stops along the way, and lots of opportunites to see wildlife 🙂
The journey to the lodge in the reserved zone, involves 230km by road and 190km by river – yes, that’s right 190km by river, along the Madre de Dios river, and the Manú river. There is no road access at all to the reserved zone of the park. Here is a handy map I created, showing the route of the tour… 🙂
Preparation for the tour was fairly minimal – we already had most of the required items – eg. sunscreen, insect repellent, torch etc etc. The tour included all meals (except for the first breakfast for some reason?!) and all drinking water and snacks. We decided that we would bring a few extra snacks just in case 🙂
There is only one small snag preparation-wise – which is that you can’t take your normal backpacks or suitcases with you…. yes, because they are TOO BIG to fit on the boat…. how big IS this boat I hear you ask?! So, the day before your tour you get given a standard issue ‘duffel bag’ – the same size for everyone – and you have to fit everything that you are taking with you inside it (not including your normal small ‘daypack’ which you have with you all the time).
To be honest, there was a fair bit of space, and it wasn’t that hard to fit everything required in the bag – we even managed to squeeze in our mate thermos and a big bag of mate 🙂 🙂
Once packed, we left our backpacks with the hostel in Cusco and off we went into the jungle!