The Heart of Adventure: The World's Top Jungles

Peru's Manu National Park: Nature's Own Zoo

No jungle destination in the world offers a greater abundance or variety of wildlife than Peru's Manu National Park. Manu, one of the largest nature preserves on earth, is an unlogged, old-growth rainforest situated on the western rim of the Amazon River basin. Remote and untrammeled, Manu has no roads, no settlements, and no human residents save for a few primitive, nomadic Indian tribes.
In this undisturbed ecosystem, countless species of birds and mammals make their home. Designated a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, Manu harbors more than 1,000 species of birds, 15 monkey species, as well as jaguars, anacondas, and the giant otters, one of the world's rarest mammals, but still common in Manu. In many cases, Manu is one of the few localities where these species survive.

A trip to Manu is a unique opportunity to observe the richness of the jungle environment in its original state. In the tree-tops, macaws, toucans, parrots nest by the hundreds, joined by large numbers of capuchin and red howler monkeys. In the Park's undergrowth, peccary, tapir, ocelot, and jaguar prowl in search of food. In the rivers swim turtles, caiman (South American alligators), and the giant river otters. These unique animals, which grow up to six feet in length, are endemic to this fabled land.

Arrange travel with a local tour operator, which often come with a variety of itineraries and activities. Stay just outside the jungle in a comfortable base camp, braving into the wild during the night and day for rare wildlife observation, or arrange for a mountain bike expedition that beings high in the Andes in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. From there, the riders descend mountain trails all the way to Manu Park, where they spend a few days exploring the park on foot and by motor canoe. Or take a camping expedition, starting with a motor trek from Cusco up 11,000 feet to the crest of the Andes. From there, descend the eastern slopes through a cloud forest into the Amazon Basin. Then travel along the famos river and its tributaries via motorized dugout canoe, taking day hikes from base camps on the river's sandbars. During night walks you explore the jungle under a full moon—an experience not to be missed.

Practically Speaking
For the first-time visitor, the heat, humidity, and insects in the Amazon can be overwhelming. Everywhere but the highland tributaries, you should expect steamy weather in the 90s. Rain falls year-round, but the winter brings the heaviest storms in most regions. Mosquitos are a major problem. If you are on a big jungle cruiser, keep your bug spray within arm's reach. The smaller motorized canoes move fast enough to keep insects at bay—until you reach your destination. Swimming is safe in much of the Amazon, though you should not drink river water at any point. The more popular lodges offer a fair degree of comfort, though nothing on a par with the best of East Africa. Though most tours utilize English-speaking guides, you should try to learn some of the local language before you go.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 30 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »