The gathering of parrots at salt banks along the Madre de Dios River are a tour highlight. Photo: Rich Hoyer
The Manu Biosphere Reserve is without question one of the most exciting birding destinations in the world. We’ll visit protected habitats ranging from orchid-laden cloud forest, where Andean Cocks-of-the-rock perform their mating displays right along the road, to untouched Amazonian rainforest, where as many as ten species of monkeys abound and Giant Otters still patrol the gorgeous oxbow lakes. Few accessible Amazonian locations remain as wild and undisturbed as Manu, with its stunning vistas of intact forest, five species of macaws, and a bird list of nearly 1,000 species. Our first lodges are reached by bus, but after several days of birding on foot, we enjoy a delightfully relaxed day on the boat, motoring down the Upper Madre de Dios River to our final lodges. Very comfortable accommodations, great food, non-strenuous birding on flat trails, and easily accessible canopy platforms make a visit to Manu even more appealing.
We offer as well an extension to the awe-inspiring Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.
Day 1: The trip begins this evening in Lima, Peru. Night in Lima.
Day 2: We’ll fly this morning to Cusco and board our bus for the trip to the eastern slope of the Andes. We’ll make several stops in the intermontane valleys before arriving at the last Andean pass, Ajcanaco. Some of the target birds for the morning are Andean Condor, Aplomado Falcon, Andean Flicker, Creamy-crested Spinetail, the endemic Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, and Mourning, Peruvian, Band-tailed, and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches. Near the pass we’ll look for flocks in the patches of the increasingly humid treeline forest in hopes of encountering Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Yellow-collared Tanager, White-browed Conebill, and Black-throated and Moustached Flowerpiercers. We’ll look particularly for Line-fronted and Scribble-tailed Canasteros, local species found only at high elevation. As we descend the eastern slope of the Andes to our accommodations at 8,400 feet, the forest becomes more continuous. The vast array of birds here includes White-collared Jay and Mountain Cacique, and we’ll hope to see mixed flocks of tanagers, flycatchers, and furnariids. In the evening we’ll go to a favorite spot where we have had luck finding Swallow-tailed Nightjar. Night at Wayqecha Biological Station.
Day 3: At breakfast we’ll be greeted by a dawn chorus of Great Thrushes, Black-faced Brush-Finches, and Puna Thistletails. With luck we’ll also hear Red-and-white Antpitta—with even more luck, we’ll even see one. We’ll then spend the rest of the day making stops along the road in the high-elevation cloud forests from our lodge at 9500 feet (2900 meters) down to our next lodge at 4600 feet (1400 meters). More possible hummingbirds are the creatively named Shining Sunbeam and Amethyst-throated Sunangel, and other high-elevation specialties could include Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Marcapata Spinetail, and Barred Fruiteater. Lower down, as we walk along this little-traveled road, we’ll keep an eye out for such birds as Masked Trogon, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Inca Flycatcher, Blue-banded Toucanet, Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanager, and a wide variety of other hummingbirds, flycatchers, and tanagers. As you can see, the list of possible birds is fantastic and overwhelming, but perhaps equally exciting are the myriad butterflies that come to seeps, puddles, and flowers. Lush, cloud forest vegetation with flowers such as wild nasturtiums, fuchsias, and Bomarea (all attractive to hummingbirds) as well as fabulous vistas of undisturbed forest will make our day’s journey to San Pedro memorable. Night at Cock-of-the-rock Lodge.
Day 4: We’ll spend one full day and one morning exploring the forest around Union and San Pedro, concentrating on the habitats found from 6,500 feet down to 4,500 feet, an elevation with many narrow-range specialties and an exceptionally comfortable climate. Birding these middle elevations of the Andes is like visiting a bird buffet, with fancy quetzals and cotingas and mixed flocks of dazzling tanagers. Among the many possibilities are Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Blue-banded Toucanet, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Stripe-chested Antwren, Slaty Gnateater, Yungas Manakin, Andean and White-eared Solitaires, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, and Golden, Paradise, Blue-necked, Golden-eared, and Orange-eared Tanagers. We sometimes get lucky with a troop of Gray Woolly Monkeys in the roadside trees, and butterflies such as eighty-eights and several species of clearwings will continue to delight if it’s sunny. We’ll visit one of the two nearby Andean Cock-of-the-rock leks to watch up to ten males engaged in their strange mating dance, from as close as we can focus our binoculars. Hummingbirds on the lodge grounds could include Violet-fronted Brilliant, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Booted Racket-tail, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, and White-bellied Woodstar, all coming to the feeders or the porterweed bushes. We’ll also do some night birding here; Rufescent Screech-Owl and Band-bellied Owl are possible, but the real treat will be the Lyre-tailed Nightjar show: watching a male Lyre-tailed swoop across the sky at dusk is truly awesome. Night at Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge.
Day 5: After a pre-dawn breakfast we’ll leave the loose collection of houses known as the town of San Pedro and spend the day birding slowly down to Amazonia Lodge at 1,500 feet. We’ll pay special attention to the stretch between 4,500 and 2,500 feet, with relatively untouched forest, a rarity in the Andes as most other regions find this to have the ideal climate for raising cash crops such as tea, coffee, and coca. In the past we’ve seen many species restricted to this “upper tropical” zone, including Peruvian Piedtail, Versicolored Barbet, Ornate Antwren, Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet, Ornate Flycatcher, Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher, and Chestnut-breasted Wren. On one stretch of the road we’ll search for a still undescribed new species of “tanager” first seen on WINGS tours in 2000 and 2003. Along another section of the road is a large stand of Guadua Bamboo, where we’ll look for specialties such as Manu Antbird and Bamboo Antshrike. At lower elevations close to Pilcopata (the last town we’ll see for the next ten days) we’ll bird along the road in search of such species as Yellow-billed Nunbird, Scarlet-hooded Barbet, Red-billed and Slender-footed Tyrannulets, and Golden-bellied Warbler, to name just a few. We plan to cross the Madre de Dios River and reach Amazonia Lodge before dusk. Night at Amazonia Lodge.
Days 6-7: We’ll spend two full days at Amazonia Lodge. This family-run converted tea hacienda has a birdlist of over 620, and species are still being added every year. The lodge is in the transitional zone at 1,500 feet, where the last low foothills of the Andes begin to flatten out into the Amazon Basin proper. The possibilities here are endless, and include Blackish Rail, Uniform Crake, Buckley’s Forest-Falcon, Razor-billed Curassow, Hoatzin, Blue-headed and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Koepcke’s Hermit, Rufous-crested Coquette, Wire-crested Thorntail, Bamboo Antshrike, Southern Chestnut-tailed and Black-throated Antbirds, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Ringed Antpipit, Red-billed Tyrannulet, Johannes’s Tody-Tyrant, Hauxwell’s Thrush, Black-capped Donacobius, and Band-tailed, Round-tailed and Fiery-capped Manakins—in a word, tons of birds. We’ll have the chance to go night birding here as well, and in the past we’ve seen Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl and Great, Long-tailed, and Common Potoos. The lodge is very comfortable, and we’ll enjoy lounging on the porch sipping lemonade while we watch hummingbirds at the flowers or horneros in the garden. We’ll be reluctant to leave this very birdy place, but even more awaits us in the Amazon lowlands. Nights at Amazonia Lodge.
Days 8-13: We’ll spend the early morning birding at Amazonia Lodge, then as the day begins to warm we’ll board our motorized canoes for the four-and-a-half-hour trip down the Alto Madre de Dios River to its confluence with the Manu River. On the enjoyable river journey we’ll be able to see typical riverside species such as Pied Lapwing, Fasciated Tiger-Heron and Large-billed Tern. Flyovers may include many species of macaws and parrots as well as raptors – we’ve seen flocks of Swallow-tailed Kites migrating and such memorable species as Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Great Black-Hawk, and King Vulture. Traveling down the Madre de Dios is always exciting, and one never knows what will be around the next curve: a Bat Falcon on a snag, Swallow-winged Puffbirds sallying out from the tops of trees, flocks of migrating Eastern Kingbirds, a group of Horned Screamers on a sandbar, dozens of Sand-colored Nighthawks covering a dead log, or even a Giant Anteater caught mid-stream in its rare river crossing.
We’ll spend six nights based in the Manu and upper Madre de Dios basin of Peru’s southern Amazonian lowlands - the first three at the recently renovated Romero Rainforest Lodge and the next three at Manu Wildlife Centre. Both share the same regional avifauna but each will provide us with many different species. Romero, located on the smaller Manu River within the National Park, has been visited by few birding groups and is known as the best place to see the highly local Black-faced Cotinga. It has excellent access to several oxbow lakes as well as a network of trails and a short observation tower.
Less then two hours downstream from Romero is Manu Wildlife Center, our home for the remaining three nights. The lodge is situated just upriver from the famous Blanquillo Macaw Lick, which we’ll visit one morning and from our blind observe the spectacle of hundreds of parrots and macaws at close quarters. Here we’ll see the beautiful Orange-cheeked Parrot and perhaps the recently described Amazonian Parrotlet among several other species of colorful psittacines. We’ll spend the rest of the our days at Manu Wildlife Center birding the extensive trail system and checking every available habitat type.
The region encompassing these two lodges has the greatest variety of forest types anywhere in the Manu region and thus the highest biodiversity and greatest number of bird species. Large stands of bamboo coupled with the extensive varzea, terra firme, and mature transitional floodplain forest ensure a mind-boggling variety of birdlife. Some of the more interesting and unusual species in the bamboo are Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Manu Antbird, White-cheeked Tody-Flycatcher, Peruvian Recurvebill, and various foliage-gleaners and antbirds. We’ll certainly look for the rare and local Rufous-fronted Antthrush, here located on song-advertised territories. Some of the scarcer species here include Bartlett’s Tinamou, Razor-billed Curassow, Pale-winged Trumpeter, Sunbittern, Pavonine Quetzal, Purus Jacamar, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Banded Antbird, Royal Flycatcher, Musician Wren, Pale-eyed Blackbird, and Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak, to name but a few. We’ll also visit oxbow lakes at both lodges where we’ll see Hoatzin and Sungrebe and possibly spot a rail or two. We’ll keep an eye out for other critters such as Spectacled Caiman, sunning turtles, or even Giant Otter. Butterflies abound here, and since the dragonflies of this region have been studied more thoroughly than almost anywhere else in the Amazon, we might be able to put names to some of the more colorful ones we see. Night birding may produce potoos, Amazonian Mottled Owl, Spectacled Owl, and Ocellated Poorwill, as well as a good chance for fascinating nocturnal invertebrates, tree frogs and Amazonian Tree Boa, the only snake with a bright eyeshine.
Day 14: After three days in the area, we’ll spend most of this day traveling down the Madre de Dios to Boca Colorado and then a bus ride on to Puerto Maldonado. We’ll have time to stop for any riverside birds or mammals that catch our attention, and then once we reach land for our transfer to the hotel, we’ll pass through open habitats that will certainly add a few species to our list, including perhaps Southern Caracara and Southern Lapwing, recent additions to the Peruvian avifauna. Night in Puerto Maldonado.
Day 15: After some morning birding on side roads near town, we’ll board our noontime flight back to Lima via Cusco where the tour concludes in time to connect with evening international flights home. Those continuing on the Machu Picchu Extension will exit the flight in Cusco.
Machu Picchu Extension
Day 15: On arrival in Cusco, we’ll transfer to the railroad terminal for the three-hour train ride to the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. From the train we’ll see Torrent Duck and possibly White-capped Dipper on the Urubamba River, and we’ll get even closer looks as we walk along the river below Machu Picchu. After arrival and check-in, we’ll descend into the Urubamba Gorge for a late afternoon’s birding in the subtropical forest along the river near Aguas Calientes, also known as the town of Machupicchu. Specialty birds here include Sclater’s and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, Variable Antshrike, Silver-backed Tanager, and Ocellated Piculet. After birding we’ll have an opportunity to visit the many gift shops in town. Night in Aguas Calientes.
Day 16: We’ll have all morning in and around the ruins, where we’ll have an English-speaking guide to tell us all about the history of the region. We’ll probably see some birds as well, with Inca Wren being of particular interest, and we’ll also notice the Northern Mountain Viscachas and Stenocercus lizards that are found on the ruins. After lunch we’ll continue with some more birding along the Urubamba River or perhaps visit some hummingbird feeders as well as have another opportunity at the gift shops. Night in Aguas Calientes.
Day 17: We’ll take the morning train back to Cusco in time to connect with flights to Lima and evening flights home.
Updated: 30 July 2012
- 2013 Tour Price : $6,500
- Single Occupancy Supplement ** : $410
- With Machu Picchu Extension : $7,650
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $730
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
** The Single Occupancy Supplement price quoted above excludes expensive single accommodation at Manu Wildlife Center. Single accommodation including Manu Wildlife Center is $1050.
This tour is limited to eight participants with one leader.