A morning flight takes you to the colonial city of Cusco. Andean history comes alive in Cusco, and the day is yours to wander its narrow streets, tour nearby ruins and visit Qoricancha (the Inca's Temple of the Sun) with a guide. For the energetic, Cusco offers mountain biking, rafting and horseback riding! Travelers will also have the opportunity to visit the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco, a local organization committed to preserving the region's weaving traditions. Watch weavers demonstrate their craft and learn about the history and processes of Peru's most well-known art form.The evening is yours to take in some of Cusco's varied and exciting nightlife.
Your overland journey begins at 11,150 feet with an early departure from the highland city of Cusco. Today’s destination is the lush cloud forest region where the Andes fall away to the Amazon basin. This is a day of scenic drama and striking contrasts. You first visit a mountain wetland habitat teeming with migrant and local waterfowl, before crossing two mountain ranges between the Cusco valley and the Paucartambo valley, to a maximum altitude of 12,790 feet. Finally you follow a sinuous ribbon of highway on its plunge through an extraordinary world of forested cliffs, waterfalls and gorges. You will take leisurely stops to see mountain villages, a hilltop necropolis of chullpas (pre-Inca burial chambers), and the abrupt ridgetop of Ajanaco, which marks the final high point where the Andes begin their swoop into the Amazon basin. In clear weather you will see a breathtaking panorama of cloud forest and mountain giving way to the lowland rainforest plains far below us.
After a picnic lunch nearby, descend through the startling and rapid environmental transformations characteristic of the tropical Andes, passing from grassland and stunted trees through elfin forest, until you wind through a lush and magical world of overhanging trees, giant ferns, monster begonias, countless orchids and bromeliads, and a diverse and teeming birdlife. Your trip will make frequent spontaneous stops, perhaps spotting a brilliantly feathered quetzal, a trogon, or the wild turkey-like Guan. You will reach the comfortable Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge in the late afternoon, the best hour to visit the nearby viewing platform for the display ground, or “lek”. This is usually the highlight of a long, full day; a chance to see Peru's dazzling national bird, the Cock-of-the-Rock, in full courting display.
Rising early, you have a second chance to view the Cock-of-the-Rock display, and then scout for birds, and perhaps Brown Capuchin or Woolly monkeys along the nearby road. Or you can take a secluded nature walk on a short trail loop to the river and back. After breakfast you continue your drive, as mountains give way to low rolling hills and farmland. At Patria, visit a plantation of coca grown legitimately for the Peruvian coca leaf market.
You will reach Atalaya at midday, a tiny port where the Piñipiñi River meets the Alto Madre de Dios. Now the lowland rainforest part of the journey begins. Rivers are the highways of the rainforest, and henceforth you will travel in large, comfortable dugout canoes shaded by canopy roofs and driven by powerful outboard motors. During normal river conditions, arrive at the lodge in time for exploration and wildlife viewing – which may include toucans, kingfishers, a rare endemic hummingbird and a multitude of butterflies -- along one of its many forest trails.
There is time for another short morning hike on the lodge trails before leaving early for Manu Wildlife Center. As you follow the broad, rushing course of the Alto Madre de Dios river past the last foothills of the Andes, the ever-changing route offers sightings of new birds -- terns, cormorants, White-winged Swallows, and flocks of nighthawks flushed from their daytime lairs by the sound of the engine. Splashes of brilliant yellow, pink and red foliage dot the forest-clad slopes around you, and the breeze is laden with the heady perfumes of the tropical forest.
You will pass the mouth of the Manu river, the gateway to the Manu National Park. This is the time to pause during the journey to stretch your legs and visit Boca Manu, explore the boatyards where local people build the dugout boats so essential to life on the river. After a boat journey of approximately 6 hours, you arrive at Manu Wildlife Center, one of the world’s top ten wildlife lodges. After a reception and orientation, move into your private bungalow and rest to escape the midday heat.
Later, you will make your first acquaintance with the lowland rainforest, learning about the plants and forest ecology as you explore some of the 30 miles of trails that surround the lodge. You have an excellent chance of encountering some of the 12 species of monkeys, including the Spider Monkey and Emperor Tamarin, which inhabit the surrounding forest.
Rising before the sun, you'll take a twenty-five minute boat journey downstream to the largest parrot and macaw clay lick in the 4.4 million acre Manu Biosphere Reserve. A floating catamaran blind lets us get closer to the morning action - hundreds of parrots arriving at the lick, followed by large red and green macaws, eating the clay for its high salt content. The birds begin to disperse around nine in the morning, and you'll head back to the lodge to spend the rest of the day exploring the trails, canopy platform, and the Amazon's largest known tapir lick. The elevated screened-in platform overlooking the tapir lick is equipped with inflatable mattresses and pillows, along with fresh pillowcases. Adventurous souls are welcome to spend the night there as tapirs come and go in the dark!
You set off early for an old oxbow lake full of water lilies and sunken logs. As you circle the lake on the catamaran, you might encounter the resident Giant Otter family on a fishing expedition, or troops of monkeys crashing noisily through the trees. Wattled Jacanas step lightly on the lily pads, dainty Sun Grebes paddle across the water, supple-necked Anhingas air-dry their wide, black wings, and perhaps an Osprey scans for fish from a high branch. Among the bushes near the waterline, Hoatzins, which look like rust-colored, punk chickens, announce their presence with distinctive, bizarre wheezing and grunts. Woodpeckers, tanagers, macaws, toucans and parakeets all finally come swooping in to trees surrounding the lake. Many of them roost around the lake for the night.
After lunch at the lodge the guide is available to lead you on freewheeling expeditions in search of further wildlife encounters, or you may take one of the lodge’s many trails on private and personal excursions to commune with the spirits of the rainforest. This evening, from the late afternoon until after Dinner, you have an opportunity to search for caiman and other nocturnal life along the riverbank by boat
Depart the lodge very early for a two and a half hour boat trip downstream to the Colorado Village. Breakfast will be serve on the boat while you enjoy early morning wildlife activity along the river. We will stop in the gold-mining town of Colorado to start our two and a half hour overland journey to Puerto Maldonado. Fly from Puerto Maldonado to return to Cusco, Lima, or to your next destination in Peru. Click here to see our Peru extensions!
$775 single supplement