The group flights to Cuzco via Madrid and Lima depart this afternoon.
We will be met at the airport in the morning and transferred to the hotel. The rest of the day has been left free to relax after the flight and get used to the altitude - it is a good idea to take it easy, drink plenty of water and not attempt any strenous activities this afternoon.
This morning we have a walking tour of Cuzco. The old Inca capital is a beautiful city filled with colonial buildings sitting on Inca foundations, and its arcaded squares are reminiscent of Spanish cities. We visit the Qoricancha, the principal Inca sun temple which is almost wholly enclosed within the Catholic church of Santo Domingo, as well as stolling through the atmospheric streets and plazas and visiting the fascinating Coca Museum. The afternoon is free for further exploration of the town.
An early start today for the spectacular journey to Manu. We pass through the Sacred Valley and up over the Andean highlands before we drop into the cloud forest. At Paucartambo, a centre of the Inca trade routes and famous for its traditional festivals, we make a brief stop to freshen up and learn about the local culture. From here we ascend to the Manu National Park entrance at Acjanaco, which stands 3,500 metres above sea level - there is an awe inspiring view over the Amazon Basin from the rangers' station. The landscape begins to change dramatically as we descend from the barren plains of the Altiplano through high Andean grasslands and into the lush green cloud forest. The journey is exhilarating as we meander down the roads carved into the mountainside. This is one of the world's most famous bird watching routes, and many species can be spotted from the road. A picnic lunch will be served en route, and we arrive at the Cock of the Rock Lodge in the early afternoon. The rest of the day has been left free to relax, or to take an optional trail walk.
Early this morning we head to a Cock-of-the-rock lek, where we hope to see Peru's national bird performing an elaborate mating dance. After returning to the lodge for a hearty breakfast we begin our journey further into the cloud forest. The journey will be full of the sights and sounds of the forest, monkeys and some of the richest varieties of birds on earth as well as the spectacled bear. En route we visit a coca plantation where you will learn about the uses of the coca leaves and their medicinal properties, and after a short stop at Pillcopata we reach the port of Atalaya, where we board a motorized canoe. A one-hour ride to the Manu Learning Centre gives us our first taste of the Alto Madre de Dios River, a meandering southern tribuitary of the legendary Amazon. After lunch and an orientation at the lodge, we explore the local trail system with our naturalist guides before relaxing at the lodge to the sounds of forest. The lodge is very much an active research station, and by talking to the guides and scientists on site we can learn about the human history of Manu and the challenges involved in conserving this beautiful and fragile environment.
Researchers at the Manu Learning Centre regularly monitor a clay lick (or 'collpa') to study, among other species, the endangered Blue Headed Macaw. At 5am we join the scientists as they take a short boat trip to a hide to observe the activity of macaws, parrots, and parakeets. The collpa is particulalry active in the early morning, with the first rays of sun illuminating the birds as they come and go in pairs and flocks and display their plumage. After breakfast at the Learning Centre, we journey further down the Madre de Dios River to its confluence with the Manu River, passing settlements and native communities along the way. The water becomes more laden with sediment as we leave the relatively clean waters of the Madre de Dios behind and continue our navigation along the Manu River. After stopping to present our permits to the park rangers at Limonal, we visit an overgrown oxbow lake where many parrots and macaws come in to roost and continue for another hour to the comfortable Romero Rainforest Lodge.
After breakfast, we trek for several hours (at a gentle pace) through the forest to Cocha Limonal. The trail is particularly good for spotting black spider monkeys and special attention is given to the plant life on this walk, especially the ways in which the indigenous groups use the many medicinal plants. Encounters with peccaries, a species of wild boar, are not uncommon along this trail. When we reach the river, we will be met by a motorized dugout for the hour-long trip back to the lodge for lunch and some free time. After lunch we head upriver to Cocha Salvador, as deep into the park as we are allowed to go. On the way we see beaches teeming with nesting and feeding birds, including herons, egrets, orinoco geese and skimmers, as well as caimans and side-necked turtles. Hundreds of sand-coloured nightjars roost during the day on logs and beaches and there is a chance of spotting a Jaguar sunning itself. We spent the night at Campsite Aguaje, one of the best tented campsites in Manu.
This morning we board small catamarans and head out onto the lake to observe animal life from the water, including Agami heron, Sungrebes and Capuchin monkeys who are often seen feeding on fruits. We may also see a family of giant otters, the world's largest freshwater carnivores, which are still relatively common in Manu, having been hunted to extinction throughout most of their former range. Each otter consumes between 4 and 5 kilos of fish daily and they are often seen eating large fish on logs at the lakeside. We also take a walk through the primary forest, shaded by a 60-metre emergent canopy of Kapoc trees, where black spider monkeys rest whilst foraging through the strangler figs. In the afternoon we head back towards Romero Rainforest Lodge, stopping at Cocha Otorongo where we climb a 20-metre canopy tower overlooking the lake to observe the wildlife below.
A relaxed start today as we travel down the Madre de Dios River for two hours to the comfortable Manu Wildlife Centre, a base for scientific research which is jointly owned and run by Manu Expeditions and a local conservation group. After lunch there is time to take a hot shower (one of the few on offer in Manu!) and chat to the researchers. The afternoon is set aside to relax or to explore a forest trail which leads to a clifftop lookout point where roosting flocks of parrots and macaws can be seen flying over the river as the sun sets. The centre also has an observation tower and a canopy platform, accessible via a spiral staircase. In the evening, there is the option to take a night walk with one of the lodge guides in search of nocturnal animals.
We spend a full day exploring the forest and trails around the lodge. If we're lucky, we may spot the Monk saki - an uncommon and rarely seen monkey of the tierra firme forest. We may also encounter groups of Manakins, perhaps the most enigmatic of neo-tropical birds, performing their strange mating dances and we walk to a hide located near a large mammal lick where guans, forest parakeets, parrots and groups of spider monkeys come for clay. From the hide, there is a choice between returning to the lodge in the late afternoon, or staying after dark to see what nocturnal creatures come out to visit. Tapirs, the largest South American land mammal are frequent visitors, with up to 12 animals visiting in one night.
The return leg of the journey starts early as it's a 3 hour trip downstream to Colorado Village. Breakfast is served on the boat while there is the fantastic opportunity to catch the activity of the early morning wildlife along the river. Passing several lowland native settlements and miners digging for gold along the banks of the Madre de Dios River, the boat rushes along with the ever quickening downstream flow of the river. From Colorado we have a 45-minute bus transfer to Puerto Carlos, a 15 minute boat crossing of the Inambari River to Santa Rosa, then a 2 to 3-hour drive to Puerto Maldonado. The group flights to London via Lima and Madrid depart this afternoon, arriving the following day.
The group flights arrive in London this afternoon.