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Manu (Peru Highlights - Category: Best National Park & Jungle Experience - Editors Pick)
Quite possibly the only accessible piece of virgin rainforest left in the world, Manu is located in a beautiful and entirely unspoiled corner of south eastern Peru. The area of the park encompasses parts of the Andean department of Cusco and the jungle department of Madre de Dios jungle. Manu protects 18,811 sq km of territory rich in flora and fauna species in a variety of habitats including high Andes, cloud forests, and lowland tropical rain forests.
This natural paradise is officially recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. In 1977 they designated Manu as a World Biosphere Reserve because it contains the best existing example of bio-diversity in protected areas of rain forest, as well as endemic areas of cloud forest. Manu is internationally acclaimed as one of the most biodiverse areas on earth.
The majority of forests in the world have been altered by humans. Fortunately, Manu has remained intact and untouched by civilization. It is therefore possible to observe a variety of animals in their natural habitats, including: Giant Otters, Black Caiman, the majestic Jaguar, the strange Spectacled Bear, the Tapir, the Ocelot, 13 species of monkey, and an estimated one thousand species of birds. (For more information on this topic visit our page The Birds of the Manu Biosphere Reserve). Manu also contains 10% of the world's vascular plant species, including several species of figs and palms, as well as countless species of medicinal plants that scientists are currently cataloguing. A single hectare of forest in Manu can have up to 220 species of trees, while a hectare of temperate forest in Europe or North America may only have 20 tree species.
Apart from the wildlife, the journey into the park itself is spectacular. Access to the entrance of the Manu Reserved Zone is normally by road from Cusco, a 2 day trip carrying you over the Andes at 4000m, past Inca ruins and down through cloud forest on the eastern side of the Andes into lush lowland rainforest. Roads remain largely unpaved and wind their way along precarious tracks cut into the mountain side and overlooking deep gorges. The trip is an adventure in itself.
The Biosphere Reserve is divided into 3 separate zones:-
1. Core Zone or National Park (15,328 sq km)
This region is strictly preserved in its natural state, where a number of indigenous tribes reside. Only government sponsored biologists and anthropologists may visit with permits from the Ministry of Agriculture.
2. Experimental or Reserved Zone (2,570 sq km)
This area is set aside for controlled scientific research and ecotourism. Entry to the reserved zone is accessible by permit only. Entry is strictly controlled and visitors must visit the area with an authorized guide. The only accommodation in the Reserve Zone is in the comfortable (and expensive) Manu Lodge or in safari-style camps.
3. Cultural Zone (914 sq km)
This zone is set aside for two nomadic native groups, where locals still employ their traditional way of life. The cultural zone is accessible to anyone and several companies offer lodge based tours within this zone.
The best way to visit Manu is with an organized tour run by a responsible tour operator. In fact there are actually only a handful of operators in Peru who run tours into the Reserve Zone of Manu. The majority of companies that you see offering tours to this part of the jungle are only acting as agents, so booking directly with the operator works out cheaper and you can be sure that more of your money is going towards helping with the conservation of the jungle.