One of the options available to visitors to Cusco, Peru is the chance to visit the Manu Biosphere Reserve. Although the reserve itself is protected land that is not open to tourism, there are a number of lodges on the borders of the park that allow visitors a chance to experience the biodiversity found in the park. My family recently visited the area, and found that the journey to the park was as interesting as the park itself.
We made arrangements for a 3 day stay at a small jungle lodge in the Manu cloud forest. Cloud forests are found at a higher altitude than the rainforests, and tend to be cooler and foggier than the more tropical lowland jungles. Our first evening in Cusco, we met with a representative from the Manu Paradise Lodge to arrange our pick-up for the next morning and to give us a list of supplies so we could make sure we had everything ready for the trip.
Our trip started early the next morning, as we had to be in the van ready to go at 6am – an easier task for some of us than for others. We arranged to leave the bulk of our luggage at the hostel and made due with mostly backpacks. The driver and guide strapped everything to the roof and carefully covered it with a tarp, and we all piled in to the van to begin our 6 hour trip. There were seven of us all together, and we fit comfortably into the rows of seats in the all terrain vehicle.
The road out of Cusco passed over the mountains, taking us from the highlands into deep rolling valleys. We stopped frequently to take pictures and to get a closer look at particularly beautiful panoramic scenes and wildlife. Our first official stop was to see the chullpas at Nina’marka. The chullpas are round burial towers left behind by primitive pre-Incan tribes. At this stop there were the requisite women and children selling little trinkets and jewelry that they carve from stones found in the area. They didn’t mind posing for pictures, especially for a coin or a few pieces of candy.
After viewing the chullpas, we continued our journey until we reached the village of Paucartambo. Stepping out of the van into this Andean hamlet was like stepping into a different time. The townspeople still dress as their ancestors did, with the women in colorful skirts and traditional hats. The people in the town are very friendly, although a bit reserved. We had sandwiches and sodas from a small bodega and walked about the town a bit enjoying the sites and taking pictures.
The next leg of our journey took us up to Acjanaco Pass and the entrance to Manu National Park. We were traveling at the end of December, which is rainy season in this part of Peru, and true to form the rain was falling. The road from this part on was a primitive dirt road, and parts of the road were washed out. There was quite a bit of road work going on, with workers attempting to stay ahead of the wash-outs. There were several times where we had to get out and walk across a washed out part of the road, then wait on the other side for the van to make it across. It was definitely not for the fainthearted!
When we arrived at the lodge at about four in the afternoon, and were met by a thunderous rain shower. The rivers and waterfalls were roaring, a sound so loud we could barely hear each other speak. However, the rain was quick in passing, and we were soon ready to spend the next 2 days here, enjoying all the jungle had to offer.