Manu Birdwatching Tour

One of the most fascinating birding tours in the world.

Birding the Manu Region

8 days / 7 nights Fixed Departures - The last Thursday of each month, from May through October.

This is one of the most fascinating birding tours in the world. Starting from Cuzco, our overland route crosses an extraordinary range of zones from highlands to lowlands, taking us through an array of ecosystems found nowhere else on the planet in such close proximity. We see high altitude farming valleys and traverse stark highland puna, plunge through layers of grassland, elfin forest, layers of lush, ever-changing cloud forest, and then lowland tropical valleys where farmers cultivate coca and exotic fruits. Along the way we traverse the habitat of innumerable bird species.

This spectacular place offers us a great quantity and diversity of birds. Then our journey winds its way by river for the Amazon’s finest wildlife viewing opportunities, at Manu Wildlife Center. This lodge offers the finest Tapir viewing in the Amazon, as Tapirs are nightly visitors to the lodge’s mud wallow. The mornings feature macaw clay lick project and fruiting trees teeming with macaws. The network of trails, a tower for forest canopy viewing, and an adjacent pristine lake round out the perfect rainforest experience. After a boat and van journey to Puerto Maldonado, we return to Cuzco or Lima aboard a commercial flight.

Manu Birdwatching Tour
8 days / 7 nights
Fixed departures
from March through December,
on last Thursday of each month          
View Itinerary
Price per person 1 2 3 4 5/6 Sing. Supp.
8 days ASK $3806 $3806 $3702 $3702 $736
A Birding Trip from the Andes to the lowland Rainforest includes:
Overland and boat transportation, 2 nights at Cock of the Rock Lodge, 2 night at Manu Learning Center lodge, 3 nights at Manu Wildlife Center Lodge. Macaw Clay Lick.
All with an English speaking Birder Guide.
Starts in Cuzco, ends in Puerto Maldonado.

Manu Birdwatching Tour Itinerary

Day 1, Thursday: Cusco to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge
Our overland journey begins at 3,400 m/11,150 ft, with an early departure from the highland city of Cusco. First we have a great opportunity to begin our day observing Andean birds on a lagoon outside from Cusco city. Then we continue our journey to the lush cloud forest region where the Andes fall away to the Amazon basin. This is a day of scenic drama and striking contrasts. We 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 3,900m/12,790ft. Finally we follow a sinuous ribbon of highway on its plunge through an extraordinary world of forested cliffs, waterfalls and gorges. We take leisurely stops to see mountain villages, a hilltop necropolis of chullpas (pre-Inca burial chambers), and the abrupt ridge top of Ajanaco, which marks the final high point where the Andes begin their swoop into the Amazon basin. In the High part of Ajanaco we can watch Giant Hummingbird, Creamy-crested Spintail (an endemic species), Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, Scribble-tailed Canastero and by Pillahuata we can watch the Chesnut-bellied Mountain Tanager, Band-tailed Fruiteater, Barred Fruiteater, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan.

In clear weather we will see a breathtaking panorama of cloud forest and mountain giving way to the lowland rainforest plains far below us. Through the trail there are many places with bamboo patches and streams forming habitats for the mixed bird flocks, especially Tanagers, barbets and flycatchers.

After a box lunch we descend through the startling and rapid environmental transformations characteristic of the tropical Andes, passing from grassland and stunted trees through elfin forest, until we wind through a lush and magical world of overhanging trees, giant ferns, monster begonias, countless orchids and bromeliads, and a diverse and teeming birdlife.

We make frequent, spontaneous stops, perhaps spotting a brilliantly feathered quetzal, a trogon, or the wild turkey-like Guan. We 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, for a chance to see Peru’s dazzling national bird, the Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruviana) in full, raucous courting display. (Box Lunch, Dinner)

Day 2, Friday: Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge to Pilcopata and back
In the early morning we have a second chance to view the Cock-of-the-Rock display. This lek and its observation blind are famous among birders, since nowhere else on the planet allows so many of these spectacular blazing red birds to be seen so easily. (Note that the very best months for viewing Cocks-of-the-Rock are in September, October and November, although the males display throughout the year.) Afterwards we can stroll along the clearing formed by the nearby road, spotting other birds, and with luck some Brown Capuchin or Woolly Monkeys.

Following a hearty breakfast we begin our outing, a leisurely trip down to lower altitudes, with plenty of breaks for wildlife spotting. In the afternoon we explore the riverside trail system near the lodge, enjoying the peace and seclusion of the cloud forest, with its profusion of plants and flowers, insects and butterflies, and a section of bamboo thickets. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 3, Saturday: Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge to Manu Learning Center Lodge
Rising early, we have a chance to scout more birds, and perhaps Brown Capuchin or Woolly monkeys along the nearby road. Or we can take a secluded nature walk on a short trail loop to the river and back. After breakfast we continue our drive, as mountains give way to low rolling hills and farmland. At Patria we visit a plantation of coca grown legitimately for the Peruvian coca leaf market.

At midday we reach Atalaya, a tiny port where the Piñipiñi River meets the Alto Madre de Dios. Now the lowland rainforest part of our journey begins. Rivers are the highways of the rainforest, and henceforth we will travel in large, comfortable dugout canoes shaded by canopy roofs and driven by powerful outboard motors.

During normal river conditions we arrive at our 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. (Breakfast, Box Lunch, Dinner)

Day 4, Sunday: Manu Learning Center Lodge
In the early morning we start our birding activities in many different habitats like bamboo forest, flood plain area and hill forest. This lodge has an excellent trail system to explore the rainforest and since this lodge is located at the pre-mountain zone, it allows us to spot different species of birds such as hummingbirds (Golden-tailed Sapphire, Sapphire-Spangled Emerald, Rufous-crested Coquette, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Gould´s jewel-front, Blue-tailed Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Gray-Breasted Saberwing, White-necked Jacobin, Koepcke´s Hermit). This is a good place to increase your own birding list. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 5, Monday: Manu Learning Center Lodge to Manu Wildlife Center, Macaw Clay Lick Project and Canopy Tower
There is time for another short morning hike on the lodge trails before leaving early for Manu Wildlife Center. As we follow the broad, rushing course of the Alto Madre de Dios River past the last foothills of the Andes, our 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 our engine. Splashes of brilliant yellow, pink and red foliage dot the forest-clad slopes around us, and the breeze is laden with the heady perfumes of the tropical forest. We pass the mouth of the Manu River, the gateway to the Manu National Park. We pause during our journey to stretch our legs and visit Boca Manu, the village a short way downriver. After a boat journey of approximately 6 hours, we arrive at Manu Wildlife Center, one of the world’s top ten wildlife lodges. After a reception and orientation we move into our private bungalow and rest to escape the midday heat.

Later, in the afternoon we make our first acquaintance with the lowland rainforest, visiting the Macaw Lick project. We´ll continue to explore and discover the rainforest, its lore and plant life, on the network of trails surrounding the lodge, arriving in the late afternoon at our 34m/112ft canopy tower. On its platform we witness the frantic rush-hour activity of twilight in the rainforest canopy, before night closes in. (Breakfast, Box Lunch, Dinner)

Day 6, Tuesday: Manu Wildlife Center: Tambo Blanquillo Clay Lick, the Wildlife Trails and Tapir Clay lick
Another early start (inevitable on wildlife expeditions) is followed by a short boat ride downstream. We take a 20-minute trail through palm plantations to a cut-off channel of the river, where we find the Macaw Lick. A spacious hide provided with individual chairs and a convenient place for cameras and binoculars is our ringside seat for what is usually a very spectacular show. We enjoy a full breakfast here while waiting for the main actors to arrive. In groups of twos and threes the big Red-and-Green Macaws come flapping in, landing in the treetops as they eye the main stage below -- the eroded clay banks of the old channel. Meanwhile the supporting cast appears: these may included Blue-headed, Mealy, Yellow-crowned, and Orange-cheeked Parrots - and the occasional villain, a menacing and unwelcome Great Black Hawk.

The drama plays out in first in tentative and then bolder approaches to the lick, until finally nearly all the macaws, parrots and parakeets form a colorful and noisy spectacle on the bare banks, squabbling as they scrape clay from the hard surface. (Please note that the clay lick is most active from August to October and less so during the months of May and June.)

After lunch at the lodge our guide is available to lead us on freewheeling expeditions in search of further wildlife encounters, or we may take one of the lodge’s many trails to commune with the spirits of the rainforest. Then we set off along the “colpa trail”, which will take us to the lodge’s famous Tapir Clay lick. Here at the most active Tapir lick known in all the Amazon, our research has identified from 8-12 individual 600-pound Tapirs who come to this lick to eat clay from under the tree roots around the edge. This unlikely snack absorbs and neutralizes toxins in the vegetarian diet of the Tapir, the largest land animal of Latin America. The lick features a roomy, elevated observation platform 5m/17ft above the forest floor. The platform is equipped with freshly-made-up mattresses with pillows. Each mattress is covered by a roomy mosquito net. The 10 meter long, elevated walkway to the platform is covered with sound-absorbing padding to prevent our footsteps from making noise. This Tapir Experience is unique and exciting because these normally very shy creatures are visible up close, and flash photography is not just permitted, but encouraged. Many prefer to nap until the first Tapir arrives, at which point your guide gently awakens you to watch the Tapir 10-20m/33-66ft below the platform. Most people feel that the wait is well worth it in order to have such a high probability of observing the rare and elusive Tapir in its rainforest home. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 7, Wednesday: Manu Wildlife Center: Hike to an Oxbow Lake
After a delicious breakfast we set off for an oxbow lake full of water lilies and sunken logs. As we circle the lake on our catamaran we 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 chickens, announce their presence with distinctive, bizarre wheezing and grunts. Woodpeckers, tanagers, macaws, toucans and parakeets all finally come swooping in to the trees surrounding the lake. Many of them roost around the lake for the night. Then we return to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch we take our motorized boat to head to the bamboo forest and here we will find some birds such us Peruvian Recurve-bill, Manu Antbird, Brown-rumped Foliage Gleaner, Rufous-fronted Antthrush and other bamboo specialists. This evening, from the late afternoon until dinner, we offer an opportunity to search for caiman and other nocturnal life along the riverbank by boat. (If the level of river allows it.) (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 8, Thursday: Manu Wildlife Center to Cusco or Lima
We leave our lodge very early on the two hour and half return boat trip downstream to the Colorado Village, breakfast will be serve on the boat while you enjoy early morning wildlife activity as we go. Of course this is a perfect time to take advantage of valuable early morning wildlife activity along the river, in addition this journey allows us to see several lowland native settlements and gold miners digging and panning gold along the banks of the Madre de Dios River. We will stop in the far-west type gold-mining town of Colorado to start our overland journey to Puerto Carlos for 45 minutes, then you will cross the Inambari River for a 15 minute boat trip to Santa Rosa and finally a van or bus will drive us in approximately two-hours and half to the airport in Puerto Maldonado where you fly by commercial airplane to Cusco or Lima. (Breakfast)

Important notes:

  • Please note that the program may vary slightly so as to maximize your wildlife sightings, depending on the reports of our researchers and experienced naturalist guides based at the lodge.

A sampling of Amazonian birds from Peru