Manú National Park - with a jaguar!

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September 1st 2019
Published: September 1st 2019
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This is right after it came out of the jungle to get a drink from San Salvador Lake at about 6am.
Manú National Park, or Manú Biosphere Reserve, is a giant area of Peru’s Amazonian jungle. Only a small fraction of it is available to tourists, with the vast majority reserved for wildlife, native tribes and researchers who have managed to get a permit. Since UNESCO officially recognized it as a World Heritage site in 1977, the Peruvian government has been buying large areas of land that border the park. These buffer zones are open to tourists, but closed to logging and most development. The reserve itself has never been logged or developed, although the native tribes who inhabit the area still follow their traditional way of life. In the information I was given before the trip, I was surprised to see we were instructed that if we saw any of the native people, we were to leave the area immediately and notify park rangers.

Manú sounded like a truly wild place so, on the recommendation of a friend who used to be a guide there, I signed up for an 8 day tour with

It really is as wild as it sounds. It's much more remote than I had anticipated and the variety of wildlife made me feel
More Jaguar!More Jaguar!More Jaguar!

We were pretty far away, on the other side of the lake. My photos aren't super clear because it was hard to stay still on the boat and the light was low, but we didn't want to scare it off. Better to have slightly fuzzy photos than none at all.
like I really was in the Amazon. I posted the species list of what I saw at the end of the blog, so as not to bore those of you who aren’t into long lists.

We started out with a long drive from Cusco up to Acjanaco at about 13,000 feet. Heading down the eastern side we immediately left the dry climate of Cusco and were in the cloud forest. At this point the asphalt ended and the rest of the road was bumpy dirt. Driving down towards the jungle we stopped several times to get out of the van to spot birds. Our first was a Golden Headed Quetzal, followed by a Blue Banded Toucanet and the famous Gallito de las Rocas. It was a very good start to a trip where we frequently saw uncommon and rare birds.

The transition from cloud forest to jungle was abrupt. I had to put away my down jacket and wished I could just wear a swimsuit at about the same time. Unfortunately, due to mosquitoes and tropical bugs, I had to wear pants and long sleeves the whole time we were in the jungle. Once we were down below
Cat NapCat NapCat Nap

It was amazing how much it moved just like a regular house cat.
the cloud forest I was hot and sweaty for the next week - until we drove back up into the cloud forest again on the way back to Cusco. I already have a yellow fever shot, although there have not been any reported cases of tourists getting yellow fever or malaria in Manú - probably because we are restricted to such a small zone of the primary forest.

The first night we stayed at a lodge near the road, with just a short hike into the jungle. It was beautiful and secluded with lots of tanagers during the day and fireflies at night. We left early in the morning and by noon had reached the end of the road - from here on we traveled by boat.

The second night was our first at a lodge only accessible by boat. There were lots of Weddell's Saddle-backed Tamarinds around when we first got to the lodge, but it got dark quickly so we didn't see much more wildlife. At night we got to see lots of insects and frogs though. During the night it started raining and didn’t stop until around noon the next day. The rain ruined our
Watching UsWatching UsWatching Us

With the binoculars and telescope we could see that even when it appeared to be napping, the jaguar was always watching us.
chance to zipline through the canopy, which is normally what people get to do at this second lodge, but at least I got to sleep in a bit.

Getting back on the boat in the morning everything was wet. I was a little disappointed that the rain would make it harder to see wildlife, but the guide explained that we were still in an area of secondary forest and that the next day (our fourth day of travel) we would finally get to the reserve and the primary forest. The area is so remote that it takes four full days of travel from Cusco to even get there.

Day four we finally entered the primary forest. We again got up early and were on the boat before 7am, which was early enough to see hundreds of blue headed parrots, yellow crowned parrots and orange cheeked parrots eating clay from the river bank. The clay allows them to eat wild fruits which otherwise would have too many toxins or caustic chemicals for them to digest. It was beautiful and loud.

This day we left the part of the river with rocky banks and entered an area with sandy
Red Howler MonkeyRed Howler MonkeyRed Howler Monkey

We saw several on the river bank, eating clay just like the parrots. Presumably also to absorb toxins so they can eat fruits they wouldn't be able to digest otherwise.
beaches along both sides of the river. The best thing about the sandy banks was that we were finally to an area with caiman. I didn’t even try to count how many black and spectacled caiman we saw. Black caiman are usually 7 to 14 feet long, although older males can grow to 16 feet. There are a lot of reasons why swimming in lakes and rivers of the reserve is forbidden, but I imagine that caiman are pretty high on the list. Spectacled caiman are smaller, but their jaws are just as strong, teeth just as sharp and tail just as powerful as the larger black caiman.

That night, at the fourth lodge, we were finally far enough into the jungle to spend two nights at the same place. There were lakes to explore, trails through the jungle and so much more wildlife to see even from the river banks. Our first morning (which was the fifth day of the trip) we set out in a boat to see if we could find the famous and endangered giant otters. The population of giant otters is still decreasing, despite efforts to preserve the habitat it still has left. For

All monkeys are funny when they use their feet to scratch their heads.
the first time we were in a wide, flat boat that was paddled by our boat captain and his helper. All of our river travel was in a long motor boat, so it was a relief to be on a quiet boat.

The lake was a circular abandoned meander of the Madre de Dios river, named Salvador Lake. We got up at 4:30 so we could be on the boat before 6am. After half an hour of paddling quietly down one half of the lake, without seeing any otters, we turned around to go back and see if we would have any luck on the other half. Just a few minutes after turning around we saw what every tourist hopes to see in the jungle: a jaguar.

The sun was just rising and the jaguar came out of the jungle, walked down a large fallen tree trunk to the water and drank from the lake for a few minutes. We weren’t very close to the jaguar and didn’t dare paddle any closer. We watched the jaguar walk back up the trunk to a flat spot in the sun and lay down to soak up the morning rays. It
Toppings Titi MonkeyToppings Titi MonkeyToppings Titi Monkey

These guys were hilarious and so, so fast. All my photos of their faces are blurry.
was so magical! We watched it for about an hour, taking pictures and looking through binoculars and the guide’s telescope. Even from our distance, we could tell that the jaguar was massive. And yet, it moved just like a house cat. It lapped water from the lake just like a cat. It stretched out in the sun just like a cat. It laid its head on its paws and watched us just like a cat.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and paddle back to the boat launch because guides have to sign up for two hour slots on the lake, since there is only one boat. You wouldn’t want more than one group on the lake at a time anyway, since people have a tendency to scare away wildlife, no matter how quiet we are. We told the next group where we had seen the jaguar, but heard later that by the time they got there it had disappeared into the jungle again.

The next day we had to leave. I had thought that an eight day trip would give me plenty of time in the jungle, but considering that it took three full days to
Black Spider MonkeyBlack Spider MonkeyBlack Spider Monkey

I loved how these guys used their tales to hang on to the branches even more than their hands.
even get to the reserve, even an eight day trip only gives you one full day in the jungle, with only two nights at the final lodge. Day six we had to begin the long trip back to Cusco.

We got up at 4:30 again and had a long day on the river, trying to stay under the boat’s cover to keep from getting too sunburned. Sunscreen and hats can only do so much.

Our reward that night was the most beautiful hot springs I have ever seen. I’ve been to a lot of hot springs up in the mountains of Idaho, some of which are truly primitive and require a long hike or a couple days by river to access. The aguas termales de Comunidad Nativa Shintuya were just that beautiful. They have been developed just enough to have a large pool, but to still feel truly wild. Since we were camping by the springs we were able to enjoy a long soak far into the night - despite knowing that we had to get up at 4:30 again the next day to get back on the river.

This was my first time in South America’s
Large-Headed Capuchin MonkeyLarge-Headed Capuchin MonkeyLarge-Headed Capuchin Monkey

Of the two capuchin species we saw, these were the most adventurous in leaving the tree tops.
jungle; all my other trips in Peru have been in the mountains. I do love the Andes, but now that I’ve seen the wildlife present in the jungle, I feel very differently about the eastern side of Peru. The Amazon is under attack in so many places, mostly due to logging and people clearing the forest for cattle grazing. At least this Peruvian part of the Amazon is preserved. See a map of Manu here

The whole trip was amazing, but the hour we spent watching that jaguar was truly magical. I will definitely have to find another part of the Amazon that has been preserved enough to visit.

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And now, the list. (I tried to not repeat species that were recorded on previous days).

Day 1: Cusco to cloud forest, evening jungle

Golden Headed Quetzal

Blue Banded Toucanet

Dusky Green Oropendola

Cinnamon Flycatcher

Tschudi’s Wooly Monkey

Gallito de las Rocas

Masked Yellowthroat

Blue Capped Tanager

Golden Naped Tanager

Beryl Spangled Tanager

Saffron Crowned tanager

Slate Throat White Start

Deep Blue Flower Piercer

Black CaimanBlack CaimanBlack Caiman

You can't really see the black color because of the way the sunlight was reflecting off it, but this is a really big black caiman.
Trogon juv.

Andean Guan (wild turkey)

Crimson Bellied Woodpecker

Tropical Parula

Speckled Faced Parrot


Stick bug

Day 2: jungle from San Pedro lodge to Erika lodge

Wire Crested Thorntail (hummingbird)

Golden Olive Woodpecker

Plumbeous Kite

Amazon Dwarf Squirrel

Silver Beaked Tanager

Little Cuckoo

Stripe Chested Antwren

Squirrel Cuckoo

Masked Tanager

Blue Necked Tanager

Mottled Chick Tyrannulet

Yellow Throated Bush Tanager

Amazonian Umbrella Bird fem.

Amazonian umbrella tree

Bolivian Sunset flower

Wild ginger

Tropical King Bird

Blue Dacnis

Paradise Tanager

Orange Eared Tanager

Blue Necked Tanager

Flame Faced Tanager

Golden Tanager

Versicolored Barbet

Begonia vetgiana

Pink Begonia (invasive)

Magpie Tanager

Yellow Asters

Platanillo flower

Purple morning glory

Blue Tailed Emerald (hummingbird)

Hooded Siskin

(En zona urbana Chontachana)

Lantana flower

Black bumblebees

Red Throated Caracara

Long Tailed Tyrant

Turkey vultures

Tropical Kingbird

Blue Morpho butterfly

(On river and at camp)

Caciques with hanging nests

Oropendula with hanging nests

Spectacled CaimanSpectacled CaimanSpectacled Caiman

This is a smaller species than the Black Caiman, but still not something you want to see if you're swimming. They're probably one of the reasons that swimming is forbidden in the park.

Snowy egrets

Invasive cucarda

Native verbena

Scarlet Macaw

Weddell’s Saddleback Tamarind

Walking Root tree (Palm)

Leaf Cutter ants

Aguaje coconut trees (fruits for macaw)

Hoatzin (bird that eat leaves, ruminants, juv. have claws on wings)

Social Flycatcher

Horned Screamer

Rufescent Tiger Heron

Chestnut Eared Aracari (Toucan)

Blue Gray Tanager

Black Capped Donacobius

Spangled Cotinga

Fasciated Tiger Heron

Sand Colored Nighthawk

Day 3: Erika lodge to Boca Manu

Tiny Hawk

Great Black Hawk

Yellow Billed Tern

Large Billed Tern

Plumbius Dove

Swallowtail Kite

Double-toothed Kite

Plumbeous Kite

Scarlet Macaw

Chestnut Macaw

Green and Red Macaw

Vermillion Flycatcher

White Winged Swallow

White Banded Swallow

Southern Rough Wing Swallow

Cocoi Heron

Fasciated Tiger Heron

Little Blue Heron

Great Egret

Snowy Egret

Giant Cowbird

Shiny Cowbird

King Vulture

Black Vultures

Turkey Vultures

Tropical Kingbird

Neotropic Cormorant

Russet Backed Oropendula

Day 4: Boca Manu to Sajino lodge in primary jungle

Blue Headed Parrots

Yellow Crowned Parrots
Swimming v. WalkingSwimming v. WalkingSwimming v. Walking

We saw lots of caiman swim very quickly across the river, or disappear suddenly into the muddy water. They looked powerful and threatening, but when they walk on land they just look silly.

Orange Cheeked Parrots


Black Caiman

Spectacled Caiman

Red Howler Monkey

Bolivian Black Capped Squirrel Monkey

Toppings Titi Monkey

Large Headed Capuchin Monkey

Black Spider Monkey

Solitary Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Gray Tinamou

Swallowtailed Kite

Red Capped Cardinal

Collared Plover

Spot Breasted Woodpecker

White Throated Toucan

Pied Lapwing

Orinoco Goose

Muscovy Duck

Sand Bittern

Yellow Headed Vulture

Wattle Jacana

Laughing Falcon

Capped Heron

Amazon Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

Black Skimmer

Pale-eyed Blackbird

Swallow winged Blackbird

Swallow winged Puffbird

Podocnemis unifilis (Tarikaya River Turtles: endangered)

Amarakaeri Big Headed Frogs

Purple Scorpion

Pristimantis Frog

Cusco Rubber Frog

Velvet spiders (X shaped web)

Cotton Tree

Bullet Ants

Army Ants

Day 5: in Biosphere Reserve

Striated Heron

Gray-necked Wood Rail


Sand bittern

Cocoi heron

Purple gallinule


Least Grebe

White Fronted Capuchin Monkey

Green Kingfisher

Screaming Piha

Collared Trogon: male and female

Southern Tamandua (Anteater)

Strangler Tree

Sigueme sigueme
Golden Headed QuetzalGolden Headed QuetzalGolden Headed Quetzal

This isn't a very good picture since it didn't want to turn around for a real portrait, but it was still a very good omen for the uncommon and rare birds that we saw over the next few days.

Wikungo (spike palm)

Large Headed Capuchin

Sacha Papaya tree

Little Tinamou

Tschudi Woolly Monkey

White Fronted Capuchin (introduced)

Large Head Capuchin

Black Spider Monkey

Ornate Hawk-Eagle

Masked opossum

Oxyrhopus (fake coral snake)

Fer de lance snake

Day 6: leaving the jungle (Lots of birds already listed on other days)

Wood Stork

King Vulture


Days 7-8: species already listed

There are lots more photos below, so scroll down.

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 31


Gallito de las RocasGallito de las Rocas
Gallito de las Rocas

Also not a very sharp picture because of how far away it was, but we were happy to see it the first time we got out of the van to look for birds in the cloud forest.
Masked TrogonMasked Trogon
Masked Trogon

This was one of the few species that we saw both in the cloud forest and in the jungle at much lower altitude.
Blue Capped TanagerBlue Capped Tanager
Blue Capped Tanager

I was amazed at the number of tanager species we saw! I've only seen one before, which migrates through North America. On this trip we saw fifteen species!
Tiny HawkTiny Hawk
Tiny Hawk

We saw four different species of hawks in the jungle.
Ringed KingfisherRinged Kingfisher
Ringed Kingfisher

We saw three species of kingfisher from the river.

These are the craziest birds! They are ruminants - eating only leaves. They have four stomaches just like a cow. Their faces are blue and they look like dinosaurs to me. The juveniles have claws on their wings so they can climb up trees before they can fly. We saw a few juveniles but they were far enough away that I couldn't really see their claws.
Ornate Eagle-HawkOrnate Eagle-Hawk
Ornate Eagle-Hawk

Look at the talons on this one!
Ornate Eagle-HawkOrnate Eagle-Hawk
Ornate Eagle-Hawk

You can't see the black feathers on its head very well, but do an image search for this hawk. It looks so cool!

3rd September 2019

Ton récit me rappelle notre voyage en Bolivie : jaguar, caïman... Tu sais que tu pourrais aussi te convertir en photographe animalier !!! Bisous

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