A Quick Trip to Manu

A few weeks ago I made a very short trip to the tiny town of Pillcopata on the edge of the magnificent Manu National Park known for it’s amazing rainforest biodiversity and special reserved zones where isolated tribes still exist with no contact with the outside.

The Road to Pillcopata

The trip was in a private car provided by the small place where I stayed. It was an amazing ride that got better and better as we crossed high Andes before descending nearly 6000′ into the cloud forest along a winding single lane dirt road.

The trip to our destination was a long, but extremely varied route. Only 90 km (56 miles) away, the winding road takes many hours to get there from Cusco with several delays while crews worked on the dirt road made it even longer. The slow trip, however, gave us time to visit the interesting site of Ninamarca where a number of ancient pre-Inca chullpas — burial tombs — still tower over the windswept mountainside.

The decent from nearly 12,000′ high in the Andes begins at the Tres Cruces viewpoint where, if the weather cooperates, you can look far off into the distant Amazon rainforest region lying thousands of feet below in the one of the most breathtaking vistas in Peru.

There’s a special feeling that fills you knowing that the winding road that weaves its way into the jungle before you leads from the cold, windy, and somewhat barren mountains where you’ve been traveling into the rainforest of myths and dreams — the place where wild animals like monkeys and jaguars and anacondas roam and ancient tribes still live deep in the jungle as they have for thousands of years.

The highlight of the trip was being able to spend some time watching a couple of troops of monkeys along the way. (I admit that I felt a bit proud that I was able to find the second troop of monkeys before our guide — who grew up in the Manu — knew they were there.) They seemed quite interested in getting a bit of food from tourists, but this fearlessness brought them close enough to for me to get some very nice photos.

I was able to get some pics of a couple of other interesting animals along the way, but we didn’t see much else.


As I wrote before, Pillcopata is a dusty little town that has a very remote feel because it is so difficult to get to. There’s no airport and it’s on the edge of a massive national park that covers over 6,600 square miles of rainforest all the way to Brazil. This is the kind of frontier place where people come to get away from the rest of the world.

It sits along the Rio Kosñipata which was quite low when I was there as are most of the rivers in eastern Peru this time of year before the rainy season starts and the spring snow melt in the Andes begins to move downstream into the jungle. The Rio Kosñipata eventually makes its way into the larger Madre de Dios river which eventually reaches the Amazon on it’s long trip to the Atlantic Ocean.

I was surprised when I started to write this that I don’t have any photos of the town itself. It takes a lot for me to be so unimpressed that I don’t take a single photo of the town itself. Frankly, the dusty little town of Pillcopata didn’t impress me at all — especially the seeming unfriendliness towards outsiders.

Still, the surrounding scenery was pretty nice. I went out three times to do some filming with my drone along the river for a film project that never was finished (thanks to a very unimpressive Amazon River I visited a couple of weeks later). The first early morning along the Rio Kosñipata was amazing with scenery that’s hard to describe.

I was quite happy with the video I was able to shoot from my drone, though I wish I had gotten more.

In the afternoon the sun was not very good for filming so I grabbed my camera and took off on a very lonely dirt road outside of town hoping to find some interesting things to photograph, but more than anything, I just wanted to get out and explore a little of the jungle in a place I’ve never visited before.

I got some very nice photographs along the way including some shots of a kinkajou — a very rarely seen animal that usually lives up in the treetops. I was extremely disappointed that I didn’t get a better photo, but my inexperience with my new camera left me unprepared for what is likely a once in a lifetime face-to-face encounter with a rare rainforest animal.

Return to Cusco

The next day I returned to Cuso along the same winding route up through the jungle and back into the mountains. We didn’t see any more animals this time except a pair of distant Cock-of-the-Rock birds — the national bird of Peru — but I was able to focus on getting some more photographs of the breathtaking scenery along the way.

This was a very short trip — two days travel and one day to explore in the Pillcopata area. While I originally wasn’t all that impressed, looking back I think I’m ready to perhaps spend a little more time in Manu, but concerns about the early arrival of the rainy season this year makes me think it’ll be awhile before I return to Pillcopata.

Of course, if anyone is interested in going, you probably could talk me into going back again soon…

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5 thoughts on “A Quick Trip to Manu”

  1. Absolutely stunning photos! I would have loved watching the monkeys too. You are making me homesick for Peru.

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