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Peru butterflies & birds - Amazonia and the Inca Trails

Summary and recommendation
: "...A bird and butterfly bonanza to Peru is visiting Manu National Park in the Amazon Basin, considered to be the most biologically diverse area on the planet, and the World Heritage site of Machu Picchu. what shall we say more? :)


Destination country: Peru. Arrival and departure to/from Lima.

Next schedule: TBA

Duration: 13 or 16 days, depend on extension.

Price: Final cost will depend on numbers and cost of airfares but is likely to be in the region of £2,000 for the basic tour including travel and food plus a further £575 for those undertaking the Inca Trail. Single rooms are available throughout at an additional cost of around £450. Price includes: accommodations and meals, vehicle hire with fuel and driver guide, forest walk fees, park entrance fees and ranger guides. Apart from a few occasions we spend the entire day in the field, where picnic lunch will be organised. The price exclude: bank transfer loss, international flight, visa, tips, drinks, personal travel insurance and any other activities of personal request e.g. laundry, phone calls, toalet fees, etc.

Accommodation: Family run hotels in Lima, Cusco and Ollantaytambo with private facilities. In Manu, we will be staying in fairly remote jungle lodges at which electricity supply can be limited and facilities in some cases are shared but all are in superb locations for observing wildlife. For those planning to join the Inca Trail extension, we will be staying at camp sites for three nights (all tents provided!)

Numbers: Min. 6 person, max. 12 person, with two guides.

Transport: Toyota Coaster minibus with optional 4x4 when its necessary.

Recommended literature: Unfortunatelly there is no field-guide-size countryguide to Peru's butterflies, neither a complete one for the surrounding countries, except some very specific taxonomic work or coffe-table size books. Our best bet is Garwood & Lehman's "Butterflies of Southern Amazonia" photographic field guide covering about 1000 of the commoner Amazonian species, including Skippers. Cinebutterflies having some good butterfly DVD's, incl. Peru and Brazil... highly recommended! For birds keep it simple with the "Birds of Peru" by TS Schulenberg, DF Stotz, DF Lane, JP O'Neill and TA Parker. For mammals, the "Peru Mammals Guide" by Mark Wainwright is more than excellent!

Travel note: Peru is a malaria infested country, please be sure that you take proper prophylaxis. Yellow fever vaccination is also required and vaccination cards are checked upon arrival.

Tour description: "...The Manu river basin including the national park is home to more than 800 species of bird including Harpy Eagle, Jabiru, Jungle Goose and Cock-of-the-Rock; 200+ mammals including Spider Monkey, Giant River Otter, Spectacled Bear and Jaguar; more than 2,000 different plants including many orchids; and an insect life running into tens of thousands with many yet to be classified. A previous tour to the area following a similar itinerary clocked up over 300 species of butterfly. Machu Picchu requires no introduction being perhaps the world’s best known archaeological site and 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of its rediscovery. The trip offers two options of visiting this incredible site: as a day visit by train and bus or by foot along the Inca Trail..."


Day 1: Arrival day. Flight from the UK to Peru via Madrid arriving Lima early morning. Transfer to the Hotel Mami Panchita just 20 minutes from the airport. This is a comfortable hotel in the colonial style with internet access and, even more importantly after our long journey, a well stocked bar. The day will be spent relaxing and making preparations for our trip to the Amazon.

Day 2: Early morning flight to Cusco from where we will met by coach for our journey along the famous ‘Manu Road’, birding and butterflying as we go. We will need to travel light and our main bags will be taken into storage for when we return from the rainforest. About 30 minutes outside of Cusco, we will make a brief stop at Huacarpay Marshes which is a good place to see typical Andean waterfowl like Plumbeous Rail and Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant and also the endemic Rusty-fronted Canastero and Bearded Mountaineer (no, not Chris Bonnington, but a hummingbird!). This site should also provide our first Peruvian butterflies with Gulf Fritillary and Brazilian Painted Lady amongst the target species. The road provides spectacular views over the Andes and descends from semi-arid moorland through puna and elfin forest before crossing the Ajanaco Pass at 3530 m. This marks the start of Manu National Park where the steep forested slopes of the eastern Andes are almost completely untouched. At higher altitude, we will look out for Blue-banded Toucanet and Golden-headed Quetzal which both occur here, while butterflies include Clouded Yellows and various Skippers. Overnight at Posada San Pedro, where hopefully we will be able to run a moth lamp for the two nights we are staying here.

Day 3: Early morning visit to a nearby Cock of the Rock lek, followed by a day exploring the cloud forest. At around 1450 metres, this area is great for butterflies and should provide us with a good introduction to some of the families we are likely to encounter later on our trip including Skippers, Daggerwings, Adelphas and Sulphurs which often gather to imbibe moisture from seepages and rocky pools along the river and in the vicinity of small waterfalls. The area around our lodge is rich in Tanagers and Hummingbirds and we should also see other colourful birds like Versicoloured Barbet, Highland Motmot and Green Jay. There is a further opportunity to see lekking Cocks of the Rock in late afternoon if desired and at dusk we will look out for Lyre-tailed Nightjars (and Owl butterflies!). Brown Capuchin and Woolly Monkey occur locally as does the very elusive Spectacled Bear. The moths in this sort of habitat are no less stunning than the butterflies and birds in both their sheer number and variety, although identifying them is more of a challenge.
Overnight Posada San Pedro.

Day 4: We leave after breakfast to continue our journey along the Manu road where we should see a good selection of tropical birds including Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas, Bluish-fronted Jacamars and Stripe-chested Antwren. Two rather special birds to look out for are Amazonian Umbrellabird and Black-banded Tody-Tyrant. Eventually, the road drops down Atalaya on the banks of the Madre de Dios river where we leave our coach behind and board our motorized canoe for the next leg of our journey into the rainforest. This is a 3 hour journey but with plenty of wildlife to sustain our interest including Capped and Fasciated Tiger Herons on the riverbanks and King Vultures and Macaws flying overhead. If river conditions are suitable, we will look out for butterflies imbibing moisture from sandbanks. Sometimes these aggregations can run into many hundreds of individuals – an incredible sight. We should arrive at our next lodge by mid-afternoon giving time to explore some of the trails around our accommodation and look for Sand-coloured Night-hawks as dusk falls. Pantiacolla Lodge where we spend the next two nights is set in beautiful rainforest overlooking the river backed by the Manu foothills which rise to 1200+ metres behind the lodge. Accommodation is in a series of bungalows, some with shared and some private facilities, with a separate and spacious dining room and bar.

Day 5: A good opportunity to get close up views of parrots is afforded by an early morning visit to a local clay lick frequented by many Blue-headed, Mealy, Yellow-crowned and Orange-cheeked Parrots plus the rare Military and Blue-headed Macaws. The land surrounding the lodge extends to 900 hectares with many different trails to explore enabling access to varying altitudes. We shall keep a look out for monkeys with no fewer than eight different species recorded including Monk Saki which is one of Manu’s most elusive primates. Both White-lipped and Collared Peccaries are also commonly seen. On the more shady trails, Glasswings are commonplace, all very similar in appearance but several different species. In the more open areas, it is the brightly coloured Callicores and Panaceas that catch the eye, with their metallic upperside markings contrasting with their brilliantly marked undersides. With luck, we should also see our first Morphos as they flap through the jungle with their iridescent blue wings. For the more adventurous, one trail leads up to a mirador at 920m which affords incredible views over the Amazon Basin and is also a good place to look out for the rare Black Tinamau. Many other Tinamous, antbirds and manikins are found amongst the 600 species of birds recorded. Many occur as mixed species flocks while, in the garden of the lodge, Hummingbirds are ever present. Overnight Pantiacolla Lodge.

Day 6:
Today, sees us back on the river as we journey deeper into the forest by canoe. Again, there should be plenty of water birds like Roseate Spoonbills and Large-billed Tern to keep us entertained on our journey with always the chance of sightings of monkeys and other mammals. Oropendola Lodge, like Pantiacolla, has an extensive network of trails which should keep us well occupied over the following two days. Some of the larger species of monkey occur here like Spider and Woolly Monkey. Accommodation is in four independent bungalows with two beds in each and four rooms in one larger house, again with two beds in each room. All rooms have private bathrooms with showers with electricity between 6 and 9 pm. Communication to the outside world is only by ham radio.

Day 7: A pre-breakfast departure is planned in order to reach the clay lick at Blanquillo only 40 minutes away by boat. Every morning through to the end of October, various species of Macaws and other parrots congregate at the lick where they digest pieces of clay. The reasons behind this behaviour is still uncertain, it may be in order to aid their overall digestion although it may be just the salt content of the clay which is the attraction. Generally, it is the Blue-headed Parrots which arrive first closely followed by groups of Mealy Parrots, usually with a few Orange-cheeked Parrots amongst them. Red & Green Macaws are last to arrive, usually heard before they are seen and tend to gather on surrounding trees before descending to the lick. Spectacle over we will return to the lodge where we will spend the rest of the day exploring the trails and hopefully witness the further spectacle of large numbers of butterflies. Riodinids are particularly prolific here as are Nymphalids and, with plenty of rocky streams as well as the main river offering damp areas for butterflies to gather, there should be plenty to keep the photographers in the group happy. Birds to look out for include Razor-billed Curassow, Spectacled and Amazonian Pygmy Owl and Cream-coloured Woodpecker, while areas of bamboo attract Peruvian Recurvebill and Striated Antbird. Towards evening, if the conditions are right, we will make our way to a hide about 25 minutes away by foot, overlooking another exposed bank of clay which regularly attracts Tapirs. Overnight Oropendola Lodge.

Day 8: There is no need for alarm clocks here once the Oropendolas are in full voice! An excursion is planned today to Cocha Camunga which is an incredibly tranquil lagoon, home to many birds including Hoatzins, Sungrebe, Snail Kite, Black-collared Hawk and many different Herons and Egrets. We shall take a raft out on the lake in the hope of spotting Giant River Otters which frequent this area. Near the lake is a 31 meter canopy tower for a maximum of 10 people at a time, offering great views across the rainforest for those with a head for heights. The top of the tower is often good for spotting Horned Screamer, Toucans, Cotingas and various Woodpeckers, as well as raptors. The shady, moist forest around the tower is excellent for various species of Satyrid as well as other butterflies.
Overnight Oropendola Lodge.

Day 9:
Today, we leave the jungle and make our way back to Cusco. A final boat trip takes us back up the river to Boca Manu where there is a small airport. Here we board a light aircraft for a short flight over the rainforest retracing the route of our outward journey. Our hotel is in the heart of Cusco, only 5 mins from the main square. In the evening, we shall dine out at a local restaurant and enjoy the contrast of city life after our jungle experience.
Overnight Hotel Marani.

Day 10: A free day for generally chilling out and acclimatisation. Cusco is at 3400m (over 11,000 feet) so it is definitely advisable not to over-exert oneself until more used to the altitude. For those in need of some shopping therapy, our hotel is situated in San Blas which is the artisan quarter of Cusco and is full of interesting art shops and good restaurants. The historical centre of Cusco with its fine churches and old buildings is all within a very short walk. Otherwise, the hotel has its own terraced garden and central patio where guests can sit and relax. In the evening, we shall again sample one of the local restaurants.
Overnight Hotel Marani.

Day 11: A bit of a cultural day focused on a tour of the Inca archaeological sites of the Sacred Valley, no doubt with the odd butterfly and bird thrown in for good measure. There are a number of sites close to Cusco which represent various aspects of Inca life and are well worth a visit. The exact itinerary will be determined on the day according to interest and time available but we shall certainly visit the Inca handicraft market at Pisaq with its nearby ruins. The area around the ruins is particularly good for hummingbirds with both Sparkling Violetear and Giant Hummingbird occurring, together with various Sierra-Finches and Brown-bellied and Andean Swallows. The plan is to sample a traditional local lunch in Urubamba or Yucay before visiting Moray in the afternoon. Moray was one of the last Inca settlements to be conquered by the Spanish and is remarkable for the presence of natural gigantic holes in the surface of the earth. The slopes were used for terrace farming with ingenious irrigation canals. If time, we will drive on to the Salineras around 7 km north-west from Moray. There are around 3000 small saltpans here on the slope of the Qaqawiñay Mountain. Late afternoon, we will be dropped off at our hotel in Ollantaytambo.
Overnight Hotel Orchidea, Ollantaytambo

Day 12: For the non-trekkers, today’s target is Machu Picchu, the so called lost city of the Incas. It is 74 miles from Cusco and the journey will be largely by train and bus with a final walk up to the citadel from the valley below. Boarding the train at Ollantaytambo, rather than Cusco, will save two hours of travel time and mean an earlier arrival at Machu Picchu. Although local people were always aware of the ruins, the site only came into prominence in 1911 when an American Hiram Bingham was taken to the site and realised its historical significance. Thought to have been mainly built for religious purposes, it dates back to the final years of the Inca Empire around 1400. Never found by the conquistadores, it was abandoned to the jungle by 1572. The site is split into an urban area containing temples, palaces, stairways and fountains and a terraced agricultural area where crops were grown. Its name means old mountain in Quechua which sums up its location at 2400m very well. Although probably the most photographed archaeological site in the world and one of the most visited, it nevertheless retains its air of mystery and tranquillity. There will be plenty of time to explore the whole site and the more energetic may be interested in walking up to the sun gate from where there are terrific views. This walk is also well worthwhile from a wildlife point of view with interesting birds and butterflies on offer. It is one of the best places in Peru to see Inca Wren plus various Flycatchers and Brush-finches. In the afternoon, we will return again to Cusco for dinner.
Overnight Hotel Marani.

Day 13: Early morning flight from Cusco to Lima from where we pick up our return flight to the UK arriving back in Britain the following day.

Inca Trail Extension

Day 12-15: Hopefully, the majority of the group will opt to walk the Inca Trail and Ollantaytambo is a convenient start point for our four day trek to Machu Picchu. The walk in total is 24 miles but all of the route is at altitude and there are several moderately steep climbs. A basic level of fitness is required to undertake the walk (we shall be walking up to 6-7 hours per day) but we shall take things very steadily with plenty of breaks and be accompanied by porters who will carry all our camping gear. Tents will be erected by our porters each evening and there will be a dining tent where we will eat all meals. The first day will take us across the Urubamba River and dependent on progress to either the small campsite at Hatunchaca or Huayllabamba. Day 2 will be our toughest day with the climb of the unfortunately named Dead Woman’s Pass, which at 4200m is the highest point on the walk. Overnight will be at either Chaquicocha or Phuyupatamarca. Our third day will see us climb another pass before navigating an Inca Tunnel cut into the rock. Our final night, if we have made good progress, will be spent at Huinay Huayna just short of Machu Picchu enabling us to reach the Sun Gate at sunrise. The whole trail allows visitors (numbers are now strictly controlled) to step back in time and walk through a variety of eco systems and dazzling scenery offering unforgettable views and a number of archaeological remains. Plant life is prolific especially within areas of cloud forest and there are good chances of seeing Llamas, Vicunas and White-tailed deer and, if we are very lucky, Spectacled Bear. Andean Condor frequent the trail with good chances of Torrent Duck along the river. There are also plenty of butterflies around including Hairstreaks and Riodinids including, if we are really lucky, the magnificent Swordtail Metalmark with completely transparent wings. There will be plenty of time to explore Machu Picchu (see 27th Sept) and one of the advantages of walking there is that we can hopefully arrive before most of the day visitors. We return to Cusco by bus and train.
Overnight Hotel Marani.

Day 16: Transfer to the airport to begin our journey home via Lima and arriving back in the UK the following day.


Upcoming trips & Expeditions

Slovenia-Croatia birding (14-23 June, 2022)

Hungarian butterfly circle (29, June - 07 July, 2022)

The Danube Clouded Yellow and her friends (Transylvania butterfly special; 2x July trips, 2022)

Slovenia butterflying (21 - 28 July, 2022)

Montenegro butterflying (10 - 18 Aug., 2022)

Late summer birding trip (Hungary, 21-31 Aug., 2022)

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