As one of the largest conservation units on earth, this immense 1.5-million-hectare (3.7 million ac) park contains an incredible variety of animal and plant species. Roughly the size of New Hampshire, this World Heritage Site stretches from 200 to 4,100 meters (656-13,451 ft) above sea level, and is easily reached from Cusco. From high-altitude grasslands, the landscape spirals downwards through dense cloud forest towards a dizzying stretch of rainforest below. The tropical forest in the lower tiers is home to jaguars, giant otters, ocelots and 13 species of primatesâ€”the largest number in the country. Manu National Park contains some of the most pristine tracts of rainforest in the biosphere, and for this reason, it is extremely well-protected.
On entering the labyrinth of rivers and cochas (lakes) that carve serpentine routes through the landscape, the traveler enters a universe of repeated surprises and delights. As opposed to other places in the jungle where man has hunted, Manu's wildlife shows little fear in the presence of humans. From May to Juneâ€”during the colder, drier seasonâ€”jaguars drape themselves over river logs, while from August to Novemberâ€”toward the end of the dry seasonâ€”macaws, parrots and parakeets flock to the riverside clay licks. The rainy season is November to March. Boasting a whopping 15 percent of the world's bird population, it's no wonder Manu is also one of the world's top birding destinations. Besides feather-clad and four-legged friends, the park also has 15,000 plants, 1,300 butterflies, and more than a million undocumented insects.
Today the biosphere is divided into several regions. Manu National Park is only open for government-sponsored biologists and anthropologists with permits from the Ministry of Agriculture in Lima. The Reserved Zone, which is located within the Manu National Park, is allocated for scientific research and ecotourism. The Multiple Use Zone is home to a number of eco-lodges and acculturated native groups that continue to practice their traditional ways of life.
Ethnic groups inhabiting this zone include the Harakmbut, Machiguenga and Yine. Each of these groups has established its own ecotourism activities, which cater to visitors and promote sustainable development within the community infrastructure. The Nahua-Kugapakori Reserved Zone was established for the Nahua and Kugapakori nomadic native groups, and includes the area north of the Alto Madre de Dios between the headwaters of the RĂo Manu and RĂo Urubamba.