Southern Peru

25th November-14th December 2008

Manu Road

The dirt road from Cuzco to Manu clings to the sides of precipitously steep mountainsides as it winds its way up from the Sacred Valley through some spectacularly beautiful scenery. It would probably not be much fun if you were of a nervous disposition. Passing oncoming trucks can be quite interesting in places!

The road is cut into the side of the steep mountain slopes

Most of the arid high plateau that the road passes through is given over to farmland.

A characteristic bird of these high plateau regions is the Andean Flicker. It is unusual among the woodpeckers in that it nests in rock crevices and spends almost all of its time on the ground.

Andean Flicker (Colaptes rupicola)

After about 2 hours, as the road goes over one of its highest points, it passes the ancient Ninamarca Chullpas. These small round huts (1-2.5m high and 0.8-1.6m in diameter) were built as burial chambers for elite members of the pre-Inca Lupaca culture.

Ninamarca Chullpas of the Lupaca culture

The bodies were placed in a sitting position and the dry, high altitude climate helped preserve the mummies.

Ninamarca Chullpas of the Lupaca culture

Ninamarca Chullpas of the Lupaca culture

After another hour or so, the road passes through Paucartambo...

Local women outside the market in Paucartambo

...then climbs out of the valley again towards the eastern slope of the Andes.

Once you have passed through the Andes and started the descent of the eastern slope (about a 4hour drive from Cuzco), the character of the landscape changes dramatically from being dry and arid to lush rainforest.

The high altitude rainforests are know as cloud forests for very good reasons!

We stopped at numerous places on our descent to look for birds...

White-throated Tyrannulet (Mecocerculus leucophrys)

Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant (Ochthoeca fumicolor)

We encountered numerous hummingbirds on our various stops. The problem with photographing hummingbirds using natural light is they look a bit drab when the sun is not reflecting off their plumage. Shining Sunbeams definitely do not live up to their name on cloudy days!

Shining Sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis)

Violet-throated Starfrontlet (Coeligena violifer)

Tyrian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina)

Amethyst-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus amethysticollis)

Amethyst-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus amethysticollis)

Amethyst-throated Sunangel
(Heliangelus amethysticollis)

Yungas Pygmy-Owl
(Glaucidium bolivianus)

One of the other major bird families encountered regularly along the road are the tanagers. Over 50 species of these stunningly colourful birds occur along the Manu road. Unfortunately most of them were not very cooperative and were either in extremely bad light, obscured by dense foliage, or didn't hang around long enough for me to photograph them. I did manage to capture a couple of them though...

Hooded Mountain-Tanager (Buthraupis montana)

Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager is very common in the higher altitude forests. They are quite large birds, about the size of a thrush.

Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager (Anisognathus igniventris)

Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager
(Anisognathus igniventris)

Crested Quetzal
(Pharomachrus antisianus)

I was very lucky to not only find both species of Quetzel that occur in the area, but to get photographs of them on unobscured perches!

Golden-headed Quetzal (Pharomachrus auriceps)

We also encountered a troop of about 20 Woolly Monkeys. These are one of the heaviest South American monkeys with males weighing over 10kg (22lbs).

Woolly Monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha)

Woolly Monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha)

Due to the road being cut into a steep slope in an area prone to heavy rain, landslides are frequent along the Manu Road and one occurred in the early morning of the day we were travelling to the Cock-of-the-Rock lodge.


This was in a "landslide hotspot" so fortunately there is a bulldozer stationed in a nearby village ready to clear the debris. By the time we got there, just before sunset, the road was just about passable.

Negotiating the landslide

Steve Sanchez (my guide) and Victor (our driver)

Huacarpay Lake Back to map Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge