How to get to the jungle from Cusco
Very few travelers know that just a couple of hours from the historic capital of Peru you can enter this paradise of natural diversity. The jungle is a magical place and visiting or exploring it is an experience you should live at least once in your life. Whether you want to get to know it by hiring a tour with a travel agency or explore it on your own, here are the two most practical ways to get to the jungle from Cusco.
Route map from Cusco to Manu National Park
Manu National Park is the best protected natural reserve in all of Peru. If you want to go deep into the virgin forest and admire an infinite world of strange sounds and animals, then you have to visit and explore it.
The park has two areas, the cultural zone and the reserved zone. To get to the first one you can do it on your own or hiring a tour to Manu National Park in Cusco, but if you want to know the reserved zone, you have to do it only with travel agencies authorized to enter that place. Although in both you can experience the flora and fauna of the jungle, the reserved zone remains untouched by human impact, gathering more biodiversity than the cultural zone, where you can find villages and small native settlements.
How to get there on your own: To get there on your own, you must go to the San Jeronimo control point, from where cars leave at 11:00 a.m. or at 5:00 p.m. to Pilcopata, within the cultural zone of Manu. The trip takes about 7 hours. You can also take it directly to Salvación, which is an hour further inland from Pilcopata. The first trip costs 30 soles per person, and to Salvación 40 soles per person. One option for lodging in Pilcopata is the Gallito de las Rocas Lodge, which costs 15USD per night.
What can we do in Manu Park?
If you have enough money, the best option to get to Manu is to hire a tour from Cusco. Apart from having multi-day itineraries that include lodging, meals and activities such as zipline, canopy, hiking and boat rides, they stop at specific places along the route where urban transportation does not. At one of these stops you can observe the peculiar courtship dance of the Cock of the Rock, where the male that dances best in the eyes of the female, and the one that returns each day to the dance session avoiding being eaten by predators, will be chosen to pass on his genes to the new generations of cock of the rock.
If you go to Manu on your own, from Pilcopata you have the option of walking to the community of Santa Rosa de Huacaria. The hike takes approximately 2 hours and in Santa Rosa you can have lunch and then swim in a river surrounded by vegetation. 100% recommended is to take a transport to Atalaya, located in front of the Madre de Dios River and from where you can hire boat rides and hike through the jungle. You can get to Atalaya from Pilcopata in a shared cab (10 soles per person) or in a private moto-taxi (60 soles).
From Pilcopata you can also take a private or shared cab, for similar prices, to Salvación. Salvación is a charming village within the cultural zone of Manu, where you can find delicious Amazonian food, such as the famous caldo de gallina (chicken soup), in local restaurants. In Salvación you will also find the Cocha Machuwasi, a small lake surrounded by marshy vegetation and a natural refuge for more than a thousand species of birds. You can cross the lake in wooden rafts and then walk for a couple of hours along the surrounding trails.
From Cusco to Tambopata National Reserve
Perhaps the most popular route to see the jungle from Cusco, in the Tambopata province is Puerto Maldonado, the largest city in the southern Peruvian Amazon. The city has the most tourist infrastructure: accommodations from hostels to Airbnbs, and on-site tour operators that conduct excursions into the jungle. To get to Puerto Maldonado you can do it by plane or by land. Unlike the tours to Manu, which depart by vehicle from Cusco, the Tambopata tours start in Puerto Maldonado and the agencies pick up the traveler at the airport or bus station.
How to get to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco: You can buy a bus ticket on sites such as Redbus, where you can find seats from 35 soles, and armchair bed seats for 50 soles. The trip can take between 8 and 10 hours. If you want to save the long hours by bus, the plane ticket Cusco - Puerto Maldonado is between 330 soles and 500 soles.
What can we do in the Tambopata National Reserve?
Puerto Maldonado, being a large city, does not have a diversity of fauna of the same quality as Manu. The animals need their space, away from the hustle and bustle of large human settlements. The good news is that most of the tours have lodges a couple of kilometers away from the city, completely inserted in the Tambopata National Reserve, where nature is once again the mistress and owner of the jungle lands.
The travel agencies offer tours of 1 to 4 days in general, with hiking and night walks, boat rides, canopy and zipline, all amidst the intense vegetation and the sounds of insects and animals around you.
A must-see in the Tambopata National Reserve is Lake Sandoval, considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the Peruvian Amazon.