GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS
Wilma & Jos Wanten; Reuver - The Netherlands
Anne-Marie Kuijpers & Roland Holz; Otterstadt - Germany
Plans for a visit to Peru originated already a few years ago but for some reason were delayed two years in a row. However this time we were absolutely determined to have it a go. After visits to Suriname and Ecuador this was our third visit to South America. Our previous trips to the continent were primarily based on nature and birding activities. However Peru is not only an excellent country to go birding but it also is rich in some excellent cultural and archaeological sites. Therefore we decided to do a combined culture/birding trip. After surfing the internet and reading several trip reports we contacted fellow countryman Wim ten Have from Tanager Tours, who is the owner of this Peruvian based tour operator for birding trips in Peru. See their website at: http://www.tanagertours.com/. The reason we choose for them were the positive references mentioned in several trip reports, the very fair pricing and the possibility to combine birding with cultural activities. After sending some emails we finally settled upon a 3 weeks itinerary combining cultural highlights like Arequipa, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Nazca with Peru’s birding hotspot Manu, the highlands in the Arequipa/Chivay area and the coast south of Lima. The trip was, apart from a few minor events perfectly arranged and included all ground transport, domestic flights, hotels, drivers, bird guides, train and ticket to MP, most meals and some airport transfers and cultural guides. The people working for Wim are all very pleasant company, helpful and knowledgeable. Raul, our driver during the two days to the Colca Canyon was in fact not only a driver but also knew the birds and where to find them. What we liked about him was his participation and enthusiasm during the birding itself. His English is limited but was never a problem for communications. Juve was our excellent driver during the Manu trip and he is a very keen birder although he does not speak English. David, our bird guide during the Manu trip was in one word excellent. He is a very pleasant guy with an outstanding knowledge about birds and probably one of the best guides we have ever used. Lucho, our driver during the coastal trip was also very pleasant company and knew the birding sites very well, although he did not really participate in finding the birds itself. All in all we were perfectly happy with the trip and would not hesitate to choose Tanager Tours again on a future trip.
For general birding preparations we used resources like http://www.fatbirder.com/, www.bsc-eoc.org/links/links.jsp and for reports we used http://www.travellingbirder.com/ and http://www.birdtours.co.uk/.
Other interesting birding websites included: http://www.perubirdingroutes.com/, http://www.birdingperu.org/, http://birding-peru.com/ and http://www.birding-in-peru.com/. General tourist information about Peru we found at http://www.go2peru.com/ and www.andeantravelweb.com/peru/. Books we used for birding preparations included “Where to watch birds in Peru” by Thomas Valqui, “Field guide to the birds of Machu Picchu” by Fjeldsa/Walker and “A field guide to the birds of Peru” by Clements/Shany. I do not have to mention the poor quality of the latter one as that is already written in many reports before, but thanks to Nigel Redman from A&C Black Publishers I was in the lucky position to be one of the few owners of an advanced copy of the excellent new field guide “Birds of Peru” by Schulenberg/Stotz/Lane/O’Neill/Parker. For general info we used the Peru Lonely Planet book.
We would like to thank the following people for their contribution and for making the trip such a huge success:
Wim ten Have owner of Tanager Tours, Toon from Hostal Mami Panchita in Lima, Raul Cuela driver/guide during the Colca Canyon tour, Juvenal Ccahuana driver during the Sacred Valley and Manu tour, David Geale bird guide during the Manu tour, all people at Amazonia Lodge and Amazon Manu Lodge, the local birder in Puerto Maldonado (sorry I forgot his name), Lucho Nunez driver during the Paracas/ Nazca tour, Edgardo bird guide in Paracas, Luis Calderon culture guide in Lima and Nigel Redman from A&C Black Publishers for providing me with an advanced copy of the new “Birds of Peru” field guide.
In tourist centres like Cusco and Machu Picchu or in high class hotels English is spoken. However outside these areas you’ll need Spanish. The unit of currency in Peru is the Nuevo Sol. The exchange rate during our trip was NS 4,35 for 1 Euro, and NS 3 for 1 USD. Money changing facilities (banks and ATM’s) are widely available in most bigger towns. At ATM’s with a Cirrus or Maestro sign you can withdraw cash easily. We only carried our credit and pin card and some cash money in USD small coupons. There is no need to buy a visa to enter the country. On arrival you get a stamp at the immigration office valid for 90 days. Do take medical precautions before arriving in the country. For info contact your local health authorities. Especially in the lowlands chiggers can be a nuisance. These tiny members of the mite family attach themselves to your skin on which they feed on (mostly at warm covered areas) and cause itching for sometimes more then a week or even longer as in my case. However they don’t carry any diseases like ticks for instance. To avoid them wear protective clothing and stay on trails as much as possible. Spraying insect repellent on your skin and on your shoes, socks and lower trousers could be helpful. When going to altitudes above 3000 masl there is a risk of altitude sickness. In some cases the illness can cause serious health damage or even death can occur, but mostly it reveals it selves with symptoms like headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and loss of appetite. It is said that about 20 percent of the tourists visiting higher altitudes get altitude sickness.
KLM has direct flights from Amsterdam to Lima. However we choose for Iberia as they were slightly cheaper and it was possible to fly from Dusseldorf in Germany which is far closer to our home than Amsterdam. On the other hand the flight took about 2 hours longer because we had to change planes in Madrid. We paid € 975 each for the return ticket. Another good deal could be made by flying with Delta Airlines from Amsterdam to Lima via Atlanta. However the total travel time is mostly three to four hours longer then with KLM. When leaving Peru you have to pay a departure tax of USD 30 which is only excepted in cash money in either USD or Soles.
Apart from a few airport transfers all transport was pre-arranged by Tanager Tours. Roads are generally in good condition and on major routes mostly paved. One exception was the route into Manu. From beyond Huarcapay lake it is unpaved and narrow all the way to Atalaya where the road ends. Peru has a good network of domestic flights with regular flights between the major cities. Most flights leave in the morning. On the three flights we had we never experienced any problems or delays. There is a departure tax fee on domestic flights of USD 6 or the equivalent in soles. Tickets for the train to Machu Picchu need to be bought in advance especially in the high season. In cities and towns taxis are plentiful and fairly cheap. Fares however are not fixed so you have to negotiate before getting in the vehicle. In some cities like Puerto Maldonado you can also take moto-taxis (the south American equivalent to the Asian tuk-tuk), which are cheaper then normal taxis. In the Amazon the only way of transport is by boat.
WEATHER AND WHEN TO GO
Peru has three distinct geographical regions. The coast is dry all year with sunny and warm weather between December and April, and somewhat lower temperatures and overcast (coastal mist) conditions between May and November. In the highlands November to April is the wet season with milder temperatures then the dry season between May and October. The Amazonian lowlands are hot all year with a dry season from April to October and a wet season from November to March. The tourist high season is from June to August. Purely from weather point of view whilst still avoiding the high season bustle, the best time to visit would be May or September. However in birding point of view September to November is the best period. September tends to be good for flocks in the mountains and at Manu road. However in the lowland birds are still not so active and vocal, and the northern migrants still have to arrive. In October birds are more active and vocal in the lowlands but less in the mountains. However most migrants from the north have arrived. November is also a very good period but by mid to the end of November the chance of periods of extended rains gets higher. All in all our visit in October/November (coinciding with the transition
between the dry and wet season) was a very good choice as we were extremely lucky with the weather. The only rain that interfered our birding was one morning until 10:00 at the Amazon Manu Lodge.
ACCOMODATIONS & FOOD
The Peruvian cuisine really surprised us with its great variety and tasteful dishes. A variety of fruits and vegetables is available throughout the year, and meat of all kinds is included in most meals. At the coast delicious fish meals are a real treat while in the mountains trout is widely available. The most popular local beer in Peru is Cusquena which was very good. Other brands like Cristal, Pilsen and in the Arequipa area Arequipena where also not bad. All brands are available in small (330ml) and big (660ml) bottles. The most popular soft drink is the bright yellow Inca Kola which is the Peruvian equivalent of Coca Cola. The most popular drink in Peru is Pisco Sour which is a cocktail containing Pisco (a local brandy), lemon juice, syrup and egg white. Hotels in Peru are available in all categories from 1 to 5 stars. We mostly stayed in 3 star hotels which are a good compromise between price and quality costing between 30 and 55 USD per double room. We stayed in following hotels and lodges:
Hostal Mami Panchita in Lima (http://www.mamipanchita.com/): nice and clean colonial style guesthouse in the 3-star category. It has a small patio, lounge with cable TV and free internet access , bar and breakfast salon. Rooms on our second stay were much better than the one on our first visit.
Hotel La Casa de mi Abuela in Arequipa (www.lacasademiabuela.com): excellent centrally located hotel with a nice garden with pool, restaurant and clean rooms. Excellent buffet style breakfast.
Hotel Pozo del Cielo in Chivay (http://www.pozodelcielo.com.pe/): excellent hotel on a hill overlooking the village. It has spacious clean rooms, a nice restaurant and the staff is very helpful.
Hostal Marani in Cusco (http://www.hostalmarani.com/): very nice centrally located guesthouse with a nice patio, breakfast room and spacious clean rooms. Good value.
Hotel Munay Tika in Ollantaytambo (http://www.munaytika.com/): good hostal with 20 clean rooms, bar and breakfast salon.
Hotel La Pequena Casita in Aguas Calientes: rooms are nice, spacious and clean. However the hotel lacks a bit of style.
Cock of the Rock Lodge at Manu Road (www.inkanatura.com/cockoftherockslodge.asp): this among birders well known lodge has clean and spacious private bungalows with a small balcony. It has a screened dining platform serving excellent meals and overlooking a nice garden with bird feeders. Light is provided by oil-lamps and candles.
Amazonia Lodge near Atalaya (http://www.amazonialodge.com/): comfortable lodge with large clean rooms with a large porch in front of them overlooking the nice garden with bird feeders. Nice open air dining room serving excellent meals. Shared but very clean toilets and hot showers are located next to the room building.
Amazon Manu Lodge in the Manu lowlands (http://www.oropendolaperu.org/): basic and small but clean cabins with private hot water bathroom. Screened dining room serving good meals. What the lodge lacks a bit is a place to relax during midday breaks and in the evenings.
Hotel Don Carlos in Puerto Maldonado: excellent hotel with spacious air-conditioned rooms with TV and mini-bar. The hotel has a restaurant and swimming pool. We had a nice dinner in the hotel, but the breakfast was very poor.
Hostal La Portada in Pisco: small hostal with clean rooms and a good breakfast. Normally very good value but when we were there we had no running water. Due to the recent earthquake the plumbing had been damaged.
Hotel Alegria in Nazca (http://www.nazcaperu.com/): excellent hotel with clean spacious rooms, a swimming pool and restaurant. Breakfast is served at the nice outside terrace surrounding the pool. There is a tour company with the same name next door.
Hotel La Gran Faraona in Lima (www.faraonagrandhotel.com): big luxury hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima. Spacious clean rooms with cable TV. The hotel has a large lobby with a bar and restaurant. Excellent buffet style breakfast. In the terrace swimming pool was no water and it was not much bigger then a large bathtub.
Despite the fact that this was a combined birding/culture trip we saw an amazing and unexpected large number of bird birds. With only 15 days of real birding on the program we saw the spectacular number of 653 species with an additional 43 birds heard only. Of these 639 species were seen by myself and with 329 lifers I have a life list now of 2589 birds. My estimate prior to the trip was 535 birds with 250 lifers, so we did a really good job. It was not only the numbers of birds that made the trip such a huge success but also the quality of birds and sightings. For instance the spectacle at the Macaw Lick was an unforgettable experience and is something that every travelling birder should witness once in a lifetime. Just to give an idea about the quality of birds here are some numbers per bird family. We saw 3 Tinamoes, 29 raptors, 2 Seedsnipes, 17 Pigeons, 22 Parrots, 3 Owls, 7 Nightjars, 49 Hummingbirds, 8 Trogons, 3 Jacamars, 7 Puffbirds and Nunbirds, 3 Barbets, 8 Toucans, 15 Woodpeckers, 49 Ovenbirds, 39 Antbirds, 73 Tyrant Flycatchers, 10 Cotingas, 8 Manakins, 51 Tanagers, 6 Flower-piercers, 15 Finches, 11 Warblers, 6 Oropendolas and Caciques and 5 Euphonias. The best birding we had during the Manu trip with about 485 species seen during these 10 days alone. Especially the lowlands where very good with lots of birds calling and responding to David’s playbacks. In the lowlands alone (from Amazonia Lodge onwards) we had about 275 trip ticks. On the Manu road the activity was lower with not that many flocks around. However the birding was still pretty good with about 150 trip ticks. The 2 days around Chivay and Colca Canyon with Raul produced 79 trip ticks of which 43 birds were not seen at any other site during the rest of the trip. One afternoon and one morning of birding at Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu produced about 51 trip ticks with only 19 birds not seen at other sites. The 2 days at the coast with Lucho produced 87 birds with 55 new for the trip and not seen at any other site. The remaining trip ticks were seen during culture activities in Arequipa (Peruvian Sheartail) and 6 species during the Sacred Valley trip.
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