GETTING THERE: Flights to Lima start at about $650 in late August, leaving from Baltimore and transferring in Miami, or from Reagan National or Dulles, also with one stop. At least three airlines, Continental, Delta and American, offer flights for less than $700. Flight time is generally 10 hours. From Lima, it's a 75-minute flight to Cusco for $172 to $257 (via TACA or Lan Peru at Travelocity). In Cusco, we met up with our tour guide, Edward Montalvo, who filled us in on our itinerary.
WHEN TO GO: The high (dry) season is May through October, when the average number of wet days in the Cusco area ranges from two to four per month. Low season is November through April, with an average of two to 12 wet days a month. Our lodge director told us of a family who took a vacation over Christmas and had to get in a canoe to reach the bathrooms at the Manu Lodge, which luckily sits on stilts.
PACKAGE TOURS: Trips to Manu must be organized through a tour company. We used Manu Nature Tours (011-51-84- 25-2721, www.manuperu.com). The six-night trip costs $1,500 per person in high season, $1,090 in low season, and is virtually all-inclusive: three meals a day, guided excusions, all drinks but beer and wine, and such add-ons as a llama taxi. There's a four-night trip at $1,159 and $896 per person for three to five people. Prices vary according to the size of the group; the same trip costs $1,403 per person for one or two people, for whom it's not available in the the rainy season. Certain other offerings are extra, including the llama taxi (an easy pass but fun for kids), mountain biking, the macaw clay lick (where the colorful birds gather by the hundreds to eat clay) and canopy climbing (a must!).
Manu Nature Tours' site warns, "There are many international agencies as well as local tour companies advertising 'Manu Lodge Tours' or 'Manu Lodge Safaris,' where you will end-up paying for an experience in 'the Manu Region,' but you will never even see the protected Manu River. Before signing-up, make sure that you understand your tour."
Other Peru tour companies include Rainforest Expeditions (011-51-1421-8347, www.perunature.com), InkaNatura Travel (011-51-84-25-5255, www.inkanatura.com), Explorandes (011-51-1445-0532, www.explorandes.com) and Amazon River Expeditions (www.amazonriverexpeditions.com).
TIP: Pay close attention to the "packing list" suggestions. I also recommend having your physician prescribe the necessary antibiotics and stomach-calming medication to get you through a day or two of El Flu de Peru, or whatever.
INFORMATION: Commission for the Promotion of Peru, 866-661-7378, www.peru.info/defaulteng.asp, or the International Ecotourism Society, 202-347-9203, Ext. 275, www.ecotourism.org; for a list of travel and tour outfits, click on "Membership" at left, then "Search," then scroll down to "Country (Office Location)" and type in "Peru."
-- Dana Priest