Manu Biodiversity Expedition 2019
Traveling to Peru
Traveling to Peru
How do I get there?
The Biodiversity Survey begins and ends in the city of Cusco, located in the high Andes of Peru’s Cusco Department. There are two ways you can travel to Cusco: overland (i.e., by bus) or by air. A bus from Lima usually takes just over 20-25 hours; a direct flight from Lima is about 1 hour. The Cusco airport (CUZ) is serviced by Latam, Avianca, and Star Peru, each of whom have daily flights from Lima, but you can also purchase flights through international carriers that are operated by one of these local airlines. You might find it more convenient or cheaper to purchase a flight to Lima from your home city, and then a separate flight onward to Cusco. Note that Latam and Avianca are the most reliable airlines, but charge higher rates for foreign (i.e., non-Peruvian) travelers. If coming by bus, we recommend either Cruz del Sur or Tepsa; these are the most reliable companies that have service to Cusco, and both have excellent safety records.
Do I need a visa to enter Peru?
Citizens of the United States do not need to apply for a visa to enter Peru for stays of 90 days or less. Rather, a visa will be granted at the international airport in Lima upon entering the country (or at the border with a neighboring country). Requirements for citizens of other countries vary, and we recommend that you check these with the website of your country’s embassy in Peru.
What about money in Peru?
Peru’s currency is the Nuevo Sol, usually referred to simply as the ‘sol’ (plural ‘soles’). The exchange rate as of Oct. 2018 was about S/. 3.25 to US $1, and this has been stable for several months. ATMs are widely available in most major Peruvian cities, including Cusco, many of which dispense either soles or US dollars. You will receive a slightly better exchange rate at a currency exchanger (available in Cusco) than at an ATM when withdrawing soles. We recommend that you avoid changing money at airports, as the rate will be fairly poor.
How much money you will need while in Peru (and not with the Expedition) will depend on your taste and spending habits. As a rule, you can eat at a fancy restaurant in Cusco for about $10-20 (S/. 30-65); cheaper places (e.g., set lunch or ‘menu’ restaurants) will obviously be much less. Prices for hotels also vary—backpacker hostels may charge S/. 30 per night, whereas nicer hotels will charge as much as S/. 200-300 per night; high-end tourist lodges might be as much as $100-300 per person, per night.
What’s the weather like in the Andes and Amazon?
The expedition begins in the city of Cusco, where temperatures are generally mild during the day and cooler at night (average high in January 11°C (52°F), average low in July 7°C (45°F). During summer months (June-August) temperatures can drop below freezing, especially at night, so make sure to bring one change of clothing to keep you warm before heading to the jungle.
The expedition base camp is located where the Andes mountains meet the Amazon rainforest, and thus the climate is something between these two extremes—days can be hot, or cool if it is cloudy or raining, and evenings generally are cooler still (summer months average roughly 17-30°C/60-90°F). Summer also brings ‘friajes,’ which are cold snaps resulting from a cold front moving north from Patagonia along the Andes mountains. Temperatures during friajes can drop below 10°C (into the 40s Fahrenheit), so keep your set of Cusco clothes handy just in case. Although we’ll be in Manu during the region’s dry season, it can still rain torrentially any day of the year, so you should also be prepared with rain gear (see the packing list in the following section).
What clothing and gear should I bring?
We will provide all of the gear and equipment that will be used for our field surveys (e.g., collecting and surveying equipment, etc.). Everything else is your responsibility.
The Expedition involves camping in the rainforest, thus there are several items that you will have to bring with you in addition to your clothes, toiletries, etc. Each team member must have a tent (or arrange to share one with another participant), a sleeping pad, and a light sleeping bag or something else to sleep with, as well as several other items. Please see the packing list for a complete list of what to bring to Peru.
How do I stay healthy in the rainforest?
Despite some of the stories and exaggerated tales from past explorers in the Amazon, the rainforest is not as dangerous or scary a place as many people think. Nevertheless, we take the safety of our team members very seriously, and offer a number of recommendations to help ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable stay in Peru.
Perhaps the greatest nuisance to humans in our study region is posed by biting insects, including mosquitos and biting sand flies. These are also the vectors of several rare, but potentially serious, tropical diseases.
Malaria is rare in the study region, but does occur. It is more of an issue in larger towns, though, since at remote sites such as ours there aren’t enough people to serve as constant reservoirs for the disease. We are unaware of any cases of Malaria at any of our field sites, but your decision of whether or not to take a malaria prophylaxis is entirely up to you and your travel doctor.
Dengue is slightly more common in the region in general, especially in towns and cities, where there are many potential reservoirs and Aedes aegypti—the mosquito that transmits the disease—is more common. There is no vaccine for dengue, but there are treatments. However, as with all insect-vectored tropical diseases, avoiding insect bites is your best protection. Although it can be unpleasant, DEET is very effective at keeping these and other biting insects from biting you and transmitting the disease in the first place.
Leishmaniasis is endemic to our study region. It is transmitted by bites of small sand flies (family Psychodidae), which are active mostly at dawn and dusk, and at night. The disease itself is usually not serious or painful, but can become serious if left untreated for long periods or if the patient has a compromised immune system. Therefore, if a team member has a bite or small wound that does not heal in a week, we will recommend that they get tested locally. Again, this, as with all other insect-vectored tropical diseases, are best avoided through the prevention of insect bites. Covering up while in the forest (e.g., pants, long sleeves) and at camp in the evenings, as well as sleeping in a tent or under a mosquito bed net (provided at all of our non-camping sites), are your best protection.
Zika. This disease has received much attention in the news lately, and has infected large numbers of people across Latin America. Although the symptoms of infection with the virus are typically rather mild (e.g., fever, rash, etc.) and only about 20% of those infected exhibit even mild symptoms, there is a possible link between infection during pregnancy and a condition known as microcephaly in newborns. We know that the Zika virus is transmitted by A. aegypti (the same mosquito that transmits dengue), but much of the rest of the disease’s biology remains a mystery. We follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and recommend that women who are pregnant, or who may become pregnant during or soon after the Expedition, exercise extreme caution while in Peru. The CDC has a very informative webpage regarding this disease:
Do I need any vaccinations?
We recommend that all travelers to the Amazon region have their updated Yellow Fever vaccine, as well as all other standard vaccines and boosters (e.g., hepatitis, typhoid, measles mumps & rubella, tetanus, etc.). Please note that we do not intend to dispense medical advice here; any medical decisions you make, including those regarding vaccinations or other health precautions, are between you and your travel doctor.
How can I stay safe in Peru?
As with anywhere else in the world, you should exercise caution and common sense while traveling in Peru. Don’t walk alone late at night in larger towns and cities, for instance, and avoid ingesting substances from people you don’t know and trust. In addition, you should try to travel only with official taxis, as unofficial ‘pirate’ taxis (just unmarked cars) have been implicated in robberies. Although violent crime directed to foreigners is relatively uncommon in Peru, it is not unknown, and a good dose of caution will help you to avoid any trouble.
Petty crime, especially opportunistic thievery, is more common in Peru than violent crime. Don’t leave valuables (cash, cell phones, tablets, wallets, etc.) in visible or easily accessible, public places at hotels or hostels; instead, check these with your hotel’s safe deposit box or put them in a locker. Also be careful when traveling on long-distance buses—leave your backpack in the rack above your head while napping and you might wake up to it missing. Wallets in back pockets are also easy targets for pickpockets, especially in large cities. Finally, when in doubt, ask at your hotel which parts of the town or city you should avoid, and at what times, and heed their advice. The vast majority of visitors to Peru have a safe and healthy visit, and with a bit of good judgment you will likely have the same experience.
At the Field Site
What’s a typical day like in the field?
Most days start early (e.g., breakfast at 6 or 7 am), so that we can make the most of the shorter tropical daylight hours for surveying biodiversity. Those on the bird team will typically be up earlier, since bird activity peaks just after first light; herpers will by out until late on most nights, so will require a bit more time to sleep in. Lunch and dinner are generally taken together as a group, around 1pm and 6pm, respectively, and field work is conducted in between meal times. We take meals very seriously—surveying biodiversity in the rainforest is hard work!
What’s the food like in the field?
In Cusco we’ll have a wide selection of restaurants to chose from, ranging from local Andean and Peruvian cuisine to international fare, and spanning all budgets. At the expedition base camp in Gallito de las Rocas we will have three healthy meals daily, which will be prepared onsite and served by the expedition chef. Meals are always produced with fresh, local ingredients, some of which come right from the fields outside of Pillcopata. Hot water for coffee and tea, as well as snacks, will be available at all times.
We are happy to accommodate any special diets or food restrictions (e.g., allergies, etc.) with advanced notice.
What is phone and internet service like?
There is good cell coverage in Cusco (discuss international rates and plans with your home carrier), and limited reception at in Pillcopata. Once we depart for the Gallito de las Rocas concession, however, there will be no cell coverage. Internet use will be limited to Cusco, including through the cell network or the hotel wifi.
How do I do laundry at the field sites?
In the field, we wash clothes by hand. We recommend that you bring laundry soap (preferably biodegradable) with you. Otherwise, you can purchase soap and/or detergent in Cusco or Pillcopata.