What is the History of Manu National Park?

The sun sets over the horizon in Manu's National Park.

Ever Wondered what is the History of Manu National Park?
In the Amazon’s heart, Peru’s Manu National Park is a sanctuary, boasting unmatched biodiversity and cultural richness, nestled deep within.

Encompassing 1.5 million hectares, this wilderness has a rich history entwined with diverse ecosystems, spanning centuries of ebb and flow.

Manu’s landscape, from Andean heights to lush lowland forests, resonates with ancient tales, indigenous communities, and modern conservation endeavors.

Exploring time’s depths, we reveal tales shaping this wonder, captivating all in its lush embrace.

Inca and Colonial Era

In the Manu Biosphere Reserve, there are traces of ancient cultures, such as the Pusharo petroglyphs. Father Vicente de Cenytagoya reported these engravings in 1921, their origin and meaning remaining unexplained to this day. These engravings rest on the right bank of the Shinkibenia River, a tributary flowing into the Palotoa River.

The Huachipaeri people consider the Xinkiori rock, with petroglyphs on the Q’eros River, legendary and imposing. Similarly, there is knowledge of an archaeological site in the Mameria area, located at the headwaters of the Piñi Piñi River and the Alto Tono.

The Mapacho River crosses Paucartambo's urban area by half, its also the entering point to the jungle's highlands.
The town of Paucartambo is famed because of its celebration dedicated to the “Virgen del Carmen”

The Manu region has a history shaped by the arrival of outsiders, from the times of the Inca Empire when Pachacútec and Túpac Yupanqui annexed this area to their empire, to the arrival of the Spanish.

The Spaniards founded the town of Paucartambo shortly after invading Cuzco, establishing estates and encomiendas in the area. King Carlos III of Spain ordered a bridge’s construction in Paucartambo, facilitating trade for products from the region.

This valley then began supplying Cuzco with products such as coca, sugar, cotton, chili peppers, wood, and others.

In March 1567, the Spanish explorer Juan Álvarez Maldonado, in charge of the Mojos province, embarked on a thirty-seven-day journey for the first expedition from Paucartambo to the present-day Pillcopata. In May of the same year, Manuel de Escobar led a second expedition that followed the course of the Madre de Dios River to the Manu River.

Republican Era

In 1861, Colonel Faustino Maldonado led a new expedition from Paucartambo to the Madre de Dios River. It was in his honor that, 30 years later, the rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald would name the mouth of the Tambopata River as Puerto Maldonado, the current capital of the Madre de Dios department.

Puerto Maldonado city's entrance by ground.
Puerto Maldonado city’s entrance by ground.

In the low jungle, indigenous populations were affected by extractive activities in the late 19th century. The rubber boom marked the beginning of daring enterprises, such as Fitzcarrald’s, one of the most famous rubber gatherers of his time. However, the Manu area was only partially exploited. Rubber activities ceased in the twenties when the resource, unable to recover from intensive exploitation and facing competition from prosperous and less expensive crops in Asia, began to decline.

Between the fifties and sixties, the construction of the final stretch of the road (now known as the Southern Interoceanic Highway) initiated the logging of cedar and mahogany, the establishment of estates, and later the extraction of fine skins (otter, ocelot, and river wolves). More recent activities include oil exploration.
The agrarian reform initiated in 1969 impacted agricultural activities in the Andean region during that period.

From the 20th century onwards, religious presence became more significant. In 1902, the Dominican fathers founded their first mission in Asunción.
In 1908, they founded the second mission, San Luis del Manu, at the Manu River’s mouth. After abandoning it, they resettled in the Palotoa River mission (in the Pantiacolla area), which, devastated by a flood, ultimately moved to Shintuya in 1958.

Manu’s Forest Creation and Contemporary Era

In 1963, the Manu National Forest was established.​ Based on the suggestion of Flavio Bazán and Paul Pierret, an expert from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), in 1965, there was a proposal to create a national park in the same area.

British advisor Ian Grimwood affirmed the significance of the location in his 1966 report. In 1968, the area was designated as a national reserve, and subsequently, the Manu National Park was established on May 29, 1973, through Supreme Decree 0644-73-AG.

Its purpose is to preserve its natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations.

Rustic boats that serve to sail narrow passages of water.

The UNESCO-recognized Manu Biosphere Reserve covers 1,881,200 hectares in Paucartambo, Cuzco, and Manu, Madre de Dios provinces for conservation. It delineated its boundaries by applying the principle of natural limits and asserting dominance over the watershed. The park’s Manu River boundary halted at Panagua River confluence due to active oil exploration, affecting its extension.

Tourism Importance

Manu National Park is vital, offering employment and economic benefits, fostering community growth through direct and indirect means for sustainability.
Park activities: camping in Manu River’s lower basin, featuring five zones for an immersive outdoor experience surrounded by nature.
Visitors can explore three viewpoints
or “espigones,” a metal tower standing at eighteen meters in Cocha Otorongo, providing a panoramic view of the park’s vast green landscape. Hiking, river navigation, and bird watching are also popular activities. The Manu Route is renowned for its extensive variety of bird species.

Tourism in the Manu National Park revolves around nature, where tourists immerse themselves in the natural environment and local cultures. The motivation stems from the diverse flora and fauna present. Sustainable development tourism aims for a balance between biodiversity conservation and the well-being of the local population. The park’s care is governed by an environmental policy, requiring both the community and visitors to be environmentally conscious.

An usual sight in the Manu.

Annually, the Manu National Park attracts approximately 2500 tourists, with 85% being foreigners. This is due to the specialized nature of the tourism, incurring high costs, as stated by Pedro Gamboa, the head of the National Service of Natural Protected Areas by the State (SERNANP).

Let us know if you’re considering to visit this wonderful destiny and we’ll gladly help you!

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