Southern Peru (Tambopata, Cuzco, Paracas), 9 - 30 April 1999
Birding trip report  -  John van der Woude  www.jvanderw.nl 

Part 1. Logistics (&GPS)

See also:
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part 2. Tambopata
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part 3. Andes of Cuzco
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part 4. Coast of Paracas and Lima
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our species list - Tambopata, Andes & coast
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33 +17 bird sounds from Tambopata (Explorer's Inn)

This was our first visit to Peru, and we found it more friendly and civilized than we had vaguely feared on the basis of its recent past. The tourists are coming back now, so why not the birders too. This first part of the report describes most of the logistics, although in the remaining parts some more details on specific sites are given.
 

Our trip was from 9 till 30 April (1999) and this is the transition from the wetter to the drier season. We had little rain, but especially in the Andes it had been very rainy just before we came there. We visited three totally different regions, with very few bird species overlapping: a. the Amazonian lowland forest at the Tambopata reserve near Puerto Maldonado (9 days), b. the Andes near Cuzco (1 week; photo of Macchu Picchu above), c. the Pacific coast S of Lima (Paracas, Villa marshes; 3 days). In the Amazonian lowland we had temperatures of nearly 30 degrees Celsius, but on the last days we had an early friaje, a cold wind from the South (they even say from Patagonia), and the temperatures dropped to 20 C in midday. In the Andes we stayed at altitudes mainly between 2800 and 4000 m, and the temperatures ranged from near freezing point in the early morning high up, to a pleasant 18 C or so in midday at 2800 m. The coast is a desert, although with a cool breeze all day.

Again, we traveled by public transport only - plane, bus, train, and several taxis. The KLM flight from Amsterdam arrived in Lima in the evening, and we had asked a taxi to be sent by the hotel where we stayed the first night (Hostal Lucerna, fax 1 446 6050). BTW 'hostal' means in Peru not a hotel of less quality but only that it has less than 25 rooms (according to our only travel guide here, the South American Handbook). The next morning we had a very early flight to Pto. (Puerto) Maldonado in the far Southeast, with Aerocontinente. The other airline of Peru, Aero Peru, just had ceased all activities, so Aerocontinente has recently changed their schedules in order to make more flights with their fleet (hopefully without diminishing the maintenance). At the airport of Pto. Maldonado we were picked up by the staff of Peruvian Safaris, the owner of Explorer's Inn in the Tambopata reserve (photo above of cabins). We had booked directly with them, fax 1 332 6676, e-mail safaris@amauta.rcp.net.pe. Two other guests, who had booked via a third party (in Lima), had some difficulty in making clear which arrangement they had booked exactly. Our arrangement included a two-day visit to the famous macaw clay lick (colpa) 6 hours upriver from Explorer's Inn. All arrangements include airport pickup, bus ride to the 'harbour' and a boat ride to and from the lodge. It even includes repeated reconfirmation of your flight back from Pto. Maldonado, and this can be important in view of the larger number of passengers for Aerocontinente now.
The lodge has a nice setting in a clearing in the forest reserve, and consists of several 4-room bungalows on both sides of the main building, all wooden buildings of course. There is no generator so no noisy motors at any time of the day or night. A few lights in the main building work on solar power, the fridges etc. run on butane. In the rooms are candles. Each room (thin walls, so people keep quiet) has its own bathroom with cool ('refreshing') shower. On average there were 15 to 20 guests, but this can be over 70 in the high season (August I think). The trails around the lodge were still muddy from the wet season, further from the lodge they were better. They will dry up in a month or so. Wellington boots are provided but we always bring our own. The pressure of all the guests on the trails has become so high that the staff has cut a new Main Trail besides the old one, which had deteriorated too much. On the other hand, Main Trail is one of the few trails used by all visitors so the other trails are in better shape. For the dry season (May-October roughly) it may not be an issue at all.
This part of Tambopata is a true forest reserve, with few forest border outlooks, only the lodge clearing, the river banks, the Cocococha lake (by canoe). The lookout platform built into the overgrown Laguna Chica has not been restored after its collapse some years ago, so this point is no longer good for canopy birds. On the other hand, we discovered a very productive lookout point just 10 m besides the Heliconia trail, about 300 m from the Big Tree, on the right-hand side. Explorer's Inn has a network of about 30 km of trails, 20 of which is regularly walked and/or maintained, covering all the habitat types of this lowland forest. The reserve must have been free of hunters for many years, since we saw so many groups if monkeys, of 5 different species. And indeed until the last day we got new bird species (like Bare-necked Fruitcrow), in total we had about 200 species in 6 full days Explorer's Inn plus 2 days for the wonderful trip to the macaw clay lick. This extra trip not only brings you to all those hundreds of macaws and parrots, but also into the very wild and scenic heart of the Tambopata reserve. Because of the relatively high cost compared to the reasonable cost of the lodge itself, not many visitors make this extra trip (to be booked in advance) with four staff members (boat driver, boat pilot in front, cook, naturalist guide). The night is spent in tents on a wonderful spot along the river, right opposite the clay lick.

We could easily have spent a few more days on the trails of Explorer's Inn, but we wanted to have enough time for the Andes as well. Nevertheless, we got an extra day in the lowlands, caused by the schedule changes of Aerocontinente as mentioned before. On this extra day in Pto. Maldonado we took a peki-peki taxi boat (arranged by Victor Yohamona of the local Peruvian Safaris staff, his private phone is 84 572613, he can arrange more excursions) one hour downstream along the Madre de Dios river (photo above). We were brought to the start of the 5 km long trail to the Sandoval lake & lodge, which are part of the Tambopata reserve like Explorer's Inn. This Sandoval trail was a real bonus: an easy walk on a dry and broad path with good views into the subcanopy, and from 11 a.m. till 5 p.m. (photo above is when we went back) we got about 50 species of which a dozen new for the trip. The Sandoval lake itself seemed rather quiet, but a guy from near the lodge told us that about one hour canoeing from the lake across forest streams you would enter a more marshy lake 'with all the egrets etcetera'. The small lodge at the Sandoval lake seemed OK, and the full board price a staff member mentioned on the spot was much lower than the 50 US-dollars when arranged in Pto. Maldonado as indicated in the S-Am Handbook. I think that it would be a good idea to stay here a few days (also possible with a tent) before going to the Explorer's Inn, or at least walk the trail one or two days while operating from Pto. Maldonado. This Oriente town really is not so bad, at least not compared to one of its equivalents in Eastern Ecuador (Coca).
 
The plane from Pto. Maldonado to Cuzco arrives at 9 a.m. and after the taxi ride into town we asked the driver to stay with us for the rest of the day (for US$ 50) and deliver us at the end of the day at Ollantaytambo, where we had reserved a room at Wendy Weeks' El Albergue (recommended in the S Am Handbook). So in Cuzco we first did some things like collecting money (Peruvian soles and US dollars) from cash machines which line up at the beginning of the Sol Avenue, and phoning home at an office a bit further down the same street (actually opposite the phone administration office). The rest of the day was spent birding, first around the Sacsayhuaman ruins above Cuzco (not so good), then mainly alongside the large Huaypo lake halfway to Ollantaytambo (very rewarding). In Ollanto, as they call it here, we stayed 3+1 nights, and the intervening two nights we stayed in the San Luis restaurant along the famous Abra Malaga birding road. Our meals in Ollanto did we have partly at Wendy's, and partly at the restaurant Alcazar along an old Inca road, at 100 m from the plaza. The 10 min. walk from Wendy's place at the train station to the plaza is good for some birding, it follows a mountain stream. On the first day in Ollanto we took the Express train to Macchu Picchu (US$ 9 one way, the alternatives are $ 26 for the luxe train and $ 3 for the local train). The train ride now ends at Aguas Calientes and from there buses go up to the ruins, which are actually smaller than you would think from the many calendar pictures of this famous place. We went down early to do some birding along the railway further down the river, as recommended in Where to watch birds in S Am. Coming down from the ruins you have to leave the bus at the old Ruinas station. The walk from there downwards was good for tanager flocks, but beware of cargo and service trains coming from around the corners.
 
On the second day Ollanto we went up the Abra Malaga road with a taxi arranged by Wendy's staff, from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., for US$60. Gradually it becomes apparent that a taxi should cost about 6 US-dollars per hour (maybe less for locals, I don't know). The Abra Malaga pass road is famous for birds, but its scenic value (also for later touristic development) is tremendous as well. The photo is of the tree line habitat on the East slope. The following day we arranged to do this road again but to be left behind for two nights at the San Luis restaurant in the temperate forest zone of the moist East slope, at about 2800 m altitude. At first, the lady of the restaurant was a bit embarrassed, they do not have proper rooms, but I knew that there had been birderds before, and Osvaldo Toledo her husband said it was OK. So they gave us a corner of the restaurant, shut it off with a curtain, and prepared even a real bed for us. Now we were at our bottom level of acceptable comfort, but here you are really amidst where you want to be a while, the temperate East Andean forest around 2700 m altitude.
Apart from several regional specialties we finally got our first (lifer) Plushcap here. The road, and so the restaurant, is very quiet, 2 or 3 vehicles per hour.
 
About 100 m before the Abra Malaga pass proper, as seen from Ollanto, one can walk uphill (= to the left) up to the crest of a ridge parallel to the road, in order to get to the Polylepis forest remains on the other side of the ridge. Sadly enough the cutting of this wood continues despite some protection measures. The photo shows cut Polylepis wood at the house at the pass. The walk to the ridge crest is not far, but should be done very slowly because of the altitude (over 4000 m), so take 30 mins. for it. Standing on the ridge you see some Polylepis forest remains below on the other side, and we feared that not many of the specialties could be left here after all the cutting, but we saw quite a few of these birds (including Giant Conebill and Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant) after descending o these disturbed forest patches, partly even just while they have been cut open by the man with the axe. Here you are in a new valley which goes down in the direction of Ollanto, it ends at the road 1 hour walk down, and this is where our taxi driver waited on us. Of course this magnificent although partly bad road had many other spots that are good for birding.
For the trip back from Ollanto to Cuzco we took the bus (small bus to Urubamba, change there on a friendly bus station). In Cuzco, a much bigger town than Ollanto, we had a small hotel, aptly named El Balcon, from its splendid view on the centre and the mountains around. There are several flights a day (in the morning) from Cuzco to Lima. At Lima airport we took a taxi autorizada (desk near the luggage belts) to the terminal of Ormeno International buses (adres Av. Javier Prado Este 1059, fax 470 5454), luxurious long-distance buses which leave on a fixed time. This terminal should not be confused with the Ormeno bus terminal. With Ormeno International we drove South through the coastal desert for US$10 pp to Paracas. We lodged two nights in Hotel Paracas (US$65 p.n.), a large enterprise with lots of staff, and the contrast with the San Luis restaurant in the mountains could not have been bigger.
 
We were there at Paracas to see the sea birds, and they have a boat excursion in the morning to the Ballestas islands (can also be done from Pisco). The excursion lasts only two hours but I don't think that we missed any species at the islands. We had our first (lifer) penguins here, see photo. For passing seabirds one should stay longer, but also much further out at sea. An extra excursion (in our case with a private taxi because we were the only participants of this) is made to the Paracas peninsula, a scenic wonder with some birds as well. We also wanted to visit the acacia bushes along the road to the Panamericana, but this connection road was closed for maintenance. But sitting on the pier of the hotel is not so bad either. Moreover, it took us some time to sort out all the tern species here. This seemed the end of our birding trip, but back in Lima we payed a visit to the Pantanos de Villa marshes just South of town. We did this with the same taxi driver that we got appointed at the Ormeno International bus terminal, and he even stayed with us on the trails, which gave us some safety feeling, as the outskirts of this enormous town are very nearby. His name is Jesus de la Oliva, phone 466 2618 (we payed US$ 28 for the trip from 7 till 11 a.m.). The Villa marshes are really worthwhile, we got an extra 20 trip ticks. There we also did the road along the golf course (go left at the bifurcation), where we saw a group of 21 Peruvian Thick-knee, pointed out by the friendly guard of the golf course.

Note 0 (Feb. 2005): Dutch birders stopped here at the Vila marshes in Feb. 2005, had their rental car parked along the road, walked into the reserve and then saw their car being robbed of everything. Please be careful at this spot so close to the outskirts of Lima (you probably would already do so yourself, in view of the surrounding area). The way we did it (with the taxi driver) should be safe. He also knows where to enter the reserve safely (I think it was rather a side road than the main road).

Note 1 (Jan. 2002): Taxidriver Jesus de la Oliva is still doing his best to show birders these same spots, as appeared from an e-mail sent to me now by an Australian couple who were glad and surprised that all went exactly as described above (he even brought them straight to the Peruvian Thick-knees). They had him phoned by their hotel reception the evening before.

Note 2 (Jan. 2002): Besides these Villa marshes another site near Lima seems also worthwhile: Reserva Nacional Lomas de Lachay, a while to the N of Lima, protecting the fog-vegetation on the low hills in the coastal plain. Friends of us had Tawny-throated Dotterel, Least Seedsnipe, Cactus Canastero etc. there (in a few hours only). The road was excellent. Along the way up they also visited the unattractively situated Ventanilla marshes, some 35 km N of Lima, yielding many marsh birds.
Note 3 (April 2002): We used three field guides (plus a self made supplement from Ridgely&Tudor etc.): the Colombia guide for the Amazonian lowlands, the superb Birds of the High Andes for the Andean birding, and Koepcke's booklet with the birds of the Lima department for the birds of the coast. In the meantime, there is a field guide for Peru by Clements & Shany (see my links section for book catalogues), depicting almost all 1800 species in 127 colour plates, with a short text for each species (no sound descriptions). This is not yet the definitive field guide, like the ones for Ecuador and Colombia, but the appearance of this definitive one is still some years ahead. However, the Clements guide is definitely your choice when you go there now.
 

GPS locations of Peru trip 1999

Lodge Explorer's Inn: S 12 - 50.188/ W 69 - 17.586
This means 12 degrees and 50 minutes and 188 thousands of a minute South, by 69 degrees and 17 minutes and 586 thousands of a minute West.
GPSXXX = waypoint number

Data are in WGS84
GPS010 S 12 - 50.209/ W 69 - 25.420
GPS011 S 12 - 56.022/ W 69 - 31.015
GPS012 S 12 - 58.195/ W 69 - 29.908
GPS013 S 13 - 09.090/ W 69 - 36.215
GPS014 S 13 - 09.061/ W 69 - 36.537
GPS015 S 12 - 59.026/ W 69 - 30.173
GPS016 S 12 - 51.448/ W 69 - 16.980
GPS017 S 12 - 50.957/ W 69 - 17.215
GPS018 S 12 - 50.622/ W 69 - 17.345
GPS019 S 12 - 50.204/ W 69 - 16.715
GPS020 S 12 - 49.563/ W 69 - 15.987
GPS021 S 12 - 49.078/ W 69 - 15.622
GPS022 S 12 - 48.861/ W 69 - 15.158
GPS023 S 12 - 50.179/ W 69 - 16.773
GPS024 S 12 - 50.408/ W 69 - 18.018
GPS025 S 12 - 50.519/ W 69 - 17.486
GPS026 S 12 - 36.019/ W 69 - 04.127
GPS027 S 12 - 36.633/ W 69 - 02.951
GPS028 S 12 - 36.429/ W 69 - 03.299
GPS029 S 12 - 35.830/ W 69 - 04.126
GPS030 S 13 - 26.248/ W 72 - 07.909
GPS031 S 13 - 24.961/ W 72 - 08.227
GPS032 S 13 - 09.956/ W 72 - 32.587
GPS033 S 13 - 09.916/ W 72 - 32.689
GPS034 S 13 - 08.309/ W 72 - 18.081
GPS035 S 13 - 06.925/ W 72 - 20.592
GPS036 S 13 - 08.467/ W 72 - 17.979
GPS037 S 13 - 08.769/ W 72 - 18.218
GPS038 S 13 - 08.785/ W 72 - 18.236
GPS039 S 13 - 08.840/ W 72 - 18.333
GPS040 S 13 - 08.872/ W 72 - 18.363
GPS041 S 13 - 09.015/ W 72 - 17.643
GPS042 S 13 - 10.504/ W 72 - 17.350
GPS043 S 13 - 10.052/ W 72 - 17.005
GPS044 S 13 - 09.390/ W 72 - 16.916
GPS045 S 13 - 07.577/ W 72 - 17.358
GPS046 S 13 - 04.726/ W 72 - 23.396
GPS047 S 13 - 04.855/ W 72 - 22.805
GPS048 S 13 - 04.895/ W 72 - 22.456
GPS049 S 13 - 04.909/ W 72 - 22.708
GPS050 S 13 - 15.260/ W 72 - 15.861
GPS051 S 13 - 15.136/ W 72 - 15.744
GPS052 S 13 - 15.051/ W 72 - 15.504
GPS053 S 13 - 30.848/ W 72 - 58.971