Peru, home to over 14,500 species of animals, invites wildlife enthusiasts to experience the land of ancient empires, hidden treasures, diverse landscapes, renowned cuisine, unbarred natural terrains and exotic amazon wildlife.
The country is ranked as a top destination for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
Boundless Wildlife Adventure
From the exotic Amazon jungle to the coastal desert plain via the breathtaking peaks of the Andes, Peru’s wealth of places to visit offers boundless potential for adventure in this amazing biosphere reserve. Whether you want to trek the hallowed Inca Trail, drink pisco sours in a sleepy colonial town, swim with Amazon River Dolphins or paddle your way down the Amazon River in a dugout canoe – or all of the above – this is a country ripe for exploration. Wherever you go Peru’s vibrant Andean culture, one of the most exciting in the Americas, will brighten your travels. Tucked-away highland towns explode into colour on market day and local fiestas are celebrated with unbridled enthusiasm. And that’s before you’ve set eyes on the local wildlife.
Boasting access to the highest tropical mountain range in the world as well as one of the best preserved areas of virgin Amazon rainforest, Peru wildlife is as diverse as you would expect, and the sight of Jaguars slinking through the jungle, Spectacled Caimans sunning themselves on riverbanks and dazzling macaws gathering at Amazon clay licks, are all within the visitor’s grasp. Holding about eighteen percent of the world’s 10,000 species of birds, Peru is a superlative Neotropical birding destination in South America. Almost every eco-lodge in the Amazon basin lists over 600 bird species for their property alone.
Lima is the customary starting point for all Peru tours. Birding sites near the capital city include: Pucusana fishing port where Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Peruvian Booby, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, Blackish Oystercatcher, Grey Gull, Inca Tern and Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes are possible on boat trips out to a South American Sea Lion colony and beyond; Lomas de Lachay and the surrounding area where Peruvian Thick-knee, Least Seedsnipe, Oasis Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail, Coastal, Greyish and Thick-billed Miners, Cactus Canastero, Collared Warbling Finch and Raimondi’s Yellow Finch occur.
The nearby Laguna Paraiso on the Pacific coast is a good place for waders, gulls including Belcher’s and Grey, and terns including Peruvian. In addition, no visit to Peru would be complete without a pelagic boat trip out of Callao, on which the range of possible seabird sightings includes Waved Albatross, Hornby’s Storm Petrel, Swallow-tailed Gull and a number of other species of birds.
Read more: Birds of Peru: a gift to the world.
Photo credit: Manu Birding Lodge, Marvelous Spatuletail
In such awesome scenery as the arid valleys of the Marañón and Utcubamba, and amongst the amazing east Andean slope cloud forests, Northern Peru is full of flocks of fantastic birds. Of Peru’s 107 endemic bird species, a quarter are to be found exclusively in the North, along with more widespread endemics and many of the Tumbesian endemics that occur only in Northwestern Peru and Southwestern Ecuador. One of which, the Marvellous Spatuletail, is arguably the most astonishing hummingbird on Earth. Other stunning endemics and near-endemics found in this region include White-winged Guan, Yellow-faced Parrotlet, Long-whiskered Owlet, Royal Sunangel, Grey-bellied Comet, Tumbes Tyrant, Rufous Flycatcher, White-tailed Jay, Yellow-scarfed Tanager and three species of Inca finch.
As well as these avian jewels, more widespread spectacular birds including Oilbird, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Black-mandibled Toucan, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, many hummingbirds and probably more multicoloured species of Tangara tanagers than anywhere else in the Andes, with twenty possible near a northern eco-lodge alone. There is even a chance of seeing Spectacled Bear – the inspiration for Paddington Bear – the friendly bear from deepest, darkest Peru.
Several Peru tours provide the option to combine a trip to Northern Peru with the site where the striking endemic Scarlet-banded Barbet occurs near Bellavista – south of Tarapoto. Other bird species present include Fiery-throated, Scarlet-breasted and Scaled Fruiteaters, Grey-tailed Piha, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Yungas and Blue-rumped Manakins, Shrike-like Laniisoma, Orange-eared and Golden-eared Tanagers, and Golden-collared Honeycreeper.
Best sites: Coast near Chiclayo, Chaparri Ecological Reserve, Casupe, Batan Grande (Bosque de Pomac), Quebrada Frejolillo, Abra de Porculla, Maranon drainage, Chinchipe drainage near Jaen, Leymebamba, Abra Barro Negro (Black Mud Pass) at 3,600 metres, Maranon Canyon, Paramos between Celendin and Cajamarca, Rio Chonta Valley/Banos del Inca, San Marcos, Upper Utcubamba Canyon (Leymebamba-Pedro Ruiz), Centro de Interpretacion Colibri Maravillosa, Rio Chido/San Lorenzo Trail, Abra Patricia, Waqanki Orchid Reserve, Quiscarrumi Bridge and Tarapoto area.
Timing: June, before the peak of the dry season in mid-July, is a good time to look for birds, and so is (add words) the period September to mid-December. Late September to early October is usually the peak time to look for Spectacled Bear.
Tour Operators: Green Tours
Photo credit: Rainforest Expeditions, Aracari
Heading east from Northern Peru brings you into a landscape of superb floodplain, river island, terra firma, várzea and sand forests in Loreto region. In this corner of the country, there are over 600 bird species in a small area – unquestionably one of the richest places for birds in the Amazon rainforest and on the planet. These include some of South America’s and the world’s most wonderful birds such as Hoatzin, Sunbittern, Blue-and-yellow and Red-and-green Macaws, Pavonine Quetzal, motmots, jacamars, toucans, White-plumed Antbird, colourful cotingas such as Black-necked Red, and Wire-tailed Manakin.
In addition, you could find river island endemics, sand forest specialities and other localised bird species such as Nocturnal and Wattled Curassows, Collared and Rufous-necked Puffbirds, Black Bushbird, Black-headed, Allpahuayo and several other antbirds, and Orange-crested Manakin. Other Amazon wildlife seen includes mammals such as Pygmy Marmoset, tamarins, Bald Uakari and Amazon River Dolphins (or pink dolphins as the latter are popularly known).
One way to access this ancient ecosystem is on the Amazon River, which has its source in the Peruvian Andes. Amazon River trips are a popular option for travelers to the region interested in experiencing rainforest wildlife and interacting with local communities. Luxury cruises set off from the city of Iquitos and travel as far as the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Loreto.
Best sites: Explornapo Lodge area (Rio Napo), Amazon Conservatory for Tropical Studies (ACTS), Explorama Lodge area, Cumaceba Lodge area (Rio Amazon), Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve, Muyuna (Curassow) Lodge area (on edge of Pacaya Samiria NR), Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and Tapiche Private Reserve (a day by river from Iquitos).
Timing: River levels are normally high from December to May, peaking from February to April. During this time of year boats are able to penetrate deep into the forest but many foot trails are several metres under water. Water levels are usually low from June to November and the best times for birding are August and November to December.
Photo credit: Manu Birding Lodge, Andean Condor
Further south is Central Peru where there are some impressive birds in magnificent mountain scenery, with a chance of fifty highland endemics and many other high elevation specialities. The western slope of the Andes has a suite of endemic birds including Great Inca Finch and Rufous-breasted Warbling Finch. Four hours’ drive east of Lima is an area of high Puna grassland and bog, where high altitude birding is at its extreme: a giddy 4,500 metres. Besides regular high Andean bird species such as seedsnipes, ground-tyrants and sierra finches, the main attraction for birding here is twofold: the Diademed Sandpiper-plover – a rare, almost mythical wader of the mineral-rich marshes – and the White-bellied Cinclodes – perhaps the prettiest and one of the rarest of the ovenbirds. With luck, both can be seen here. Other highlights include the Puna Tinamou, the smart endemic Black-breasted Hillstar and Dark-winged Miner.
Continuing along the Carretera Central, the well-paved highway continues another 120 kilometres to Lake Junín, where it is possible to take a boat trip to see the flightless endemic Junín Grebe. This lake is also an excellent place to see all the highland water birds and raptors, whilst the surrounding fields abound with ground-tyrants and sierra finches. A further 180 kilometres along the highway brings you to Huánuco and the base for exploring the Carpish Tunnel area. About one hour’s drive northeast of Huánuco, the road passes through the Carpish range and birding either side of the tunnel can be very productive. Sickle-winged Guan, Powerful Woodpecker and large mixed feeding flocks appear out of the mist in the epiphyte-laden cloud forest. The more adventurous may visit an area of treeline forest which holds sought after endemics such as Neblina Tapaculo, Bay-vented Cotinga, Golden-backed Mountain Tanager, Pardusco and more.
Crossing the Andes on a spectacular drive from east to west, you can finish at the Huascarán National Park situated in the central Andes. From Huaráz, the starting point for excursions, it is possible to explore the more remote areas of the mountains such as the Lagunas del Llanganuco. The deep blue of these lakes in the Cordillera Blanca changes with the weather. Here, in the surrounding high Andean woodlands, many little-known and interesting birds can be seen, including that rare mistletoe specialist – the White-cheeked Cotinga – or the endemic Plain-tailed Warbling Finch. Frequent checking of the skyline will surely produce an Andean Condor soaring against the breathtaking backdrop of 6,000 metre snow peaks. Three or four days in this area will produce a wide variety of both grassland and woodland bird species. Central Peru has fewer mammals than the other regions but you will probably see Northern Viscacha and possibly Culpeo, Vicuña and Taruca.
Best sites: Lake Junin including zodiac boat trip, Marcapomacocha Lagoon, Tingo María National Park (with the accessible Guácharos Caves), Santa Eulalia Valley, Ticlio Pass at 4,818 metres, Bosque Unchog, Andamarca Valley via Santa Eulalia Valley, Carpish Tunnel and mountains, Huanaco and Paty Trail.
Timing: The best time to look for birds is June to July.
Photo credit: Manu Birding Lodge, Red and Green Macaws
Heading further south, in some of the most pristine habitats left on earth, is the richest region for birds on the planet. Thanks to the combination of temperate, subtropical, foothill and especially lowland Amazon rainforest (where some locations measuring little more than ten square kilometres support over 550 species), about a thousand bird species are found here – a tenth of the world’s total. Read more: Birding in Peru’s Amazonian Rainforest
The outstanding Manu National Park (or Manu Biosphere Reserve) alone has a thousand species within its 15,000 square kilometres, where the birds include macaws and parrots – large flocks of which can be seen visiting the famous clay licks in the Amazon jungle. This is an essential experience on all Amazon jungle tours. South of Manu National Park, with mysterious temples and palaces nestling among hundreds of terraces, the fabulous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is awe-inspiring.
Added to which are some of South America’s and the world’s other most sensational birds including Andean Condor, Pale-winged Trumpeter, a radiant array of hummingbirds such as Bearded Mountaineer, quetzals, jacamars, toucans, cotingas including Andean Cock-of-the-rock, manakins and multicoloured tanagers – swirling flocks of which light up the forested eastern slopes of the Andes. Butterflies also abound, Giant Otters fish the waterways and there are several species of monkey – although they are usually less conspicuous than the birds.
At the end of this long country in the far south, the viewpoint known appropriately as Mirador Cruz del Condor, which overlooks one of the deepest canyons on the planet, is possibly the best place in the world to see Andean Condor close up. So close in fact, that at times it is possible to hear the air rushing through the birds’ outstretched wing feathers as they rise from their overnight roosts on the cliffs lower down in the canyon. At nearby Laguna de Salinas, it is also possible to see birds such as Chilean, Andean and James’s Flamingos (the latter occasionally), Andean Avocet and the Puna Plover.
Best sites: Huacarpay Lake, Hotel Pakaritampu, train journey between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes, Aguas Calientes-Mandor Valley-Machu Picchu, Abra Malaga (up to 4,300 metres), Cuzco to the Manu Road, Wayqecha Biological Station/Upper Manu Road area (3,000 metres), Wayqecha down to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, Villa Carmen, Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge/mid-elevation area (1,450 metres), Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge down to Amazonia Lodge/Lower Manu Road, Amazonia Lodge area (via boat trip from Atalaya along the Rio Madre de Dios), Pantiacolla Lodge area, Manu National Park, Tambopata, Iberia and Tipishca around Puerto Maldonado, Saona Lodge near Puerto Maldonado along Tambopata River and Los Amigos Biological Station.
Timing: The dry season usually lasts from May to October. This is the best time to visit, especially during August and September when activity tends to peak at the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek and the clay licks, which large flocks of parrots and macaws visit daily, are busy. These clay licks are used mostly during the dry season. During the wet season, the most rain falls from January to March.
Other Peruvian Wildlife
Photo credit: InkaNatura Travel, Jaguar
Peru is a biodiversity hotspot due to the presence of the Andes, Amazon Rainforest and the Pacific Ocean. As well as over 1,800 bird species (including 20 endemics) and 500 species of mammals (including Jaguar, tapirs, sloths, woolly monkey, primates, anteaters, deer, armadillos, vicuna, bats and rodents), Peru has around 300 species of reptile, of which over 100 are endemic. As well as spectacular species such as giant Green Anacondas and Spectacled Caiman, there are many other snakes, lizards and turtles. Peru is also inhabited by easily seen marine mammals such a large South American Sea Lions weighing up to 350 kilos. They prefer to gather on sandy beaches, whereas the somewhat smaller South American Fur Seal gather on rocks and inaccessible coastal outcrops.
Peru has a large variety of marine species living in the Pacific Ocean as well as in rivers: sharks, baleen and toothed whales, pink dolphins and porpoises – all constitute 38% of all known species in the world. Humpback Whales are the most admired of the large cetaceans. Amphibian-wise, there are around 380 species of frog in Peru and it is easy to see a few species on night hikes in the lowland rainforest areas of Tambopata, Manu National Park or Iquitos. Ten new frog species have been discovered over the past two years in the cloud forests of the Peruvian Andes alone.
Peru has an equally diverse number of plants. The coast is usually barren apart from some cacti that grow there, but the hilly areas (such as Lomas de Lachay) and the river valleys contain unique plant life. The highlands above the treeline are known as puna, where bushes, cacti and drought-resistant plants (such as Jarava ichu) extend up to the zone of snow-capped mountains. The most spectacular plant of Peru is the gigantic Puya raimondii seen near Huaraz. On the lower slopes of the Andes are steep-sided cloud forests which can sustain mosses, orchids and bromeliads. The very wet Amazon Rainforest contains a plethora of different trees, as well as strange canopy plants and palm trees.
Peru’s varied geography and microclimates are host to 3,000 species of orchid that grow in the tropical rainforest on the eastern slopes of the Andes, both in the areas of high jungle and in the cloud forests. Orchids also grow on the north coast in the departments of Tumbes and Piura. The abundant variety of flora in the tropical and subtropical areas of Peru provide the perfect habitats to enjoy a truly multicolour extravaganza involving thousands of species of butterfly. Peru holds a world record in terms of the number of species – there are approximately 4,000 in the country (59 of which are endemic).
If you are an independent wildlife traveler, follow your own path and let yourself be swept along by the natural wonders of Peru. It is still possible to switch off from the world and recharge your batteries in places so amazing they will fill your soul with unforgettable memories. You can drink a glass of champagne in a Bedouin tent, enjoy the sunset over the Ica desert or admire the dreamlike view from a cottage in a valley near Arequipa, alongside a spa and natural hot springs.
Read more: Why Peru is the ultimate birding destination