Peru is one of the greatest countries on earth for birders. The bird population in Peru is, incredibly, about 10% of the world's total. With nearly 2,000 species of resident and migrant birds identified throughout Peru, great bird-watching sites abound. While many of the best birding destinations are in Amazonian regions not covered in this guide, the Cusco area, especially around Machu Picchu, as well as the Islas Ballestas, offer excellent bird-watching.
Manu Biosphere Reserve, believed to have the highest concentration of bird life on the planet, is legendary among birders. It boasts more than 1,000 species of birds. Cocks-of-the-rock, quetzals, toucanets, tanagers, and seven species of colorful macaws await patient birders. Some visitors have spotted as many as 500 species in relatively short visits to Manu. For specialists, the Manu Wildlife Center has the best reputation among birders, although Pantiacolla Lodge is highly recommended, too.
The Tambopata National Reserve is also extraordinary for birding and more accessible than Manu. The reserve, about a third the size of Costa Rica, claims more species of birds (around 600) and butterflies (more than 1,200) than any place of similar size. Both Tambopata and Manu are famous for their collpas, or salt licks, where hundreds of macaws, parrots, and other birds appear daily to feed. Nearer to Puerto Maldonado, good birding areas include the Sandoval and Valencia lakes, but they cannot compare to either of the major reserves. Explorer's Inn is renowned as one of the top birding lodges in South America.
In the northern Amazon, the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is home to more than 500 species of birds. The northern Amazon doesn't have quite the reputation that the varied cloud forests leading to Manu and the rest of the southeastern jungle do, although there is excellent birding in and around the protected Machu Picchu Sanctuary. Inkaterra Machu Picchu organizes birding tours and has more than 100 species of birds on its property in Aguas Calientes.
A handful of jungle lodges and river-cruise operators offer specialized birding options, but none is as complete as the trips offered by the specialist tour operators below. WorldTwitch (www.worldtwitch.com) has links to birding lodges, tour operators, and organizations throughout Peru, as well as the Americas and the Caribbean. Although Peru is one of the top birding destinations in the world, specialists complain about the lack of an essential field guide.
Butterflies -- Peru has become famous among bird-watchers, but naturalists who are fans of butterflies are in for an equal treat. Peru has the greatest diversity of butterflies in the world and the largest number of species: 3,700 (more than those found in all of subequatorial Africa).
Birding Peru (www.birdingperu.com) is a Peru-based tour operator that links to birding trips offered by major outfitters to all regions of the country, including the highlands, coasts, and rainforest, and provides good general information on birding throughout Peru. The operator also has a portal with good information on birding in Peru featuring birding forums, information about specialized tour operators, and birding news.
Field Guides (www.fieldguides.com; tel. 800/728-4953) is an Austin, Texas–based specialty bird-watching travel operator with trips worldwide. It features six birding trips to Peru, including the Manu Biosphere Reserve, Tambopata, Machu Picchu and the eastern slope of the Andes, the Amazon, and a 18-day tour of the endemic-rich region of northern Peru. Group size is limited to 14 participants.
Kolibri Expeditions (www.kolibriexpeditions.com; tel. 01/652-7689), based in Lima, offers birding tours across Peru, including around Lima, the central coast, and condor-watching trips. Most are no-frills, budget camping trips, but the outfit also offers a few pampered, high-end trips.
WINGS (www.wingsbirds.com; tel. 866/547-9868 from the U.S.) is a specialty bird-watching travel operator with 3 decades of experience in the field. It promotes three trips to Peru, including an 11-day trip to Machu Picchu and Madre de Dios. Group size is usually between 6 and 18 people.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.