You can use public buses as far as the road goes, enabling you to see a good part of the “cultural zone” by going as far as Shintuya. The tricky part is finding a boat from Shintuya to Boca Manu and onward to Puerto Maldonado – I have no idea how frequent those are. They certainly dont go every day. If none goes, or the price of chartering one is to expensive, you may have to backtrack to Cusco.
Here is some info about independent travel in the Manu “Cultural Zone”, from our recent trip:
Cuzco – Pilcopata (8 hours): 3 buses per week, bus company “Unancha” or “Gallito de las Rocas”. Price 20 Soles.
Those buses take the road via Tipon – Huancarani – Paucartambo.
It would seem attractive to take one of the more frequent buses to Paucartambo, and catch the onward bus to the Manu there, but the problem is that they only stop briefly in Paucartambo and often arrive full. So if want an assured seat, it is best to board the bus in Cusco and buy the ticket 1-2 days before.
Pilcopata – Atalaya – Salvacion – Shintuya (2-3 hours): daily buses, price 5-6 Soles, at least two companies, one of them is “Jose Olaya” which meets any bus arriving from Cusco to Pilcopata. Also most vehicles on this road will stop for passengers.
The place where you can find onward boats to Boca Manu is in Atalaya or Shintuya. I haven’t heard of any boat actually going, in the three days I spent in that area recently – so the departures may be quite rare… sorry cant tell you more precisely.
Short trips and attractions
In Shintuya, you can find boats going shorter distances to quite attractive destinations:
- a place called “Aguas Calientes” which are hot springs at the shore of the main river, 45 min downriver from Shintuya and in an excellent jungle setting.
- a native Machiguenga village called Pantiacolla (not to be confused withe the similarly named tourist lodge which has a different location further downriver).
Both of those would make good daytrips starting in Shintuya. The locals use those boats, so you may pay as little as 10 Soles for a seat if the boat is already scheduled to go with other passengers.
In walking distance from Salvacion, there is a municipal nature reserve called “Cocha Machuhuasi”. It is a small lake surrounded by forest, with some bird life, and you can see monkeys if you are lucky. Entry is free, and the guard charges a negotiable fee for paddling you around the lake on a raft and giving explanations. A further 10 min walk brings you to the main river, with the pretty view of the jungle-covered mountains across. We were surprised to see some expensive tours stopping there and visiting the lake.
Between Salvacion and Shintuya, the road follows the limit of the “Amarakaeri Communal Reserve” which is also the destination of some tour operators from Cusco. By asking around in Shintuya, you will most likely find some local who can take you on walks in the reserve.
Pilcopata has a good choice of several hostales and restaurants, rooms starting at 15 Soles.
Atalaya: There also are some restaurants in Atalaya, dont know about accomodation.
Salvacion has two hostales which are not obvious because they are not directly on the main road, but anyone will be able to give you directions. The most expensive rooms go for 35 Soles, the cheaper ones for 10 Soles.
Shintuya has a community-owned hostel which is signposted from the main road. Dont know the prices, but saw some backpackers coming from there so it cant be too bad.
All the places listed (Pilcopata, Atalaya, Salvacion, Shintuya) have food for sale. Along the river, the things you will likely find are bananas, and maybe some fish for sale.