Peru’s
Cloud Forest, where highland clouds meet the jungle, is a day’s drive from Cusco and is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. Wayqecha, a biological station run by the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), is the ideal home base while exploring this diverse ecosystem.

Here, the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazonian lowlands. Tremendous climatic changes occur as the landscape sweeps from snow-capped mountains to the treeless plains and dry valleys of the altiplano, before a sudden descent into steep cloud forests and the broad expanse of the low-lying Amazon floodplain. This topographic complexity has resulted in an exceptional array of habitats sustaining a vast number of species.

We explored the Cloud Forest recently with Apumayo Expediciones and the team from Wayqecha. Here’s what we found.

1

The six-hour drive from Cusco to Manu National Park and the Cloud Forest is on gravelly dirt roads crossing over the Andes. There are many good stops in local villages for hearth bread and regional fruits, and many scenic places to pull aside and enjoy lunch.

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In July, the town of Paucartambo is home to the three-day Virgen del Carmen festival, one of the biggest street parties in the country, drawing tens of thousands of Peruvians annually.

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Manu National Park is known for its broad diversity of species and climates. Established in 1968, the Park encompasses diverse ecosystems such as lowland rainforests, cloud forests and Andean grasslands. UNESCO recognized it in 1977 as a Biosphere Reserve and in 1987, as a World Heritage Site.

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The Amazon Conservation Association’s Wayqecha Lodge has comfortable lodging designed to host visiting biologists. The cabins overlook a large canyon, often shrouded in cloud in the evenings.

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Hiking in the Cloud Forest can give the sensation of being transported into a fantasy world. The diversity of the mist-shrouded plants — and the sheer number of them —makes for great trekking adventures.

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Wayquecha contains more than nine miles of trails winding up and down the surrounding mountains. This particular trail, dotted with exotic plants including a high number of orchids, leads to the station’s canopy walkway.

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Wooly monkeys thrive just below the cloud forest, and can occasionally be seen along the roadway connecting the Cloud Forest to the lower jungle system. They swing dramatically from tree to tree, eating and playing as they go.

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Dawn from Wayqecha: a brilliant burst of pink light, and a trail of lingering clouds blowing in from the lowlands.

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The canopy walkway system gives a completely different angle on this, and allows travelers to experience a layer of the rainforest that they otherwise would not see.

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A hearty, warm drink made from fruit juice and quinoa provides adventurers with sustenance in the morning before a busy day hiking the Cloud Forest. Wayqecha’s kitchen provides tasty local cuisine in workload-worthy quantities.

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The biologists and staff at Wayqecha Biological Station are eager to help visitors experience the rainforest at its fullest. Percy (right) and his team can spot monkeys, orchids, and many more of the forest’s secrets long before visitors can.

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After hiking down thousands of feet from Wayqecha, we crossed a stream before starting the hike up the other side. Hiking trails of all levels are available, but we’d recommend coming prepared with plenty of hiking and cardio experience — it means you can focus on the surroundings and not on catching your breath.

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