This article was published by our friends at The International Ecotourism Society, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Your Travel Choice blog.
An interview with Luis Felipe Raffo, founder of the family-owned Tambo Blanquillo Lodge.
Where is Manu National Park and what makes it a special place to visit?
The park is located in Peru’s southern Amazon rainforest, in the Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region. It covers over 15,000 square kilometers and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of its vast biological and geographical diversity.
Manu is one of the most remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon that is still accessible to travelers. It takes six hours from the closest town by car and boat to reach our lodge. It is this remoteness that makes Manu such an attractive place to visit. Unlike the more accessible regions of the forest, Manu is still a pristine wilderness that has been barely touched by human development and is teeming with wildlife.
How long have you been working in the Manu region? How is your lodge constructed?
I first visited Manu in 1986 and started working here in 1990. The Tambo Blanquillo Lodge, since 1985 when it was first built, has undergone several changes. At first it was all built in the native Machiguenga style, using wooden piling, bark floors, palm roofing etc. The big problem is that this type of material doesn’t last more than five years, so after that period you have replace everything with new materials.
This works fine for nomadic tribes like the Machiguenga people that don’t stay long in the same place, but for a commercial settlement that pays very close attention to its environmental impact, it doesn’t add up. So we had to find a balance between local materials and standard construction materials, while trying to keep the local flavor and minimize our impact.
The lodge consists of a communal dining room overlooking the Madre de Dios River, 20 individual lodge-style rooms and a platform deck that can accommodate around 20 tents.
What are the main attractions in the area?
Unlike the more northerly regions of the Peruvian Amazon, there is plenty of dry land in the Manu region, which makes it easy to take hikes through the forest. Visitors can hike to oxbow lakes to spot caimans, squirrel and capuchin monkeys, but the most popular activity is the hike to a nearby claylick which draws hundreds of parrots and macaws from miles around.
There is also a canopy observation tower that is 50 meters high and the highest in the entire region, which is the best way to view the forest at canopy level.
Other popular activities are the night hike to search for nocturnal creatures and fishing trips to catch your own catfish and piranha for dinner. As at most Amazon lodges our guests take guided excursions on all these activities and more during their stay.
What does your company do to minimize the impact of your operations?
We use solar energy as our main source for heating water and lights. For cooking we mix gas stoves and wooden stoves and for drying clothes we use a wooden drier that also doubles as a sauna. All the wood used is driftwood that the river provides. We try to provide food to our guests made from local staples or fruits. The fish by the way is super.
What can visitors do to have a more sustainable trip to Manu?
The main thing is to choose your tour operator and accommodation carefully. Some companies are more environmentally aware than others in their choice of building materials, construction styles and the supplies they import into the region. Generally speaking the more local materials and supplies (including food), the better.
What do you think is the main reason for visiting Manu?
I don’t want to repeat all the usual facts about Manu being a unique place to see nature in its pristine environment – all that stuff you can read in any guide book. For me there is something about a trip to Manu that tightens our relationships with each other and helps us connect on a spiritual level, with our companions and with the environment around us. You can hear people who have visited Manu talking about their trip and memories for years and years.