We booked a 5-day Manu tour with Pantiacolla because we were impressed with the company´s emphasis on sustainable eco-tourism. We were deeply disappointed and frustated with the experience. We´ve detailed some of the major shortcomings below so that other travelers can be aware and not waste their money as we did. Pantiacolla is not cheap -- we paid $700 USD/person and it was absolutely not worth the cost.
1. Our tour guide Michel was utterly unengaging. He only provided information if we asked questions about the flora & fauna and he seemed bored with his job. On the last day of our tour, Michel slept through a good portion of the 6-hour boat from the lodge. He abruptly left us before we returned to our hotel in Cusco, providing us with only a two-minute warning that he would be departing. We drove the last 15 minutes to our hostel with only Ramiro, our cook, in the vehicle. Granted, this would not have been an issue at all as we are quite low-maintenance travelers, but it was nonetheless very unprofessional on Michel´s part.
2. We did not do a number of things listed on the trip itinerary, and not all of these omissions could be attributed to weather problems. All of the below items were promised in the itinerary we received.
- We were never presented the option to do the traditional rafting on the Madre de Dios River
- We were not presented the option to hike in the higher mountain trails of the Pantiacolla Mountains. We thus did not see the oil stream or natural swimming pools.
- We were never presented the option to see the local orchid sanctuary.
- We were not able to visit Rana Cocha (Frog Lake) for our night walk because the trail was not cleared and our guide had not bothered to check this in-advance (despite having been at the Lodge for 2 days and having ample time to check trail conditions).
3. We went on the same two trails on the Pantiacolla property numerous times because our guide did not offer an alternate walk. It should be noted that these are WALKS and not hikes -- we were under the impression that this would be a somewhat active trip but the tour was incredibly slow-moving. Other than these two trails that we walked repeatedly, two additional trails our guide attempted to use were not well-maintained and required much standing around while he hacked at branches with a machete. Utter waste of our time, and Michel ended up giving up clearing both of the trails he attempted to take us on. We declined to go on one of the afternoon walks because it was so repetitive.
4. Safety issues include Michel´s lack of caution while using a machete to clear trail (he did not check behind him to see how close we were and came close to hitting us on multiple occasions, even when we asked him to be more careful & provide us with a warning before he began swinging. He failed to do so.) Another safety issue was the motorized canoe -- we did not receive any sort of safety briefing, no life jackets provided, etc. Finally, due to Pantiacolla´s own vehicles breaking down, a local driver with a private vehicle provided our ground transportation back to Cusco. The vehicle did not have seat belts (Pantiacolla´s vehicles did).
5. The day before our tour at our briefing, Marianne of Pantiacolla informed us that the 5-day tour was not a trip that one should expect to "see many mammals." Since their materials advertize spotting caimans, capybaras, giant otters, taipirs, and even jaguars, this would have been pertinent information to know before booking. We saw none of these mammals. We saw a variety of birds, 4 types of monkeys, and a glimpse of a wild pig...not what we had been led to believe. It should also be noted that even our guide said the wildlife we would spot on the night walk would be limited to insects & frogs. No night monkey, no snakes, etc. (animals again that were listed in Pantiacolla´s promotional materials).
6. Though Pantiacolla does say that days 1 and 5 will involve 8 hours of transport (via car/bus), this was a vast under-estimate. Due to mudslides and falling rock, the first day we were stuck for an additional 2 hours on the road to Manu. A Pantiacolla tour group that departed after did not arrive until 10 PM at night, approximately an additional 6 hours. Considering how dangerous the road and river conditions are during the rainy season, it is surprising that Pantiacolla runs these tours...and does so without informing people of the great likelihood that tour participants will spend a great deal of time "stuck and waiting." Pantiacolla´s materials do not anywhere not the full transport time for days 2 and 4. On each of these days, we spent 3+ hours driving. On day 2, the motorized canoe ride took 3 hours, and on day 4 (upstream), the motorized canoe ride took 5 hours (not including time spent at the local hot spring). Considering how much time we spent sitting in either a boat or a car, we really felt that this was a waste of our money. We would have appreciated knowing more accurate time estimates so that we could have determined whether or not this trip would have been a good fit for our interests.