When we’re feeling stressed out we often talk about taking a break and getting back to nature. Well, this project is no ordinary walk in the park and getting back to nature really doesn’t get more natural than this…
This Rainforest Environmental Conservation project is located in a UNESCO World Heritage site situated in the foothills of the Amazon in northeast Peru. As a volunteer, you’ll be part of an amazing conservation research program in what is arguably the most lush and biodiverse area in Peru.
The biodiversity monitoring initiative unites the National Park Authorities, local non-profit conservation organisations, indigenous communities and international volunteers.
At the very heart, the project aims to protect the natural world whilst working with the local community. You’ll get the opportunity to connect with the local communities, immerse yourself in breathtaking biodiversity and participate in challenging physical activities.
This is a truly inspirational experience that will have you contributing to a sustainable, well-structured and meaningful project.
- Project Activities: Transects, amphibian and reptile surveys, pit falls, butterfly nets, mist nets, support bio-garden building. (Note: This is a very hands-on experience – you will be rolling your sleeves up and fully participating)
- Project Availability: Monthly starts available throughout the year. Contact CISaustralia for start dates.
- Project Duration: 4.5 weeks
- Working Hours: 6 days per week, early starts and some late nights
- Location: Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru
- Support: 24-hour on-site support from our Project Leaders and Site Director
- Minimum Age: 18+
- Language: English. Having basic Spanish is useful but not required
Some highlights of the program include
- Understand the value of regenerating tropical forests to find a balance between conservation and human use
- Produce bilingual educational and research materials
- Train both volunteers, students and local visitors in biological techniques and conservation issues
- Support essential projects designed to increase the income and nutritional levels of local people through sustainable land management
- Work with nearby villages on a bio-garden building initiative to improve child nutrition and provide additional income to local families. (Volunteers work directly with the project coordinator and assist each family with their project. This program provides the most direct way of changing lives and the local communities can see the difference in their lives in a matter of weeks)
- Help local farmers plan and construct agro-forestry plots as a sustainable alternative to slash-and-burn farming and illegal logging industries
- Build infrastructure for local family bio-gardens with community members
- Plant seedlings and check on growth rates, soil acidity and help make compost
- Collect data on mortality and disease rates, species and distribution information from reforested plots
- Create and map reforested plots, planting seedlings and crops
- Help calculate and determine carbon values and sequestration rates per plot
Below is a sample itinerary of what volunteers may do daily. These are subject to change and volunteers will be placed on projects that require the most attention – we ask that volunteers remain flexible and enjoy the opportunity to experience various projects during their time in Peru.
Below is a sample program schedule:
Day 1: Arrival
Airport pick-up; use the day to acclimatise to the altitude. Please rest and drink a lot of water! Meet your CISaustralia Site Director. You’ll be briefed on the schedule for the next few days and dropped off at your accommodation.
Day 2: Briefing and orientation
Registration and orientation in Cusco – city tour and introduction to Peruvian culture. Lunch is provided. You will have the evening free.
Day 3-4: Travel to project location (one night in cloud forest)
At approx. 5.30am you will depart on a journey over the Andes Mountains and through the cloud forest. There are several stop-offs along the way. By the late afternoon/evening you will arrive at a lodge in the heart of the cloud forest where you will spend the night. Note: This is a 8-12 hour drive (pending season / road conditions), travel time may be longer in wet season (October to April).
The next day you will travel a few hours to the local port where you will take a boat (45 minutes) down the Madre de Dios River to your placement location. You will then settle into your accommodation and start your placement induction and training – welcome to the jungle!
Note: Cusco is approx. 12 hours away. If for any reason you need to arrive at a later date or leave the placement early, a private transfer can be booked to/from the placement at a cost of approximately USD$500.
Day 5-6: Project induction & training
Your first week will consist of a training and induction program designed to maximise your experience by ensuring you are properly trained in how to live in the jungle and effectively work on projects.
Day 7: Day trip to hot springs
This day trip is highly recommended. An opportunity to see more of the biodiversity and culture of Manu. If you choose to stay at the project site, you may be engaged in specific program activities that relate to maintenance of the reserve and lodge, help on sustainable initiatives (bio-gardens, water and waste management, etc.) and can even help out in the kitchen. Sunday is a day off for the permanent research team and so no conservation research activities will be available.
Day 8-9: Further training
Day 10+: Project work (except Sundays)
Volunteers give their time six days per week. A roster system balances any late nights and early morning activities. Sundays are off to relax.
Final night on project site
Second Last Day
Full-day travel back to Cusco. You’ll take the boat back to Atalya and then a bus all the way back to Cusco.You will spend the evening at a local hostel booked for you and enjoy a farewell dinner with the CISaustralia Site Director.
Sample daily schedule:
Different projects have varied timetables but generally in the rainforest, the day starts and ends earlier than normal to make the most of available daylight. Most volunteers adapt to their new rhythm in the rainforest within their first week. The projects you will undertake all combine a mixture of mental and physical challenges and the friendly on-site staff will always be on hand to help and guide, so please don’t be afraid to ask!
Below is an example of a typical day, although please be aware that activities vary depending on projects. This is provided to give you an indication only – your days may be similar, or very different!
- 5:30am: Visit the clay lick and monitor the Blue Headed Macaws
- 7am: Breakfast (Sunday is usually pancake day and a later start for breakfast)
- 7:30am: Trek into the forest to check camera traps
- 12:30pm: Lunch
- 1-3pm: Rest / data entry / assistance around the project site
- 3-5pm: Work in the bio-garden
- 5pm: Spanglish lessons whilst helping with dinner in kitchen
- 6:30pm: Dinner
- 7:15 pm: Night transect for amphibians
- 10:30pm: Return to lodge with amphibian bounty. Shower, hot chocolate then bed (there would not usually be an early start the following day due to the late night)
The Volunteer's Role
The scientific research program has 3 main areas of focus:
Most volunteers prefer to focus on the conservation aspect of the work on the Reserve. However, you are also able to get involved in the sustainable community initiatives that run alongside this important work. A breakdown of the activities generally available is as follows:
IMPORTANT: Due to the nature and location of the project, we reserve the right to amend and change program activities based upon: health and safety concerns; force majeure; climatological factors, such as heavy wind and rain (rainy season December to April); and the needs of the project and local community. The seasonality of location can impact project activities and the experience.
Scientists estimate that only 10% of the species in the rainforest are known. In order to preserve the Amazon, it is vital that you first understand it. Volunteers will actively enable this process by monitoring the flora and fauna of the area. By studying flagship species such as the endangered Blue Headed Macaw, you will explore how humans impact biodiversity and contribute to ensuring these species remain protected.
Activities vary and will normally consist of the following (working in forest that has been completely or partially cleared or selectively logged and now regenerating):
- Collect and monitor species and habitats found at the project site
- Data collection and management (you will be taught how to ensure good data is recorded)
- Amphibian and reptile surveys, pitfalls, butterfly nets, etc.
- Explore how humans impact on biodiversity and crucial conservation issues
- Study footage of mammals via camera traps and forest transects
- Monitor and register trail biodiversity (jaguars, tapirs, deer, birds and monkeys)
- Process and upload data that is used by international conservation projects to determine wider conservation strategies
- Contribute to data that helps ensure these species remain protected and inform government decisions
- Support bio-garden building and maintenance
This forms part of the herpetology survey and approx. 20 locations are checked daily to measure the species’ density and distribution. Each reptile or amphibian specimen will be bagged and taken back to the project centre for processing. This survey requires an early start and gives you the chance to see all rainforest types during the most active part of the day. Once back at the centre, it’s straight to the lab to put your processing training to the test! This involves identification, weighing, measuring different body parts and lots of photo taking! Once all of the data has been recorded, then you can set them free in the forest type where they were found.
This is the faultless technique of catching birds in a huge, fine net strung across laid out transects at 3 locations. It allows us to measure the species’ diversity and density. You’ll be shown how to detangle birds from the nets, identify each one and help to measure and weigh them. You will be shown how to check for brooding patches, sex, molting and fat percentage. Once all the data has been collected, you are taught how to handle the birds and can set them free. This is very hands-on and there’s little that’s more incredible than weighing a hummingbird of only 2 grams!
The project records activity from the bird hide which looks out onto a key clay lick on the edge of the Madre de Dios River. Colpa is offered most mornings from 5am (it is not offered Sunday or if raining). You will be taught how to identify each species by their colouring, flying styles and bird calls. By looking through binoculars and telescopes, and listening out for their calls, you’ll be taught to identify which species are visiting the clay lick and in what numbers. This data is recorded, alongside numbers of tourists visiting the lick, and is also a great opportunity to see large mammals such as the tapir and jaguar who sometimes come down to drink at the water’s edge. The main focus for this project is the threatened blue headed Macaw, which has declined significantly in conjunction with growing tourist numbers. The clay lick monitoring is vital for the design of tourist management plans to conserve these coy birds and ensure their useage of the lick is not disturbed.
Avian Mammal Transects (AMTs)
For this survey method, you’ll be up bright and early at the best time of day to spot birds and mammals. Transects run throughout the year at specific locations all over the rainforest in different habitat types. All transects are a slow 1km stroll and is when some of the most exciting encounters have been made like Giant Anteaters! It’s a great way to explore the rainforest and take down valuable data to enter into the GPS map of species’ distribution and density.
Blue-headed Macaw and Clay Lick Monitoring Program (On the Colpa)
The Blue-headed macaw has been classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, meaning it is threatened with extinction. Decreasing populations are thought to be due to a combination of exploitation for the pet trade and loss of habitat through deforestation and increased human disturbance. So far we have found a decrease in the number of blue-headed macaws using the clay lick over the last few years, correlating with an increase in tourist numbers. Monitoring and education efforts hope to reduce disturbance to the macaws and allow ecotourism to make a positive contribution towards their conservation. Volunteers arrive at a river island before dawn each morning (6 mornings per week) to monitor the clay lick. We record the number and activity of parrots and macaws and any observed tourist impacts. You are at colpa by 5:40am so expect a few beautiful sunrises – it is worth the early morning!
Butterflies are very sensitive to their environment and so are a great indicator species when it comes to forest types. For this survey, you will set out cylindrical nets baited with banana (and other ‘bait’) across several locations and canopy heights. These nets are then checked daily and you will be taught how to catch and hold them. The butterflies must be photographed in situ, and then you will use the photos back at the lab to identify each species. This is a really exciting survey as you’ll get to see and hold a huge array of butterflies and learn about photographic data collection. This is a seasonal activity and also dependent on trained field staff being available.
Amphibian Bamboo Trapping
Amphibian transects have historically been limited to the ground of the rainforest, but many live up much higher in the canopy and, because of this, are extremely rare to find. To address this bias, a series of bamboo traps at times are laid out all over the forest over several heights within the canopy. These are left overnight and checked regularly for these rare species. The findings have been very interesting and include several unusual amphibians that would never have been located on the ground. You may get the chance to make these traps from scratch and to be innovative in their design. If there is a particular species you wish to find, then a trap can be specifically set to mimic their habitat and hang it at the exact height.
Amphibian & Reptile Survey
The best time to hunt for amphibians and reptiles is at night so this survey always finds lots to look at. You will be led along a transect, usually by a stream, river or a local swamp. The idea is to keep your eyes and ears open for the team to catch, take back to the lab and process amphibians and reptiles. In some areas of the forest, the sound of the frogs calling to each other is deafening and also truly wonderful! You would never imagine that such unusual sounds could come from these little creatures.
Over the last few years, the team has built over 60 bio-gardens in the local community, enabling communities to grow their own fruits and vegetables from seeds. This has a two-fold effect in that it raises the nutritional levels of the local community and it also offers a small income. The project is in the process of setting up small food-cooperatives for the locals to sell their produce. Some bio-gardens have been able to sell their produce directly to the project centre, where it is used to prepare meals. To measure the success of this project, the height and weight of each child beneficiary has been registered with the local hospital and will be checked yearly to see if it has an impact on their health. The economic value that this project has for locals in terms of money saved and made on their produce is also measured.
The majority of this activity takes place across the river in Salvacion, where over 65 hectares have been planted with the current model of agroforestry. Multiple agroforestry plots have been sponsored and built for local families and is projected to create an income of more than $150k over the next 40 years. The project has seen 1,500 beneficiaries and over 6000 trees panted. Generally, in the region many crops are grown as monoculture which is disastrous for the environment and risky for the farmer when crops fail. The project’s method is to grow several types of bananas, soft woods and hard wood trees on the same 1-hectare plot in alternating rows. This creates a better habitat for local wildlife, introduces indigenous trees back to the region and provides beneficiaries with a substantial long-term income. This aims to offer local communities a viable, economic alternative to slash and burn agriculture and illegal logging.
There are approximately 15 camera traps set up across the project site and each one has to be checked regularly for the photos to be downloaded and batteries replaced. They are used to track large mammals and nocturnal species that may not be seen during walking transects during the day. This year, jaguars have been spotted along with lots of pumas, ocelots, tapirs and rare bush dogs. This is very exciting work and a great way to see the larger mammals of the Amazon close up. Camera traps are usually left up for 1-4 months and may, or may not, be running when you are on-site.
This project is physically demanding and requires a high level of physical and mental fitness to participate on the program. All volunteers must be able to:
- Independently follow verbal and visual instructions.
- Traverse over uneven and muddy terrain on a daily basis in a hot, humid environment. You may be required to walk up to 10km a day for survey work.
- Enjoy being outdoors all day in all types of weather, often exposed to intense heat or highly variable weather conditions, which may include sudden tropical storms.
- Enjoy being outdoors in the potential presence of wild and possibly dangerous animals, snakes and insects.
- Get oneself into and out of a small boat and ride seated while wearing a personal flotation device.
- Carry personal daily supplies such as lunch, water, insect repellent, sunblock, camera and some small field equipment (camera traps, etc.). Some assistance will also be needed in getting supplies from the boat or van, however, heavy lifting is not required of those who cannot manage it.
- Get low enough to access and collect samples on the ground and in the brush, and to check or set up camera or live collection traps.
- Mentally cope with being in an isolated environment with very little contact with friends and family.
- All participants must be suitably fit for project work and prepared for living in an isolated location and volunteers MUST remember that they are in the amazon to SUPPORT!
Included in your program fee is a day trip to the local hot springs. Take a boat trip for two hours to the Aguas Calientes hot springs, the land of the native community of Shintuya. The community is home to one of the region’s first missions and has a mixed population of indigenous Harakumbut and immigrants from the Andes. Take a dip in the hot springs and enjoy their medicinal qualities as you relax in the warm water. Learn more about the local community and how people live here. Have a picnic lunch before returning to the lodge with wildlife spotting on the return boat journey.
You will also have the chance to undertake your own personal adventures before or after your program (at own expense). Discover some of South America’s most fascinating archaeological sites in Peru, hike Machu Pichu and visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Explore nearby Cusco’s museums, churches, art galleries and markets and be sure to visit a local bar for a free salsa lesson. On-site staff can also help you to plan additional activities.
Some of the other exciting and adventurous activities near Cusco include sand boarding (Peru has the largest sand dunes in the world), hiking, canoeing, zip-lining, rafting and much more. So before you get on that plane, grab a pen and paper and write yourself a must-see list. Peru has so much to offer!
The project base is an Amazonian research and learning centre located within Fundo Mascoitania, a 640-hectare reserve encompassed within the cultural zone of the Manu Biosphere Reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage site in southeast Peru and the largest protected area in the country. It is in an ideal location for conservation research due to its geographical location on the Andean foothill terrain.
The project base is located in secondary, regenerating rainforest. The area was once farmland and the forest had been selectively logged and, in some areas, completely destroyed for growing crops and grazing cattle. It has been regenerating for 30-50 years and strictly protected for just over a decade. It now harbours 87% of the biodiversity that’s found in primary forest.
Of all the world’s forests, 57% are secondary, meaning they have been impacted or disturbed by people. Researchers at the project centre have proven that 87% of biodiversity can return to secondary forests if they are protected and left to regenerate naturally – all is not lost.
Due to the differing altitudinal gradients, many species ranges overlap bringing a crossover of higher altitudinal species and lowland species. A great example of this is the presence of both pumas and jaguars, which have been recorded on the camera traps. Its location and regenerating forest habitat makes it a unique place for research.
The area is situated within the Amazon River basin and protects almost the entire watershed of the River Manu and most of the tributaries of the River Alto Madre de Dios. Because the project centre is situated within regenerating secondary forest, it is ideally placed for studies of regeneration of habitats after disturbance.
Manu currently supports four native ethnic groups: the Machiguenga, the Mascho-Piro, the Yaminahua and the Amahuaca. These peoples are considered part of the park’s natural system, and are left to use the park as they please while their lifestyle does not threaten the park’s objectives. The on-site team works with local people, and often has local Machiguengan employees. Additional field sites are opened up throughout the year according to research needs. Volunteers may be given the opportunity to visit these sites during, or for the entirety, of their program.
During the program, you will be completely surrounded by beautiful wildlife and vegetation. Remember to pack a camera! Keen photographers will have the opportunity to photograph some of the most amazing flora and fauna. After a full day’s work, relax in a hammock and admire the sunset, read a book or play a few games and get to know your fellow volunteers.
The project is approximately 12 hours from the city of Cusco. On either side of your volunteer program, you might like to spend some time wandering the cobbled city streets exploring museums, churches, art galleries and markets. In the evenings visit lively clubs and bars for a free salsa lesson.
Within easy distance of Cusco is Peru’s most famous ancient site – the lost city of the Incas – the mighty Machu Picchu. At 2,430m above sea level and set in the most extraordinary and beautiful tropical mountain location, Machu Picchu is a site not to be missed.
For the first two nights of the program, volunteers stay in a hostel in the centre of Cusco.
Project Base in Manu
The project base provides comfortable, airy accommodation, research facilities and ample space for project needs. The centre has solar powered internet (which is sporadic and backed up by a generator), environmentally sound septic system and gravity fed water pumps in order to keep within the centre’s aims to minimise its impact on the environment and reduce its carbon footprint.
Whilst at the project base, you will share a secure room in a lodge that has been verified by the Rainforest Alliance for high standards of sustainability. The lodge is environmentally designed to ensure the station minimises its impact on the environment. Each accommodation pod/room has two to four beds with fresh bedding and linens (including mosquito nets), which are changed once a week. Rooms are constructed in an open plan style with a splendid view of the forest creating a feeling of total immersion in the surrounding nature.
Due to the remote location of the project and the open design of the buildings, there can be a lot of insects around. Each volunteer is provided with a mosquito net over their bed to keep out insects and a plastic storage box under their bed which should be used to store items that may be easily damaged by the insects and humidity. Food should not be left in the accommodation pods as it will attract animals such as rodents and cockroaches. A storage box in the kitchen area is provided for volunteers to store snacks.
Great emphasis at the base is placed on collaboration and community spirit. As well as being your home for the duration of your stay, it is also home to other residents, such as local and international staff, tourists, visiting researchers, interns, local students and international university groups.
Program Fee & Dates
|4.5 weeks - Year Round
|Application deadline is 60 days prior to commencement. Monthly starts available throughout the year. Contact CISaustralia for program dates.|
Program fees include the following:
- Volunteer project placement
- CISaustralia support before, during and after the program
- Academic advising
- Financial advice
- Assistance with travel arrangements
- Pre-departure guide and session
- On-site orientation, project induction, first aid, technical and scientific training
- Airport pick-up from Cusco (on specified program dates within designated times)
- Accommodation – shared room in a forest eco-lodge, shared bathrooms and lounge area
- Meals – 3 meals per day (including water, juice, tea and coffee) when at the volunteer project site. (Note: Not all meals are provided on the first 2 days in Cusco and the final evening meal)
- Hostel stay in Cusco for 2 nights on arrival and 1 night at end of program
- Transport to project site – road-trip through the Andes into Manu Biosphere Reserve
- Overnight stay in the cloud forest
- Local transport within Manu
- Excursion to hot springs
- 24/7 on-site support – Site Coordinators
- CISaustralia Certificate of Completion
What is not included:
- Health insurance
- Additional nights accommodation in Cusco before or after your program
- Airport drop-off
- Meals not included: first day’s meals in Cusco; second day’s evening meal in Cusco and final evening meal
CISaustralia reserves the right to alter fees at any time due to currency fluctuations and/or fee changes made by our partners.
Dates are for reference only and are subject to change. Please do not book flights until you have received the confirmed dates in your acceptance paperwork.