One of the most exciting journeys you can make anywhere in South America is to go from the mountains to the rain forest, either headed east to the Amazon from the Andes, or, in Colombia and Ecuador, toward the west and the Pacific lowlands.
The route in Peru from Cusco to the Manu Reserve area of Amazonia is no exception.
1) The starting point at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco
Head north out of town from the main square through the less well-heeled outskirts of town and eventually you climb from the river valley on a precipitous, one-lane gravel track, with bottomless drop-offs to the left.
2) The road begins to climb
The route passes through the highlands, winding its way among small villages and farms. At one point it intersects an unusual geological formation, which local legend holds to be a huge boulder, the size of an office building, that fell from the sky and crashed, breaking apart on impact. I stopped and hiked up to these rocks on one occasion, and they certainly looked like the the remnants of a strange natural event, but it was hard to tell.
Regardless, the road eventually arrives in Paucartambo, home to a famous religious festival and a seventeenth century Spanish bridge.
3) The Juan Carlos Bridge in Paucartambo
Evidently the Spanish were keen on the region from their earliest times of settlement. One can imagine them continuing from town and arriving at Tres Cruces, the high-point of the route where, without warning, the bottom falls out of the Earth and the vast Amazon basin unfolds to the horizon like waves on an undulating sea of green.
4) The cloud forest begins
5) Here the track is still above the forest a good vertical distance, but very close horizontally
As you ride the road downhill, the air warms and becomes more fecund, the humidity rises sharply and at last you’ve left the austere high Andes behind, dropping into a world gone riotous.
6) Further down