Almost ten percent of Peru is incorporated into some form of protected area, including seven national parks, eight national reserves, seven national sanctuaries, three historical sanctuaries, five reserved zones, six buffer forests, two hunting reserves and an assortment of communal reserves and national forests.

The largest of these protected areas is the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria, an incredible tropical forest region in northern Peru. This is closely followed in size by the Manu Biosphere Reserve, another vast and stunning jungle area, and the Reserva Nacional Tambopata and Parque Nacional Bahuaja-Sonene, again an Amazon area, with possibly the richest flora and fauna of any region on the planet. Smaller but just as fascinating to visit are the Parque Nacional Huascarán in the high Andes near Huaraz, a popular trekking and climbing region, and the lesser-visited Reserva Nacional Pampas Galeras, close to Nasca, which was established mainly to protect the dwindling but precious herds of vicuña, the smallest and most beautiful member of the South American cameloid family.

Bear in mind that the parks and reserves are enormous zones, within which there is hardly any attempt to control or organize nature. The term “park” probably conveys the wrong impression about these huge, virtually untouched areas, which were designated by the National System for Conservation Units (SNCU), with the aim of combining conservation, research and, in some cases (such as the Inca Trail) recreational tourism.

In December 1992, the Peruvian National Trust Fund for Parks and Protected Areas (PROFONANPE) was established as a trust fund managed by the private sector to provide funding for Peru’s main protected areas. It has assistance from the Peruvian government, national and international nongovernmental organizations, the World Bank Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Program.

Visiting the parks

There’s usually a small charge (usually around S/30 a day) to visit the national parks or nature reserves; this is normally levied at a reception hut on entry to the particular protected area. Sometimes, as at the Parque Nacional Huascarán, the cost is a simple daily rate; at others, like the Reserva Nacional Paracas on the coast south of Pisco, you pay a fixed sum to enter, regardless of how many days you might stay. For really remote protected areas, like Pacaya-Samiria, or if for some reason you enter an area via an unusual route, it is best to check on permissions – for Pacaya-Samiria you would need to contact the SERNANP office in Iquitos. Most frequently visited National Parks will have an official hit for registration and paying of entry fees (which range from S/4 up to S/30 a day). For details check with the protected areas national agency SERNANP at Calle Diecisiete 355, Urb. El Palomar, San Isidro, Lima (01 7177500, sernanp.gob.pe), the South American Explorers’ Club in Lima or at the local tourist office.

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