Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James
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A Machiguenga (Matsiguenka) child plays in a tree with pet spider monkey in Manú National Park.

Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James

Meet the People Who Live Inside This Eden-Like Park

Photographer Charlie Hamilton James shares a glimpse inside Manú National Park—home to undiscovered species and uncontacted people groups.

To reach Manú, Peru’s gloriously diverse but “highly inaccessible” national park, you’ll have to forget planes, trains, and automobiles and try pushing a boat up an Amazonian river. That’s how photographer Charlie Hamilton James reached the remote communities he documented while working on a National Geographic assignment there. “It was the stuff you get excited about when you’re a kid,” Hamilton James says, “but the reality of it is that it’s a real pain.”

National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James has returned time and again to work in Manú National Park. Hear him explain why he keeps coming back in the video below.
Photographing The People, Plants, and Animals of the Amazon WATCH: Manu National Park in Peru is not only one of the most biodiverse places in the world, it's also a park that many people call home.

Manú might be hard to get to, but its remoteness is part of the reason it’s remained so pristine. (The park is also a biosphere reserve and a World Heritage site.) "Although lots of places claim to be the most biodiverse on Earth, Manú is officially the most biodiverse place on Earth," he says. At more than 6,500 square miles, it’s home to the Matsigenka tribe and other still uncontacted groups—highly unique for a national park—and, according to Hamilton James, countless undiscovered species.

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An adult male jaguar at Cocha Blanco, Madre de Dios, Peru

In Manú’s case, the indigenous people weren’t pushed out of the park as they so often are, but continue to live inside. Because of this, a lot of the park is restricted. Encountering uncontacted people is dangerous, because they could end up “firing arrows at the people coming into the park,” Hamilton James explains, “but I suppose more of a threat is us giving them diseases.”

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A Matsigenka boy spends time by the river as his community fishes. In order to catch the fish, barbasco root is used to poison them. The root is crushed and placed in sacks that are then placed in the water, which causes fish downriver to die or become immobilized so they can be collected.

As threats of logging increase and the population of inhabitants who live off of Manú’s resources grows, questions have arisen about the park’s continued existence as an ecological haven.

That’s why Hamilton James, who might prefer not to push any more boats up the Amazon, keeps going back. “It's cliché to say, [but] I want people to see this extraordinary diversity so that we don't carry on destroying it.”

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Ilarios, a member of the Machiguenga tribe, walks across a log in Manú National Park.

See more of our coverage of Manú National Park in this month's issue of National Geographic magazine.

Charlie Hamilton James is a photographer and conservationist from the U.K. who’s currently living in Wyoming. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Becky Harlan is an associate producer for National Geographic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.