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Lake Manyara National Park Tanzania

Occupying a gently indented corner at the base of the Great Rift Valley escarpment west of Tanzania’s northern circuit, Lake Manyara National Park is often overseen by visitors intent on bigger game viewing spots further north. Surprisingly this small and relatively unknown park is one of Tanzania’s greatest natural treasures, delivering an enriching range of landscapes and wildlife encounters in a tight but exciting package. Not for nothing is Lake Manyara’s namesake the park’s focal point, an alkaline, soda-laden, shallow, 200-sq km lake that covers a large proportion of the park’s northern edge and offers a bounty of water for all of its hungry resident animals.

Any type of ecosystem attracts animals and plants, and this is why Lake Manyara National Park is one of the most attractive parks in Tanzania. Its diverse landscape includes groundwater forests, acacia woodlands, open grasslands and, of course, the lake. More than 400 bird species find their habitat at this very special place – which is why Lake Manyara is a paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. All this can be experienced during Tanzania tours to Lake Manyara National Park. The park’s diverse fauna and flora can be observed up close: from the impressive elephant herds or the tree-climbing lions to the flamingos flocking on the lakeshore.

Scenic Beauty Of Lake Manyara

Most impressive of all, Lake Manyara National Park is beautifully landscaped: the Rift Valley escarpment looms over the park, reaching heights of some 500m, providing a magnificent backdrop to wildlife viewing and photography. During the rainy season, waterfalls cascade down the escarpment, and the surrounding vegetation turns lush and green.

At the foot of the escarpment is the famous groundwater forest, a biodiverse primeval green lung fed by underground springs. Kioto lilies, giant ferns, figs, mahogany trees and piles of elephant dung characterise this vegetation which abounds with primate troupes, bushbucks and more than 200 bird species that live there.

The farther you drive into the park, the more the terrain changes to acacia woodlands and open grasslands teeming with species of grazing herbivores, including wildebeest, zebra and buffalo, their predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas, and giraffes that dot the grasslands and browse on leafy delights high in the savanna’s acacia trees.

The lake itself, its mirror-like waters spread across the plain, is lovely. Thousands of flamingos gather, perched on the shoreline for meter after meter to feast on algae from the alkaline waters. The rippled appearance of the pink birds on the blue waters of the lake, and then their sudden jumps as they dipped their long necks down to feed, an impossible vision of shimmering light turned into bird, was a vivid and memorable one.

Tree-Climbing Lions of Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara National Park, famous for its tree-climbing lions. Tree-climbing lions are the exception, not the rule. Only certain lions learned to climb trees. But for the local lion population of Lake Manyara national park, tree-climbing is very characteristic. Many Tanzanian safari-goers end up watching a pair of lions lazing in the branches above them. Why the lions learned to climb is not clear, though it presumably helps them escape the daytime heat, or get away from the park’s tsetse flies, or perhaps gives them a higher view of the bush below.

Primates in Lake Manyara

Black-and-white colobus might be sighted if you’re lucky, as well as vervet monkeys that are highly visible through their long ‘fingers’ while they leisurely strip the bark off trees. You can even encounter primitive baboons and blue monkeys in troops around the park. Lake Manyara National Park is also home to hundreds of elephants; you might spot them wandering between patches of trees, fed-up and swaying their huge heads, or ever so occasionally lumbering their way down into the lake to cool off.

Birding in Lake Manyara National Park

The lake itself is home to more than 300 species of water birds (more than any other national park in East Africa) as well as herds of hippos and crocodiles. Common sightings include flamingos, pelicans, storks, and herons, but also less famous species like cormorants and sacred ibises that one might be tempted to short-change, tally-wise. In any case, anyone looking for a birdwatching paradise couldn’t ask for a more promising place. A view of the Hippo Pool, Lake Mburo National Park, UgandaMuch of the wonder of any national park, of any patch of wilderness, is of course the uncertainty and unpredictability of what one might see and experience. But the one species that guarantees a unique and unrepeatable experience is the raptor. It’s true that these species, unlike lesser avian families, don’t evoke the same sense of sacred portal. That attribute goes instead to the lions that most touristics name as Africa’s archetypal ‘big five’ animal. But lions are endlessly wonderful and evidence of them is often just as elusive. Raptors, on the other hand – falcons, hawks, kites, eagles and vultures – given their position at the top of the food chain, are the truly indispensable piece in any ecological jigsaw puzzle. The most common and visible of them, or at least the most perceptible with the naked eye, is the African fish eagle. The sight of one of these magnificent birds, wings outstretched, beak grasping a freshly caught catfish, its stolid frame gently rippling in the air like a swell at sea, is almost unaffordable in its pristine, vitalist glory. Every time, it feels as if, on this occasion, you might himself die for want of the omnipotence you behold. It also happens to be the one animal species on the entire planet whose name and calling has become enfolded into song: ‘Mbrup, mbrup, mbrup, mburo, mbu-ro, Mburo!’

Other notable wildlife consists of hippos, often resting in the shallows of the lake, as well as small mammals such as warthogs, dik-diks, and klipspringers. A diversity of reptiles are also found including the Nile monitor lizard, the African spurred tortoise and various snakes.

Activities and Experiences in Lake Manyara National Park Tanzania

Lake Manyara National Park offers a variety of activities for Tanzania tour participants. Game drives are the most popular way to explore the park and observe its wildlife. Manyara’s network of roads includes trackways through the diverse habitats of the park, the groundwater forest, the open grasslands and the lakeshore. The cooler times of the day, early morning and late afternoon, are the best times for game drives as animals are at their most active.

A guided walking safari is the best way to get up close to the world of Chimanimani. Armed rangers accompany visitors in learning about the flora, fauna and ecology of the park, and unlike in other walking safaris in Chimanimani we’re allowed to pitch our tents anywhere. The experience of walking through Chimanimani allows you to properly immerse yourself in its diverse landscape and those intimate details of the ecosystem that can only be revealed if you tread slowly and carefully.

Birdwatching is also popular in the park, as the park has some of the most diverse avi-fauna in any East-African park. Water birds, raptors, forest birds and many more can be seen in the park. It is also an excellent place for beginners and the experienced alike. The favoured areas include the lakeshore, the groundwater forest and the acacia woodlands.

If interested in cultural tours, a trip to the adjacent Mto wa Mbu village with more than 120 different tribes can be coordinated. Here, you can learn about tribe traditions and cultures, or take a guided tour of the village, a performance of their respective local performances, or visit a local market.

Night drives, illegal within the national park, can be arranged in some of the outer conservancies, where you might see genets, civets and nightjars, or run into lions and leopards out on the kill.
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Lake Manyara Accommodation

Lake Manyara National Park, Region: Arusha, Open: year-round Lake Manyara National Park has a variety of accommodation ranging from lodge and tented camps to camping sites to suit different styles of travel and all budgets.

Lodges: A number of lodges for those looking for a bit of pampering, with high-end comforts and breathtaking views of the parks’ landscapes. More specifically, there is Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge, situated on the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment and the Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge, which offers an oasis of elegance. Guest rooms are spacious and airy, each one setting out into the shaded tropical gardens amidst the hustle and bustle of the wild.

Tented Camps: Somewhat more in keeping with the rustic nature of the safari experience is the tented camp. Though with many of the comforts of home removed (for the benefit of keeping the camp as eco friendly as possible), tented camps are immersive and authentic without compromising on comfort. At the high-end, elegant tree-house style suites await visitors at the tents of the Lake Manyara Tree Lodge. Photo © Roger De La Harpe. The Kirurumu Manyara Lodge provides cozy tented accommodations with views of the escarpment © Karilums.

Camping: For the more budget-conscious and/or rustic traveller, Lake Manyara National Park has three public campgrounds maintained by the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) located throughout the area, offering some of the best views of the lake, and providing basic facilities such as toilets and water points.

Best Time to Visit Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park is accessible all year round, with each season having its individual and specific benefits. Tanzania safaris are usually considered best in the dry season, between June and October, when the vegetation cover is less dense, making wildlife sightings easier, and animals congregate near the remaining water sources.

The park is in a magnificent green-blue splendor during the wet season, from November to May. While wildlife-viewing may be more challenging than at other times of the year, wildlife has to eat, so no matter the season, you are unlikely to be disappointed. The park scenery is at its finest during the rainy season, with gushing waterfalls and a lush profusion of birdlife. The wet season is coincident with calving season for most of the park’s herbivores, when the young are born and start to make their first steps.

Birdwatchers might wish to visit during the migratory seasons of November-April, when the park thronges with bird species from Europe and Asia. The wet season may also be good for birdwatching as there is plenty of vegetation and insect life.

How To Get To Lake Manyara National Park Tanzania

Lake Manyara National Park is a popular stopover destination en route to the rest of Tanzania’s northern circuit safaris, which stem from Arusha. The park is about 130 kilometres (80 miles) west of Arusha and the journey typically takes two hours by vehicle. The vast majority of Tanzania tour operators include Lake Manyara National Park in their northern circuit itineraries that combine it with visits to other parks such as Tarangire, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.

Rift valley escarpment further south. Overall distance: 185kmOne of the two entry gates to the crater lies on the edge of the town of Mto wa Mbu (Swahili for river with mosquitoes), a tourism gateway to the park and jumping-off point to visit nearby Lake Manyara National Park. Mantra Mto wa Mbu features private concrete wooden chalets, basic camping, lots of restaurants, a river-side with local bars, a local market that turns into a raucous drinking spot at night, and a plethora of cultural experiences for travellers to enjoy.

For those short on time or looking for a more luxurious way to travel, charter flights are available into the Lake Manyara airstrip, which is inside the park. This allows for use of every minute in the park and a scenic aerial tour of the amazing landscapes on the way in and out.