Lake Manyara National Park is located in between Tarangire National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, making it the ideal addition to any Northern Circuit safari. It is bordered to the west by a dramatic Rift Valley escarpment; and dominated in the wet season by the soda lake for which it is named. Although the park is relatively small with a total area of just 130 square miles, it’s one of Tanzania’s most underrated safari destinations. It boasts no fewer than 11 distinct ecosystems (from open savannah to dense evergreen forest) and one of the world’s highest densities of large mammals.
Lake Manyara National Park is home to all three big cat species and is famous around the world for its population of tree-climbing lions. It’s not certain why the lions have adopted this unusual behavior – although experts theorize that the elevation gives them relief from biting insects or a better vantage point for spotting prey. Either way, the sight of these apex predators lounging high in an acacia tree is a remarkable one, and one that is particularly associated with Lake Manyara and Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. Leopards also like to spend their daylight hours in the trees, so make sure to look upwards when on a Lake Manyara safari.
Tree-climbing lions aside, the park is known for its large elephant herds and baboon troops that often include several hundred members. Buffalos, zebras, Sykes’ monkeys, and various antelope species can also be spotted, including the diminutive dik-dik. The resident Maasai giraffe is the largest of all giraffe subspecies and consequently the tallest animal on Earth. At one end of the park, there’s a hippo pond where visitors can get out of their vehicles and admire the aquatic mammals wallowing, playing and fighting in the mud – from a safe distance, of course.
Lake Manyara is also a well-known birding hotspot with over 400 recorded species. In fact, the birdlife here is so abundant that even amateur ornithologists can reasonably expect to spot as many as 100 species in a single day. The lake attracts countless herons, egrets and other waders during the wet season, and is famous for the vast flocks of flamingos that congregate here from March to May. If you’re lucky, you may see thousands of these rose-colored birds amassed together along the lake shore. Other specials include the Abdim’s stork, the African hawk-eagle, and the Von der Decken’s hornbill. In summer, migrant species arrive from Europe and Asia.
Things to Do at Lake Manyara National Park
The top activity at Lake Manyara National Park is game-viewing, either in an open-topped safari jeep or in your own vehicle. The main driving route takes you along the lake’s edge and through a range of diverse habitats including dense woodland and steep mountainsides. Lake Manyara is also the only national park in Tanzania to allow night drives, giving you a better chance of spotting nocturnal animals like leopards and hyenas. If you choose to stay inside the park at andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, you can take part in a range of exclusive activities from lakeshore bicycle safaris to a magnificent treetop canopy walk.
Lodges located outside the park are able to offer other rewarding experiences including Maasai-guided nature hikes, canoeing, mountain-biking, and cultural visits to Mto wa Mbu village.
How to Visit Lake Manyara National Park
Most visitors to Lake Manyara National Park travel there as part of a Tanzanian safari itinerary. Luxury options like Imagine Africa’s Deluxe Safari and Beach or andBeyond’s Romantic East Africa combine time in Lake Manyara with stops in Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, followed by a few days on the beach either in Zanzibar or on private Mnemba Island. For a more affordable tour, consider The Tanzania Specialists’ Short and Sharp North itinerary which makes the same stops but overnights in more budget-friendly accommodation. If you’d rather explore the park independently, opt for a self-drive safari in a local hire car.
However you choose to visit, you will need to pay a daily conservation fee ($45 per adult, $15 per child aged five to 15, younger kids go free). If you’re self-driving, expect to pay TSh 20,000 for a regular vehicle permit and understand that night drives can only be undertaken with a guide. Unless they are offered by your lodge or camp as an inclusive activity, night drives cost $50 per adult and $25 per child.
Where to Stay
As the park’s only permanent lodge, andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is the obvious choice for travelers with an unlimited budget. The experience starts with a 3.5-hour game drive from the Lake Manyara airstrip to the lodge, which is located deep within a tract of remote mahogany forest. There are nine treehouse suites, all decorated in ultra-luxurious, classic safari style. The lodge offers gourmet, open-air dining in a traditional boma, has a massage sala and its own canopy walkway. If you don’t have thousands of dollars to spare but still want to stay inside the park, there are five public campsites operated by Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA).
Outside the park, options include Kirurumu Manyara Lodge, Escarpment Luxury Lodge and Lake Manyara Serena Lodge. All three are situated on the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment and offer spectacular views of the national park and soda lake. Kirurumu has 27 tented rooms, all with ensuite bathrooms, hot and cold water and electricity. Escarpment Luxury Lodge boasts 16 private chalets, a spa and swimming pool; while the Serena Lodge prides itself on its memorable experiences, from sundowners on top of the escarpment to al fresco dinners accompanied by traditional song and dance.
Weather & When to Go
Lake Manyara National Park has a pleasant, temperate climate with warm temperatures during the day in between chilly nights and early mornings. Like the rest of Tanzania, the park experiences two rainy seasons – a short one from November to December and a long one from March to May. The long wet season is the best time to travel if you want to see the lake and its birdlife (including the flamingoes) at their most impressive. The entire November to April summer season is best for spotting migrant birds, while most resident species are sporting their breeding plumage at this time.
March and April are also the best months for catching the annual Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra, both in Lake Manyara and in the surrounding northern parks. If you’re more interested in the region’s resident wildlife, the long dry season (June to October) is considered best for general game-viewing. Essentially, whatever time of year you choose to travel, there’s something to see at Lake Manyara.
If you’re traveling to Lake Manyara as part of a Northern Circuit itinerary, it’s likely your tour will start in Arusha, the region’s adventure capital. This is also the best place to hire a car for a self-drive safari. You can catch direct flights to Arusha Airport (ARK) from Tanzania’s main port of entry – Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) in Dar es Salaam. The park is situated 78 miles west of Arusha on the A104, a distance that takes around two hours to drive. It’s also approximately two hours by road from Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Tarangire National Park.