Lake Manyara National Park: The Complete Guide

Tree-climbing lions, East Africa

Jonathan & Angela Scott / Getty Images

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Lake Manyara National Park

Address
Msasa Ranger Post, Tanzania
Phone +255 763 815 111

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.

Things to Do

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.

Safari

Most visitors to Lake Manyara National Park travel there as part of a Tanzanian safari itinerary. Luxury options like Scott Dunn'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.

Night safaris are especially popular at Lake Manyara because it's the only national park in Tanzania that allows them. However, night safaris can only be undertaken with a guide. If you're planning on a self-drive safari, the park is only open until sunset.

Game Viewing

Lake Manyara National Park is home to three big cat species—lions, leopards, and cheetahs—but 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, 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 lakeshore. 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. 

Where to Camp

There are four campgrounds in the park and one just outside the park entrance, all of which require visitors to bring their own camping gear, food, and tents. Another camp-like option without having to buy gear is to stay in one of the bandas, which are like small cabins with brick walls. The bandas are located near the visitor center at the park's entrance, while the campgrounds are spread out across the park. To stay at a campsite or in one of the bandas, advance reservations are recommended.

Where to Stay Nearby

Unless you're camping, the lodges around Lake Manyara aren't cheap. Other than camping, there's only one accommodation option within the park itself. There are also plenty of other options just outside of the park's borders at the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment, offering spectacular views of the lake at a slightly lower price.

  • andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge: As the park’s only permanent lodge, andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is the obvious choice for travelers with a big vacation 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, a massage sala, and its own canopy walkway to explore the park from the treetops.
  • Kirurumu Manyara Lodge: Kirurumu has 27 tented rooms, all with ensuite bathrooms, hot and cold water, and electricity. The lodge also offers activities like mountain bikes to rent, full-day treks, and even hot air balloon rides over the park.
  • Escarpment Luxury Lodge: Escarpment Luxury Lodge boasts 16 private chalets, a spa, and a swimming pool. The gorgeous grounds are often visited by the local wildlife and each chalet has its own balcony, so you can watch right from the comfort of your room.
  • Lake Manyara Serena Lodge: Serena Lodge prides itself on its memorable experiences, from evening cocktails on top of the escarpment to alfresco dinners accompanied by traditional song and dance.

How to Get There

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 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.

Alternatively, you can fly from Arusha to Lake Manyara Airport (LKY) in the far north of the park. Flights take 30 minutes but are only offered via small charter planes like Auric Air and Coastal Aviation.

Accessibility

Since most of the park is explored from a vehicle and it's not in a remote location like other safari destinations, Lake Manyara is an ideal place to see wildlife for travelers with mobility impairments. To make the most of the trip without having to worry about transport or accommodations, there are also multi-day packages available that explore the entire Northern Circuit of Tanzania specifically with wheelchair users in mind, such as Mupana Tours.

Tips for You Visit

  • Lake Manyara National Park has a pleasant, temperate climate year-round with hot days and chilly nights. Make sure to pack some long sleeves for early morning safaris to stay warm.
  • Whatever time of year you choose to travel, there’s something to see at Lake Manyara. However, what type of wildlife you're most likely to find varies with the season.
  • 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 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.
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Lake Manyara National Park: The Complete Guide