Watery landscapes make for abundant wildlife; consequently, Lake Manyara National Park offers a variety of experiences not found in other parks in Tanzania. The high diversity of mammals and birds found at Lake Manyara National Park is due to water, fertile soils, and an array of landscapes including mixed acacia woodlands, riverine forest and open savannah. Ernest Hemingway, taken with the scenery, proclaimed it, “the finest country I had seen.” The 325-km2 park, which is part of the larger UNESCO Lake Manyara Biosphere Reserve, lies between Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the north and Tarangire National Park to the southeast.
Lake Manyara safari highlights
Lake Manyara National Park is one of the few places in Africa to observe tree-climbing lions, but more on the tree climbers later. There are not many places in Africa where you can take a canoe safari, but Lake Manyara National Park is one of them. When the shallow lake’s water level is high enough, you’ll get close to elephants, giraffes or other animals that graze near the Lake Manyara shoreline.
Another unique Lake Manyara safari experience offered at this park is a night safari. View wildlife such as lions and nocturnal hippos by booking night drives. It might be your only chance of seeing hippos out of the water. In the daytime, explore the tree canopy on the Treetop Walkway while you keep an eye out for blue monkeys and birds.
Be forewarned about yet one more highlight, a curious troop of baboons may greet you at the visitor centre. The largest concentration of baboons anywhere on the planet lives within the park boundaries.
The Big 5 in Lake Manyara National Park
Buffalo: 700 Cape buffalo, also known African buffalo, were reported in a 1994 park census.
Elephant: Conservationists established the park in 1960 to protect a significant population of African bush elephants here and in nearby Marang Forest Reserve. A 2016 study shows 266 elephants inhabit the park. African bush elephants, by the way, are the largest land mammals on earth.
Rhinoceros: Poachers decimated the black rhinoceros population that lived within the park in the late 1980s. Black rhinos are now locally extinct in Lake Manyara National Park.
Lion: As described earlier, Lake Manyara National Park is one of the few places to spot tree-climbing lions. In a recent behavioural study, lions in trees accounted for 2/3 of all lion encounters in Manyara. The lions spend much of the day resting on the branches of large acacia and mahogany trees. Biologists rarely evidence this fascinating behaviour in other lion populations in Africa.
Leopard: Leopards live in the park, but it is unusual to see one during a daytime safari. However, those on night drives occasionally capture images of leopards.
Lake Manyara wildlife beyond the big 5
Maasai giraffe, the largest-bodied subspecies of giraffe, are plentiful in Lake Manyara National Park. That’s good news for safari enthusiasts on their way to Ngorongoro crater where giraffes are absent. The park is renowned for the thousands of flamingos that flock to the shallow lake. At times, the birds group so densely that they give the wetlands a pink hue.
Bushbuck, Grant’s gazelle, impala, Thomson’s gazelle, waterbuck, warthog, wildebeest and zebra could be grazing together around the Lake Manyara safari circuit. Don’t miss driving to the hippo pool to see the semiaquatic mammals. Olive baboons, which travel in troops and are fun to watch and, as stated previously, Lake Manyara National Park has the largest concentration of baboons anywhere on earth. Blue monkeys also inhabit the treed areas.
Besides colourful flamingos, over 350 bird species live on the lake – some of the most diverse birdlife in Africa. In fact, BirdLife International designated Lake Manyara and the Marang Forest Reserve on the neighbouring uplands as the Lake Manyara Important Bird Area. Read a first-hand account from a Lake Manyara National Park safari visitor.
How to get to Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park is on Tanzania’s northern circuit route for overland safaris. Fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), and from there, drive or fly to the convenient Lake Manyara Airport (LKY) 3h25m /191 km. From Lake Manyara Airport, positioned at the top of the East African Rift, Lake Manyara National Park is only 0h10m/6 km away.
Another option is to fly into Dar es Salaam (DAR) on an international flight and then connect to Arusha (ARK) on a domestic flight. From Arusha, you can drive 1h38m/107 km to the park’s entrance gate. Lake Manyara National Park is the closest national park to Arusha and is on the way to Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Entry to the park is not allowed after 6 pm or before 6 am, so plan your Lake Manyara safari accordingly.
Best time to visit Lake Manyara National Park
July, August, and September are the driest months, when migrating wildebeest grow the number of animals in the park, and is the best time to visit Lake Manyara National Park. During the dry months, animals gather around water sources, and so guides can better predict the best places for spotting. Visitation is also high in June and July, the coolest months with average highs of 25 °C (77 °F).
The wet season between November and mid-June is the best time to visit for bird watching and canoe safaris.
To avoid traffic, take your Lake Manyara safari in the morning hours, which is also the time of day when you’ll observe increased animal activity. Yet no matter what time of year, Lake Manyara National Park provides excellent wildlife viewing because of the substantial number of animals in the relatively small park. You can cover the compact road circuit in roughly three to four hours.
Lake Manyara safari accommodation
Although Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is the only lodge within the park boundaries, its location, two hours from the park gate, is genuinely isolated. The luxury lodge is made up of well-appointed treehouse suites, each with its own bathroom, outside shower and wall-sized windows that open to a private deck that looks out over the forest.
Outside the park, 20 minutes from the entrance gate, is Kirurumu Manyara Lodge with upscale permanent tented rooms. Families are welcome, and activities include ethnobotanical walks led by Maasai guides and mountain biking excursions.
The eco-friendly Manyara Ranch Conservancy, a luxury tented camp, brings guests together with local Maasai people for activities that involve wildlife. The ranch’s mission merges tourism, cultural immersion and conservation, as the Conservancy is situated on the animal migration corridor that connects to the Manyara ecosystem. You’ll find that the ranch is not only a sanctuary for wild animals but also your soul.
For budget accommodation 15 minutes from the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park, try Havennature Safari Camp and Lodge. The rustic camp is positioned to catch cool breezes high above the park on the Rift Valley Escarpment. Enjoy dining on an open-air deck overlooking the surrounding forest, and take the trail down terraces built by local workers to the campfire pit.
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