Lake Manyara National Park is one of Tanzania’s smaller and most underrated parks. While it may lack the size and variety of other northern-circuit destinations, there’s pretty much one main north-south route through the park, its vegetation is diverse, ranging from savannah to marsh to evergreen forest (11 ecosystems in all) and it supports one of the highest biomass densities of large mammals in the world. The chance to see elephant families moving through the forest or Lake Manyara’s famous population of tree-climbing lions (although sighting them is becoming increasingly rare) is alone reason enough to come.
The dramatic western escarpment of the Rift Valley forms the park’s western border. To the east is the alkaline Lake Manyara, which covers one-third of the park but shrinks considerably in the dry season. During the rains, the lake hosts millions of flamingos and other birdlife.
Lake Manyara Treetop Walkway
Enjoy a guided bird’s-eye view of Manyara on Tanzania’s first treetop walkway (370m). It begins at ground level and climbs gently into the canopy, reaching a maximum height of 18m above the forest floor. Given the importance of the trees in Lake Manyara (and the lions that famously climb them), there’s a certain magic in climbing up into the canopy.
When to Go
Year-round. June to October is best for large mammals; November to June is best for birds.
This is the only northern-circuit park where anyone can do night drives. They are run by Wayo Africa from 8 pm to roughly 11 pm. Park fees must be paid directly to the park before 5 pm. Advance booking and usually advance payment are required.
The park allows two-to-three-hour walking safaris, with an armed ranger along three trails. Reservations are required and the park has no vehicles to take hikers to the trailheads.
The Msara Trail, the nearest path to the gate about 11km away, follows its namesake river along the Rift Valley Escarpment through great birdwatching territory up to a viewpoint. The Lake Shore Trail starts 38km into the park near the Maji moto (hot springs). It crosses acacia woodland and savannah and is the path where walkers are most likely to meet large mammals and find flamingos. The Iyambi River Trail, 50km from the gate, is wooded and rocky with good birdwatching and a chance to see mammals.
Wayo Africa has three walking options in the area: a nature walk along the escarpment, a forest walk down the escarpment, and a village walks in Mto wa Mbu. All start from Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge or a pre-arranged point in Mto wa Mbu.
The park has 10 double en suite bandas (thatched-roof Huts) with hot water, bedding, and a cooking area, located just inside the park gate.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge
This lovely, luxurious place is one of the most exclusive lodges in all of Tanzania. The gorgeous stilted tree-house suites with private decks and views from the bathtubs and outdoor showers are set in a mahogany forest at the remote southern end of the park. The food is excellent and the rooms have butler services.
Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge
The 67 well-appointed rooms in this large complex occupy appealing two-story conical thatched bungalows in shady grounds. Nature walks and village visits are available, as is massage. There’s no extra cost for the fine views (the best is from the swimming poolside).
It lacks the intimacy and naturalness of other escarpment properties but is nevertheless a justifiably popular choice.
Migunga Tented Camp
The main attraction of this place, mostly known by its old name (Lake Manyara Tented Camp) is its setting in a grove of enormous fever trees (migunga in Swahili) that echoes with bird calls. The 21 tents ringing large, grassy grounds are small but adequate, and they’re fairly priced. The camp is 2km south of the main road.