Tree-climbing lions, colourful flamingos and serene lake views
Lake Manyara National Park may well be Tanzania’s most underrated national park. With fierce competition from the Serengeti, Tarangire, Selous Reserve and Ngorongoro Crater, it may be tempting to overlook, but the rich and diverse wildlife and vegetation, with environments ranging from savannahs to marshes, are not to be missed.
To the west, the park is flanked by the slopes of the Rift Valley, whilst in the east lies the serene alkaline waters of Lake Manyara. In the height of the wet season, the lake covers around a third of the park, but shrinks to a fraction of the size in the dry season.
Lake Manyara is home to an impressive collection of large mammals, from herds of elephants to pods of bathing hippos to the elusive tree-climbing lions, which can be difficult to track, but incredible to see in the wild. In the wet season, you’re sure to see some of the wide variety of bird species which migrate here, including colourful flamingos.
The park can be explored in different ways, including self-drive safaris, night drives, walking safaris and even canoe safaris across the lake when water levels are high enough.
There are three trails available for walking safaris: the Msara Trail along the Msara River with great views of the park; the Lake Shore Trail, which starts 38 kilometres inside the park near the maji moto hot springs and offers great opportunities to see large mammals and flamingos; and the shady Iyambi River Trail, which starts 50 kilometres from the park entrance and is good for birdwatching and wildlife observation.
The newest addition to Lake Manyara National Park is the Marang Forest Reserve, which is a highland forest area covering 250 square kilometres. The reserve lies in the southwest of the park, though trails and tracks for game drives are still in progress.
Lake Manyara National Park may not be Tanzania’s biggest or most popular national park to visit, but that’s just what makes it even more special.
Best times to visit Lake Manyara
Tanzania’s national parks can be visited at any time of year, as the wet and dry seasons provide opportunities for different types of wildlife viewings.
Lake Manyara is at its peak size in the wet season (November to May) and canoe safaris are available when the water levels are at their highest. The scenery is also at its most green and lush when the rains come, and there are usually fewer tourists. Wet roads can make drives more challenging, but you’ll be rewarded with the diverse birdlife that calls the lake home during the winter months and the newborn mammals which can be seen in the spring.
In the dry season (June to October), wildlife observation is made easier by the shrinking water source and sparse vegetation. Temperatures are cooler, so warm clothes may be required, especially in the early mornings.