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Located 125 km west of Arusha town, nestling by the wall of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park is one of the oldest and most popular sanctuaries in East Africa. The park has a large variety of habitats, making it possible to support a wealth of wildlife in its small area.
Lake Manyara National Park is small compared to Tanzania’s other parks. At only 330 square km it fits neatly into the Great Rift Valley it is the real Cinderella of Tanzania parks. It is often overlooked and underrated but this gem was described by Ernest Hemingway as ‘the loveliest place I have ever seen’ when he set eyes on it. The shallow alkaline lake is often covered by resident flamingos and whatever the park lacks in size it make up for in diversity.
The range of ecosystems at different elevations make for dramatic scenery and if you’re a birder this park has to be on your list of places to visit. There is a huge variety of habitats making for a great range of birdlife. The park is also known for its famous tree-climbing lions. It has been suggested by a local warden that this strange behavior probably started during a fly epidemic when the big cats decided to take to the tress to escape from the swarms of biting flies and that this ongoing behavior has now become part of everyday life. Other animals found in the park include buffalo, elephants, leopards, baboons, impala, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich and hippos. Popularly referred to as an ornithologist’s paradise, Lake Manyara National Park contains over 400 bird species found in most savanna and river habitats in East Africa. Common water birds to be seen here are pelicans, spoonbills, Egyptian geese, hammerkops and the migratory flamingoes, which arrive in hundreds of thousands creating one of Africa’s great natural sights over the soda lake.
This is a birding paradise a gem for ornithologists. The alkaline soda of Lake Manyara is home to an incredible array of bird life that thrives on its brackish waters. Pink flamingo stoop and graze by the thousands, colourful specks against the grey minerals of the lake shore. Yellow-billed storks swoop and corkscrew on thermal winds rising up from the escarpment, and herons flap their wings against the sun-drenched sky.
The agricultural and fresh produce market town of Mto Wa Mbu, is situated next to the entrance of the Lake Manyara National Park. The enormous amount of groundwater pouring through the rock of the escarpment in this area, has created the ideal habitat for fresh produce and the local farmers grow everything ranging from bananas to maize. The town is a souvenir hunters paradise, harbouring thousands souvenir salesmen – ready to pounce at the slightest invitation. Mto Wa Mbu, which literally means “mosquito creek”, is very malarial, so make sure you put on lots of insect repellent.
Wherever you drive in the Lake Manyara National Park – the lake is never far away. The water is slightly alkaline, even though fresh water rivers, streams, and escarpment springs mainly feed the lake. A diverse collection of water birds like pelicans, storks, cormorants, geese and ducks all congregate in abundance around the shores of Lake Manyara, and at certain times of the year the lake hosts thousands of flamingos. Please refer to the map below for further details, and safari information guide on this awesome and picturesque wildlife reserve in Tanzania.
After entering the Lake Manyara National Park, the visitor is surrounded by the “ground water forest”. This unique forest area resembles a tropical rain forest, but the vegetation is mainly supported by an underground water supply instead of an abundant rainfall as in the case of rain forests. This unique forest provides an ideal wildlife habitat for the African blue monkey, bush and waterbuck, the nocturnal aardvark as well as the vervets, the favorite prey of the leopard. The forest, which produces an abundant number of wild fruits and figs, is a great attraction for the majestic African elephant and the few remaining black rhino in the park. The Hippo Pool located in the Simba River, not only attracts these 3000kg animals, but many of the parks nearly 400 species of birds, including the predatory fish eagle, which lives in and around the Hippo Pool.
Further south, between the Msasa and Bagayo rivers, the ground water forest changes into a flat-topped acacia woodland – the home of the notorious tree-climbing lions of Lake Manyara. Grass feeders and browsers like impala, zebra, giraffe and elephant are also common in this area. Further south, past the Bagayo River, an area most notable for its majestic baobab trees, lays Maji Moto Ngogo a fresh but hot water spring (40°C). Near the end of the park a second set of hot water springs, Maji Moto bubbling around (60°C) can be seen – a good place to boil your eggs for lunch!
Lake Manyara’s most visible predators, and also its prime tourist attraction are lions, famous for their habit of climbing trees. Why the lions of Lake Manyara National Park and not those of nearby Serengeti and Ngorongoro spend so much time in trees remains a mystery. The acacia (umbrella trees) woodlands south of the Msasa River, do however provide an ideal spot for the Lions to retreat to, in the heat of the day.
There are several tented camps and luxury lodges available around Lake Manyara National Park. Visit the Lake Manyara lodges and camps page for more information.