Lake Manyara

Manyara National Park – A Park With A View

What You Need To Know for A Visit to Lake Manyara National Park

Manyara National Park, or more properly, Lake Manyara National Park, is one of the lesser-known parks that make up the Northern Safari Circuit of Tanzania.  But in our opinion, being lesser-known does not mean that it doesn’t deserve a visit.

Due to its vicinity to Arusha, Lake Manyara National Park is often visited by tourists en route to other parks on the Tanzania Northern Safari Circuit.  Like we did, you can plan to visit Lake Manyara National Park in combination with visits to other parks in the north including Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire.

Elephants in Manyara National Park

While it is one of the smaller parks in Tanzania at only 330 square kilometres, it certainly has a lot to offer.  And some of what it offers will be hard to find anywhere else.

Highlights of Lake Manyara National Park

✅ One of the smallest parks in Tanzania so you can get a good game drive experience in just a few hours.

✅ Has the greatest biomass density (weight per area) of mammals in the world – according to UNESCO.

✅ One of the few places in Africa where you have an opportunity to spot Tree Climbing Lions.

✅ Offers a unique Tree Top Canopy Walk along 370 metres of suspension bridges reaching a height of 18 metres off the ground.

Our Experience In Manyara National Park

We came to Lake Manyara National Park after a couple of days visiting nearby Tarangire National Park.  The drive from our lodge, which was located about halfway between both parks took just over an hour.

The drive up to, Lake Manyara National Park is quite spectacular as it takes place along the escarpment of the East African Rift Valley.  There are magnificent vistas of the lake and the valley from several viewpoints along the escarpment.

We came up along B144, the main road if you are coming from the direction of Arusha.  This takes you through the town of Mto Wa Mbu near the entrance to the park.  Mto Wa Mbu means “Mosquito River” in Swahili and was named by the researchers who used this area for camping.

There are 2 access gates to Lake Manyara National Park, one in the north and one in the south.  The northern gate, which is the one we arrived at, is the most commonly used because most of the accommodations are located at the north end of the park. 

Entrance gate to Manyara National Park

Once you get to the main gate, you will get your first glimpse of Lake Manyara National Park wildlife.  The park is noted for its large population of baboons and there are quite a few scattered around the entrance waiting to greet visitors to the park.

Baboons at the park entrance

We were also quite surprised at the lush green forest at the entrance of this park. It is very different than the grasslands and savannah that we had seen in other National Parks in the area.

Baboons in the trees

What Is Special About Manyara National Park?

Several unique characteristics of Lake Manyara National Park make it particularly special.

The park is part of the larger Manyara Biosphere Reserve which was established in 1981 by UNESCO.  It is located on the East African Rift Valley, an extension of the Great Rift Valley which starts in Lebanon and stretches south 7000 kilometres to Mozambique.

Beautiful scenery in Manyara National Park

The Biosphere comprises the lake with its flood plains and associated grasslands, groundwater forest, escarpment, acacia woodlands, evergreen forest and hot water springs.

Entrance sign

This provides the perfect environment for a variety of habitats that attract an exceptional diversity of animals and birds.

Lake Manyara itself is unique because it has an inlet but no outlet.  This is important because the lake floods in the rainy season and then recedes in the dry season.  The ground in the Manyara basin has a high salt content so the rainwater that feeds the lake mixes with the salt from the ground and gives the lake its characteristic alkaline nature. 

Because there is a lot of water in the basin, the area is a prime agricultural region with excellent crops of bananas, coconuts, mangos and rice. On your way to the entrance to the park, you will see many fruit orchards and rice patties along the way. And fresh fruit is readily available by the sides of the road.

Fresh fruit stands

Where Did Lake Manyara Get Its Name?

Lake Manyara National Park got its name from the plant that the Maasai use called Manyar.  The scientific name for the plant is Euphorbia Tirucalli, which is commonly called pencil cactus. 

This shrub-like plant is endemic to this part of Africa and is used by the Maasai for fencing in their goats and cattle.  We saw the practical use of this plant as a fence when we visited the Maasai Village just outside the park. The Maasai also use the Manyara plant for medicinal purposes as it is said to be an effective natural treatment for rheumatism, asthma, warts and toothache.

Cows of the village

Lake Manyara National Park Location

The park is Located in the northern part of Tanzania about 126 kms southwest of Arusha.  The road from Arusha is quite good and the drive takes between 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Alternatively, there is an airport about 10 minutes from the north entrance to the park.  Flights are available from Kilimanjaro Airport as well as Serengeti National Park.

Lake Manyara National Park Map

What Is Lake Manyara Famous For?

Even though it is not as well-known as the larger Tanzanian National Parks like Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara still has its own claim to fame.

It is one of the few places in Africa where you can see Tree Climbing Lions.  These lions rest in fig trees as they do not like the wet forest floor or the ants during the rainy season. 

They also find it much cooler in the dry season, and it enables them to have a good view of their surroundings.  As popular as they are in this park, we couldn’t spot any on our excursion.

There have been occasional sightings in Tarangire National Park which is Lake Manyara’s closest neighbour.  The only other place they have been seen is in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.

Lake Manyara National Park is also famous for its herds of elephants.  The park was initially set up as an elephant sanctuary, and as a result, they have thrived here.  We saw quite a few elephants throughout the park, especially at the edge of the lake.

Elephants at the water's edge

Lake Manyara was quite famous for its large population of migrating flamingos that come in the rainy season.  We were told by our guide, however, that the number of flamingos coming to the park has diminished because the algae that they were feeding on has been receding over the last few years.

How Big Is Lake Manyara National Park?

Lake Manyara National Park is 330 square kilometres of which approximately 220 square kilometres is taken up by the lake itself.

Manyara National Park Things To Do

Despite its smaller size compared to other Tanzanian National Parks, there are quite a number of special Lake Manyara National Park activities.

One that you won’t find in most other parks is the Tree-Top Canopy Walk.  Located in the northern part, the canopy walk offers an opportunity to explore the forested regions of the park perched 18 metres above the ground.

Vervet monkey

The 307 metre long walkway consists of thick roped suspension bridges that provide a birds-eye view of the surrounding landscape and fauna.  Oftentimes, blue monkeys can be seen frolicking on and near the walkways. 

While we weren’t able to take advantage of the Tree-Top Canopy Walk here at Lake Manyara, we have had a similar experience in Rwanda, and highly recommend this activity if you get the chance.

Another Lake Manyara activity that is quite popular is canoeing.  The shallow lake is a great place to explore the aquatic life in a canoe or boat which are both available for rent at the park.

Group shot at Lake Manyara

Because of the amazing and diverse Biosphere at Lake Manyara National Park, there is an abundant amount of bird life here and birdwatching is one of the primary activities that many tourists come for. 

For avid birders, it is not uncommon to spot up to 100 different species in a day.  The lake attracts a variety of water loving birds such as flamingos, pelicans, storks, and herons although they are best seen during the wet season from November to July.

Night game drives are another popular activity at the park, and they provide an opportunity to spot nocturnal animals that are not active during day.

Finally, a popular activity that is enjoyed by many travellers to the Lake Manyara area is to visit a nearby Maasai Village.  The Maasai culture is quite predominant in this part of Tanzania and the tribespeople are warm and welcoming.

Jumping Maasai men

We visited a Maasai village just outside the park and found this to be quite a rewarding experience and certainly something that we would highly recommend. 

We also bought some handmade souvenirs from the village market to support the community and have some memorable keepsakes of our Tanzanian trip.

Handicrafts

Manyara National Park Animals

In Lake Manyara National Park you will find the same species of wildlife and birds that are present in other Tanzanian Parks including elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, baboons (large troops), blue and vervet monkeys, zebras, wildebeest, and antelope.

Baboon family

Depending on the time of year, you will also have the opportunity to see pelicans, herons and storks.  We spent about 4 hours in the National Park and here is the list of wildlife that we saw:

BaboonsImpalas
Blue monkeyZebra
Vervet monkeyBushback
ElephantsAfrican fish eagle
HornbillSilver cheeked hornbill

How Many Lions Are In Lake Manyara?

According to a study conducted over a 1 and a half year period in 2010, it was determined that there are 0.4 lions per square kilometre in Lake Manyara National Park.  That equates to approximately 130 lions based on the park’s size of 330 square kilometres.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Manyara National Park?

While Lake Manyara National Park is open all year round, and you will find wildlife in the park at any time of the year the best time to visit is in the dry season.  The dry season runs through July, August, and September

This is when large gatherings of animals come to the park because the lake is one of the few water supplies at that time of year. 

River in Manyara National Park

If you are more interested in birds than mammals, then you may want to visit during the short rains from November through to March.  This is also when the park is most lush, and its diverse ecosystem is in full force.

Green spaces in Manyara

Most people avoid the wet season which runs from April to June and when there are fewer of the migrating animals in the park.

Things To Know When Visiting Manyara National Park

Avoid making excessive noise to attract animals to your vehicle as this causes stress to many animals in the park.

Do not leave litter in the park, including food scraps.  Litter has been known to choke or even poison some of the wildlife.

Do not feed the wildlife in the park as this upsets the natural order of the park and can make some animals dependent on humans for food.

Always keep a safe distance from the wildlife for their protection as well as yours.

Lake Manyara National Park Entrance Fees

There is a park entrance fee $53 USD which is used to support conservation work.  Everyone entering the park must show id before entering.  If you are on a tour, this is managed by the tour operator.

The Final Word…Is Lake Manyara Worth Visiting?

With its smaller size, its unique biosphere, spectacular escarpment views and unique activities, Lake Manyara National Park is definitely worth visiting.

The park has most of the same wildlife that you will see in the larger parks (and a few unique ones like Tree Climbing Lions).  That means if you are short on time or don’t want to spend days trekking through some of the larger parks, Lake Manyara may be the perfect alternative.

With its easy access from Arusha in under 2 hours, you could fulfill your safari bucket list dream in just a one or two-day excursion.  Even if you are going on a longer safari to some of the other Tanzanian Parks, Lake Manyara is a great starting point. Be sure to add this location to your bucket list.

Our selfie in front of Lake Manyara