Lake Manyara National Park is located on the edge of the Rift Valley about 125 kilometres west of Arusha and is particularly known for its tree climbing lions and its thousands of pink flamingos that feed on the edge of the lake. Covering about 325 square kilometres, this national park is among the smallest game parks in Tanzania, but it is still worth seeing and great for an afternoon game drive on your way to Ngorongoro.
Our guide Nathoo, met us at the Manyara Airstrip, where we flew in from Arusha on a six seat charter with Coastal Aviation. At the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park with Nathoo picking up the necessary permits, we were taken on a quick walking tour by a local who explained the various fauna that is found in the park and what the Maasai tribespeople had used them for.
As we later found, Lake Manyara National Park is quite different from the Ngorongoro National Park and the Serengeti National Park. This park has a lot of vegetation, with over 670 flowering plants, and diverse habitats of acacia trees, grassy floodplains, marshes and tall forest.
You will see other game such as wildebeest, zebra, cape buffalo, giraffe, hippo, warthogs, waterbuck, dik-dik and impala, but their numbers depend on the time of year.
A Dik-dik is a tiny antelope standing just 1 to 1 ¼ feet at the shoulder and got its name from the unusual sound the females make which sounds like a wheezing or whistling sound “dik-dik”.
We did not see a lot of elephants the day we were there as the forest makes it easier for them to take cover from the hot sun, however we did see a large male elephant on his own coming through the trees towards the road. Our guide explained he was on his own because he was in “Musth” which means he is getting ready to mate and is highly aggressive. And aggressive he was. When he got to the road he picked up his pace and started quickly walking towards us, forcing our guide to put the jeep in reverse and bid a hasty retreat. As we drove backwards for about a half a kilometer, we could see him coming towards us at each bend in the road and then it appeared that he finally felt we had left his territory and retreated back into the trees.
At that point our guide felt it was safe to continue going in the direction we initially were, only to find the elephant standing in the trees next to the road. After we passed him, he once again decided to take a run at us and show us this was his domain!
After that bit of excitement, we continued on in search of the park’s main attraction, Lake Manyara’s famous tree tree-climbing lions. It wasn’t long before we found them lounging in the shade during the hot day. The lions usually spend their days in the trees, descending at sunset and while tree climbing lions have been seen in other national parks, in Lake Manyara, they do it very often and for much longer.
It’s interesting to note that Lake Manyara also lays claim to Africa’s largest groups or troops of baboons. These highly social animals are fun to watch as they walk down the road or congregate beside the road. The younger ones play with each other scampering around or climb on their mother grooming her.
We were also very fortunate to see African Blue Monkeys whose habitat is the canopied forest and makes them harder to spot. They aren’t really blue, but they have very little hair on their face which does sometimes give them a blue appearance.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Lake Manyara?
It is generally thought that the best time is June to October during the dry season, which is also considered the high season, however you shouldn’t write off the rainy season from November to May when the vegetation is beautifully lush. Our safari took us there towards the latter part of November, and while we did not see an abundance of large animals, it was one of our favorites because of its uniqueness.
Getting to the Lake Manyara National Park
There are a number of charter flights from Arusha Airport to Lake Manyara Airstrip or you can drive the approximately 125 kilometers from Arusha.
Despite its relatively small size if you’re driving by on your way to Ngorongoro, we highly recommend a visit.