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Lake Manyara National Park/Tanzania

Introducing Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park is one of Tanzania’s smallest and most underrated parks and many safari circuits skip it. The dramatic western escarpment of the Rift Valley forms the park’s western border and to the east is the alkaline Lake Manyara, which covers one-third of the park’s 648 sq km but shrinks considerably in the dry season. During the rains the lake hosts millions of flamingos (best seen outside the park on the lake’s east shore) and a diversity of other birdlife.

While Manyara lacks the raw drama and many of the particular animals of other northern circuit destinations its vegetation is diverse, ranging from savannah to marshes to evergreen forest (11 different ecosystems in all) and it supports one of the high biomass densities of large mammals in the world. Elephants, hippos, zebras, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeest, waterbucks, klipspringers and dik diks are often spotted. Leopards, hyena and the famous tree-climbing lions (lions climb trees in other parks too, but it’s more common in this national park) are here, but seldom seen. Since most visitors are doing their wildlife drive in the afternoon, the morning is the best time to visit.

This is the only northern circuit park where anybody can do night drives (adult/child US$50/25), unlike Tarangire National Park where you must be sleeping at the particular camp that offers them. These are run by Wayo Africa from 8pm to roughly 11pm. The cost is US$60 per person (with a group of four) plus park fees, which must be paid directly to the park before 5pm. Advanced booking is required. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge and Lemala Manyara also do night drives for their guests. The park also allows two- to three-hour walking safaris (per person US$20, per group up to eight people US$20) with an armed ranger along three trails. The Msara Trail, the nearest path to the gate (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 hot springs (maji moto). 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 for mammals. Reservations are required and the park has no vehicles to take hikers to the trailheads. Wayo leads walks down the escarpment from the Serena lodge and, if there’s enough water (usually there’s not), canoe safaris on the lake.