Map of the Mayara Region of Tanzania
Lake Manyara is a beautiful little park and is well known for its tree-climbing lions, elephants and three species of primates including the vervet monkey, blue monkey and baboon. The park boasts one of the highest concentrations of elephants in Africa and is home to the largest baboon troops ever documented. The Park provides the only opportunity on the traditional safari circuit to see the striking blue monkey. Lake Manyara is home to an amazing variety of birds and animals, especially considering its small size. A short visit to this serene park will greatly diversify your safari experience as the lush green jungle habitat is of stark contrast to the other parks you will visit during your safari.
Lake Manyara National Park fills roughly 125 square miles of territory but the shallow, alkaline lake consumes the majority of this area. The Great Rift Valley itself is an immense rupture in the earth’s surface, splitting the landscape along a fault some 6500 kilometers all the way from the Red Sea to the Zambezi River; it is one of the earth’s few geological features that can be seen from the moon. It is here, with cliffs towering some 2000 feet above Lake Manyara, that the Great Rift Valley is at its most dramatic.
From whichever direction you approach Lake Manyara, it is a stunning sight. Nestled at the base of the Great Rift Valley, the lake appears like a shimmering mirage in the distance. The mirror like surface of the water reflects the shifting shades of the sky above - from dawn’s rosy hue in the early morning to glittering blue as the sun rolls directly overhead to golden glass as the yellow rays of sunset strike across the Great Rift Valley.
The wooded slopes that blanket the steep escarpment down to the valley are lush and green. This densely forested slope eventually opens up to a vast expanse of floodplains that surround the lake itself and meld into the endless plains beyond the lake that are eventually lost in the hazy distance. The strip of trees between lake and escarpment is so narrow, and the pressure on elephants in the surrounding farm country so great, that Manyara can claim the greatest elephant concentration in East Africa. For this reason and also because the Manyara animals are used to vehicles, it is one of the best places to watch elephants in the world. The first long-term field study of elephants in the wild was conducted in Lake Manyara and the book entitled Among the Elephants by Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton documents this pioneering work.
The landscape of Lake Manyara National Park is a mosaic of varied flora and habitats that hosts an amazing variety of wildlife. This intricate patchwork of complex bionetworks include the groundwater forest, the acacia woodlands, the grassy floodplains and of course the lake itself. In just a two-hour trip foray into the park, it is possible to see all the main highlights in the groundwater forest and the floodplains leading up to the lake. Overall Lake Manyara National Park is an exquisite gem. Small but lovely, and splendidly diverse, this park is true scenic retreat for the eyes and the soul.
In addition to the striking scenery, game viewing can be quite rewarding here at the base of the Great Rift Valley. Resident herbivores that you will likely encounter include elephant, hippo, giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, warthog and impala. Primates include vervet monkey, blue monkey and baboon. Lake Manyara boasts the highest concentrations of baboons in Africa. The baboons are among the more exciting animals to watch in the park as they squabble and feud in their large extended family groups. Baboons live in large communities called ‘troops’ of up to 200 individuals and defend fixed territories belonging to the females.
The baboons, elephants and impala can be found in the groundwater forest in the immediate area around the park gate. This lush green forest of giant fig trees and mahoganies is fed from underground springs that are constantly replenished from the crater highlands directly above the Manyara basin. The forest gives way to floodplains that lead up to the lake about 30 minutes from the gate. On the flood plains and fringes you will encounter buffalo, wildebeest and giraffe. There are also several pools supporting large concentrations of hippos.
Carnivores include lion and leopard. There are several resident lion prides in the park but they are much more difficult to see as compared with their cousins in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. The leopards of Manyara, though abundant, are elusive and only the occasional lucky visitor ever glimpses one in Manyara. If you are keen on seeing a leopard, make sure to spend two nights in the Central Serengeti as the Seronera River Valley is your best place to see a leopard in perhaps all of Africa.
It is commonly said that Lake Manyara is one of best the parks in Africa for birdwatchers. With over 300 species including migratory birds, even the most seasoned bird enthusiast will not be disappointed. The lake itself attracts thousands of greater and lesser flamingos along with many other aquatic species. Two of the more interesting species commonly seen are the long-crested eagle and the grey-headed kingfisher.
We find that a quick day visit to Lake Manyara incorporated on any itinerary between the Ngorongoro Crater and Arusha or the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire is ideal for most travelers. The park gate is just a few feet from the main road and this combined with the fact that the park is small allows for quick and rewarding forays into the park. In addition, the majority of the wildlife found in the park is usually located in close proximity to the park gate. The walkway around the visitors center at the park gate is actually the best spot to see the stunning blue monkey. A two to four hour visit to Lake Manyara makes a superb addition to any safari itinerary.