​Expert Reviews – Lake Manyara NP

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Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

8 people found this review helpful.

Elephants, Tree-climbing Lions & Dramatic Scenery
Overall rating
4/5

Lake Manyara National Park is one of Tanzania’s most scenic parks. The lakeshore with its floodplains gives way to acacia woodland below the steep walls of the Rift Valley escarpment. As you enter the park, you’ll find yourself in lush groundwater forest, a favorite habitat for blue monkeys and baboons. The canopy is always alive with birdsong, most notably the nasal calls of the silvery-cheeked hornbills.

Lake Manyara is famous for its tree-climbing lions, and I’ve been lucky to witness this little-understood behavior here on several occasions. Another draw is the big elephant population. I've had some very close encounters with massive tuskers, which tend to be particularly relaxed here. The park’s other claim to fame is the opportunity to see flamingos. Unfortunately, the road that used to run close to the shore has been closed for several years and might not be reopened. At present you won’t be able to see the flamingos and big flocks of other water-associated birds, unless you head out by canoe, one of the many activities on offer.

Oh, and don’t miss out on the treetop walkway at the park’s entrance. The 370m-/1,200ft-long airwalk takes you through the forest canopy at a thrilling height of 18m/60ft. This unique opportunity to get a bird’s eye perspective of the forest is more than worthwhile. The entrance area of the park gets very crowded with day visitors arriving midmorning or in the afternoon. Therefore, the best time to visit is very early in the morning.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

6 people found this review helpful.

Tanzania in Microcosm
Overall rating
4/5

The dramatic setting of Lake Manyara was once extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest that I had seen in Africa” and it is difficult to take issue with this bold assertion. The lake, a fluctuating alkaline body set within a shallow sump, is hemmed in by the 600m-/2,000ft-high golden-brown Rift Valley escarpment, and is also overlooked by a scattering of extinct volcanoes that rise in splendid isolation from the open plains of the Maasai Steppes.

With habitats ranging from lush groundwater forest and open water to acacia woodland and open grassy floodplains, Manyara offers a microcosmic introduction to the habitats and wildlife of northern Tanzania. It also provides a perfect introduction to the country’s stunning birdlife, with a good possibility of ticking 100 species in one day, including several birds of prey, massive forest hornbills, large flocks of pink flamingos and flotillas of pelicans.

Manyara is famed for its legendary tree-climbing lions, though these days you’re just as likely to see these mighty predators in arboreal action in the Seronera area of Serengeti. We’ve had great sighting of lions up trees on two of our most recent three visits to Manyara, in both cases in the boughs of roadside acacias close to the Maji Moto springs. Another mammalian highlight is the hundred-strong baboon troops that lounge alongside the road through the groundwater forest.

When the lake is at its normal level, an excellent hippo pool can now be viewed from a stilted wooden platform reached via a road through an area of marsh that offers superb conditions for aquatic bird photography, using your car as a hide. However, the pool was submerged following the heavy rains in 2019 and it remained so when we visited three years later in 2022. The expanded lake also extended across much of the floodplain in 2022, which meant that wildlife viewing was far poorer than on any of our previous visits. Hopefully this is a temporary setback.

Expert
Mary Fitzpatrick   –  
United States US
Visited: Multiple times

Mary is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guidebooks, including South Africa, Tanzania, East Africa and Africa.

6 people found this review helpful.

Elephants, flamingos & Rift Valley vistas
Overall rating
3/5

Manyara is small, scenic and, at first glance, almost completely dominated by the shallow expanses of Lake Manyara. Yet, despite the lake's reach (or perhaps because of it), Manyara has an impressive diversity of habitats and one of the highest biomass densities of large mammals in the world. Hippos, elephants, zebras, giraffes and buffalos are all frequently spotted, and with luck, you may see some of the tree-climbing lions for which Manyara is famed. Among the things I like best about the greater Manyara area are the wide views down over the lake from the top of the Rift Valley escarpment.

Many northern circuit safari itineraries relegate Manyara to a quick day visit. If your time is limited, this may be 'enough' in favour of additional time in the more action-packed Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater. However, if you are a repeat safari-goer, or if you are interested in birding, then plan on at least a night here.

Expert
Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.

5 people found this review helpful.

A vision in pink
Overall rating
3/5

Lake Manyara is an unassuming yet attractive park that in truth deserves more time and attention - most people dash through en route to Ngorongoro Crater. Two-thirds of it is taken up by the lake itself and the rest is squeezed between the lake shores and the red cliffs of the Manyara Escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. As such, its varied habitat attracts myriad birdlife and the lake becomes a blanket of pink when thousands of flamingoes descend upon it on their migration. It’s well-known for its huge population of baboons – they seem to be everywhere here. But it’s perhaps better known for its far smaller numbers of tree-climbing lion, a rare but beautiful sight. I saw a lioness and three young cubs perched quite precariously in an acacia tree on my last visit and would have stayed to watch them for hours were it not for the tsetse flies that can make life quite uncomfortable. One school of thought is that the lions climb the trees to avoid the flies!

Expert
Mike Unwin   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: December

Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

4 people found this review helpful.

Lake of elephants
Overall rating
3/5

This park had occupied a romantic corner of my imagination ever since childhood, when I read about Ian Douglas-Hamilton’s pioneering work with elephants during the 1960s. When I finally got there for myself I found it every bit as beautiful as I’d envisaged, with lush forest carpeting the rugged walls of the Rift Valley escarpment, and the shimmering waters of the lake crammed with water birds. However, there was no escaping the crowds. The park is small, and attracts a high concentration of day visitors passing through en route to the greater attractions of the Serengeti. Many of these visitors don’t have time to venture far into the park so cluster near the entrance, which can mean an unseemly build-up of traffic in this area. It’s a shame, because time to explore deeper into the park would, I’m sure, be rewarding. I saw the famous elephants, of which there were plenty, plus enormous numbers of baboons, and forest species such as bushbuck and colobus monkeys. Like most day visitors, I missed the famous tree-climbing lions, which generally require more time and a trip deeper into the park. A stay inside the park would also allow canoeing and night drives, which are both excellent options. It’s a lovely destination, and rich in wildlife, but suffers from its position as gateway to the ‘Northern Circuit’, which means that for many visitors it will always serves as an introduction to – and subsequently poor comparison with – the Serengeti.

Expert
Lizzie Williams   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

4 people found this review helpful.

A diverse variety of landscapes in a small area, sheltered by the magnificent Rift Valley escarpment
Overall rating
4/5

Lake Manyara is easily seen from the road that climbs up the Rift Valley, where all safari vehicles stop for a gawk at the pink flamingos, but what I like about this park is its simplicity for a game drive. There’s essentially one track through the permanent oasis of lush greenery. Despite looking for a tail dangling down through the branches, I never seen Manyara’s famous tree-climbing lions (a rare sight), and have had better luck with cats on the short plains of the other parks. But I’ve seen numerous plains game, elephant among the giant acacia and fig trees, pods of hippo in the Simba River, and pelicans, storks, geese, herons and cormorants, which share the lake with the flamingos. It’s a perfect accompaniment on a longer safari to the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti.

Expert
Mark Eveleigh   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: September

Mark is a travel writer who grew up in Africa and has written over 700 titles for CNN Traveller, Travel Africa, BBC Wildlife and others.

4 people found this review helpful.

Lake Manyara NP is famous for its tree-climbing lions and astounding views over the lake
Overall rating
4/5

We drove through Lake Manyara National Park en-route to Ngorongoro and Serengeti and it was pretty much our first initiation to Tanzanian parks. The views are spectacular (as is to be expected in this part of Tanzania) and as a warm-up to Ngorongoro Lake Manyara is perfect. The lions eluded us (although there were plenty in the crater) but the lake, with its great pink-tinged acres of flamingos is an unforgettable sight in itself. Hemingway called it ‘the loveliest lake in all Africa.’ I wouldn’t want to argue with him.

Expert
Anthony Ham   –  
Australia AU
Visited: Multiple times

Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.

3 people found this review helpful.

Lake Manyara: Lions in Trees
Overall rating
4/5

This thin sliver of a park is often bypassed in the rush between Tarangire and Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, but that would be a mistake. For a start, the dramatic escarpment that forms the western wall of the Great Rift Valley makes this one of the easiest places in East Africa to get a sense of the drama of the great gash that slices through the heart of the continent. And then there’s the promise of tree-climbing lions – these lions defy nature and, unlike other parks where lions take to the trees, have done so since before tourists began arriving here. Elephants, buffalos and blue monkeys are other highlights.

And Lake Manyara has another very special reason to visit – this is one of few East African parks where night drives and walking safaris are both possible (though not at the same time). And if, like me, you’ve read and reread Peter Matthiessen’s The Tree Where Man Was Born, you’ll recognise that some of his most famous scenes come from Lake Manyara.

Expert
Christopher Clark   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: March

Christopher is a British travel writer and has contributed to various Fodor's guidebooks and a range of travel magazines.

3 people found this review helpful.

Pretty in Pink
Overall rating
3/5

Lake Manyara is a small and very picturesque park that is largely overshadowed by the neighbouring Ngorongoro Conservation Area. On safari in Tanzania in the early 1930s, Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway said that Lake Manyara , which takes up most of the national park, was the “loveliest” in Africa. Many might still agree today. Hugged by the green and densely-forested Manyara Escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, the mirror-like surface of the shallow lake is covered in a thick blanket of pink flamingoes.

Manyara has also become known for its leopards and tree-climbing lions, though I had no luck with either and was told by my guide that both were very rare sightings here. I was also informed that in fact lions have been seen climbing and lounging about in trees in many of Tanzania’s parks. Easier to spot were the large numbers of baboons, elephants and hippos.

Sadly the small size of the park and its proximity to the two biggest stalwarts on the Northern Circuit mean that Manyara can get rather busy. But it’s still worth at least a morning’s game drive and a few landscape pictures.

Expert
Tim Bewer   –  
United States US
Visited: October

Tim is a travel writer who has covered 10 African countries for Lonely Planet's Africa, East Africa and West Africa guidebooks.

3 people found this review helpful.

Night drives, bush walks, and dramatic scenery
Overall rating
3/5

The namesake lake covers a third of the park and during the rainy season it hosts millions of flamingos. During the dry season the lake withers down to nearly nothing and I found the shimmering salt flats left behind to be eerily beautiful. Even more spectacular is the Rift Valley escarpment which soars along the park’s western border providing stunning views from above and a dramatic backdrop from down below. As for the wildlife, Lake Manyara is second tier compared to other parks in the area, but it’s still good enough to deserve a day on any Northern Circuit safari, and your visit will be especially enjoyable if you take enough time to get beyond the busy northern end of the park. The stars are the tree-climbing lions. The leopards are equally hard to spot. Elephants, buffalos, hippos, zebras, and giraffes, however, are abundant, and the diversity of habitats (there are 11 different ecosystems within its 648 square kilometer borders) makes it one of the best bird-watching parks in Tanzania. The best thing about the park is the variety of activities available. Night drives, bush walks, and canoe safaris (lake levels permitting) give the typical safari itinerary a little variety.

Expert
Kim Wildman   –  
Australia AU
Visited: June

Kim is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides.

3 people found this review helpful.

Lions in trees
Overall rating
4/5

Lake Manyara National Park is an ideal stop en route to/from Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. The park may be small in comparison to its northern counterparts, but it’s excellent for birdwatching and a good area to find elephants. What’s more, the scenic park is also renowned for its potential to see its legendary tree-climbing lions. While sightings are not always common, on my last visit I was treated the spectacle of three young lion cubs playfully fighting with each other for the best position in the crook of an acacia branch. Over the years I’ve found it’s best to visit the park in the morning as it is pleasantly quiet with most tourist groups choosing to stop via the park in the later afternoon on their return to Arusha.

Expert
Gemma Pitcher   –  
Australia AU
Visited: August

Gemma authored several Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

2 people found this review helpful.

Manyara: Among the elephants (and flamingos)
Overall rating
3/5

Lake Manyara’s geography is very different from Tanzania’s other parks – it’s long and thin, sandwiched between the lake itself and the high cliffs of the Rift Valley. In my opinion, it’s a bit underrated, and often overlooked in favour of the more glamorous Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti.

Manyara’s two best features are the appealingly ‘Lost World’ feeling of the towering cliffs and wheeling flocks of birds, and the beauty of the lake. I loved seeing buffalo grazing in the emerald green swamp grass, and the impressively large flocks of flamingos and pelicans on the lake. I also love Manyara’s abundance of elephants, which were studied intensively by famous biologist Ian Douglas-Hamilton in the 1970s. As a result, they’re well accustomed to human visitors and tolerate close approaches by people. The classic book ‘Among the Elephants’ by Douglas-Hamilton is one of my favourites, and essential reading if you want to get the most out of your visit.

Manyara is also famous for tree-climbing lions, but be warned - lions can be frustratingly hard to find here either in or out of the trees, especially if you just come in for one or two days. On my last visit, though, a night drive yielded no less than THREE leopard sightings, which more than made up for the lack of arboreal cats in the daytime.

Expert
Brian Jackman   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.

Jewel of the Northern Circuit
Overall rating
4/5

Set at the foot of the Great Rift Escarpment, Lake Manyara is small enough to see in a day but deserves a longer stay. The park itself is a long, narrow strip with the escarpment on one side and the lake on the other, and begins with a beautiful expanse of ground water forest frequented by bushbuck, blue monkeys and swallowtail butterflies. Elephant are common – this is where Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton lived and wrote their African wildlife classic: Among the Elephants. But Manyara’s top attractions are its flamingo flocks and tree-climbing lions. This is altogether a terrific park for birding. But in six visits, although I have seen plenty of lions, I have never seen one reclining in the big overhanging acacias. The farther you drive the more the quieter the park becomes. A lot of visitors don’t even make it as far as the Endabash River, so it’s well worth pushing on to Maji Moto Kubwa Hot Springs, even though you have to come back along the same route.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.5/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star 7
  • 3 star 6
  • 2 star 0
  • 1 star 0
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