Located on the way to the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, Lake Manyara National Park is well worth a visit. Its ground water forests, bush plains, baobab-strewn cliffs, and algae-streaked hot springs offer incredible ecological variety in a small area rich in wildlife and incredible numbers of birds.
The alkaline soda of Lake Manyara is home to an array of bird life that thrives on the brackish waters. Pink flamingo stoop and graze by the thousands, colourful specks against the grey minerals of the lakeshore. Even reluctant bird-watchers will find something to marvel at within the national park, from herons to yellow-billed storks.
Lake Manyara’s famous tree-climbing lions are another reason to pay a visit to this park. The only kind of their species in the world, they make the ancient mahogany and elegant acacias their home during the rainy season, and are a well-known but rather rare feature of the park. In addition to the lions, Lake Manyara is also home to the largest concentration of baboons anywhere in the world, permitting interesting game viewing of large families of the primates.
Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa.”
The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience. From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly bythe roadside; blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees; dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk in the high canopy.
The grassy floodplain contrasts with the intimacy of the forest with its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes–some so dark in coloration that they appear from a distance to be black.
Inland from the floodplain, a narrow belt of acacia woodland is the favoured haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions and impressively tusked elephants. Squadrons of banded mongoose dart between the acacias while the diminutive Kirk’s dik-dik forages in their shade. Pairs of klipspringer are often seen silhouetted on the rocks above the searing hot springs that steam and bubble adjacent to the lakeshore in the far south of the park.
Manyara provides the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s birdlife. More than 400 species have been recorded, and even a first-time visitor to Africa might reasonably expect to observe 100 of these in one day. Highlights include thousands of pink-hued flamingos on their perpetual migration, as well as other large water birds such as pelicans, cormorants and storks.