Lake Manyara National Park is spectacular part of the Great Rift Valley whose heart is a shallow soda lake. Backed by the striking 600m walls of the Rift’s Western Escarpment, Lake Manyara is a lush green gem in an otherwise parched and unforgiving section of the valley. Some 360 km² in area, this National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site is small, but easy to reach and a very worthwhile stop on one of our overland safaris setting out from Arusha to the much larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park. During wetter periods of the year, as much as two-thirds of the park can be covered by water.
Despite its small size, Lake Manyara offers several diverse and distinct habitats and is famed for both its wealth of species and the productivity of large wildlife. In the 1960’s Lake Manyara hosted the highest density of elephants anywhere in Africa and was famed for its communities of tree climbing lions. You are almost certain to see elephants and quite possibly very close; but populations are in a state of recovery. Poaching in the seventies and eighties caused elephant populations to decline to one-third of their former numbers.
Of other large mammals, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra are relatively abundant. During the daytime the latter three tend to prefer more open seasonally flooded areas, away from bushes and treed areas from where predators can launch a surprise attack. But food is often best close to these bushy areas so grazers do get close and do get taken. It is also these areas where we will drive you in search of tree climbing lions.
Close to the Park Entrance a lush forested area dominates with sausage mahogany trees thriving here due to a constant flow of sub-surface water. This is an excellent area in which to spot birds, troops of vervet monkeys, baboons and duikers. Further south, a drier Acacia forest takes over, more characteristic of the region. This range of habitat and the constantly expanding and retracting nature of the lake shore, combine to make Lake Manyara a superb site for birds and bird watching. The lakesides are patrolled by marabou storks, grey herons, ibis and egrets, whilst further out on the lake, pelicans are a common sight.
When feeding conditions and water levels are right, thousands of flamingos descend onto the lake. This is a dramatic sight and is more likely when the water levels are low and the lake salinity is high, promoting increased growth of algae which the flamingos come to feed on. Silvery cheeked hornbills are a forest treat, whilst colourful bee eaters prefer fringing areas. Powerful raptors such as crested hawk eagle complete an exceptional bird list of around 400 species.