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Lake Manyara National Park is a tiny piece of conservation area tucked between the 600 metre high, red and brown cliffs of the Western Rift Valley escarpment and an ancient soda lake that protects the entire eastern border.
Two thirds of the park is water, with the rest forming one of the country’s most diverse terrestrial offerings - grassy floodplains that blend into thick acacia woodland and then finally a selection of forest (complete with jungle soundtrack courtesy of resident hornbills).
Manyara is famous for the prides of lions within its borders that have taken to spending much of their time up trees - the “tree-climbing lions of Manyara”, and has good elephant and other large mammal sightings during the dry season - the park is famous for its elephant and lays claim to the country’s densest populations of both the aforementioned giant and that of buffalo.
Whilst big game viewing is best during the dry season, Manyara is similarly spectacular during the wet season (November to June); some of the best birding in the country can be found in Lake Manyara National Park - thousands of red-billed quelea perform their choreographed sky dances over the park’s hot spring and alkaline waters, pelicans, cormorants and thousands of flamingos reside in the colourful waters and it’s quite possible to see over 90 other species in a single day. Waterfalls and fauna are also best at this time of the year, making it a very scenic visit.
Often used as a day-stop by tour operators on longer itineraries (some of the less common species not frequently seen on the Serengeti or other parks of the Northern Circuit hide here), Lake Manyara has recently started providing facilities for single day or longer activities: canoeing on the lake, mountain biking or abseiling down the escarpment and microlighting. Local guides also provide forest and village walks in areas outside the park.
Accessed from Arusha by a two hour drive, Manyara is primarily accessed in the north, near the local village of Mto wa Mbu. It’s said to be the country’s only place where as many as 120 native tribes are represented – the local curio market is a good place to pick up trinkets for this very reason. Translated to “river of mosquitoes”, it goes without saying that you’ll need insect repellent if you’re staying overnight! Accommodation within the park is scarce, although there are good offerings nearby.