The Wonders of Lake Manyara National Park

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Lake Manyara National Park stretches across the Great Rift Valley south of Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. It is one of Tanzania's safari parks that's easily overlooked and underrated. Even famous explorers were amazed by its untamed wilderness. When he stood across the 2,000-foot-high Rift Vally escarpment that dominates the park, Ernest Hemingway called it the loveliest place he had ever seen in Africa. This safari planning guide will help you plan your first safari in Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park.

Exploring Lake Manyara

The park is small but packs an abundance of biodiversity. It has a range of ecosystems at different elevations making for exotic scenery. At one moment, you would be walking through a fairy-tale forest of tumbling, crystal-clear streams, rivers, waterfalls, and prehistoric trees. The next, you're whacking over flat, grassy plains that bound the usually unsightly lake, pink with clouds of flamingos.

The Walkway

One of the eerie experiences you should not miss when in Manyara is walking on the 18-metre-high treetop walkway near the park gate. The 1,312-foot walkway takes you through a series of suspension bridges that weave through the forest canopy. Here you get a bird's-eye view of Manyara's wilderness endowment.

Manyara Forest

Manyara's deep forest features giant figs, tamarind, baobabs, and mahogany trees that shelter roaming old tuskers and tree-swinging blue monkeys.

In the evenings, as specks of dusty sunlight dance in the setting sun, there's an excellent chance of spotting troops of olive baboons sitting on the road, grooming each other, chatting, and dozing. At the same time, dozens of naughty babies play around them, and old granddaddies look on with knowing eyes.

The thick, tangled evergreen forest eventually fades into woodlands with flat-top acacias and finally to open plains. Hundreds of elephants, buffalo, and antelope roam here, along with dark Masai giraffes that look like they jumped out of a giant bowl of chocolate.

Manyara National Park is an excellent place in Tanzania to see hippos close as they lie on the banks of the lake or begin to forage as dusk approaches.

Tree-Climbing Lions

The park is famous among tourists for its tree-climbing lions. The bewildering cats are incredibly rare to find when you find them; the sight is one to behold. There are only two places in East Africa where you can watch the big cats engaged in this unusual phenomenon, and the second one is the Ishasha Sector of Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Bird Watching

If planning your first bird-watching trip in Tanzania, you must have Lake Manyara National Park on your must-visit list. Because of the varied habitats, more than 400 species make the park their home.

As you drive through the forest, a series of gradually growing 'toot' notes that climax with a mad cackling laugh will wash your eardrums. Those are sounds from silvery-cheeked hornbills long before you see them. The woodland birds flap noisily in small groups among the massive trees, loudly roaring as they fly.

Lake Manyara's edges and its calm surface attract all manner of water birds, large and small. You'll see massive pink flamingo clouds drifting along the reed-fringed lakeshore. White-backed pelicans float across as the ubiquitous African fish eagles soar overhead. More water birds of all kinds congregate—waders, storks, ducks, egrets, geese, spoonbills, and herons.

Watch out for Nubian woodpeckers and the pretty silver birds (flycatchers) at the base of the dramatically-steeped red escarpment thickets overlooking the lake. The place whirls with superb, ashy, and Hildebrand's starlings, trilling cisticolas, yellow wagtails, Peter's twin spots, red-cheeked cordon bleus, blue-necked mousebirds, and every cuckoo imaginable. You'll also find the red-and-yellow barbet, aka bed-and-breakfast bird, known for living in termite mounds where it eats.

Lake Manyara National Park is also a raptor's paradise. A keen birder can spot up to 51 daytime species, including dozens of augur buzzards, small hawks, and harriers. Deep in the Manyara forest, you might be fortunate to see Africa's most powerful eagle, the crowned eagle. The bird is so strong as to snatch young antelope and unwary monkeys.

Six different kinds of owls, including the giant eagle owl and the diminutive but very loud African Scops owl, echo the night air with an eerie repertoire of clucks, whines, screeches, whistles, and laughs. By day they sit voicelessly and cast their long shadows.


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