Explore Tanzania’s magnificent Lake Manyara National Park

The Magic Secrets of Lake Manyara

Everyone knows that the Serengeti in Tanzania is the most romantic safari destination in Africa, but no one knows that the magic secrets of Lake Manyara are even more enchanting in their own unique way. For this is where vast still blue waters turn pink when thousands of flamingos wade en masse and this is where massive herds of large-tusked elephants roam the forest floors. Less than 2 hours from Arusha, see the Tanzanian tree-climbing lions of Lake Manyara in one of Tanzania’s best parks – and part of the northern safari circuit near the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. 

Herd of elephants walking through the bush in Tanzania
Did you know? Lake Manyara is home to some of Tanzania’s highest elephant densities.

Central to a Lake Manyara safari is of course the shallow ever-changing alkaline soda lake attracting unparalleled bird species and covering 220 square km of the 330 square km park. The seasonal waters ebb and flow leaving white streaks of salt along the shores. What a magical sight to behold as the sun sets pink over the open grasslands and thousands of water birds soar overhead to roost. 

Explore Tanzania’s magnificent Lake Manyara National Park renowned for its incredible biological diversity of lush forests, flooded wetlands and magnificent grassy plains, baobabs standing on cliffs and rocky volcanic craters rising above the Maasai Steppes. It can be completely overwhelming to view so many wildebeest, impala, warthogs, waterbuck and zebra in one place at one time so be sure to get the timing right and come in the dry seasons when the rains hold back, and the animals are gathering to graze and quench their collective thirst. 

Tree Climbing Lions of Lake Manyara

Imagine a powerful predator cat climbing a tree when usually it is bounding through golden grasslands after tasty herbivore prey. Most wildlife enthusiasts know that leopards climb trees and lions laze around under trees all day when they are not hunting the rugged terrains of Africa. But nature always throws in exceptions to the rules and there are two lion prides in Africa which do climb trees! 

The Tree Climbing Lions of Lake Manyara
Tree climbing lions can be seen perched on the limbs of enormous fig trees, keeping watch over a herd of calmly grazing antelopes, gazelles, and impalas.

The famous tree-climbing lions of Lake Manyara are not natural climbers at all and it can be quite amusing watching them scramble inelegantly into the first boughs to rest, then the higher boughs to get a good lookout. The more they climb the better they get, and visitors to the park theorize constantly about why these lions climb trees: is it to get a good lookout to find prey? Is it to escape the many irritating biting insects and flies on the ground? Is it only some prides that do it? Is it part of growing up and teaching the cubs how to stalk and be agile climbers? The cubs see their parents dragging their huge weights into the trees and they copy them, learning this tradition early on and then showing their own offspring how it’s done! The only other pride of lions known to climb trees in Africa is the population in Uganda’s Ishasha area, in Queen Elizabeth Park – a novelty for tourists on safari!

Giant Tuskers

Lake Manyara National Park is one of the rare places in Africa where giant tuskers roam, the main conservation area for these magnificent animals being Tsavo National Park in Kenya. These elephants are older and wiser and have an aura of pride and leadership that draws tourists every season to seek them out on safari. Lake Manyara supports large herds of elephants seen in the lush forests, acacia woodlands and water-covered regions where they can find enough vegetative food to eat. Illegal hunting during the years 1985 to 1991 decimated 75% of the elephants but this rose again to 200 in 1996 – and today there are 4 000 of these gentle giants! 

Tanzania super tuskers
The term “Big Tusker” refers to an elephant with tusks so large they scrape the floor. Unfortunately, the opportunities for witnessing a big tusker in its natural habitat are slim. As of today, there are approximately 25 individuals left in the world.

The huge white tusks protruding from an elephant’s jaw are their essential second upper incisors that keep on growing throughout their long lives. How tragic that humans have decided that these tusks are valuable and should be removed at force in violent, cruel ways, taking the elephant’s long life at the same time? If the elephant lives to be 40 years old, for example, its tusks will also be 40 years old and super long – an adult male’s tusks can grow as much as 18cm in one year. 

The famous “Tuskers” of Tsavo National Park in Kenya have extraordinarily long tusks which have been known to almost touch the ground as the elephants walk! The bull’s tusks grow faster than the cow’s tusks and they are used to dig, lift up vegetation, gather plant foods, strip bark from trees to eat, and defend the animal. They also serve the vital purpose of protecting the trunk that the elephant needs to breathe, drink and eat. The longest tusk ever recorded on a bull elephant measured 3.51m and weighed a massive 117 kg!

Other Wildlife in Manyara

The magic of Lake Manyara National Park is sublime and life-changing from the minute you enter the park and feel the tranquil aura of such a beautiful place. We now know that this select safari destination in Tanzania is famous for its lions that climb trees and for its huge old great tusker elephants. But what of the other wildlife in Manyara?

A Wildebeest walking with its child
Manyara National Park is a sanctuary for wildebeest, giraffe, impala and zebra, and its lake a magnet for birdlife, including sizeable flocks of pink flamingos.

The balance of an ecosystem relies on the food webs where plants, herbivores, predators and birds all play vital roles. Lake Manyara is a vast and shallow alkaline lake in the Rift Valley System and when it’s full, the lake covers two-thirds of the park. Pure underground springs and some permanent streams feed which has no outflow and can become very low and dry. 

Thousands of wildebeest only graze the alkaline grasslands around the lake, mingling with other herbivores including zebra, bushbuck, waterbuck, Grant’s gazelle, impala, Thompson’s gazelle, buffalo, giraffe, hippos, baboons, warthogs and elephants. Predators include lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and honey badgers. Birdlife is prolific and Manyara is acclaimed for its unsurpassed flocks of pink flamingos, accompanied by pelicans, storks, herons and diverse raptors including the palm-nut vulture and Ayre’s hawk-eagle.

Best Time to go to Lake Manyara

The seasons offer a choice of rewarding sensory surprises at Lake Manyara, wet or dry, and the best time to go depends on whether it’s the birds, the beasts or the golden landscapes in store for intrepid visitors.  The best time to go to Lake Manyara for ultimate game viewing is the dry winter season from July to spring in October when great herds of mammals gather, and predators lie in wait.  The temperatures are pleasantly cooler and the insect hassles are fewer. 

Guests dining for lunch with wine our in the bush with views of the sunset in Tanzania
There are a wide number of accommodation facilities ranging from luxury, midrange, budget and campsites where you can stay during your safari in Lake Manyara national park.

The best time to go for water activities including canoeing, bird watching, and waterfall walks is the wet season from November to June. Rain falls sporadically all year but mostly in summer, March to May. This is the best time to see the lake at its fullest and most awe-inspiring but when the lake recedes, it offers equally mesmerizing visions of salt-encrusted shores and biodiversity that stuns every tourist to this unique magical safari destination.

Safari Circuits that Include Manyara

Part of the popular northern safari circuit in Tanzania on the Western escarpment of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara radiates as a must-see destination along with pretty Arusha on the slopes of Mount Meru, the celebrated Serengeti National Park, the tantalizing Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro and Tarangire National Park. The northern circuit is brimming with tourists all year so choose your accommodations carefully and combine some of these regions into one dramatic Tanzania East African safari tour. Safari circuits that include Manyara and promise plenty of wildlife viewing, jaw-dropping vistas and captivating birdlife will take from one week to three weeks at a time, depending on your resources and desires. 

We recommend these irresistible packages with customized itineraries for your best Lake Manyara National Park combined safari holiday:

  • East Africa Wildlife Treasures and Scenic Bonanza

The best way to fall in love with Tanzania’s most spectacular wildlife treasures is on a tailormade 8-night East Africa safari tour to the awe-inspiring Ngorongoro Crater and the superb Serengeti grasslands.  Stay in luxury lodges and camps as highlights of the best fully inclusive packages to Tanzania taking in the unforgettable sights of Arusha, Lake Manyara National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park.  Predator-prey encounters, forest hikes, exhilarating game drives, thousands of pink flamingos and a secret tree house lodge too.

  • Romantic Spice Island and Wildlife Safari Special 

This 10-night island-bushveld Tanzania tour showcases some of the top romantic East African accommodation on idyllic Zanzibar Island, blended with luxury safari lodges in the Serengeti while tracking huge herds of mammals and then photographing the early dawn in the Ngorongoro Crater area. Experience Tanzania’s world-class game drives and bush walks in the upmarket and renowned national parks where silver service dining is still a thing and iconic acacias dot the infinite golden grassland landscapes. Share a cozy treehouse in the heart of Lake Manyara and catch lions lounging in the forks of trees, huge old elephants sporting enormous tusks, and hundreds of pink flamingos wading in clear waters!

  • Air Safari to Top Tanzanian National Parks 

Some safari circuits that include Manyara are specialized fly-in tours to the best national parks in East Africa, one of the best journeys being the 9-night 10-day luxury air safari to Tanzania. Explore the thrilling northern safari circuit during the height of the great annual wildebeest migration to the Serengeti, and picnic in the stunning Ngorongoro Crater. There’s 2 heavenly nights in a thatched treehouse suite at Tarangire Treetops, in ancient baobab trees, with breath-taking 360-degree panoramas of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Manyara and the distinctive peak of majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro.  What you get is exceptional wildlife sightings in a captivating cross-section of habitats such as huge watery lakes, massive grassland plains, awe-inspiring floodplains, wetlands and riverine forests. 

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