What to See: Wildebeest Migration, The Big Five: Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Buffallo, Wildebeest
Lake Manyara National Park's popularity with safari travelers belies its small size. The park has possibly the greatest biomass density, measured as weight per area, of mammals of any place in the world. With all that mammalian poundage standing in one place, visitors are sure to spot several of the Big Five during a single morning's game drive.
Hot springs burble on the southern shores of the lake, fed by water seeping up from volcanic rock. The lake is one of many such alkaline lakes that dot the floor of the Great Rift Valley, which dominates the geography of East Africa. The geologic forces that created the Rift Valley are also responsible for the region’s volcanoes, nearby Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru among them, as well as the craters and calderas, such as Ngorongoro, that dot the landscape.
Whilst big game viewing is best during the dry season, Lake Manyara National Park 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, Lake Manyara National Park is primarily accessed in the north, near the local village of Mto wa Mbu. It’s said to be the only place in Tanzania 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.
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