Lake Manyara National Park is one of Tanzania’s smallest parks and although many safari itineraries skip it, we strongly recommend you make the detour. The dramatic western escarpment of the Rift Valley forms the park’s western border. To the east is the alkaline Lake Manyara, which covers one-third of the park, but shrinks considerably in the dry season. During the rains the lake hosts millions of flamingos (best seen outside the park on the lake’s east shore) and other birdlife.
While Manyara lacks the raw drama of other northern circuit destinations, its vegetation is diverse, ranging from savannah to marshes to evergreen forest (11 different ecosystems in all) and it supports one of the highest biomass densities of large mammals in the world. Elephants, hippos, zebras, giraffes, buffaloes and wildebeest are often spotted. Leopards and hyenas are also here. Lake Manyara is also home to a famous population of tree-climbing lions. Lions climb trees in other parks, too, but it’s a real specialty here – scientists speculate that they may have developed the habit to escape a nasty biting fly that devastated the Ngorongoro Crater lion populations back in the 1960s. Tracking them down can be tricky, but worth the effort.
The Marang Forest Reserve, a 250 sq km reserve of highland forest off the park’s southwestern boundary has recently been added to the park, although tracks for wildlife drives are yet to be developed.