Lake Manyara National Park
Finally water! Lake Manyara National Park has something unique. It is a huge valley (the Rift Valley), whose flat bottom is partly occupied by a large lake and a piece of tropical forest (in the north-west part only)
The lake stretches for forty kilometres from north to south and about fifteen kilometres from east to west. It seems disproportionate under the overheated sky of Africa. In the dry season, the water level decreases. The shores of the lake are then discovered, with many marshy and wet areas where animals come to drink. On its western side, the Rift Valley is bordered by a long, high rocky escarpment. You can notice it right away. It forms a kind of balcony overlooking the lake. The steep sides are revealing itself and it is a flaw. A long time ago (2 to 3 million years ago), the earth’s crust collapsed and the Rift Valley appeared, much as it is today.
In the Massai language, Manyara means “the place where two beings meet”. According to some locals, it derives instead of the term emanyara, the name of a plant used by the Massai for the construction of the enclosure of their villages. It is generally at Lake Manyara that most safaris from Arusha stop for the first night and travel to Serengeti and Ngorongoro. In one day, even in half a day, you can have a good overview of the park.
A little history
Manyara National Park was established in 1960. This is nothing in the long history of Africa. The site as such goes back to the beginning of time. The lake appeared 2 to 3 million years ago at the time of the formation (collapse) of the Rift Valley.
With 330 km2 (including 230 for the lake itself), Lake Manyara Park is a long preserved corridor between the east shore of the lake and the steep Rift Valley escarpment. All-terrain vehicles always follow a single runway west of the lake when starting a game drive. The eastern part, bordered by swamps, is not accessible by many. Some secondary tracks, in less good condition, allow approaching the lake, The greenest and most varied part (the rainforest) is between the entrance of the park and the Hippo pool.
When to go?
Long dry season: From June to October.
Short dry season: From January to the end of February.
Small rainy season: From mid-November to mid-December. It rains very early in the morning and the weather is nice for the rest of the day and clouds in the evening.
Great rainy season: From mid-March to mid-June.
What to do in Lake Manyara National Park:
Visit the Northwestern part of Lake Manyara:
From the entrance of the park, the trail disappears like a tunnel of greenery under a dense rainforest, Crystalline streams spring from the top of the Rift rock escarpment. It is a place of freshness in the heart of an arid environment. With the presence of water, everything revives. It is like you enter a mini-garden of Eden, figs, crotons, mahogany, sausage trees, palms, tamarind grow at the foot of the cliff, forming a forest of small animals as well as blue (less numerous) baboons which you can spot them swarming.
Explore the Savannah:
At the exit of this mini-forest, the track is divided into several other different paths, drawing some loops. All these paths sooner or later will join the main runway, parallel to the rocky escarpment of the Rift Escarpment. You will discover the African savannah punctuated with bunches of trees, palms, acacias, sycamores and many more. You will be able to witness live herds of zebras and giraffes devour the leaves of the thorns by avoiding to get stung as well as crested hornbills climb the branches of the trees.
Experience Birds Watching:
Ornithologists have identified more than 350 bird species in this park. Between November and April, migrants birds from different part of the world stay in the area. For birdwatchers, this is the most favourable time for observation. Most birds find their food around the lake. They drink the freshwater of rivers and streams from rocky cliffs, but not that of Lake Manyara. You can see cormorants near the hippopotamus pond and you can as well find families of crowned cranes, sacred ibis, pelicans, and of course pink flamingos but less frequent than in Arusha Park.
See Mammals in Lake Manyara:
Fewer than birds. Zebras, giraffes, Wildebeest (a small herd compared to Serengeti Park), antelopes, elephants (endangered), and also lions that most tourist brochures “sell” entwined with branches of acacias, During your visit if lucky you can spot a lion in the trees with the help of an experienced driver-guide.
Visit the “Hippo Pool”:
One of the best memories you can get while visiting the park. Several families of hippopotamuses live in Lake Manyara. During the day, the hippos are immersed in the water. Only their big, globular eyes, their ears and nostrils protrude out of the water. Birds are constantly entering them, bluebirds, geese from the Gambia, geese from Egypt, so many harmless and useful companions. At night, the hippos come out of their natural bath, reach the mainland, and travel miles in the bush to find food. They can make (in the dry season) up to 10 km to eat. They are actually Vegetarians, they eat grass and their consumption can reach 100 kilos per day.
Spot Maji Moto (Hot Spring):
This is the southern part of the track, the wildest and least frequented by visitors. Beautiful views of the lake, wildebeest and zebras wander in search of water and food. It is also in this part of the park where you can meet lions in the trees. Hot springs, here and there, are reported between the lake and the ledges. The warm waters spring come from the Rift cliff and they contain sulfur.
Explore Mtu Wa Mbu town:
About 6 km before the entrance to Lake Manyara Park, Mto Wa Mbu is a large village at the foot of the western escarpment of the Rift Valley. Its name means “Mosquito River”. Until the end of the ’50s, it was only a dry and uninhabited corner. Thanks to the irrigation and the arrival of migrants who have come to try their luck, this small region has become a sort of oasis of greenery and a condensed of a hundred different ethnic groups (unique case in Tanzania). The town has water and sun and everything grows here, from fruit trees, banana trees, sunflowers, vegetables etc and there are even some rice fields.
How to get there?
The park is 130 km west of Arusha. It is reached by the road from Arusha to Serengeti Park. It is approximately 2 hours drive from Arusha. There is only one entrance, located at the foot of the Rift Valley escarpment, 2 km to the left, after the village of Mto Wa Mbu.
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