Lake Manyara is a shallow, 200 square kilometre lake (when the rains set in) in Tanzania. The lake is situated in the Manyara National Park, run by the Tanzania National Parks Authority. It has also been an integral part of the biosphere reserve initiated by UNESCO, since 1981. The park itself was set up in 1960, to help protect the gentle giant- the elephant. Compared to the other parks, this one is pretty small- about 330 kilometres- but that doesn’t take away anything from this space.
The lake is often considered, by locals, to be more of a lakeshore than anything else. It has many unique features- it has a high pH making the water very alkaline, hence the term soda-lake. You can see the innards of the lake when the dry season starts and the mud flats are exposed.
Getting to Lake Manyara is possible by taking a flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport. From there, you need to travel less than 50 kilometres or about 45 minutes to the city of Arusha. Arusha has a domestic airport too, so if you’re already in Tanzania, consider flying into that airport. For a quick way there, fly from Arusha straight into to the airstrip close to Manyara. The landing at the strip is spectacular with its location on the edge of the Great Rift Valley wall. If you prefer to drive, the distance between the Lake and Arusha is 126 kilometres. It’s a gorgeous route, especially if you’re doing the Serengeti, Ngorongoro crater route.
While Lake Manyara has many attractions, it is an ornithologist’s paradise. If you’re into birding, then plan your trip between November to June. It’s going to get wet there, so make sure you’re prepared. If you’re in it for the animals, like all national parks in this part of the world seem to possess in abundance, then your trip should be made between July and October.
The lake is home to a whole lot of animals, including the baboon, impala, zebra, wildebeest, hippo, giraffe, warthog and buffalo. In fact, the lake has the highest population of baboons found anywhere in the world. If its hippos you seek, you can find them in the hippo pool, a favourite watering hole of these animals.
The crowning glory of the lake is the many species of birds that have made it their home. Close to 400 types of birds can be seen in the Lake, from the pink flamingo to the stork and the pelican. Many people visit the Lake to observe the grey-headed kingfisher, red billed quelea, African fish eagle, Egyptian goose, and little bee-eater, among others.
Depending on your tour guide or service provider, you can take culture tours to the market town of Mto wa Mbu, go on night drives, dine in the bush, walk in the forest and do some mountain biking. When the water levels rise, canoeing is also a pleasurable experience.