Lying in a shallow basin at the foot of the western wall of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara spreads out at the bottom of the sheer, red brown cliffs of the rift escarpment. This park is a study in contrasts; with a dry, dusty brown heat haze filling the air, a vivid, green vegetation fringe surrounding the lake, and the shimmering blue water of the lake itself spreading out to the horizon.
An ancient trading post for tribes such as the Mgubwe, Iraq, Gorowa, Chagga and Masai, the village of Mto wa Mbu, at the entrance to the Park, is the only place in Africa where you may hear all four of the major African languages groups â€“ Bantu, Khoisan, Cushitic and Nilotic â€“ spoken in the same area. A vibrant market town, the handicraft markets are worth a visit!
The Manyara area has a highly unreliable rainfall, which varies between 10-47 inches per year. In 1961 the lake dried up completely, yet just one year later, in 1962, it flooded the area. In this area of rainfall extremes, the forests and plants find an alternative water supply that sustains them â€“ underground springs that surface at the base of the cliffs.
Entering the park, one is surrounded by the tall trees of the “ground water” forest with its lush foliage and variety of birdlife. Blue monkeys pick insects and fruits from the high branches while elephant feed off the wild figs. Baboons, bushbuck, civet, leopard and the nocturnal aardvark are all present in the forest and some of the few remaining Manyara rhino may also be spotted. Reeds, sedges and star grass cover the forest floor in small clearings where the ground literally seeps water, forming an ample food supply for the large herds of buffalo.
Venturing further into the park takes you past huge hippo filled pools in the Simba River, where the grunts and splashes of these huge animals are accompanied by bird song and the quick, darting movements of birds on the wing. Over 380 species of bird have been recorded at the pools.
Leaving the river, the landscape opens out into the classic African acacia tree woodlands, filled with giraffe, zebra, impala and elephant. This is also the area known for it’s tree climbing lions. During the heat of the noon day sun, entire prides of lion may be seen draped over branches of the acacias, escaping both biting insects and the heat of the long grass.
Lake Manyara itself is slightly alkaline and maintains a huge population of waterbirds; pelicans, storks, cormorants, geese, ducks and flamingoes are all supported by the rich waters of the lake and provide wonderful photographic opportunities.
It is well worth a quick visit to “Maji Moto”, literally ‘Hot Water’ in Swahili, a natural hot springs where the super heated water bubbles out of the ground at temperatures of up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The water itself is fresh although there are the occasional sulphur smelling gas emissions.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Africa Insiders page.