What to Expect: Amazing Lake Manyara National Park Safari

UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2024 — This is my first-hand account of the amazing Lake Manyara National Park safari that I experienced while I was in Tanzania for a short-term mission trip.

It’s written for you and those like you who want to “see” before you go. Also included are pictures and reviews of our Manyara wildlife safari camp: Havennature Safari Camp.

“You enter at your own risk,” says our safari game guide as he steers the four-wheel-drive, diesel Toyota safari vehicle towards the gate of Lake Manyara National Park. Our group, weary from our work with Sunday school teachers in Lyamungo—on the shoulder of Mount Kilimanjaro—was ready to see some wildlife in the bush. We’d met up with the Lake Manyara National Park safari tour guide and driver in Moshi, Tanzania.  The four-hour drive to the park gate gave us a window to the world of northern Tanzania.  The traffic in the cities, the pastoral landscapes of the Maasai people and glimpses of wildlife along the way were food for the eyes.

Tip: Next time I’ll think about taking a puddle jumper into the Lake Manyara Airport (LKY) only 10 minutes away from the entrance pictured below.

'At Your Own Risk:' Lake Manyara National Park safari

white safari vehicle with pop-up roof starts through tall, rustic gate with sign reading, "You are now entering Lake Manyara National Park safari"
Karibu! The Swahili word for 'welcome." The gate of Lake Manyara National Park safari photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

Table of Contents

Pinterest image of two giraffes standing together with Lake Manyara behind glowing a rosy color from thousands of flamingos during my Lake Manyara National PArk safari

First impressions of Lake Manyara National Park safari

Safari vehicle drives down winding dirt road that is lined with acadia tress
Headed to Manyara wildlife safari camp | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

My heart pounded as we drove from the park entrance on top of the East African Rift down towards the lake as we began our Lake Manyara National Park safari. I knew that many tree-climbing lions inhabited this park, which was established in 1960 to protect the local African elephant population. These elephants were not of the friendly variety like the Indian elephants of Thailand or India. As we got closer, the thought of a tourist being trampled to death by an elephant the year before flashed through my mind. I tried to erase the fear of “what ifs.”

From the high vantage point, it was easy to see the many different ecosystems below, and imagine what sort of different danger lurked in each one. Leopards, lions, elephants, snakes. I didn’t expect baboons – they would startle me later.

Diversity of wildlife in a relatively small area

Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park encompasses a variety of landscapes that, besides the wetland and lake, include mixed acacia woodlands, riverine forest and open savannah. The variation of terrain here means the park holds a diversity of wildlife in a relatively small area.

Lake Manyara is a shallow lake

Acacia tree with Lake Manyara far off in the distance below
Lake Manyara in the background makes up most of the park's area | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

Lake Manyara covers about 2/3 of the relatively small park when it is full, and since it is a shallow lake, its size shrinks with the dry season and increases during the rainy season. The park itself measures only 125 square miles (325 km2).

When the lake is high—it’s maximum depth has been recorded at 12 feet or 3.7 meters—you can experience a canoe safari. There’s not too many places in Africa to safari by canoe, but Lake Manyara is one of them. I might try to plan my next visit to Tanzania to coincide with the wet season, November to mid-June. Viewing giraffes, zebras and hippos grazing near the shoreline while paddling my own canoe seems like bucket list travel material to me.

The Lake Manyara National Park safari that I am recording here was taken on July 21 during the dry season, July through September.

Karibu! Olive baboons welcome us to the Lake Manyara National Park Visitor Center

2 Olive baboons sit on a tall ant hill and seem to be eating ants
Olive baboons live in large groups called troops | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Karibu means ‘welcome’ in Swahili. 

I was kind of creeped out when a troop of inquisitive baboons welcomed us at the Lake Manyara National Park Visitor Center. 

The two Olive baboons above are sitting on a tall ant hill and seem to be eating ants. Yum!  I didn’t know that the park has the highest concentration of baboons on the planet.

Lake Manyara National Park entry fees

wooden sign cut in the shape of a hippo says "Gate Office, Tourism Office, Curio shop and Flush Toilet at Manyara wildlife safari camp park headquarters
Flush toilet is always a crowd-pleaser in Tanzania | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

Tanzania just announced their new 2024 park entry fees last week. I was excited to see that they lowered the rate for the Canopy Tree Walk to $20 US dollars at Lake Manyara National Park. Their website boasts that the canopy tour is “one of the longest tree canopy walkways in Africa.”  Here’s some of the other entry fees just revealed:

Park Entry Fees – USD* 

  • 16 years old and above           59
  • 5 to 15 years old                       18
  • Children below 5 years old    Free

Concession Fees – USD*

  • 16 years old and above         61
  • 5 to 15 years old                     10

Canoe Fees – USD*

  • 16 years old and above           ??
  • 5 to 15 years old                     ??


NEXT: Check out the kinds of animals you’ll see:

Lake Manyara National Park safaris best known for tree-climbing lions

large female African lion peers through branches of leafy tree showing large teeth
Lion rests on a tree at neighbouring Serengeti National Park | Photo by Jorge Tung on Unsplash

Lake Manyara National Park safaris are best known for spotting tree-climbing lions.  After in-depth studies, biologists are still not clear on why the local lions are such ferocious tree-climbers. But it is behaviour rarely seen in other parts of Africa.

Maasai giraffe on our Lake Manyara National Park safari

giraffe stands tall over small herd of zebra
We saw many giraffe during our Lake Manyara National Park safari | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Maasai giraffe, the largest-bodied subspecies of giraffe, were easily spotted during our Lake Manyara National Park safari.

National park created to protect elephants

two african elephants are camoflashed among trees at Lake Manyara National Park safari
How many elephants can you see? | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

Although the park is best known for its tree-climbing lions, it was established in 1960 to conserve the local population of African elephants. We saw a lot of elephants during our Lake Manyara National Park safari. Learn why it is so important to conserve elephant habitat.

African leopards at Lake Manyara National Park

leopard walks on huge tree limb
African leopard at nearby Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya | Photo by Hidde Rensink on Unsplash

Even though African leopards inhabit the park, the thick vegetation makes it difficult to spot them. We did not see a leopard on our Lake Manyara National Park safari. The photo above was taken at Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. Four out of the five species of the “Big 5” live in Lake Manyara National Park. Do you know what they are? I’ll reveal the answer later.

We saw warthogs, and they are cool to watch

close up of a warthog with two tusks seemingly coming out of its nostrils
I think warthogs are the craziest looking of God’s creations | Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Warthogs are not one of the “Big 5,” but they are sure fun to watch. If the grass is low, they have to kneel their front legs to graze. Are you scratching your head about the “Big Five?” Or do you already know what they are?

Wildebeest at Lake Manyara National Park

4 wildebeest with curved horns and long beards stare at camera while many more are in the background
Wildebeest at Maasai Mara National Park, Narok County, Kenya | Photo by Sutirta Budiman on Unsplash

We weren’t at  Lake Manyara National Park during the wildebeest migration, that’s later, but we did see some wildebeests. The photo above was not taken at Lake Manyara but in Kenya. And no, wildebeest are not one of the “Big 5.”  They ARE antelope.

Lake Manyara National Park safari vehicle

Teddy Gene, Mary and Dorane watch for the "Big 5" during our exciting Lake Manyara National Park safari | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

The roof of our Toyota van popped up and was supported by rods as seen in the photo above. That allowed us to stand and get great views from over the top of the vehicle. We also felt very safe having the heavy van between us and the large animals. However, if you’ve seen the movie Hatari! (Swahili for “danger!”) you might wonder if a rhino could ripe its way in with its huge horn. The movie, starring John Wayne, was filmed here at Lake Manyara. However, I am very sad to say, the rhinos that once lived here are now gone due to poaching in the 1980s. 

That’s a hint to the one of the “Big 5” that you will not see here. So now you know that one of the “Big 5” game animals is the rhinoceros. Name the other 4 in the comments below.

Other animals at Lake Manyara National Park

a very small rabbit-sized animal hides in the shady bush - it has horns and looks like an antelope
Dik-dik is the size of a rabbit | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Other animals that you could see at Lake Manyara National Park include the dik-dik pictured to the right or above and  Grant’s gazelle, impala, Thomson’s gazelle, waterbuck and zebra. we saw a ton of zebra. The dik-dik, on the other hand, I would never had seen if our game guide had not pointed it out. It’s the size of a rabbit, btw.

Another animal for which the park is famous is the flamingo.  The lake isn’t pink, it’s the thousands of flamingos that give the shallow Lake Manyara a rosy hue. 

See the photo on the right, or below.

the same 2 giraffes from the beginning of the article, with pink lake behind
Thousands of flamingos give Lake Manyara a rosy hue | Dorane King photo

Where to stay when visiting Lake Manyara National Park?

Rustic sign reading Havennature Safari Camp & Lodge
Find affordable accomodations at Havennature Safari Camp, 15 minutes from the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park

We stayed at Havennature Safari Camp and Lodge, which is located only 15 minutes from the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park. The lodge is run by a local couple, Ismael Shauri and his wife with partners Winnes Massawe and Pastor Robert Temba.

We enjoyed getting to know the local people and hearing about how they support the aging population in their neighborhood with food and medical help. The Manyara wildlife safari camp was built by local workers. I have stayed at Havennature twice and totally enjoyed it both times.

Particularly memorable are the meals served at tables on a viewing platform with thatched roof. The food is delicious and incorporates local vegetables, fruit and African spices.

The Manyara wildlife safari camp is perfect for eco-tourists and offers tents of all sizes on platforms for families, student groups or mission groups. When I was there, a university was using the facility for training as it has wifi and rooms for lectures.

The lodge has bush-style rooms with large windows so you can enjoy the outdoors as the name suggests. 

Havennature Safari Camp and Lodge  |  Karatu, Tanzania  |  Book here

Haven Nature Safari Camp & Lodge

brick lodge with spacious windows

Haven Nature Safari Camp and Lodge sits on 20 fenced acres and offers a campfire in the evenings.

Genuine hospitality at this Manyara wildlife safari camp

Tall man stands next to his wife whose head is wrapped in the Tanzanian style with his hand on her shoulder
Ismael Shauri and his wife are your awesome hosts at Haven Nature Safari Camp and Lodge near Lake Manyara National Park

Haven Nature Safari Camp & Lodge has a shower house, modern flush toilets and electricity. I will stay here the next time I go back for my next Lake Manyara National Park safari or a Ngorongoro safari. Highly recommended. If you have stayed at this Manyara wildlife safari camp, please leave your comments below. 

Arizona travel writer Stacey Wittig stands with hands on hips in front of vast grasslands during Lake Manyara NAtional PArk safari - wears starw cowboy hat and safari vest
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey smiles after viewing some of the "Big 5" at Lake Manyara NP | Photo by Dorane King

So have you come up with Africa’s “Big 5?”

  1. Rhinoceros, of course; that was revealed earlier in this story.
  2. Cape buffalo – AKA African buffalo
  3. Elephant – the largest land mammal on the planet
  4. Lion – they climb trees here at Lake Manyara National PArk
  5. Leopard – seldom seen but oh, so beautiful.

I definitely want to go back to this game preserve and do a canoe safari. And maybe someday, I’ll check ‘leopard’ off my list!

a young couple looks off camera into the forest while standing on a roped walkway during a Lake Manyara National park safari and canopy tree walk
The Canopy Tree Walk at Lake Manyara National Park claims to be the “one of the longest tree canopy walkways in Africa" | Photo courtesy of Tanzania Tourism
Pinterest graphic of safari vehicle driving near African trees with text reading " Lake MAnara NAtional Park Tanzania"

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4 thoughts on “What to Expect: Amazing Lake Manyara National Park Safari”

  1. Great article. Stirs up the desire I’ve always had in my heart to go on a safari and this sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing. Just the excitement of being there, staying there and seeing all these amazing creatures I know Mary so cool to see familiar faces. Loved reading all about it

    • There were a lot of Flagstaff familiar faces on this Tanzania safari because we all traveled there together to do a mission trip. Was fun to revisit my photos and write this piece from my quarantine desk! I have been making Chai the way the Lyamungo ladies made it for use and wearing that very same safari vest that you see in the pictures. Thanks so much for your precious words, Natalie!

  2. I too have done the lake manyara Safari and stayed at the Haven nature Camp. Everything you said Stacy is true. I’ve been to Haven nature enough years to see the wonderful growth and expansion that they have done their over the years. And the people who run it are exceptionally gracious. I hate to brag but when I went to Lake manyara a different year I did see a leopard. I’m so sorry you missed it on the trip we took together Stacy. And I would like to say how much we enjoyed the tour guides that we had each year from Kashi Safaris owned and managed by Allan kimaro and his wife Anna. Over the years they became dear friends.

    • So happy to hear that you recommend Haven Nature Camp, too, Valorie! So great that you saw a leopard at Lake Manyara, Valorie! I bet you have the “Big 5” under your wildlife viewing belt. Where did you see the leopard? In a tree? At night? Thanks so much for your comment.


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