Wonders of Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania by Bonnie and Bill Neely

We left Haven Nature Campground in early morning to spend the day at Lake Manyara National Park. Our excellent guide/driver Manase, and our unsurpassable cook Fulgence, both from AbrojaleyAfricaAjabu Tours, were our leaders throughout our Tanzanian safari, and they are the BEST! This National Park is interesting because of its three different topographies: a tropical rainforest, the rift where the remaining very salty lake was once a sea, and the escarpment (600 meters high cliff mountains which rise straight up in a sheer rift that goes from Jordan to Mozanbique). The animals we saw here are in unique environments and some adapt to the very alkaline lake, which could be compared to the Great Salt Lake of Utah in the USA. Although the birds and animals must have fresh water to live, they come to the salty lake for minerals, so it is not unusual to see them nearby.
We found more than 100 families of baboons to be the subject of much laughter, as they moved with their families from place to place, stopping to eat lice from the backs of each other or leisurely taking up the road for some playful fun while they blocked our car. The babies ride on the mother’s stomach or her back, depending on the terrain the mom is passing through. Vervet and blue monkeys swing through the ancient mohogany trees of the forest here. Compact enough to drive through it one day, this National park is 127 square miles and is a vignette of all the vast safari-scapes and animals of Tanzania.
We saw shy water buck and bush buck, cape buffalo, and wildebeest, mostly in copses of trees. Giraffes and zebra could be seen in more open spaces of grassy plains that stretch eastward to the blue Masaai Steppes. Big warthogs and their families were often seen rooting about in the high grasses.
Manase pointed out beautiful birds including silver-cheeked hornbills, little green bee-eaters, gray hornbils, laughing doves, spuri-winged plovers. This is an ornithologists’s delight because the park has over 400 species that migrate through here each year, and even the most amateur birders can spot many different kinds with brilliantly colorful plumage. You can’t miss the thousands of flamingos that flock through here. But the most fascinating to us was the hammerkup, who makes a huge nest with three compartments: one for adults, one for babies, and one for visitors!
Have you ever been told that lions never climb into trees? Wrong! We saw three lions sleeping in acacia trees near the great floodplain, stretched out on the lower limbs but still about 25 feet above the ground. There are very few places in the world where one sees such a sight! There were also the adorable, tiny deer called dik-diks, usually curled up at the base of a tree and so camouflaged you had to look carefully to spot them. There were also many mongeese wandering around this area.
Here we found our first hippos, and we counted fifty-three! They loll lazily in the muddy shallows of the rivers, which are now at the end of the dry season and provide a genereous location for such huge animals. Many had babies. A large group of local school children were there also taking in the wondrous sites at Lake Manyara. We had fun trying to be brave enough to dip our fingers into the nearly boiling hot springs that bubble out of the hill and lead to the lake.
The visitor center here has wonderful displays with pictures and explanations about both plants and animals in the Park. The forest along the river has a board walkway so we could enjoy walking under the canopy of green. That was different from many of the parks, where the dry grasses compose much of the vegetation. The displays were very informative and beautifully done, making a captivating place to enjoy some time and to picnic. Within the National Parks no one is allowed to leave their vehicles, in order to protect the animals and the visitors.