Travel Diary: Looking For Tree-Climbing Lions in Lake Manyara National Park

Travel Jael looking for tree-climbing lions in Lake Manyara National Park

Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park is famous especially for its tree-climbing lions. Spoiler alert: we spent a whole day looking for them, but in the end only spotted a few lazy lions just lounging on the ground. However, Lake Manyara’s birdlife, baboons, zebras and buffaloes guaranteed there was enough excitement and entertainment for the day. Lake Manyara also offered interesting scenery and the absence of those pesky tsetse flies was also a welcome change. Here’s a blog post about our day in Lake Manyara National Park!

A Change of Scenery

Beautiful scenery in Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park, located around 125 kilometers from Arusha, offers beautiful landscapes. A herd of giraffes in the distance.

Driving from Tarangire towards Lake Manyara took several hours and the landscape slowly started to look a bit different. Driving into the park it almost has a rainforest feel, with dense green, leafy forest and branches hanging over the road.  Lake Manyara also has large, open grass plains, marshland, pools and of course the large lake that the park gets its name from.

The Lake Manyara lake is Tanzania’s seventh largest lake. The lake is a shallow alkaline lake and attracts all kinds of animals. Apart from the famous tree-climbing lions, Lake Manyara is known for being a paradise for birdwatchers – more than 350 different bird species have been spotted here.

The grey crowned crane, also called the crested crane, is Uganda's national bird and a common sight in Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park.
The grey crowned crane, also called the crested crane, is Uganda’s national bird and a common sight in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park.

I’m not a particularly devoted bird person myself, but my brother’s enthusiasm rubbed off and I found myself getting excited about pink-backed pelicans, egrets, storks, eagles and the majestic grey crowned cranes.

When it comes to birds, Lake Manyara is most famous for flamingos, so spotting these pink-feathered guys was also fun. We only saw a few, but if you’re lucky there can be up to thousands of them.

Wildebeest, Zebras and Other Animal Sightings

Baboons in Lake Manyara National Park
Baboons on the road! There were so many of them I lost count.

What we saw most of during the day was baboons: there were baboons everywhere! They just seemed to emerge from the bushes, first one, then two – suddenly what felt like a hundred of them just marched over the road as we waited patiently for them to pass.

It was absolutely adorable how the babies rode on their mothers’ backs, seemingly using the mother’s tail as a comfortable backrest. There’s also something very comic (also pretty disgusting) about baboons picking tics of each other and eating them.

Wildebeest and zebras in Lake Manyara National Park
Wildebeest and zebras grazing in Lake Manyara National Park.
Zebra in Lake Manyara National Park
The zebra has to have one of the coolest outfits in the animal kingdom.

In Tarangire we didn’t spot any zebras or wildebeests so I was over the moon to see them in Lake Manyara. I’ve always thought zebras look so unique, it’s almost hard to believe such a look can exist in the wild. These monochrome creatures looked even more peculiar in real life – even part of the tail is striped! I also loved seeing the buffaloes enjoying a cooling bath in the swampy areas.

Picnic Admiring the View

Elephants in Lake Manyara National Park
This road was blocked due to bad weather, but our detour wasn’t done in vain. We spotted a herd of elephants in the distance.

Due to heavy rainfall several of the roads were closed so we only saw a small part of the park. Kind of a bummer, but this is also part of a safari – especially during the rainy season a lot of the roads are in bad shape, sometimes even impossible to use. This means that sometimes areas can be inaccessible.  As we only had a day, the area we stayed in had more than enough to see.

In the afternoon we had a picnic lunch at one of the picnic sites within the national park. In Tarangire we had lunch in the vehicle. While that’s a fun option as well, having the option to hop out of the car for a bit and stretch my legs felt really nice. The views over Lake Manyara were amazing, with the lake looking almost pinkish in the sun. I also appreciated being able to use a restroom instead of having to squat behind the jeep praying no surprise lions show up!

Regular Lion Sightings

Lions in Lake Manyara National Park
A group of four lions were observing a herd of zebras and relaxing in the shade.

The tree-climbing lions are famous for being hard to spot. We didn’t get lucky, but we did see lions relaxing on the ground, which is always an exciting safari moment.

Lions don’t normally climb trees, but for some reason the ones here do. Nobody knows for sure why, but one theory is that they do it to escape annoying tsetse flies. Fortunately the tsetse flies were absent during our visit, if I’d live in Tarangire where there were plenty of them I’d develop tree-climbing powers as well!

Monkey in Lake Manyara National Park
No tree-climbing lions sighted, but plenty of monkeys. See the baby? So cute!

Tarangire or Lake Manyara?

We left the park, drove through Karatu village and continued towards our accommodation. No tent tonight, but super amazing views and a wonderful sunset at Bashay Rift Lodge. We also had the best food thus far, at least in my opinion.

We spent too little time in Lake Manyara and many areas were inaccessible so I can’t compare Lake Manyara and Tarangire in a fair way. The two parks are also very different, both in scenery and wildlife.

However, if I only had time to visit one I’d go with Tarangire as it was easier to see elephants there (if you read my blog post about Tarangire you know I developed a special place for elephants in my heart there). If birds or diverse scenery were what I was looking for I’d go with Lake Manyara.

Zebra in Lake Manyara National Park
A lonely zebra in Lake Manyara National Park.

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