In the Great Rift Valley south of Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater lies the Cinderella of Tanzania’s parks—the often overlooked and underrated Lake Manyara National Park. When Ernest Hemingway faced the rust-red rocks of the almost 2,000-foot-high rift valley escarpment that dominates the park, he called it “the loveliest place I have seen in Africa.”
Lake Manyara National Park is small, stretching only some 330 square km (127 square miles) along the base of the escarpment with two-thirds of its surface taken up by shallow, alkaline Lake Manyara. This serene lake is one of the so-called Rift Lakes, which stretch like jewels along the floor of the Rift Valley. If you’re a birder then put this park on your must-visit list. Because of the great variety of habitats, there’s a great variety of birds; more than 400 species have been recorded. As you drive through the forest you’ll hear the Silvery-cheeked hornbills long before you see them flapping noisily in small groups among the massive trees, braying loudly as they fly. The edges of the lake as well as its placid surface attract all manner of water birds large and small. Along the reed-fringed lakeshore you’ll see huge pink clouds drifting to and fro. These “clouds” are flocks of flamingos. White-backed pelicans paddle through the water as the ubiquitous African fish eagles soar overhead. Other water birds of all kinds congregate—waders, ducks, geese, storks, spoonbills, egrets, and herons. In the thickets at the base of the red escarpment overlooking the lake, which angles up dramatically at 90 degrees, watch out for Nubian woodpeckers, the very pretty and aptly named silver birds (flycatchers), superb, ashy, and Hildebrand’s starlings, yellow wagtails, trilling cisticolas, red-cheeked cordon bleus, Peter’s twins pots, blue neckedmouse birds, and every cuckoo imaginable.
The Red-and-yellow barbet is known as the “bed-and-breakfast bird” for its habit of living where it eats—in termite mounds. The park is also a raptor’s paradise, where you can spot up to 51 daytime species, including dozens of augur buzzards, small hawks, and harriers. Deep in the forest you might be lucky enough to see Africa’s most powerful eagle, the crowned eagle, which is strong enough to carry off young antelope, unwary baboons, and monkeys. At night listen for up to six different kinds of owls, including the giant eagle owl and the diminutive but very vocal African Scops owl.