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December 12, 2018

Lake Manyara National Park: Home of the Tree-Climbing Lions.

Lake Manyara Serena Lodge Lounge area,
Lake Manyara Serena Lodge Lounge area,

The expanse of Tanzania boasts of a number of national parks and reserves, one of which is the Lake Manyara National Park. It stretches 50km at the base of the Rift Valley escarpment giving a perfect view of the 600-metre high ridges.

The park is located 400 kilometers from Nairobi. The journey from Nairobi to Arusha border will only take you four hours and if not going by private means, there are several shuttles and buses to choose from. I took Riverside shuttle services, quite popular on the Nairobi-Arusha route. The stopover at the Namanga border was quick. As a east african resident, you only need a passport or temporary pass, and a yellow fever certificate to be allowed across the border.

The journey from Arusha to Manyara is quite picturesque. The flat plains on the side of the road punctuated with trees and shrubs reminds you of the Masai Mara or the Amboseli. We passed through a variety of towns, and everything was quite normal, especially for a country that had just gone through elections.

We arrived at Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito Creek), the town closest to the National Park. The town gets its name from Lake Manyara, which is known to be habitat of mosquitoes, and the rice paddies around the town that also attract mosquitoes. Our driver tells us the town came about as a result of tourists, and has since grown and is still growing. The town is also one of the most culturally diverse towns, with tribes like the Maasai, raqwi, Mgubwe, Chagga, Tatoga, Irangi and Gorowa living and trading together.

After the town, there is a climbing lane that takes you into the park, then further on to the Manyara airstrip and Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge, which has a super view of the lake and of Mto wa Mbu town. The sundowner was a much needed welcome refreshment after the trip. 

The park is renown for a wide variety of animals and birds. It is also home to the tree-climbing lions, which had to adapt to the changing terrain to survive. This works in their favour as it provides them a vantage point during hunting. One of the key stops in the park is the Hippo Pool, a pond where hippos bask and plunge into the water. It comes with a platform on which tourists can stand to capture the hippos in their natural habitat.  We spotted flamingos at the edge of the lake, but could only go so far as there is a perimeter that we couldn't go beyond. The countless streams, the monkeys and baboons swinging from one tree to another and the variety of plants all make part of the tapestry that is Lake Manyara National park.

According to our driver and guide, the lake is shrinking because of the absence of rain. Hopefully with the current el-nino rains, there will be some difference in the months to come. This doesnt affect the beauty of the lodge's infinity pool which is close to the edge and gives an illusion of infinity as it seems to connect to the lake.

The 67 roomed lodge including one suite, is designed with inspiration by the communities in the surrounding area. Each double-storied circular buildings houses four rooms, all facing the escarpment. 

The lodge manager, Mustafa Mbinga, regaled us with the history of the lodge and the kinds of visitors they hosted over time. The bush breakfast the following morning was out of this world. Against the backdrop of the Rift Valley, we partook in an assortment of fruits, beverages and accompaniments as we enjoyed seeing the airplanes taking off and landing at the airstrip.

One of the highlights of staying at the Safari Lodge was the nature walk. Done after breakfast, the trail takes two hours to complete. Our guide, Yotham was quite interesting, informative and knowledgable on facts about the landscape, flora and fauna around the lodge and the Rift Valley. “This area has about 400 bird species and it is a migratory corridor for a few of them,” he said. 

Its great how there are many activities to keep busy. After the walk, I opted to try recurve target archery. First taken through safety measures, I learnt how to hold the bow and the arrow correctly. Lets just say I will never make the Olympic team. Apart from archery, other activities on offer including boating (dependant on Lake Manyara water levels), rock climbing, jogging, football and watercolour painting. And for those whose aim is to relax, the spa is available. A visit to Mto wa Mbu to see how the people of Northern Tanzania live and even sample their food and drinks can be arranged on request.

You must not miss the experience of the bush dinner courtesy of head chef Geldart. His amazing food combined with view of the Mto wa Mbu town at night with all its lights which is a sight to behold, made the night truly memorable.  

Enroute back to Nairobi on Sunday, there was a brief stopover at Lake Duluti Serena for a quick lunch. Standing on what used to be a coffee plantation, the hotel has 42 cottage-style rooms, all facing Lake Duluti. The main hotel used to be a farm house but was redesigned to be a business hotel. Looks like so much history i made a mental note to come back and visit properly. 

From the rich landscape diversity to the hospitality at the Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge and Lake Duluti Serena, it was a great break away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi. Try it out.

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