160km (99 miles) from Arusha, 69km (43 miles) from Tarangire, 60km (37 miles) from Ngorongoro, 145km (90 miles) from Serengeti (entrance gate)
Curling along the western shores of a shallow soda lake, the emergence of the Gregory Escarpment — a sheer 500m (1,640-ft.) drop, making this the most impressive wall in the Rift Valley — signals your approach to Lake Manyara, heart of Tanzania’s second-oldest national park. A shallow 390-sq.-km (152-sq.-mile) expanse, of which 230 sq. km (90 sq. miles) fall within the national park boundaries, Lake Manyara lies in a closed basin with no outlet. Fed by waters that percolate through the volcanic ash and lava of the Ngorongoro Highlands before seeping and spilling from the ever-eroding walls of the Rift Valley, the lake is highly alkaline, its chemical salts further distilled by the high rate of evaporation — hence the tell-tale crusty white soda deposits that line the lake’s shores during the dry season. The ideal breeding ground for blue-green algae and other micro-organisms, the lake is thus a nutrient-rich home to large numbers of fish (including an endemic species of tilapia), which, in turn, attract an astonishing variety of waterbirds. Of these, the most spectacular visitors are the migrant flamingos, who hover like pink clouds in and above the blue-gray bands of Manyara’s lakeshore.