Lying in a shallow depression at the base of the western wall of the eastern arm of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara typically shimmers in a lilac and gold heat haze, sometimes streaked pink with thousands of flamingos. Backed by a narrow band of forest, it rises to the dramatically sheer red and brown cliffs of the Mto wa Mbu Escarpment. The Park includes not only a substantial portion of the lake and its shores but also large areas of ground-water forest with giant fig and mahogany trees alternating with acacia woodland and open. The name is derived from the Maasai word for the Euphorbia tirucalli bush, which the tribesmen plant as a living stockade to keep their cattle from straying.

Although it covers an area of only 318sq km, its terrain is so diverse that its mammal and bird lists are some of the most impressive in Tanzania. As to wildlife, the park offers abundant sightings of; monkey, jackal, mongoose, hyena, hyrax, zebra, hippo, warthog, buffalo, Masai giraffe, duiker, waterbuck and impala. Significant numbers of elephant are also resident in the Park whilst sightings of black rhino and leopard are not uncommon. Manyara is also especially noted for its wealth of bird life, being visited by many thousands of sugar-pink Lesser Flamingos, significant numbers of Greater Flamingos and a host of other woodland, plains and water birds.

As the heat shimmers over the lake, entire prides of lion can be seen lolling in the branches of the acacia trees. An unusual habit for lions, which usually prefer to remain hidden in the thick savannah where they have a better chance of hunting their prey, no one is exactly sure why they do it. Some say it is so that they might avoid the head and flies, others that it gives them a better vantage point from which to hunt.

Lake Manyara is adjacent to the colourful market town of Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito Creek) where several tribes converge to form a linguistic mix that is the richest in Africa. The Mgubwe, Iraqw, Gorowa, Irangi, Tatoga, Chagga and Maasai have used Mto wa Mbu as a trading post for centuries and it is the only place on the continent where you can hear the four major African language groups, Bantu, Khoisan, Cushitic and Nilotic spoken in the same area.

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