Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge

Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge: Our full report

Rooms
67 - including a presidential suite
Traveller's rating
Excellent (92%) From 5 reviews
Children
Good for children
Open
All year

In a stunning location, perched high on the edge of the escarpment, Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge has commanding views over Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley, and the northerly end of Lake Manyara National Park, about 300m below. Like most of the Serena properties in East Africa, it is big and can accommodate up to 145 guests.

Situated 2km off the main highway, down a short private track, Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge was built in 1996 and is constructed largely of stone, thatch and dark wood. In many ways we think that the design of the Lake Manyara Serena is more innovative than its nearby sister-properties, the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge or the Serengeti Serena near Seronera.

Green creepers and mature bushes border this Serena’s stone paths, which lead from the main areas to the closely congregated 67 bedrooms. Designed to loosely resemble African 'rondavels' – round houses with thatched roofs and thick stone walls – they are, for the most part, ordinary and simple.

The best feature of these rooms is without a doubt the view over the escarpment, and down to Lake Manyara National Park. To get the very best view of Lake Manyara, we recommend the first-floor rooms, which come with a small veranda. Sixteen rooms interconnect, and so can be used by families; there’s one suite with a lounge and two toilets; and some are double-storey units.

The bedrooms at Lake Manyara Serena Lodge are comfortable, but impersonal. Inside, the walls are white, the floor (when we last visited) looked newly tiled, and a patterned bedspread adorns the (double or twin) bed, which is covered by a mosquito net. Furnishings include a vibrant wall hanging above the bed, a rug in front of a dark-wood bedside table and a couple of bedside lights. Each room also comes equipped with a telephone, a wooden cupboard, a small chair and mosquito spray.

Equally simple are the en-suite bathrooms at Lake Manyara Serena. In each, a kidney-shaped mirror hangs over the sink, which is set into a wooden surround laid out with complimentary toiletries. A white-tiled shower, flush toilet and a hairdryer complete the package.

Please note that the rooms at Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge are currently being upgraded, with new tiled flooring to cool the rooms, an extractor fan and shiny white tiles in the bathrooms.

The main areas of Lake Manyara Serena are large, airy, and include: a spacious dining room, a bar area, a TV room with satellite TV (also the site of evening entertainment, such as Maasai dancing), a conference room, a computer room with three units, a small shop selling a limited range of gifts, T-shirts and toiletries, and a reception area. All of them span off from the main sitting room, which is furnished with wooden and cushioned chairs scattered with colourful cushions, clustered around small, wooden tables. Everything is decorated in a retro white, green and orange colour scheme!

A big hotel like this Serena has been designed to accommodate a large number of people, but in each room they've tried – and, in our opinion, done quite well – to create a welcoming atmosphere with their use of colour, ceramic uplighters, fireplaces, and pots of Maasai spears that lend an African feel.

In the spacious dining room, there's a change of colour: red-and-blue painted lines wiggle their way around the walls and Maasai blankets cover the serving tables, which are dotted with small Maasai ornaments and pots of flowing green plants. Dining can be inside or out at the Lake Manyara Serena, but the outside area is quite small. There's also a self-service area for tea/coffee, complete with baskets of tea cakes and biscuits.

A couple of stone paths wind from the main building to a kidney-shaped infinity pool, which is partly framed by bushes. Sunloungers line the pool and there is a small bar too. Amazingly, three resident bushbucks graze on the surrounding lawn area and there are stunning, panoramic views over Lake Manyara National Park – it’s the best area of the lodge.

Lake Manyara Serena Lodge has its own spa, albeit rather small and dark. A resident therapist offers manicures, pedicures and deep-tissue massages all day, and while the range isn't particularly comprehensive, it will suit guests wanting a bit of relaxation for an hour or so.

Most travellers here will use the Lake Manyara Serena as a pit-stop within a driving safari, perhaps between a visit to Tarangire or Lake Manyara, and an ascent to the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s certainly close enough to Lake Manyara for you to spend the whole day in the park; it’s a little further to the Crater. (And we wouldn’t use it as a base for a trip into Tarangire.

Alternatively, if you’re not using the hotel as a pit-stop, then you can take advantage of activities organised by Lake Manyara Serena Lodge:

  • A mountain-biking trip heads down the Rift Valley Escarpment to Mto Wa Mbu village, taking about three-and-a-half hours. The cost – about £30/US$45 per person – includes a guide, drinks/snacks and a transfer back up the escarpment to the lodge, as well as mountain bike, helmet and gloves hire.
  • Alternatively, there's the option of a walk around Mto Wa Mbu where guests can meet with the local people and visit the village’s farms, kindergarten, milling machine, church and local homes. This, too, costs roughly £30/US$45 each and generally lasts about three hours, including the drive to and from the village; it's recommended for all ages.
  • More strenuous is a forest hike, which heads from the lodge along the edge of the escarpment and descends into a nearby gorge – where it's possible to explore groundwater springs. The hike ends at the gates to Lake Manyara National Park, where you'll be picked up and driven back to the lodge. It lasts around two to three hours and costs about £20/US$ per person. You do need to have a reasonable level of fitness for this activity.
  • A little easier, is the nature walk that lasts roughly an hour and is led by a qualified naturalist. It concentrates on the area on top of the Great Rift Valley and is free of charge for overnight guests. This is suitable for most age groups and abilities.
  • In the evening, at 7.00pm, there's a three-hour night drive through the national park in an open game-drive vehicle with a guide and spotter. Costs depend on the size of the group, but start at £50/US$75 per person based on a group of two.

Please note: like most of the Serena’s lodges, the lodge is popular with large groups and used by many mainstream groups. Overbooking here is, sadly, quite common. If you would like to include Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge in your itinerary this means that Expert Africa cannot take any responsibility for overbookings. In such an event, we'll always do our best to help to make alternative arrangements for you, but we are not responsible for any additional costs or any resultant changes to your itinerary as the result of overbookings

Our view

Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge is typical of the Serena Hotels brand: it lacks luxury or intimacy, but does provide a practical, comfortable base at a reasonable price. We had good service here on our most recent visit (in July 2013) – it was friendly and efficient – and loved the stunning views afforded by its cliff-top location. If staying inside Lake Manyara National Park isn’t an option, then visiting from here is a good option.

Geographics

Location: Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Ideal length of stay: The Lake Manyara Serena is often used for one-night stops between parks, or might be used for 2-3 nights as a base from which to explore Lake Manyara National Park.

Directions: Situated 107km west of Arusha, Lake Manyara Serena Lodge sits 2km off the main road and is accessed via a well-maintained dirt track.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: Lake Manyara Serena Lodge offers international cuisine and caters for vegetarians and children on request. There is a self-service coffee/tea bar near the restaurant that guests can use all day.

Breakfast is a buffet-style meal, with hot-and-cold dishes laid out, as well as a good choice of cereals, yoghurts and fruit. A chef will prepare eggs to order.

Lunch is also served buffet style. Although we didn't sample the food on our last visit, we did see the dishes being laid out and were impressed. There was an extensive two-tier buffet with a choice of hot food including curry, and mashed potatoes, plus a wide variety of salads and cold meats, as well as lots of condiments and a cheeseboard with six different cheeses.

Dinner at the Lake Manyara Serena is generally a four-course set menu, which is served to guests at their tables.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Drinks aren’t included; a local beer costs roughly £3.

Further dining info: Yes

Special interests

Cultural experiences: Lake Manyara Serena offers a wide range of cultural experiences. You can go on a half day mountain-bike trip down the Rift Valley Escarpment ending in Mto Wa Mbu village, or take a more in depth walk around the village – where you can experience many elements of village life.

See more ideas for Cultural experiences in Tanzania

Children

Attitude towards children: Lake Manyara Serena Lodge is happy to accommodate children.

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge can arrange babysitters on request at a cost of £3 per hour. However, do bear in mind that these won't be qualified childminders. The hotel is also happy to serve children's meals at earlier times if requested.

Equipment: The hotel has baby cots and high chairs.

Notes: Children under their parent’s supervision can use the infinity swimming pool. Activities can be organized for children, typically costing about £8 per child, and lasting roughly 90 minutes. For example, children can be walked around the lodge, play games, make field guides and plant trees. The suggested departure time is either 7.30am or 4.30pm. The cost includes field guide materials.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Mains Electricity

Power supply notes: Always on

Communications: There are internal phones in the rooms, and international calls can be made through the main reception desk. Internet access and WiFi are free for guests.

TV & radio: There are no TVs in the rooms, but there is a general TV room for guests to use.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: The hotel has an on-site medical assistant and a clinic. In case of emergencies they can contact the Flying Doctor services.

Dangerous animals: Moderate Risk

Security measures: The hotel has guards on duty 24 hours a day. There is also CCTV.

Fire safety: The hotel has fire extinguishers and the staff are trained how to use them.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: There is a laundry service, currently costing around £1/US$1.50 per item.

Money: There are no safes in the rooms, but guests can store any valuables in the safe behind reception.

Accepted payment on location: Lake Manyara Serena normally accepts cash payments in US dollars, Canadian dollars, euros, British pounds, Tanzanian shillings and Kenyan shillings. They also accept Visa, American Express and MasterCard, with no commission charged.