Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is a special place, deep in the lakeside forest.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge: Our full report
Of the many lodges that focus their activities on Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park, only two stand inside the park. By far the oldest and the most substantial of these is Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, which is located in the far south of the park, in a forest of mahogany, wild mango and fig trees. Opened in 2002, it has long had a reputation for having not only the park’s best location, but also its highest standards.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is a sister-property to four other lodges across northern Tanzania which also have spectacularly good locations. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge perches overlooking the crater itself; Klein's Camp and Grumeti River Camp stand at either sides of the Serengeti National Park – the former in its own private concession just outside the park; and Mnemba Island Lodge,Tanzania’s top beach lodge, has its own small private island off Zanzibar.
The main area at Tree Lodge combines stylish, contemporary design with natural features such as thatched roofs, polished wooden floors, neutral colours and intriguing, giant chains of banana leaf loops that dangle everywhere. All these elements seem to link the lodge to the dense surrounding forest. Split over two levels, this main area is open at the sides and front and decorated with sophisticated minimalist furniture, soft lighting and well-placed African wood carvings.
On the upper level, a number of large, cosy sofas are positioned around low, wooden coffee tables dotted with wildlife guides and books about Lake Manyara, as well as a selection of board games. There’s also a waiter on hand to serve cool drinks or cocktails from the well-stocked bar.
On the ground floor of the central area, you’ll find the spacious dining room and the open-plan kitchen, where you can watch the chefs prepare your meals. There is also a shop, open throughout the day, selling interesting curios from all over Africa.
In front of the main area is a large boma – the Swahili word for the enclosure that encircles the family home and precious cattle. At Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, it’s used as an outdoor dining and barbecue area. Its tall poles are decorated with nagalawa (traditional canoes), terracotta pots and various artefacts. At night, it is lit with storm lanterns and a central fire making it a wonderful place to enjoy dinner under the stars.
A short path leads to Lake Manyara Tree Lodge's dhow-shaped swimming pool, tucked discreetly into the bush. The pool strikes one of the few off-kilter notes at this lodge, as it's rather too small and somewhat tired around the edges. We were told in April 2015 that it was due to be refurbished. The surrounding wooden decking has a number of comfortable sunloungers and umbrellas to provide shade on especially hot days.
The lodge also has a spa and massage house offering massage treatments by professional masseuses (there are two masseuses, so couples can receive treatments together). A one-hour Swedish massage costs roughly US$80 per person. All the treatment products are the South African 'Africology' brand. This same building can also be used for private dinners.
The ten thatched-roof 'tree houses' at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge are tucked into small, cleared corners of the bush and reached via soft-sand paths. However, these are no ordinary tree houses: each feels incredibly private and the rooms (each of which can be a double, single or triple) are exceptional. The light touch of an interior designer is clearly at work among the muted, natural colours, rustic materials and stylish, minimalist furniture. For example, the wooden floorboards are varnished then distressed to achieve a 'warehouse' aesthetic. Each room is also dotted with thoughtful touches, such as small soapstone boxes filled with dried fruit and Wellington boots in the cupboard in case of rain.
The beds are vast and covered with crisp, white sheets, a warm comforter and – for the odd colder night – an additional blanket at the foot of the bed. The fan-aired rooms also have phones in place for calling reception, and power points for charging batteries.
The bright and fairly spacious en-suite bathrooms, have rustic wooden floorboards and wood-panelled walls. The his-and-hers white-porcelain wash basins and the central freestanding bath, with views over the bush, all add to the luxury. Africology brand toiletries are provided.
French windows lead out from each of these tree houses at Tree Lodge onto the veranda, where a wonderful outside shower stands open to the sky, yet carefully screened behind a curved wall of bamboo poles to preserve modesty.
There are at least half a dozen lodges which focus their activities on Lake Manyara National Park, but only two are actually in the park: Lemala Manyara is in the middle of the park, and Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is near the southern boundary. The national park is quite linear (North-South) and most lodges access the park through its northern gate – so that northern section of the park gets very busy at times, especially just after the park gates open in the morning and just before they close in the evening.
The Tree Lodge’s location, far from this gate, means that its guests are largely undisturbed in the southern side of the park, and generally manage to avoid the many day-visitors who seldom reach the southern extremities of Lake Manyara National Park.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge doesn’t only focus on creature comforts. It also offers excellent activities using 6 guides and 5 vehicles (a specialist naturalist was due to take up his post in 2015):
- Head out daily on a morning or afternoon safari drive, or take a packed lunch and stay out all day. Timings are flexible and each evening the manager will discuss your plans for the following day.
- For a completely different perspective, book a night drive. These usually depart after an early dinner to allow you to stay out longer.
- Walks and bike rides to the local village are also available for US$35 per person.
- Currently, the Tree Lodge isn't offering walking safaris for safety reasons. (All walks conducted in the national park need to be accompanied by a TANAPA ranger, supplied by the park authorities. There have been recent concerns over whether the training of these rangers is adequate). However, the lodge is working with the national park authorities so that a handful of trained rangers can accompany the lodge guides.
Our viewFull of style and luxury, Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is fairly opulent. It has the best location of any lodge in the area and thanks to clever design it still feels surprisingly appropriate in its patch of dense forest. Every time we have visited in recent years, we have found a very warm welcome from its experienced team of friendly staff. The food, service and guiding have also been consistently top-notch – the only snag is its relatively high price tag.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend spending at least two nights at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge and using it as a base to explore remoter parts of the park. Add a couple of extra nights if you’d like to incorporate relaxation time at the lodge.
Directions: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is based inside Lake Manyara National Park, 48km south of the park's entry gate. Allow 2 to 2.5hr to get here from Lake Manyara airstrip, depending on wildlife distractions en route.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Staff: May Simon Kobero (manager) and 43 staff.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: The food at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is prepared in the open-plan kitchen, at the side of the dining area, and it really is quite remarkable what the chef produces in the middle of the bush. While the food is excellent – inventive and experimental as well as tasty and well presented – the service can sometimes be a little too fussy, with waiting staff having an irritating tendency to start every meal by spreading your napkin on your lap, and then hovering by your table to snatch away empty plates or move things or pour wine or water every thirty seconds.
Breakfast is very flexible: you can eat something before your morning activity, take a packed breakfast with you, or have an early brunch when you return to the lodge. Breakfast or brunch at the lodge includes an array of cereals, dried fruit, yoghurt, fresh bread and pastries brought to your table, and you can then order a cooked breakfast from the waiter. A packed breakfast includes a selection of the cold options listed above.
Lunch at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge can be taken at the lodge or packed, depending on your choice of morning activity. Lunch at the lodge is usually a three-course meal. On our last visit we weren’t able to sample the food, but on a previous trip we enjoyed zucchini (courgette) soup with delicious homemade bread that we had watched being prepared earlier in the day; followed by tender lamb kebabs accompanied by a selection of salads, including couscous, green bean, and a Swahili style salad; and finished with a creamy, homemade strawberry ice cream. The packed lunch usually includes a tasty sandwich, and extras such as samosas, boiled eggs, fruit, biscuits and cakes, all of which are homemade.
Before the evening meal, cocktails – such as frozen gin and tonics – are available in the lounge with delicious nibbles that may include poppadums and mango chutney, dried mango, or Bombay mix.
A three-course dinner is available from 7.00pm at Tree Lodge, but there is no seating time. A waiter will escort you to your table, which is usually set out under the stars and lit with storm lanterns to create a romantic ambience. The varied menu is normally announced earlier in the day, with enough time to make any alterations if it's not to your liking.
On a visit in 2013, we started with an incredible sweet potato-and-ginger soup on one night, and pumpkin soup served with homemade naan bread, on the other. Main courses were a succulent fillet of beef with coriander salsa, roast potatoes and stir-fry beans and peppers; and tandoori chicken served with basmati rice, vegetable curry and a spinach tart. For dessert we had chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce, and banana fritters.
When we stayed in April 2015, we began dinner with roasted vegetable soup, then moved on to devour lamb curry, turli turli vegetables, basmati rice, naan bread, turkey skewers and green beans. We could barely make room for banana fritters and fudge with a red wine reduction.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are included at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge except for Champagne and imported wines and spirits.
Further dining info: Yes, they're very happy to do private dinners to your treehouse deck, and in fact will serve meals almost anywhere around the lodge.
Honeymoons: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is a high-quality lodge which fits perfectly into a Tanzania honeymoon safari. Situated in thick bush, its rooms are large, very private and beautifully designed. The camp itself is incredibly romantic and the service is fantastic.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Tanzania
Wildlife safaris: Lake Manyara National Park is a relatively small park – only 330km² – and the majority of this is covered in water. However, its real diversity of animals, and the possibility of night drives ($120, only available with an &Beyond guide) makes it one of our top tips for an extensive wildlife safari in Tanzania.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Tanzania
Attitude towards children: The location of Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is quite wild, so children ideally should be aged 12 or above in order to enjoy the experience. There ar a lot of unguarded, and high, deck edges, which would pose a risk to young children. It's important to note that children are the responsibility of their parents and would need to be supervised at all times.
Property’s age restrictions: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is happy to accept children aged seven and above, though they recommend that safaris are better suited to mature children over the age of 12.
Special activities & services: Children can take part in a butterfly walk, try out traditional activities, or join the chef in the kitchen to make cookies.
Equipment: There is no equipment for children.
Generally recommended for children: No
Notes: Big game does wander through the camp periodically, so children should be be closely supervised at all times. Rooms #7, #8, #9 and #10 are most likely to be visited by wildlife.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: Switched off between 23:00 and 05.00.
Communications: There is intermittent cellphone reception in the car park, and by the lakeshore, and free WiFi is available throughout Lake Manyara Tree Lodge. A landline and internet access may be used by guests on request.
TV & radio: There are no guest TVs at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, but the staff have a TV and guests are invited to watch major sporting events.
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: The River Eyambi provides water, which is treated for use by the lodge. Drinking water is supplied to the lodge in giant bottles and rebottled for guests' use.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: All guides and a number of other staff at the lodge are first-aid trained as part of the job, and there is a basic first-aid kit on site. For more serious emergencies Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is linked to the flying doctor service. Helicopters can land at the nearby village of Mayoka, a 20-minute drive away. Otherwise the nearest airstrip is Lake Manyara Airstrip, on top of the escarpment, a minimum of hour's fast drive away.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are askaris (guards) to escort you around the camp at night because wildlife does occasionally wander through the grounds. The Tanzania parks authority (TANAPA) also provides armed security.
Fire safety: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge has a fire evacuation plan in place and there are extinguishers dotted around the lodge at every tree house and in every area. Frequent fire-training takes place.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included. It is machine-washed and dried in the sun.
Money: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge can exchange small amounts of currency depending on how much they have in the office.
Accepted payment on location: You can settle your tab at the end of your stay using any card, including Amex. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge also usually accepts cash in US dollars, euros and Tanzanian shillings, and less often in pounds.