Lake Manyara Tree Lodge: Our full report
Of the many lodges that focus their activities on Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park, only one stands ...... inside the park: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge. Opened in 2002, it is located in the far south of the park, in a forest of mahogany, wild mango and fig trees. The lodge has a long-standing reputation for its excellent location and high standards.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is a sister property to four other lodges across northern Tanzania, all with spectacularly good locations. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is perched overlooking the crater itself; Klein's Camp and Grumeti River Camp stand on opposite 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 and neutral colours with natural features. Decorated with sophisticated minimalist furniture, soft lighting and well-placed African wood carvings, it features thatched roofs, polished wooden floors and intriguing, giant chains of banana-leaf loops, which link the lodge to the dense surrounding forest.
Split over two levels, this main area is open at the sides and front. On the upper level, large, cosy sofas are positioned around wooden coffee tables dotted with wildlife guides, books about Lake Manyara and a selection of board games. There's a waiter on hand to serve cool drinks or cocktails from the well-stocked bar.
On the ground floor you'll find a spacious dining room and an open-plan kitchen, where you can watch the chefs prepare your meals. There is also a curio shop selling interesting crafts 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 wonderfully atmospheric 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 ten-year-old pool strikes one of the few off-kilter notes at this lodge, as it's rather too small and tired around the edges. On our last visit, in November 2016, we were told that the promised refurbishment has been pushed back to 2017. In the meantime, we noticed that the surrounding wooden decking has been smartened up and extended, and there are a number of comfortable sunloungers and umbrellas to provide shade.
The lodge also has a spa and massage house, set in a quiet, raised spot away from the main building. Treatments – at extra cost – are offered by two professional masseuses (so couples can receive treatments together) using Africology products. A one-hour Swedish massage costs roughly US$80 per person. The massage house, which is completely open at the sides and is beautifully airy and relaxing, may also be used for private dinners.
The ten thatched 'tree houses' at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge are tucked into small, cleared corners of the bush and reached via soft-sand paths. Each is built around at least one mahogany tree, but these are no ordinary tree houses: rather, they feel incredibly private, and the rooms (each of which can be a double, single or triple) are spacious and airy. 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. Thoughtful touches include 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 for calling reception, power points for charging batteries and a small safe (note that it is not possible to lock the tree houses). A ‘Gym in a Bag’ is provided, with a selection of equipment and workout guides, to balance all the excellent food available on safari!
The fairly spacious en-suite bathrooms have rustic wooden floorboards and wood-panelled walls. His and hers white-porcelain washbasins, a free-standing bath with views over the bush and Africology toiletries add to the luxury. The flush toilet is concealed in an adjoining room.
French windows lead out from each of the tree houses onto a veranda, where a wonderful shower stands open to the sky, yet carefully screened behind a curved wall of bamboo poles.
A brand new family tree house received its first guests in December 2016. One of the closest tree houses to the main area, it has a standard en-suite double room linked by a living area to a smaller twin room, also with its own bathroom.
Despite the high standards of design, the lighting in the tree houses is not the best and, as the forest is so dense, even during the day the rooms are quite dimly lit. On our most recent visit we also felt that the housekeeping standards were not quite up to scratch, and the rooms were in need of a refreshing lift.
Lake Manyara National Park is a relatively small park – only 330km² – and the majority of this is covered in water, with the rest fringing the western borders of the lake. Although at least half-a dozen lodges focus their activities on the park, these and the campsites are clustered around the northern gate. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge lies in the far south of the park, and is the only lodge that’s actually inside the park boundary. So while the northern sector can get very busy, especially at the beginning and end of the day, guests at Tree Lodge at the southern end of the park are largely undisturbed.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge offers a range of excellent activities, with a good number of vehicles and excellent guides. On our last visit, we found the guiding to be of exceptional standard and spotted plenty of wildlife, even in the thickly-forested areas. It is worth noting that some guides may be completing part of their training here, so may be present on game drives to enhance their learning.
Head out 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 plenty of time, and are an additional cost of US$100 per vehicle. The park authorities are in the process of building new roads to increase wildlife-viewing areas.
Lake Manyara has recently constructed a canopy walkway just inside the gates in the northern part of the park. For US$50, guests can walk at their leisure on elevated wooden walkways, suspended between the trees – some at considerable heights above the ground. Typically, monkeys, insects and birdlife can be spotted throughout the canopy, as well as larger fauna on the forest floor including impala and elephant. The lodge can arrange this.
Walks and bike rides to the local village are guided by a local resident. Tree Lodge and its guests have provided many resources to the village, and visiting the school and clinic is a really worthwhile activity. The cost of US$45 per person includes a donation to the village. Currently, however, Tree Lodge isn't offering walking safaris, for safety reasons. (All walks conducted in the national park need to be accompanied by a park ranger, and there have been concerns over the training of these rangers. The lodge is working with the park authorities so that a handful of trained rangers will be able to accompany the lodge guides.)
During their stay, and weather permitting, guests will normally get to have at least one sundowner evening by the lake, which is a lovely experience.
Stylish and luxurious, Lake Manyara Tree Lodge has the best location of any lodge in the area (with a price tag to match), and thanks to clever design it still feels surprisingly connected to 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. That said, although the food, service and guiding have been consistently top-notch, on our last visit we felt that things had slipped a little.
- Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania
- Ideal length of stay
- We recommend spending at least two nights at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge and using it as a base to explore the remoter parts of the park. Add a couple of extra nights if you'd like to incorporate relaxation time at the lodge.
- Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is based inside Lake Manyara National Park, 48km south of the park's entry gate. Allow three hours to get here from Lake Manyara Airstrip, if driving straight, although most guests turn the journey into a full game drive.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- Although our meals at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge have been consistently good in the past, on our last visit in November 2016 we felt that things had changed. While the food was tasty and plentiful, the over-attentive service of our visit in 2015 had swung to the other end of the scale, being incredibly relaxed and quite slow, perhaps even a little careless. We hope that the lodge will be able to find a happy medium between our two experiences!
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 is a buffet including an array of cereals, dried fruit, yoghurt and fresh bread, 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. At the lodge, a selection of dishes is brought to the table for you to help yourself: we enjoyed tilapia, Greek salad, butter bean salad, tomato penne and coleslaw. Mango ice cream finished off a light and tasty lunch. The packed lunch usually includes a sandwich, along with the likes of hard-boiled eggs, fruit and home-made samosas, biscuits and cakes.
Before the evening meal, cocktails – such as frozen gin and tonics – are available in the lounge area with nibbles such as papadums and mango chutney, dried mango, or Bombay mix.
A three-course dinner is available at individual tables under the stars from 7.00pm. 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 our most recent stay, we began with a delicious butternut squash soup served with chapatis, then moved on to tandoori chicken, turli turli vegetables, basmati rice, turkey skewers and lentil curry. Dessert was a delicate honey cake.
- Lake Manyara Tree Lodge fits perfectly into a honeymoon safari in Tanzania. Situated in thick bush, its tree-house rooms are large, very private and beautifully designed. The atmosphere is incredibly romantic and staff will go the extra mile to make your stay special.
- See ideas for Honeymoons
- Wildlife safaris
- Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is well placed to experience the diversity of animals within Lake Manyara National Park, and the possibility of night drives here makes it one of our top tips for an extensive and relatively exclusive wildlife safari in Tanzania.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Renowned for its unique tree houses, the Tree Lodge blends perfectly into the verdant forest which envelopes it. The design is sensitive to its surroundings; the rooms are exceedingly comfortable; and service and food are excellent. It all adds up to a truly luxurious forest hideaway.
- See ideas for Luxury
- Attitude towards children
- Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is happy to accept children of any age, though they recommend that safaris are better suited to mature children over the age of 12.
- Property’s age restrictions
- There are no age restrictions.
- Special activities & services
- Children can take part in a butterfly walk around the lodge, try out traditional activities such as tracking, or join the chef in the kitchen to make cookies. There is a ping-pong table just to the side of the boma.
- There is no special equipment for children.
- Generally recommended for children
- The location of Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is quite wild, and there are a lot of unguarded, and high deck edges, which would pose a risk to young children. We think that children should ideally be aged 12 or above in order to enjoy the experience.
- Big game – particularly elephants – does wander through the camp periodically. Children are the responsibility of their parents and would need to be supervised at all times. Some rooms are visited more frequently by wildlife, so would be best avoided by families with children.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Lake Manyara Tree Lodge
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- The generator is switched off between 11.00pm and 5.00am so power is not available to the tree houses during these times.
- 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.
- 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
- Water supply notes
- Water is drawn from the River Eyambi, and treated for use by the lodge and its guests.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- All guides and lodge staff are first-aid trained and there is a basic first-aid kit on site. For 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, but the nearest airstrip is Lake Manyara Airstrip, on top of the escarpment, a minimum of two hours’ 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 at every tree house and in every communal area. Frequent fire-training takes place.
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included. It is machine-washed and dried in the sun.
- Lake Manyara Tree Lodge can sometimes exchange small amounts of currency, depending on how much they have available.
- 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 GB pounds.
Other lodges in Lake Manyara National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.