The Lake Manyara Serena has large public areas with eye-catching design.
Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge: Our full report
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 northern end of Lake Manyara National Park, 300m below. During the dry season, bushbuck and dikdik climb the steep scarp to browse and graze in the lodge's cool, shady gardens. Like most of the Serena properties in East Africa, this is a big lodge, accommodating 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 local houses with thatched roofs and thick stone walls – they are, for the most part, ordinary and simple.
The best feature of these rooms is their stupendous views 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. All rooms can be used as triples. There’s one suite with a lounge. And some rooms are double-storey units.
The rooms at Lake Manyara Serena Lodge are comfortable, but somewhat impersonal. Inside, the walls are white, the floors either blue-tiled or done in polished red cement (the plan we were told when we last visited in 2015 is for blue tiles throughout). A patterned bedspread adorns the double or twin bed, which is hung with 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 an internal phone, a wooden cupboard, a small chair and mosquito spray.
Smoking rooms are specific – they have ashtrays – and only a limited number are assigned to smokers. However, do request a non-smoking room to be sure.
Equally simple are the en-suite bathrooms at Lake Manyara Serena. In each, a kidney-shaped mirror hangs over the basin, which is set into a wooden surround laid out with complimentary toiletries. A white-tiled shower, flush loo and a hairdryer complete the package.
The reception and main areas are large and airy, and include a spacious dining room; bar area; TV room with satellite TV (also the site of evening entertainment, such as Maasai dancing); conference room; computer room with three terminals; and a small shop selling a limited range of gifts, T-shirts and toiletries. All of these areas radiate from the main lounge, which is furnished with cushioned chairs, clustered around small, wooden tables. Everything is decorated in a Serena’s retro white, green and orange colour scheme.
A big hotel like this is designed to accommodate lots of people, but in each room they've largely succeeded in creating a welcoming atmosphere with their use of colour, ceramic uplighters, fireplaces, and pots of Maasai spears that lend a local feel.
In the spacious dining room, there's a change of colour: red-and-blue stucco décor on the walls and Maasai blankets on the serving tables, which are dotted with small Maasai ornaments. Dining can be inside or out at the Lake Manyara Serena, but the dining terrace is quite small. There's also a self-service area for tea and 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 (open 10am-6.30pm; no lifeguards), which is partly framed by bushes. Sun-loungers line the pool and there is a small bar. Bushbuck are often seen on the lawn and there are stunning, panoramic views over Lake Manyara National Park stretching north to south. This is the best area of the lodge and evening entertainments often take place here when the lodge is busy.
The lodge has a rather small, dark spa. A resident therapist offers manicures, pedicures and deep-tissue massages all day, and while the range isn't particularly comprehensive, it’s ideal if you want a bit of relaxation for an hour or so.
Most travellers will use the Lake Manyara Serena as an overnight stop on a driving safari, perhaps between a visit to Tarangire or Lake Manyara, and the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s certainly close enough to Lake Manyara to spend the whole day in the park, though it takes about 1½ hours to the Crater. And it’s too far to use as a base for 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$30 per person. You do need to have a reasonable level of fitness for this activity.
- A little easier is the nature walk, lasting roughly an hour and led by a qualified naturalist. This concentrates on the area at the edge of the 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.
Our viewLake 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 April 2015) and it was friendly and efficient. We loved the stunning views from the cliff-top location. If staying inside Lake Manyara National Park isn’t an option, then visiting from here is a good alternative.
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. Or use it as an overnight stay before a flight from the airstrip.
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, children and other dietary preferences on request. There is a self-service coffee and 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 or US$4.50.
Further dining info: Yes
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
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/US$4.50 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.
Generally recommended for children: Yes
Notes: Children under their parent’s supervision can use the infinity swimming pool. Activities can be organized for children, typically costing about £8/US$12 per child, and lasting roughly 90 minutes. For example, children can be walked around the lodge, play games and plant trees. The suggested departure time is either 7.30am or 4.30pm. The cost includes field guide materials.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: There are two backup generators that automatically kick in if there's a power outage, and also cope with fluctuations.
Communications: There are internal phones in the rooms, and WiFi throughout the lodge are free for guests. The mobile signal is good. There is a charge of US$2 per 15 minutes to use the computers in the business room.
TV & radio: There are no TVs in the rooms, but there is a general TV room for guests to use.
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: There's no shortage of clean water. Bottled water is provided at the rate of two half-litre bottles per guest per day. More can always be requested at no extra charge.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The hotel has a resident clinician. In case of emergencies they can contact the Flying Doctor services and the good hospital at Karatu.
Dangerous animals: Moderate Risk
Security measures: The lodge has guards on duty 24 hours a day. There is also CCTV in some areas. The lodge is fenced at the back, but not on the escarpment side.
Fire safety: The hotel has fire extinguishers and the staff are trained how to use them. There are 6-monthly site visits by fire experts.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: There is a laundry service, currently costing around £1/US$1.50 per item.
Money: Every room has a safe.
Accepted payment on location: Foreign exchange facilities are available, and Lake Manyara Serena normally accepts cash payments in US dollars, Canadian dollars, euros, British pounds, Tanzanian shillings and Kenyan shillings. They also accept payments in US dollars using Visa, American Express and MasterCard, with no commission charged.