I found Arusha and Manyara to be somewhat similar due to being much more forested than other parks. Arusha has fewer elephants, but the animals were often much closer to view. If you were thinking Manyara, then if you could stay overnight in Karatu or Mto wa Mbo, then at least you get an adequate time in the park. You may consider it to be a 5 hour return trip, but that gives no contingency plan for "what ifs" and daylight is just 12 hours in Tz. They don't tend to take travellers through the dark.
For hotels, there is a review section for hotels in Arusha. If you go to the main Tanzania forum page (not specifically Lake Manyara) there are Frequently Asked Questions to the right. About 4th down is a recommended starter list. also, just looking at the titles of the recent posts in the Tanzania forum, you will see a number of TO names with reviews attached.
If you don't mind something pretty basic but handy in Arusha, I stayed at Hotel Flamingo. It is more like a guest house, but clean, quiet and secure.
If I were to take a day trip, which I have from Arusha, I would go to Tarangire, especially if it were the dry season. You don't say when you are going to be there, which could make a difference. Tarangire is about 1 3/4 hour drive to the gate. I have went out there from Arusha and back in the same day several times.
Quilt - thank you, we are hoping to stay one night on the lake if possible and maybe do two days in the park. We know it is not enough time to do a proper safari but it is all we can do as we'll just be coming back from trekking Kili and thus have limited funds and time off from work.
Karl - how was your luck with animal sightings in Tarangire? What did you see, were they near/far? What company did you use?
Mto wa Mbu has very basic guest houses, or you can use the bambas at Manyara NP which will save you some money.
When were you planning to go? That will help to determine Tarangire sightings. And to be honest, if it's a good time for Tarangire - unless you are big on birding, I would take Tarangire over Manyara, particularly if you like elephants. It is much more open than Manyara and for me the animals were far away in Manayara until the last hour.
Tarangire has the famous baobob trees. Much less undergrowth. Lots of elephants, giraffe, zebra, wart hogs, birds, lions. It is a great park. If I had to do one park from Arusha (with an overnight) it would be Tarangire hands down - if the time of year was right.
Tarangire has more scenery IMO. In the dry season animals will migrate to Tarangire and there are large herds of buffalo, elephant, zebra, giraffe, antelope, and of course some predators. I also like to look at baobob trees and this park is full of them, some very large ones.
Tarangire is the first park you come to on the Northern Circuit and it's an easy day trip there. Plenty of ledges if you prefer to stay overnight.
Tarangire, without question. I've been there in June and I've been there in February and at both times there were massive numbers of elephants, and wonderful sightings of many other animals. The birdlife is terrific. And the spectacular baobab trees -- especially stunning when in leaf. And the view of the Tarangire River from the picnic site is one of my favorite views in the world. Even better, in my opinion, than the view of Ngorongoro Crater from the rim. It always makes me cry.
I love, love, love Tarangire. And it's closer to Arusha than Lake Manyara. And if you wanted to do two days, you could stay at Maramboi Tented Camp, which is located roughly between Tarangire and Manyara, and do both parks pretty easily.
But Tarangire first.
Hi all, thank you so much for the quick and informative responses! Apologies for leaving this out before but we will be there in early January. I believe this is just following the wet season? Hopefully this will be close enough to the feb timing to see the animals. All thee large animals and the trees would be EXACTLY what we hope to see. Will this work timing wise or would you reccomend different? Thanks again I am very greatful for all your help!
If you really only have a day or two, any of the three parks mentioned would be all you'd have time for.
If you could add days, I'd suggest one night Tarangire, one night at the Ngorongoro Crater, and a couple of nights in the southern/western Serengeti, where, in January, you might just be able to catch the migration on its way to the Ndutu area.
But don't worry about seeing animals. You'll see animals. Tanzania is packed full with animals. You'll see animals whatever park you choose, at whatever time of year you go. Lots of them. Adding days will merely increase the number and which animals you see, as each day can bring new surprises. The more days you have, the greater the variety of experiences you'll have.
I'd recommend taking as many days as you can -- and/or as many as you can afford. The more days you take, of course, the slightly more complex the planning -- but that, too, is part of the fun.
Thanks again, unfortunately this time we can only do two days max but hoepefully some day we can return for a proper safari. Thank you all and happy and safe future travels!
(Staying on the rim give the advantage of an early morning entry - which would be great, but is pricey. If this is a budget breaker, stay in Karatu and plan on a much longer day two.)
Day two - tour the crater, drive back to Arusha arriving around sunset.
I love Tarangire - for us, having toured the northern circuit already, if we had two days we would just do Tarangire. But for a first time safari, for just two days... I'd do the crater and Lake Manyara...