Isolated from the other landmasses 80 million years ago, Madagascar was left to its own evolutionary devices which resulted in a wonderland of unique species and vegetation which it is famously known for. For this very reason, the wildlife is what predominantly attracts an increasing number of visitors to the island nation every year. But the island also boasts a huge diversity of habitats, from boggy rain forests in the East to the unique, semi-arid Spiny Forests in the South. We invite you to experience Madagascar’s wild and diverse landscapes by exploring our favourite national parks. Track indri lemurs in the forests of Andasibe, hike among the limestone fissures of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, snorkel the pristine waters of Lokobe, and get a close-up view of the unexpected and little known parts of the island.
Ranomafana National Park
Ranomafana National Park is famous worldwide for being the place that the golden bamboo lemur was discovered. It has some of the finest hot springs in Madagascar and an incredible wealth of wildlife.
Ordinarily one will only see the secondary forest, but on the longer routes, you’ll go into the primary forest which has thicker vines, larger trees and a quieter atmosphere due to the greater age of the trees. Twelve species of lemur live in the trees, and more than 100 species of birds make their home here with 36 of these endemic to the country. The reptiles, butterflies and other insects are also outstanding. One of the best things about this park is that the different vegetation and scenery make it extremely interesting to walk through, even if there were no wildlife in the park. You can also swim in the crystal clear waters of the Namorona River. The thermal baths from which the park is named (Ranomafana means ‘hot water in Malagasy) are just the right temperature and are a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
Andasibe and Mantadia National Park
The Andasibe and Mantadia National Parks (also known as simply the Andasibe Mantadia National Park) are Madagascar’s most popular reserves. With two areas of damp montane forest, the variety of lemurs, birds, reptiles and invertebrates is astonishing, and the local guides are extraordinarily knowledgeable, making a visit here worth the time spent. Andasibe National Park protects the largest lemur species, the Indri indri. For bird-watchers, this is a good place to come, with specials including the velvet asity, blue coua and nuthatch vanga.
Mantadia National Park makes a bit more of an exclusive trip, especially as the trails through the park are extremely rugged and only for the brave! The variation in altitude is greater than in Andasibe, and so the number of different species of animals is greater. Two types of lemurs that are fairly easy to see are the golden-coloured diademed sifaka and an indris that is darker than that found in the sister park. A waterfall and a lake in this park also provide a place to take a refreshing swim in the waters below the waterfall, an experience which is an exciting and unforgettable way to cool down in the hot sun.
Tsingy de Bemaraha
The spectacular limestone forests of the Tsingy de Bemaraha, situated 70 km inland from the West coast of Madagascar, resembles that of a dense city of leached pinnacles much like skyscraper buildings. Within this harsh vertical habitat provided by these stone high-rises, different flora and fauna live on different levels.
The highest peaks, which are arid and bare, are the perfect environment in which spiny, drought-tolerant Pachypodium plants and succulent like Vasa trees thrive. Here strepsirrhine primates such as the ghostly Decken’s sifaka make use of the stone passages between the deciduous forests. The darker canyons beneath, shielded from the desiccating heat of the sun, collect rainwater and nutrient-rich soil whilst sheltering some of the island quirkiest insect life in its depths such as the well-known Hissing Cockroach.
While the species diversity is not as high as in the moist eastern forests, the levels of endemism in Tsingy are higher. The Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve is an important habitat for 131 of the 186 resident terrestrial bird species listed for Madagascar.
Bemaraha’s tsingy also acts as an important water catchment feeding several springs as well as the two main rivers which cut through the reserve. This vast massif eventually peters out to the East reaching an abrupt end at the Bemaraha cliffs, some 400 meters above the 1.575 km² Manambolo valley offering breathtaking views.
Lokobe National Park
One of Madagascar’s smallest national parks is Lokobe which is located on the island of Nosy Be on the North West coastline. Named after its highest peak of volcanic origin, it lives up to its meaning of ‘many colours with a diverse variety of eco-systems and endemic species in such a small space.
One can journey through the numerous dappled footpaths in the lowland rainforest – dotted with fern fringed crater lakes – in which you can still gaze at giant trees such as the locally named Ramy from which the locals make their pirogues. Curious Black lemurs can be seen leaping through the treetops as well as the rare Hawk’s Sportive lemurs if one is lucky. Signs of where the elusive and strange Aye Aye has been hunting for grubs mark the tree trunks and as soon as the sun sets the forest canopies to come to life with mouse lemurs, flying foxes and other nocturnal creatures. The surrounding waters of Lokobe form part of the reserve where one can snorkel and swim or even kayak in amongst the mangroves.
But what truly makes this little park unique amongst all the other national parks of Madagascar is that there are no local guides based on the island, so you have the opportunity to explore the various rainforest paths on your own. This has the advantage that you can discover the forest undisturbed, but also the disadvantage that you might miss a lot of animals due to lack of experience and knowledge. You really need a good eye for the many small beauties of Lokobe.
The Berenty Private Reserve has an unusual name which means ‘big eel’ in Malagasy but the good news is that it’s actually famous for its lemurs, especially the well known ring-tailed and sifakas. The reserve is situated along the River Mandrare – and the water means that although it is located in the south of Madagascar which is more arid than tropical – gallery and riverine forest can grow to allow for a large variety of animals to reside in such a dry environment.
The reserve has two sections of forest called Malaza and Ankoba in which there are plenty of broad forest trails to walk along. A large portion of the wildlife is only active at night so you are allowed to explore the paths at night, using a flashlight to bring out the eyes of the animals and chameleons. At dusk one can travel into the spiny forest with a guide to see tiny mouse lemurs in amongst these giant specialised trees that are more like giant cacti.
Most visitors to the reserve come to see the lemurs however such as the Brown lemurs, Ring-Tailed and Sifaka lemurs.