Travellers flock to Madagascar to experience its amazing wildlife and stunning landscapes. Some of the best places to experience these attractions are in its abundant national parks. The parks vary greatly in size and location and it may be difficult to choose which ones are worth your while. Of course, all the parks have something special to offer but there are some that are absolutely not to be missed during your once in a lifetime trip through the breathtaking country. We’ve carefully evaluated the various parks and rounded up the five best national parks that provide the most all-encompassing overview as well as the country’s absolute must-sees. Supporting the national parks also play an important role in conserving the endemic flora and fauna of the island.
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. For bird-watchers, this is a good place to visit, 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 Bermaraha
The spectacular limestone forests of the Tsingy de Bermaraha, 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 Strepsirrhini 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 islands 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.
Bermaraha’s tsingy also acts 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.
Amber Mountain Reserve
The Amber Mountain Reserve in northwest Madagascar is a nature lover’s dream come true with breath-taking waterfalls, volcanic lakes, and wild orchids in an emerald green forest. Due to the altitude and micro-climate temperatures are about 10 degrees lower than the rest of the island, providing cool refreshing air that is a welcome respite from the hot coast just a few kilometres away.
Named for the resin that seeps from the trees, the first and oldest National Park in Madagascar has greatly benefitted from its long-term protection and is a rare animal and plant paradise. It is one of the most biodiverse rainforests in Madagascar with new species being discovered every year. The local community were invited to participate in planning and management from the beginning, making the park one of the country’s most successful examples of ecotourism, covering an area of 18,200 hectares, spread over a volcanic massif with well-maintained and clearly signposted pathways.
The park has three famous waterfalls. The Sacred Waterfall where locals make their spiritual offerings is the easiest to access, a relaxed walk with lemurs and orchids found in abundance along the way. The waterfall is part of a beautiful grotto surrounded by lush ferns with water flowing into an enticing pool. In summer a small colony of twittering bats inhabits the right overhang of the grotto. The humid rainforest is popular with a variety of bats, 13 of Madagascar’s 33 bats species call the forest their home.
Masaola National Park
Experience the abundant beauty of both land and sea in Madagascar’s largest national park, Masoala National Park, covering 2,300 square kilometres of lush rainforest as well as three marine parks with breathtaking coral reefs covering a total of 100 square kilometres. Crystal clear water, perfect for kayaking, laps onto golden sand beaches that lead to verdant rainforest full of lemurs, and chameleons!
This “land that time forgot” is Madagascar’s largest protected area where guests will find themselves in an amazing paradise of orchids, ferns, palisander trees and wild ginger plants. The region is the last-refuge for the flamboyant red-ruffed lemurs who can be found sunning themselves on the tops of the trees in the morning. Hundreds of Humpback whales visit the region from July to September and can also be seen breaching and splashing just offshore.
Excellent hiking trails snake through the thick and wild forest, across cooling rivers, some even suitable for swimming but some filled with crocodiles, your guide will let you know what is safe. Keep an eye out for a bright red Tomato Frog hopping along, they are found easily in the pristine primary rainforest, while adorable little tenrecs rustle through the undergrowth on their search for insects. The incredibly rare Madagascar Serpent Eagle is found in healthy numbers here and is often observed soaring through the sky or perched high on a branch, these predatory birds eat lemurs, snakes lizards and frogs. Ten different lemur species call the forest their home and this is the best area to try and catch a glimpse the elusive nocturnal aye-aye with its strange eyes and a peculiar habit of knocking on wood.
Isalo National Park
Isalo National Park is Madagascar’s most popular park and covers an area of 81,540 hectares of eroded sandstone massif and is located in the southwest region of Madagascar. Isalo National Park is approximately 400 km south-west from Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, and 226 km south-west from Fianarantsoa en route to Toliara.
An unearthly landscape – with rocks dating from the Jurassic period – it’s no wonder that this marvellous evolutionary process has sculpted incredible, unusual shapes of impressive gorges and canyons. Isalo National Park was established in 1962 and the rocks (known as “ruiniformes”) are an incredible heritage.
Its interior boasts canyons filled with waterfalls and valleys, dominated by the fire-resistant tree tapia, pandanus pulcher, and the locally prevalent feather palm. Cliffs and rocks are dotted with common succulents including the Elephant’s Foot and Isalo Aloe.
While the spectacular mountains of the Isalo massif are the park’s most famous feature, there are other attractions worth seeing such as natural swimming pools, astounding scenery at the Canyon des Singes and Canyon des Rats. The tightly constricted Canyon des Singes (which means “canyon of monkeys”) offers a long, hot walk through the hidden canyons of the massif to Piscine Naturelle.
The natural stone cave at Piscine Naturelle overlooks a crystal-clear waterfall flowing into an emerald pool surrounded by leafy pandanus trees. This tranquil pool is an oasis in the heat, and offers a welcome relief after the long hike to get there. Another particularly fascinating attraction is the Window of the Isalo, which is especially beautiful at sunset.