Not only does Madagascar have fantastic wildlife, it also has some spectacular landscapes. The rugged massif of Isalo National Park is particularly stunning and has scenery rivalling that of south-west USA. This geological formation dating back to Jurassic times consists of rugged mountains and canyons that are constantly being eroded by the wind and rain. Although principally visited for its scenery, this National Park is also home to 3 species of lemur as well as various endemic birds, reptiles and flora. There are few hotels in the area; I would highly recommend staying at Isalo Rock Lodge. Although slightly more pricey than the majority of hotels in Madagascar, it is very good value compared to other similar luxury hotels in other countries of the world and it is well worth the money. Set within the beautiful sandstone of Isalo, you can enjoy fantastic, unobstructed views of the mountains from your own room. In addition, there are several short walking trails that you can do from the hotel which lead you to a natural pool as well as great view points where you can watch the sunset.
Isalo National Park
Isalo National Park
The park office can be found in the village of Ranohira. We had a little bit of trouble finding it at first since it is not well signposted. If you are travelling south along the RN7 towards Isalo, just after you enter Ranohira, the road will bend to the left; keep going straight instead of following the road left and you will see the Zebu Grill restaurant (a nice place to stop for lunch with a mix of Malagasy and international dishes). If you continue on past the restaurant then past the police station, you will find the park office on the right hand side of the road. Here you can book your tour and guide for visiting the National Park.
It is recommended to begin your hike in the morning (we started at 7:30am) since due to the high temperatures, so that the majority of your walk is complete before the hottest part of the day. The trail head is quite far from the park office in Ranohira so you can either drive up to it yourself or hire a driver from the park office to take you. Alternatively, it is possible to walk this, however, it is not recommended as it is quite far with not a lot to see and you are better off spending more time in the National Park instead. There are a number of tours that you can choose from, varying in length and difficulty. We chose a 6 hour tour to allow us to spend a full day observing the natural beauty of Isalo National Park. Our route led us up the rocks, across plains before walking along the ridge at the edge of the park that looks out at across vast arid landscapes before beginning our descent down into the canyon, all the while enjoying incredible views. At about midday we reached the campsite to have a Malagasy lunch of grilled zebu, rice, vegetables and locally grown fruit (pineapple and bananas), all the while being constantly distracted by the wildlife that surrounded us. The hike after lunch consisted of a short walk through a canyon, along a stream towards the Piscine Naturelle, a beautiful natural pool formed in amongst a little oasis. Here you can take a swim and cool off and relax after your hike before leaving the National Park.
Ridge at Isalo National Park Down through the canyons at Isalo National Park
Our guide was excellent and very knowledgeable on the park's history, local traditions and cultures as well as the flora and fauna. It is a very cultural place and local tribes consider it to be sacred, using the rock faces and canyons as traditional burial sites and you may see several tombs during your visit. Your guide should also make you aware of the beliefs and 'fady' (cultural taboos) of the tribes to ensure tourists do not unintentionally cause offence while visiting the park; for example, it is fady to point using your fingers. Instead you should gesture with your whole hand.
Ring-tailed lemur at Isalo National Park Ring-tailed lemurs at Isalo National Park, Madagascar
There is much wildlife to be seen at Isalo National Park. The campsite is particularly good for seeing the cheeky ring-tailed lemurs who appear quite tame and used to humans. You are not supposed to feed these animals and must be very careful with your food as they can be very sneaky and will steal food at any opportunity if you are not paying attention! We were also lucky enough to see a Verreaux's sifaka (otherwise known as the white or dancing lemur) in the trees above the camp. In addition, you will encounter a number of endemic plants that are adapted for living in this hot, dry environment such as the elephant's foot plant Pachypodium, palms, aloes and desert rose. A number of birds can also be observed at the National Park including Madagascar cuckoo-roller, Madagascar hoopoe, Madagascar buttonquail and Madagascar scops owl. However, the highlight for many birdwatchers is the locally endemic Benson's rock thrush (below); this subspecies can only be found in Isalo National Park.
Benson's rock thrush at Isalo National Park, Madagascar
Window of Isalo
End your day at Isalo National Park by visiting the window of Isalo (La Fenêtre de l'Isalo) at sunset. This place is surprisingly busy (not sure where all these tourists appear from?!) so make sure to get there early to get a good spot to watch the sun set through the natural rock formation. Taking photos can be a little tricky, however, due to the number of people jostling to get the perfect shot of the sunset. I personally found the front of the rock and the surrounding scenery much prettier with the gorgeous sunset glow on the rocks and fewer people in the way. If you don't get chance to visit the window of Isalo or don't manage to get good views of the sunset here, not to worry as wherever you are in Isalo National Park, you are bound to witness stunning sunsets and are sure to have a fantastic time visiting this amazing place!
Window of Isalo
Sunset glow at Isalo National Park, Madadgascar
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