ANKARAFANTSIKA NATIONAL PARK (Bird Haven)
Ankarafantsika (formerly known as Ampijoroa Forest Station) became a national park in 2002 and is one of Madagascar’s largest parks, occupying a staggering 1,350km. This vast portion of land combines deciduous dry forest, savannah and wetlands and is one of the last remaining stands of dense dry deciduous forest in Madagascar.
It is also the last refuge of several lemur and bird species, which makes the conservation of this park so important.
With over 120 species (75 endemic), the Park is one of Madagascar’s finest birdwatching venues, and a large number of visitors come here for this reason alone. Species include the banded krestel, Rufous vanga, Van Dam's vanga, Madagascar fish eagle.
The area is home to eight lemur species including Milne-Edwards sportive lemur, mongoose lemur, western wolly lemur, grey mouse lemur, fat-tailed dwarf lemur, and it is the only place where the golden-brown mouse lemur occurs. Nocturnal hikes are recommended as many lemurs come “alive” in a nocturnal envirnoment. During the day Coquerel's sifaka are commonly seen.
Besides birds and reptiles, 10 species of frogs and 45 reptile species are found here, including Oustalett's, dwarf, horned and Rhinoceros chameleons, several vulnerable snakes, the extremely rare Madagascar big-headed turtle and crocodiles around the lake.
The park has a rich plant life with more than 800 species and a high rate of endemism. Significant species include the Cedrelopsis grevei, an odorous medicinal tree used, baobabs, palisander, wild vanilla, retendrika, crocodile tree, lohavato or the sakoanala tree, all of them endemic. Interpretative panels in the well-arranged botanical garden help visitors to deepen their knowledge of local flora
For the active visitor, the park offers 11 very well maintained trails.
The Coquereli circuit, as the name suggests, is the best trails to discover some the the parks most representative lemurs. Its an easy trail, taking about 2 hours to complete.
Another easy trail starts at the Ravelobe Lake and leads you to some terrific baobabs (Andasonia madagascariensis).
Bird lovers and botanists should consider the Retendrika circuit (2 hours). Visitors can observe many different medicinal plants, from which some of the most popular birds such as the banded kestrel and vanga are known to feed.
The most rewarding circuits in terms of wildlife are probably the Source of Life and the Ankarokarota.
The former takes about 3 hours, and combines wildlife and birdlife.You’re likely to see waterbirds that frequent the lake, as well as lemurs and reptiles. You’ll also get a glimpse into the daily life of the Sakavala communities and visit a pair of sacred places used in religious rituals.
The latter, Ankarokaroka trail (4 hours) leads through the savanna to a huge depression (lavaka) caused by erosion. It is surrounded by a strange and colorful rocky landscape, offering astounding views over the forest.
A boat ride on Ravelobe Lake will afford some beautiful scenery, as well as wildlife including crocodiles and a multitude of warerbirds, such as fish eagles, herons or ibises.
The park is about 2 hours from Majunga, making it an easy day trip with good road conditions. If you are coming from Antananarivo (450km) you should spend at least one night here as it’s a full day’s drive. Ankarafantsika is open year-round.
Accommodation within the park is limited and very basic. It consists of ten covered tent sites and five guest rooms with electricity and shared toilets/showers. Further tent sites are available at a camping site in Ambodimanga, a village in walking distance to the park entrance. A number of small bungalows with private facilities are also available close to lake Ravelobe.
The park is best visited during the drier season between May and October and the majority of rain falls between January and April.