ISALO NATIONAL PARK
ISALO NATIONAL PARK (Heaven for hikers)
Established in 1962, the Isalo National Park is located in the southwest region of Madagascar, approximately 700 km west of Antananarivo. It protects a 315 square mile area, encompassing a sandstone massif. Gradually sculpted by years of wind and rain, Isalo’s is nestled amidst an unearthly, wildly eroded topography of wild ridges (known as “runiformes”) impressive gorges, sweeping canyons and tiny stalagmite pinnacles. The diverse colors, agreeably warm climate and uniquely Jurassic landscape attracts hikers from around the world.
Its interior boasts canyons filled with waterfalls and valleys, dominated by the fire-resistant tapia tree, pandanus pulcher, and the locally prevalent feather palm. Cliffs and rocks are dotted with common succulents including the Elephant’s Foot and Isalo Aloe.
In this park flora is indeed more impressive than the fauna. Among the 500 species found here, several locally endemic plants, such as the elephant’s foot, rare palm and also aloe species, have been discovered.
While the wildlife is not as prominent as other parks in the country, there are still many species worth seeing, including the 14 species of nocturnal lemurs (of which 7 are endemic), as well as the ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs and Verreaux’s sifiaka. The park is also home to approximately 80 species of birds, including the rare Benson’s Rock-thrush and the knob-billed duck, many found in the Canyon des Nymphes area. You’ll also find 35 reptile species and several endemic frogs such as the red frog (Sacphiophyme gottlebei).
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.
Some of the most popular trails:
The piscine naturelle
Piscine is a true oasis in the heat of the canyons. A natural stone cave overlooks a crystal-clear waterfall flowing into a deep green pool, surrounded by pandanus trees. This tranquil pool is an oasis in the heat, and offers a welcome relief after the long hike getting there.
The Canyon des Singes
The Canyon des Singes (Canyon of Monkeys) is a popular hike. A trail of dense forest scrub-land leads to a wonderful ravine, where you’ll discover ring-tailed lemurs leaping through the trees, and Sifakas, dancing in their bizarre sideways gait along the ground. A popular extension leads from here to the piscine naturelle along a breathtaking trail of brilliantly colored mountains. As the heat in the Canyon builds the inviting pools provide the perfect opportunity to cool off after the challenging hike.
This trail passes through an unusually formed canyon, with lush vegetation, and past a waterfall and deep pool
Those equipped for trekking and camping can spend several days or longer wandering around the Isalo Massif, which is undoubtedly the most rewarding but time consuming way to explore this place.
A recommended two-day trip would be to visit the piscine naturelle and the Nymphes waterfalls with an overnight at the waterfalls campsite. On the 2ndday you’d hed for Maki canyon. If you have time for a 3rdday you would also visit Rats canyon.
Portuguese Cave is a very challenging hike and only for the very fit. The cave is at the northern end of the park and involves a 4-day hike, through the beautiful Sahanafa forest with natural springs and a lot of lemurs.
Another particularly fascinating attraction is the Window of the Isalo, which is especially beautiful at sunset.
Isalo is accesible during all the year and lies right next to the highway connecting Tana with Tulear. The road is one of the best of Madagascar, so the journey is quite comfortable. From Tana it takes around 15 hours (700 km), from Tulear 4 hours (250 km).
There are two decent campsites inside the Park with shared facilities and showers.
The Park Office is great and has a lot of information, many excellent guides who speak fluent English and an interesting museum about the geology, fauna and flora of the region.
There are two main lodges in the area, Le Relais de la Reine and Jardin du Roy, both of which are extremely comfortable lodges and set amidst spectacular rock formations.