Hiking in Madagascar
By Martha Hales
Many travellers head for Madagascar in search of its intriguing wildlife and unusual landscapes. What better way to experience these highlights than by exploring on foot? Madagascar is known as the ‘Eighth Continent’ because of its size and unique combination of ecosystems resulting from its millennia of isolation from other land masses. The world’s fourth largest island has a broad range of terrain perfect for hiking, and by touring the island step by step you have an unrivalled opportunity to get up close to all that incredible wildlife.
There are several different habitat zones on the island of Madagascar each with its own ecosystem supporting a particular combination of flora and fauna, much of which is endemic to the island. Hiking trails thread through the many protected areas and national parks, allowing you to choose from leisurely day hikes right through to longer, multi-day treks. With the help of our local experts, we’ve put together this collection of the best places to go hiking in Madagascar.
Over 300 square kilometres of the Andringitra Mountains is protected as a National Park containing three separate ecosystems - rainforest at the lower elevations, montane forest on the higher slopes and high altitude vegetation on and around the peaks. A number of trails wind through the park, the most popular of which leads to the granite dome known locally as Pic Imarivolanitra - also called Peak Boby - which reaches 2,658 metres altitude.
This is quite a tough trail requiring a decent level of fitness to manage the long steady ascent and the ‘stairway.’ You will need three days to complete the walk and there are no provisions so consider a porter. The Diavolana Trail is a shorter route taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in the park: waterfalls; forests; viewpoints and a good chance of spotting ring tailed lemurs.
Madagascar’s largest protected area includes nearly 2,300 square kilometres of mangroves, coastal rainforest, marsh and flooded forests, as well as 100 square kilometres of protected marine reserves set up to safeguard the aquatic plants, extensive coral and over 3,000 species of fish.
The Masoala National Park protects an entire peninsula covered with rainforest and mangroves stuffed with hundreds of exotic species of frogs, chameleons and geckos, not to mention ten different species of lemur and a dazzling variety of insects.
The hiking possibilities in the National Park are fantastic - numerous scenic day walks are possible to see some of the amazing wildlife, plus there are longer, multi day trails which crisscross the peninsular. The coastal path between Alhoatrozana and Antalavia takes in some of the most exquisite beaches in the park, along with pristine rainforest and mangrove ecosystems.
The tsingy are karst limestone formations that sit above cliffs in the west of Madagascar. Hundreds of millions of years ago, what is now the tsingy was the sea bed which rose up to become a plateau, and was then eroded over millennia into the current needle shaped formations. These pointed rocks bristle across 100 kilometres of protected landscape, largely inaccessible to humans and consequently bursting with wildlife. Hiking trails do exist in the tsingy, mainly shorter day walks which involve hanging bridges and some tricky sections which require a head for heights.
There are possibilities to connect some of the day walks into a longer walk, the Anjohimanintsy trail, with an overnight camp. Expect to see lots of the contorted limestone tsingy formations, and there are many endemic species to look out for in the park including 11 species of lemur and over 100 species of birds, the majority endemic to Madagascar.
Around 600 square kilometres of mountainous landscapes are protected by the Marojejy National Park, and 90% of the territory is pristine primary forest. Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 2007, this is a wild and untamed corner of the island which doesn’t see visitors in large numbers. The swathes of untrammelled forest are home to all sorts of wildlife, and most of the hikes in the park are undertaken in order to spot some of the unique flora and fauna. Botanists should keep their eyes open for the 275 different species of ferns and the 50 different types of palm.
Within the forests more than 100 species of birds have been recorded, as well as 45 mammal species including 11 varieties of lemur. As with most of Madagascar many of the species in Marojejy National Park are endemic. Hiking infrastructure is basic, but there are camps set up for overnights if you prefer to take part in a multi-day trek. Wildlife walks in the forest are particularly rewarding at night, when wildlife is active, but daytime hikes also reveal many of the exotic species that live here.
Make it happen
Madagascar’s unusual scenery and incredible wildlife has to be seen to be believed. Contact our specialist local operators, tell them what kind of holiday you are looking for and they will get to work. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.