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Antsalova, Madagascar

GPS: -18.919955223927, 44.794380787308

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Located in the western part of the island of Madagascar, on the vast karstic plateau of Bemaraha, the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is the largest protected area in the country. It is divided into two distinct areas north of the town of Bekopaka: the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve (closed to visitors) and the national park of the same name, founded in 1997.

The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is the first Malagasy place to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990. Surrounded by tropical forests, lakes, mangrove areas and stretches of savannah, it contains fascinating landscapes that have been shaped over time by the movement of water and the phenomenon of erosion. Together with the Namoroka National Park located a little further north, the Tsingy de Bemaraha natural site is known for its massive stone forest representing the largest karst rock formation in the world. By retaining rainwater, this stone density has given rise to several rivers and streams as well as Lake Bemamba, the most important source of fresh water in the Melaky region. From a geological point of view, the limestone spurs of the park were formed on a sedimentary plate composed of corals and shells following the separation of the island of Madagascar from the rest of the African continent more than 150 million years ago. This geographical isolation has favoured the development of a fauna and flora that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. Every year or so, new species of animal and plant life are discovered on the island of Madagascar (cannibal spiders, miniature frogs, wild primates, orchids…).

The topography of Bemaraha’s stone cliffs rests on a series of canyons, gorges and steep slopes in the shape of pinnacles with points that can reach up to 150 metres in height. This rugged landscape of limestone needles is called tsingy in the Malagasy language. This term means “to walk on tiptoes” because it is not possible to walk barefoot there. In spite of the sharp aspect of its stone peaks, which suggest a territory that is difficult to tame, the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park concentrates an exceptional biodiversity of wildlife. It provides habitats for various species of lemurs, terrestrial and aquatic birds, bats, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles typical of the region. Like most of Madagascar’s protected areas, this nature sanctuary has a high proportion of endemic species (estimated at more than 80% of of plant and animal species).

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  • The impressive rock formations in the form of chiselled peaks; the cathedrals and limestone shafts forming almost impassable natural barriers
  • The network of canyons (including the lush green site of Oliha), faults, crevices and gorges (especially those of the Manambolo River); cavities, caves and underground galleries; natural pools; suspension bridges in the northern sector of the park (Great Tsingy); the Antsingy forest
  • Pirogue trips and kayaking down the Manambolo River along high stone cliffs covered with vegetation in the southern sector of the park (Little Tsingy)
  • The numerous hiking trails (Berano, Andamozavaky and Ranotsara trails in the north; Tantely, Manambolo, Anjohimanitsy, Ankeligoa and Andadoany trails in the south)
  • A climbing and via ferrata site, a land of exploration and adventure
  • The magnificent views from the top of the sharp Tsingy peaks
  • The diversity of the landscapes (mangrove forests, limestone pinnacles, hundred-year-old baobabs, swamps, savannas…)
  • The quantity of endemic fauna and flora (lemurs, reptiles, chameleons, birds, bats, 650 species of plants…)
  • The small isolated town of Bekopaka on the banks of the Manombolo River; the indigenous Kabijo and Vazimba communities
  • The stone forest of the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park does not only extend vertically (in the form of peaks pointing to the sky) but also horizontally. This rocky labyrinth was submerged by water about 100 million years ago.
  • Due to the density of its plateau of sharp stones covering 700 km², the park has earned its nickname of “the largest mineral forest in the world”.
  • The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is home to the tomb of a family of the Vazimba tribe, the first inhabitants of the interior of the island of Madagascar. Many other burials and tombs of this ethnic group are said to be hidden in the Antsingy forest and the Manambolo gorges.
  • The Vazimbas are a people of gatherers and farmers who are said to have taken refuge in the centre of the island to flee from the Indonesians who landed on the archipelago of Madagascar in the 16th century. Together with the Kabijo people, they continue to use the sacred lands of the park as a place of burial, ritual and homage to the Kalanoro ancestors.
  • Queen Ranavalona I (at the head of the kingdom of Madagascar from 1828 to 1861) is said to have had her political opponents thrown down from the peaks of the stone forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha.
  • According to a local legend, this impenetrable territory is the dwelling place of spirits or ghosts who have taken up residence so as not to be bothered.
  • The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and the eponymous integral nature reserve are home to a dozen different species of lemurs out of the hundred or so varieties inhabiting the Madagascar archipelago.
  • An emblematic tree of Madagascar, the baobab is known as renala in Malagasy (“mother of the forest”). It can store several thousand litres of water in its trunk to cope with periods of drought (hence its nickname “bottle tree”). Its soft and waterlogged wood cannot be used for construction or furniture, which has spared it from large-scale logging operations. Only one species of baobab tree is present on the entire African continent, compared to seven varieties of Madagascar, six of which are endemic to the island.
  • During the rainy season, the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is very difficult to access due to the impassable state of the roads. Prefer a visit during the dry season between mid-April and November (the park is usually closed or unreachable the rest of the year).
  • A four-wheel drive vehicle is essential to free yourself from obstacles on your route. It is a 4-hour drive from the town of Morondava, the last town on the route to have an ATM.
  • All visits within the park perimeter must be made in the presence of a local guide.
  • An ideal destination for adventure-seekers, the park offers several circuits combining hiking in the forest, trails to discover the fauna and flora, suspension bridges fixed between rocks, underground cavities and a waterway to be explored by kayak.

Where to eat

  • Camp Croco
    (restaurant on stilts)
  • Tanankoay
    (diversified formulas)
  • Mad Zébu de Belo
    (Malagasy fine cuisine)

Where to go out

  • Down the Tsiribihina River
    (soft and original crossing)
  • Avenue of the Baobabs
    (fascinating scenery)
  • Kirindy Mitea National Park
    (plethora of ecosystems)

Where to sleep

  • Tsingy Lodge
    (traditional Sakalava bungalows)
  • Le Soleil des Tsingy
    (total well-being)
  • Grand hôtel de Tsingy de...
    (neat ecolodge)

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