Isalo National Park
The combination of sandstone rocks cut by deep canyons and eroded into spectacular shapes and rare endemic plants, makes Isalo one of Madagascar’s most appreciated parks. For botanists there are Pachypodium plants and locally endemic aloe; and for lemur lovers there are Sifakas, Brown Lemurs and Ring Tails. Isalo is also sacred to the Bara tribe; for hundreds of years they have used caves in the canyon walls as burial sites. A full day of guided walking in the park will allow you to explore one of Madagascar’s most diverse areas. Very different to the lush tropical vegetation in the east, Isalo’s attraction is its vast rolling plains interspersed with stunning rock formations. Wildlife is not as dense as in other parks but look out for Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Brown Lemurs, Sifakas and 14 nocturnal lemur species hiding in dense vegetation along the streams. There are also 80 species of bird (including the rare Benson’s Rock-Thrush, the Knob-Billed Duck or the Crested Ibis), 35 species of reptiles and several endemic frogs.
Ifotaka Community Forest
Ifotaka is a community managed forest reserve protecting 85 square miles of spiny forest and gallery forest in the remote south of the island. Very few tourists venture here and it is incredibly rewarding to be off the beaten track: you will experience the authentic and wild Madagascar that enchanted early explorers. With two distinctive forest types, 5 species of lemur, including the Verreaux’s Sifaka and Ring-tailed Lemurs, countless birds and reptiles, the wildlife experience here is outstanding.
Walk amongst the octopus trees in the otherworldly landscape of the spiny forest in the early morning to spot the many endemic birds such as Crested Coua, Vangas and Running Coua. Explore sacred forests where the ancestral tombs of the Antandroy tribe are interspersed with 500 year-old baobab trees, inquisitive lemurs and an extraordinary array of flora and fauna, unique to the spiny forest. The sacred gallery forest along the Mandrare River is home to large troops of playful Ring-tail lemurs; the forest is accessed by boat from Mandrare River Camp.
The Camp also organizes visits to the colorful local market as well as schools and clinics that they sponsor. Nearby there is a local version of the ‘Avenue of the Baobabs’ where sundowners are served. In the evening the local village may come to perform beautiful traditional dances, accompanied by singing and music.
Manafiafy – Sainte Luce
Manafiafy is a secluded tropical paradise with excellent wildlife viewing and miles of untouched beaches. There are no major tourism developments aside from the charming 5 bedroom Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge. This is where French colonists first landed in Madagascar in 1638 and life in the local fishing village has stayed very much the same over the centuries. The beautiful and wildlife abundant community managed forests are some of the last remaining stretches of coastal rainforest in southern Madagascar. Manafiafy is also one of the best locations to see hump-back whales in Madagascar during the season (June – November). Bottle-nose dolphins can be spotted from the beach year-round.