As Madagascar is not known for its safari drives, its unique beauty can be experienced best by hiking or trekking. From tropical birds to curious reptiles and a variety of lemur species, Madagascar's National Parks offer well-defined circuits for all levels of adventurers. So lace up your shoes and get ready to explore the lively forests and stoney landscapes of Madagascar!
Wherever your roadtrip in Madagascar takes you, nature awaits at every turn. In this guide, we've handpicked the most stunning National Parks to visit and things to see and do. We also encourage you to check out our Practical Info section for entrance fees per park. And for a hassle-free journey, consult our Madagascar Roadtrip Planner with driving times and distances between the most popular parks and towns.
Let's hit the road and discover the wonders of Madagascar!
1. Isalo | The most visited National Park of Madagascar
Criss-cross the bizarre sandstone rock formations, plateaus and palm-fringed oases of Isalo National Park and enjoy a refreshing swim in some natural pools. A visit to Isalo National Park is not to be missed on any self-drive trip in Madagascar!
Isalo can be visited when driving the famous RN7. With its nice and dry weather, the park is visitable year-round, making it Madagascar's most famous National Park.
The area is particularly prized for its hiking and trekking options but also has interesting plants and animals. There are many locally endemic Aloe Vera plants to be found here, plus many species of lemurs, such as the Sifaka, brown- and ring-tailed lemur.
Entrance permits for Isalo National Park
You can obtain your entrance permits at the park office in Ranohira town. There is no particular need to reserve your park permits in advance. We do, however, recommend getting your permit one day before your visit, so you can head there early and beat the heat.
Top things to do in Isalo National Park
Ready to visit Isalo National Park on your roadtrip in Madagascar? Here are our top picks for things to do in Isalo National Park:
- Piscine Naturelle: A must-see natural pool located 3 kilometres from the car park. While the initial ascent is steep, it levels out after 80 meters. The natural pool is surrounded by beautiful palms and filled with warm water from a waterfall. A dip after your trek will feel like a slice of heaven.
- Namaza Trail: Embark on a 30-45 minute walk that follows a stream up a canyon with a variety of plant life. At the trail's end, reward yourself with a refreshing swim and keep an eye out for ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, and hoopoes.
- Isalo Interpretation Center (Maison De L’Isalo): Take a break from the sun and delve into the fascinating world of Isalo National Park's wildlife and the surrounding communities. This informative centre offers a moment of education and appreciation for the park's unique ecosystem.
- Rock Climbing at Le Relais de la Reine: Even if you're a beginner, this activity is a must-do. You’ll be provided with top-notch safety gear and accompanied. Head out on a 90-minute tour in the afternoon so you can witness the Madagascar sunset while enjoying panoramic views.
For assistance in organizing tours and trail hikes, consult your accommodation provider. Alternatively, reach out to Momo Trek, a trusted agency that can arrange porters, meals, and camping equipment.
2. Ranomafana National Park | In search of the golden bamboo lemur
Ranomafana is a small and lively tropical town with a stunning riverside setting. Surrounded by rainforest-covered hills, it is the ultimate destination to search for the elusive golden bamboo lemur, only discovered in 1986.
What to see in Ranomafana
Ranomafana National Park offers a large network of well-maintained trails. The standard day routes take around 3-4 hours, but if you’re fit and fast, you could also take on one of the longer routes that take 6-8 hours. Regardless of what you choose, come prepared for steep walks and slippery sections.
During your hikes, you'll likely spot red-fronted brown lemurs, grey bamboo lemurs, Milne-Edwards sifaka, and (if you're lucky) the rare red-bellied lemur. The greater bamboo lemur and the golden bamboo lemur have also become more visible, adding to the allure of this remarkable park. Ranomafana NP is also home to various birds (with 36 of them being endemic), as well as mesmerising reptiles, butterflies, and leeches.
If you want to learn more about the park's flora and fauna, communicate your interests to your guide at the start of your hike. They will gladly share insights about the fascinating plants and insects that call Ranomafana their home.
Now, let's delve into some possible day circuits. We recommend you check in with your accommodation or the national park's officer for more options or overnight circuits.
Vohiparara-Sahamalaotra (9 km, 2 hours): An easy trek through a forest good for bird spotting, cultural sites, natural orchids, and beautiful views.
Varibolo-Edena (11 km, 2-3 hours): A leisurely trail where bamboo lemurs are spotted frequently.
Varajatsy-Andranofady (14 km, 7 hours): A challenging trail that takes you through a bamboo forest, swamps, and past a sacred lake.
As a bonus, don't miss the community-run arboretum. With more than 100 native trees, it teaches you about the variety of plants in the area. It’s only a 1 km trail, making it a quick cultural and natural learning experience. You can find it around 8 km past the national park entrance, and there is a small entrance fee. The arboretum welcomes visitors from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm daily.
Excited to discover the lively forests and bubbling streams of Ranomafana National Park? Pack your bags, rent a 4x4 car, and book your Madagascar self-drive adventure! Ranomafana National Park can be visited best when driving the Grand Circuit or the RN7.
3. The Tsingy | Madagascar's most striking landscape
Tsingy is the Malagasy word for “walking on tiptoes”. The impenetrable labyrinth of limestone needles (pinnacles) justifies this name. The Tsingy is like a ‘stone forest’ and probably Madagascar's most striking landscape. We advise you to visit the Tsingy in either one of the following National Parks:
1. Ankarana National Park
Ankarana National Park protects a limestone massif of tsingy and forest, intersected by caves and canyons. You can spot many lemur species here as well as beautiful birds and, if you are lucky (or not), crocodiles.
The park offers many hiking trails ranging from one hour to a long day hike:
- The Big Tsingy or Benavony track (6-7 hours)
- The Lac Vert Hike (8-9 hours)
- Viewpoint of Ambohimalaza (4-5 hours)
You can visit Ankarana National Park during our Northern Madagascar itinerary. The main entrance to the reserve is located on the east side of Mahamasina, just off the RN6. It is possible to visit Ankarana year-round.
2. Tsingy de Bemaraha Nature Reserve
The Tsingy de Bemaraha Nature Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and protects Madagascar’s largest area of Tsingy. The park is well fitted with steps, boardwalks, ladders, and suspension bridges to make it easy to view the tsingy from all angles. You can visit Tsingy de Bemaraha while driving the Baobab Route or the Grand Circuit.
Things to see and do in Tsingy de Bemaraha
The Tsingy rock formations are the main attraction in Tsingy de Bemaraha. There are two main places to see the Tsingy stone forest – the Petit Tsingy near the park office, and the Grand Tsingy which is an hour’s drive north. To explore Tsingy de Bemaraha, you can choose several different circuit options.
Here are just a few:
- Tantely (2 km, 1 hour): This trek will take you to the Petit Tsingy. Add on the Andadoany forest trail to spot lemurs and extend your walk to 4 hours.
- Ankeligoa (6 km, 5 hours): A challenging hike that’ll take you to the Petit Tsingy and the Grand Tsingy. You should have NO fear of heights for this hike! The paths will take you across bridges that cross deep canyons with no way around.
- Andamozavaky (3.5 km, 2 hours): Prepare for intense climbing and bring a torch so you can explore the caves. The views are worth it though. A beautiful but very challenging hike.
Since the Tsingy de Bemaraha takes a while to get to, we recommend you spend two full days trying out different circuits and exploring the entire park.
Animals in Tsingy de Bemaraha
Although the rock formations are the main attraction - Tsingy de Bemaraha is teeming with wildlife. During your hikes, keep your eyes open for Decken’s sifakas, red-fronted brown lemurs, chameleons, bamboo lemurs and 100 different bird species.
The best time to visit the Tsingy de Bemaraha
The Tsingy de Bemaraha is usually accessible from May up to mid-November. The accessibility depends on the start/end of the rainy season. When visiting Madagascar in May or November, there is no guarantee that the area is accessible. When collecting your car, we recommend you ask the road trip Madagascar team about the road conditions and accessibility.
How to Get to Tsingy de Bemaraha
You can visit Tsingy de Bemaraha while driving the Baobab Route or the Grand Circuit. We strongly recommend setting aside a full day to get to the park. You’ll begin in Morondava and drive 187 km (8-10 hours), after which you can rest at a hotel in Bekopaka. The road can be pretty difficult, so get ready to put your off-road skills to the test!
4. Andringitra Massif | Madagascar's best-kept secret
Forget the Kilimanjaro with its sheer crowd of tourists. With only around 1,000 visitors a year, this park is truly Madagascar's best-kept secret!
Andringitra National Park protects the area around Madagascar's second highest peak: Pic d'Imarivolanitra (2,658m), meaning ''close to the sky''. Andringitra's stunning landscape, beautiful vegetation and trekking options are the national park's main attractions.
Hiking in Andringitra National Park
You can do five circuits, ranging from a few hours to 3 days. Each circuit covers a different terrain. The shortest trek is the Asaramanitra, which takes 4 hours and passes by two sacred waterfalls. The longest circuit is Imarivolanitra, which can take 2-3 days and brings you to the national park's highest peak. Make sure to plan this multiple-day hike so that you can organize porters in advance.
The surrounding mountains in the Tsaranoro Reserve also offer various trekking paths. Here, you won't need a guide, and the entrance is free.
You can visit the Andringitra Massif while following the RN7 route. Avoid travelling from January to March - as the park will be closed for the rainy season.
5. Andasibe Mantadia Rainforest | Listen to the cry of the Indri Indri
Within easy reach from Antananarivo, the Andasibe rainforest is the prime location to search for the Indri Indri. While it is a lemur, with its surprised teddy bear face, the Indri Indri looks more like a panda gone wrong.
At Andasibe Rainforest, there is a 99% chance you will spot the Indri Indri. If you are part of the unlucky 1%, you will still hear them! They make an eerie, wailing sound that carries for kilometres. Each Indri Indri only cries up to three times a day as the activity costs them a lot of energy. Being a witness to this ritual is mind-blowing and one-of-a-kind.
6. Montagne d'Ambre | Isolation in Northern Madagascar
Montagne d'Ambre (Ambre Mountain) is an isolated patch of montane rainforest that rises from the surrounding dry region. This stunning scenic park is famous for its waterfalls, crater lakes, and chameleons. There are clear hiking trails, and much of the path is nicely shaded by trees. In the dry season, vehicles can drive right up to the picnic area.
Montagne d'Ambre is located near Joffreville (Ambohitra), about 1-hour drive / 27 km southwest of Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) at the northern tip of Madagascar. After enjoying a few leisurely days on the stunning beaches of Northern Madagascar, a visit to Montagne d'Ambre National Park makes a pleasant day excursion. Joffreville, a former retreat for French officers now in a state of disrepair, is the entry point to the park. Guides can be arranged at the ANGAP office or via local hotels.
When to visit Montagne d'Ambre?
The park ranges from 850 to 1500 meters and has its own microclimate. This means you should prepare for everything: warm and humid to wet and cool. The best time to visit is September to November or May to August. Last tip: avoid wearing shorts and sandals; it tends to get chilly and you might encounter some leeches along the way...
7. Marojejy National Park | Hidden gem at Madagascar's Vanilla Coast
Situated along the northeastern coast of Madagascar lies the breathtaking Marojejy National Park. It's a hidden gem, offering a unique mix of lush rainforests, waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. What makes the park stand out is its proximity to the Sava coast, where the waters of the Indian Ocean meet the dense jungle. Although this national park used to be one of the most difficult ones in Madagascar to get to, nowadays, it's a lot easier to reach.
How to get to Marojejy National Park
Marojejy National Park is located in the northeast of Madagascar, about 60 km west of the “vanilla capital” Sambava. The RN5a and the RN3b were in a state of disrepair. However, the road has been improved, making the whole North Eastern Region of Madagascar accessible to visitors.
When visiting Marojejy National Park, it's important to come prepared. The park is remote, and facilities are limited, so bringing your own food, water, and camping equipment is advisable. Hiring a local guide is highly recommended, as they can provide valuable insights into the park's flora and fauna and ensure your safety during your visit.
Flora and fauna in Marojejy National Park
One of the highlights of Marojejy National Park is its rich flora. The park is renowned for its unique and rare plant species, including the iconic Marojejya darianii palm tree, which can only be found within its boundaries. The park is also home to a wide variety of orchids, ferns, and mosses, creating a vibrant and colourful landscape that is a photographer's dream.
If you're a wildlife enthusiast, Marojejy National Park offers the opportunity to spot some of Madagascar's most iconic creatures. Keep your eyes open for the silky sifaka, a lemur species known for its white fur and acrobatic abilities. The park is also home to other lemur species, such as the black-and-white ruffed lemur and the red-bellied lemur. Marojejy is also a wonderful place for birdwatchers, as it includes many rare breads such as the critically endangered Madagascar serpent eagle and the stunning blue coua.
The Vanilla Coast in Madagascar
Did you know that Madagascar is often referred to as the birthplace of vanilla? The Vanilla Coast or "SAVA region" is renowned for its production of the world's finest vanilla. We highly recommend combining your visit to Marojejy with road-tripping the Vanilla Coast. Besides visiting vanilla plantations and indulging in villa-infused treats, the area is also known for its beautiful nature, stunning coastline and welcoming villages.
Plan your roadtrip to Madagascar's most beautiful national parks
We hope that we have gotten you excited about Madagascar's stunning national parks! Are you ready to plan your roadtrip on the island? Our self-drive itineraries help you map out your ultimate Madagascar roadtrip, exploring both popular as well as off-the-beaten-track highlights.
Once you've selected your itinerary and rented your car, make sure to swing by our practical info section. We have selected multiple important topics that contain information, practical tips and frequently asked questions about self-driving and independent travel in Madagascar.
More questions? Feel free to contact us! Roadtrip Africa is happy to point you in the right direction as you prepare for your adventurous self-drive holiday in Madagascar.