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Madagascar: Isalo National Park

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Isalo National Park | Madagascar | Africa

[Visited: May 2017]

When we get out of our taxi brousse in Ranohira, the gateway to Isalo, we are immeditely assaulted by guides. Arranging a three-day hike in Isalo turns out to be straightforward, and we enjoy the views of the east side of the mountain range of the park from our pleasant accommodation. Early next morning, we set off for the hike to the canyons which we can already see in a distance. The walk through the sloping fields on which people work, with the vertical walls of the sandstone mountains of Isalo on our left, is a very pleasant one, and your best introduction to the park. There are a few rivers to cross, but only one where we have to take off our shoes. After a short break at our beautiful camp where the porter has not arrived yet, we continue to the Canyon des Rats, which we explore until the boulders become too difficult to pass. We see tombs, both at our level but also high up on the rock face. We walk alongside the mountain wall to the Canyon des Makis, where we have lunch at a natural pool with the royal shower: water dripping from above. Exploring the canyon until we reach the royal bath is easy, and I take a shower and dip in the royal shower. Despite the name (maki means lemur) we do not see any animal. The walk back gives us beautiful warm light over the landscape.

Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): The east face of the Isalo mountain range at sunrise

The next morning, we start by walking back the same path we took the day before, and then continue on a climb up the cliffs. We are rewarded by great views very soon, and the higher we get, the bigger the reward. We are climbing to the top of the wall, and start to wonder what will come after that. The answer is: more spectacular views! Here, it is clear to see the enormous forces of nature which have shaped Madagascar: rocky shelves pushed up from the earth, pinnacles, canyons, rocky mountains. We take our time to enjoy the views, spot two tiny scorpions, before we continue down the mountain into the plain. It is sometimes hard to focus on the trail, as our eyes are glued to the scenery around us. We find a lunch spot at a pass, and I cannot resist and climb a rocky outcrop for even better views. I can see our trail continue. We see several elephant's foot, which look like the bonsai version of baobabs, and the guide points out several other endemic plants, birds, and animals (a few chameleons, for instance). A few more hours of hiking takes us to Namaza, passing the Cascade des Nymphes, and following a mountain river. We are just in time to see three types of lemurs at camp, before the cute animals disappear through the thick forest. The other wildlife here is a sleeping boa.

Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Subtle waterfall at Piscine Noire

The next morning, we take a trail up the plateau again, and work our way up with the sun burning in our necks. Again, breathtaking scenery, steep mountain cliffs, and then, the plain with trees. We see one of the many tombs here, cross a river, and then reach the Piscine Naturelle, a small waterfall with a tiny tree-filled canyon. When we walk further up, we see another small tomb typical for the region, the casket studded with small coins; our guide claims it must have been a child. When we walk through an opening in the mountain, we see the plains ahead of us. To our surprise, we are back in Ranohira just after noon - and feel disappointed. Strangely enough, the park office does not help us, and I decide to hike back to Namaza again. Taking shortcuts, it only takes 40 minutes to reach, and I am just in time to see more lemurs. I now realize our guide has "forgotten" to show us two pools, and I hike up to the Piscine Bleue and Noire. A beautiful walk, and even more beautiful spots to take time to relax before the sun is blocked by the mountains. I walk back to Ranohira as fast as I can, am lucky to find a French family heading south, who take me to the Isalo window. The landscape of high grasses and light coloured mountains turns golden just before sunset. The place is flooded with visitors, and to my surprise, very few people are at the window when the sun actually sets. The next morning, it turns out that leaving Ranohira is not that easy, while the park officials and guides turn out unpleasant. Isalo remains a natural highlight of Madagascar, but unfortunately, the atmosphere around it in Ranohira has all the signs of a badly managed tourist place.

Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): The rocky mountains of Isalo
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): The natural royal bath in the Canyon des Makis
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Rocky steps in Isalo park
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Reflection of sunrise over Isalo in one of the rivers
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Small river just above the Piscine Naturelle in Isalo
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Sunrise over the mountain range of Isalo with the Canyon des Maki and the Canyon des Rats
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Landscape of rock formations seen from atop a small mountain
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Mountain near Isalo window in the late afternoon
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Panorama with a plain with trees and rocky mountains
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Mountain range with clouds in Isalo
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): Looking at the setting sun through Isalo window
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): One of the countless rock formations in Isalo
Picture of Isalo National Park (Madagascar): The curious elephant's foot plant, called false baobab

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