When you think of Madagascar you will probably picture idyllic beaches, massive baobabs and funny dancing lemurs, but on top of that you will cross high mountains, country sides, amazing canyons, beautiful rainforests, limestone rock formations and a lot more. When you travel to Madagascar you will see it is an island of passion with surprisingly diverse landscapes, cultures and traditions and very rich and endemic flora and fauna, a Treasure Island waiting for you to be discovered!
In this Madagascar travel blog I will share the best things to do in Madagascar, tips on where to stay in Madagascar and an amazing Madagascar itinerary to make the most of your trip. Start planning your trip with this travel blog.
Our Madagascar trip
We explored this beautiful island in 23 days. We started with a relaxing 10-day North Madagascar itinerary along the coast. Then explored the Avenue of the Baobabs and Kirindy Forest in West Madagascar and continued our journey to South Madagascar with a road trip along the scenic RN7.
The journey along highway 7 included some of the best places to visit in Madagascar like: Lake Tritriva in Antsirabe, the rainy Ranomafana NP, the serene and peaceful Lake Sahambavy near Fianarantsoa, Anja Reserve with its ring-tailed lemurs, the beautiful peaks of Andringitra National Park, Isalo National Park and Zombitse National Park.
When planning a trip to Madagascar keep in mind that even within 23 days we didn’t manage to squeeze in all the best things to do in Madagascar, but many of Madagascar’s highlights from North to West and South Madagascar were included in our itinerary.
After seeing the best of Madagascar with its great biodiversity I understand why this 4th largest island in the world is also called the Eight Continent, Rainbow Island or the Red Island. Visit Madagascar as soon as you can, you will not regret it.
Remote River Expeditions Madagascar (RRE) is a small, experienced tour operator offering high quality and personalized services. We travelled in 4WD with a skilled driver and an English-speaking guide with a huge knowledge of the Malagasy nature, culture and history. Because of Stella, we learned a lot about this ‘red island’ and that definitely made our Madagascar trip complete.
RRE is able to customize your Madagascar itinerary to your wishes and needs, from a 1-day tour in Morondava to a 1-week itinerary in West Madagascar or for example a complete 4-week Madagascar itinerary to discover the best places to see in Madagascar. We had a great experience and I would highly recommend contacting Remote River Expeditions if you’re planning to travel to Madagascar. I got in touch by mail and we had quick and reliable communications until our arrival. Their office is located at Chez Maggie, a great property in Morondava that also belongs to the owner of Remote River Expeditions.
Our Madagascar Itinerary
This 2-week Madagascar itinerary includes our route from West Madagascar along the national highway 7 to Tulear. We drove about 985km, excluding the drives inside national parks and detours to hotels. Because of the constantly changing landscapes and presence of several national parks and reserves along the way, the RN7 or Route Nationale 7 is the most popular tour in Madagascar and not to be missed if you travel to Madagascar.
This is the best 2-week Madagascar itinerary possible
- Antananarivo - 1 night
- Morondava and Kirindy Forest Reserve – 3 nights
- Miandrivazo – 1 night
- Antsirabe – 1 night
- Ambositra - stopover
- Ranomafana National Park – 1 or 2 nights
- Fianarantsoa and Sahambavy - 1 or 2 nights
- Ambalavao and Anja Reserve - 1 night or stopover
- Isalo National Park - 2-3 nights
- Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park - stopover
- Tulear (Toliara) - 1-3 nights
- Antananarivo (Tana) - 1 night
Antananarivo - 1 night
You can either start your road trip along the national highway 7 in Antananarivo or from for example Morondava in West Madagascar. Because we first explored Northern Madagascar, we decided to fly to Morondava to start the RN7 road trip from there. From Diego-Suarez in North Madagascar there are no direct flights to Morondava, so we had to bridge 1 night in the capital city of the country.
We even had some time left to explore Tsarasaotra Bird Park, close to Antananarivo airport. The domestic flights are operated by Madagascar’s local airliner Tsaradia, a subsidiary of Air Madagascar.
Where to stay in Antananarivo?
I had two domestic flights to Antananarivo during my Madagascar trip. The second time I flew into Tananarive I stayed in the beautiful San Cristobal Boutique Hotel only 4 km from Ivato Airport in Antananarivo. San Cristobal Hotel offers a nice garden, a terrace and a cosy bar with a nice seating area including a flat screen TV. The Wifi is free and worked very well; also inside the rooms!
The hotel has several art-works like photos and paintings hanging around the whole building, something I really loved. This 3-star hotel has quite big air-conditioned rooms with a flat screen TV, coffee & tea facilities and a fridge. I loved their continental breakfast with fresh eggs as well as their coffee. The employees at the reception were very friendly and helpful and made us feel at home. Since you are at Ivato Airport in no time, it’s an ideal base to catch your onward flight.
Morondava & Kirindy Forest Reserve – 3 nights
Before we started with our national highway 7 Madagascar road trip we first explored the best things to do in Western Madagascar and more specific the laid-back town of Morondava. It literally means ‘place at the beach’ and it’s the gateway to Avenue of the Baobabs.
But also tours to Kirindy Forest Reserve and Tsingy de Bemeraha National Park are totally worth it. If you visit Madagascar you can’t leave the Island without exploring Morondava. Check out the best things to do in Morondava in this link.
Where to stay in Morondava?
I highly recommend staying at Chez Maggie. For Kirindy I would advise to either stay in Kirindy Lodge inside the reserve or at Relais du Kirindy. In my blog about things to do in Morondava I also write about Chez Maggie and where to stay in Kirindy.
Miandrivazo – 1 night
Miandrivazo is a village that lies on the main RN34 road between Morondava and Antsirabe. It’s a perfect stop to break the long drive to Antsirabe. Kaominina, the Malagasy name for Miandrivazo, is considered to be the warmest city of the island. Because of its geographical situation, there is almost no wind. An interesting place to add to you Madagascar road trip itinerary.
The city is situated at the Mahajilo River and the starting point for boat trips down the Tsiribihina River to Belo-sur-Tsiribihina. You can enjoy swimming near a natural waterfall and observe different animal species like lemurs, bats and chameleons.
To get to Miandrivazo, the kingdom of the Sakalava country, we drove for about 4,5 hours through the highlands with scenic views of the river, mango trees and rice fields, where they harvest their rice 3 times a year (instead of one time a year). Compared to the northern part the roads are in good condition. From Miandrivazo to Antsirabe you will even see people working on the road to cover some holes.
Where to stay in Miandrivazo?
In this area there are very few places to stay. Most of the tourists will drive directly to Antsirabe or overnight in Princesse Tsiribihina Hotel. The rooms here were good and comfortable and there’s Wifi in the main building, where you can also watch TV and have a beer at the bar. There’s also a small pool to relax and cool off.
A cool Madagascar travel tip is that you can apparently walk up to the hill behind the hotel to enjoy an extraordinary panorama. The walk will take you one hour. If I knew this before, I would have left Morondava quite early instead of after lunchtime. We checked-in quite late, even too late to watch the sunset over the river, so there was nothing to see or do by the time we arrived and the next morning we had to leave early on our way to Antsirabe.
Antsirabe – 1 night
Antsirabe (literally ‘the place of much salt’) is well known for its thermal springs and therefore also called the ‘city of water’. This city is located in the central highlands of Madagascar. From Miandrivazo, it took us 4,5 hours to get there. Because of its geographical location, Antsirabe has a cool climate throughout the year; so don’t forget to pack a sweater and a pair of trousers when you visit Madagascar.
Transportation in Antsirabe
The most common transportation in Antsirabe is the colourful rickshaw or ‘pousse-pousse’, which is pulled by a man on foot or on a bicycle, the ‘cyclo-pousse’. It’s not only for tourists but also the daily transportation of local Malagasy.
It’s a fun way of exploring the city and the owners of these rickshaws are happy to earn some extra money. On the other hand I found it weird to be pulled by this friendly Malagasy man.
Things to do in Antsirabe
Antsirabe is rich in history. You will feel a strong colonial influence through the architecture of the city buildings. The most prominent buildings in town are the Cathedral Church and the charming Hotel de Thermes, in front of the baths. Another interesting architectural building is the Antsirabe Train Station, dating from the colonial period. Nowadays, they only use it for cargo transportation.
Antsirabe Crater Lakes
There are two popular natural crater lakes outside of Antsirabe town, which are worth a visit: Lake Andraikiba and Lake Tritriva. From Antsirabe it took us around 40 minutes to get there by car. There’s a parking space near Lake Tritriva and from there it will only take you a few meters to look down on the blue-opaque green Crater Lake.
Apparently there are two roads leading to these lakes: a short, but bad road and a way longer but better road. We took the shortest one and it sure wasn’t the worst road of my Africa travels.
Lac Tritriva or Lac Andraikiba? The area around Andraikiba Lake seems to be ideal for walking because of its peaceful and harmonious environment. It’s the largest lake and the closest one to town.
We only stopped there from a distance on our way to the prettier Tritriva Lake. At Lake Tritriva you’ll have to pay a guide- and entry fee of 5000 Ariary ($1,5) to enter the area.
Crafts and markets in Antsirabe
In the lively city of Antsirabe you have the opportunity to visit various craft workshops, where objects are made from for example zebu horn or natural fibber. For me, these workshops were too much focussed on tourism, but there are definitely some great artists around in Antsirabe.
To see the real Malagasy life, I would advise you to go to the local market. The Tsena Sabotsy (Saturday market) is the central open-air market of Antsirabe, a good place to discover what the local Malagasy are buying from clothes and vegetables to pots and pans. The vendors were very friendly and didn’t mind me taking their photos.
The Countryside of Antsirabe
Antsirabe’s countryside is beautiful as well! You will walk through rice fields, small villages and meet friendly locals.
Where to stay in Antsirabe?
Couleur Café Antsirabe is perfectly located near the city centre of Antsirabe, close to the RN7 road. They offer a number of individual brick bungalows, facing a lovely and well-maintained garden. There is plenty of space in the room, with a TV and fireplace and the beds are really comfortable. They offer a WIFI connection in the room, something you don’t find often when traveling in Madagascar. Their restaurant serves good food for diner and in the morning you can enjoy a buffet breakfast with fresh eggs from Antsirabe’s market.
Ambositra - stopover on your way to Ranomafana
From Antsirabe we were able to take the RN7 (National Highway 7) southwards, with Ambositra as first stop after 90 km along the Route Nationale 7. The RN7 in Madagascar is the 980 km long main road in Madagascar, connecting Tananarive (Antananarivo) to the western-coast town Tulear. A journey along Madagascar’s RN7 highway includes the most famous highlights of Madagascar.
The city of art, culture and crafts
Ambositra is famous for the quality of its marquetry, weaving and especially woodcarvings. Ambositra is home to the Zafimaniry Tribe and their houses have colourful carved wooden balconies and shutters. The woodcarving knowledge of this tribe is internationally recognized as a world treasure. In some shops, it’s possible to see the artist working on its crafts. A handy Madagascar travel tip is that on Sunday all the shops are closed. As we were there on a national holiday, all shops were closed and we sadly couldn’t find any artists at work.
Madalief | foundation for mothers and children in Madagascar
This non-profit organization with the purpose of giving underprivileged children in Madagascar a better future, was the result of a Dutch travel guide - Remi Doomernik - working in Madagascar and settling in Ambositra. In 2004 they bought a site with a house in Ambositra where nowadays still children live. Apart from that they take care of the meals of 45 children.
Madalief also helped restoring the nearby school and built two classrooms. They restored about 10 houses and more than 40 women received small loans for starting up small trade to take better care of themselves and their children. Since they couldn’t take care of more children in the home, they started supporting families around Ambositra (40 families in 2019). The foundation helps single mothers with a donation for daily needs, school fees and medical costs.
Since I thought Remi’s story was quite impressive I planned a visit to Residence Madalief in Antsirabe, 4 miles south of Antsirabe, to add this to my Madagascar travel blog. To create employment and working experience for their youngsters and single mothers from Ambositra they chose Antsirabe because of the touristic route to the south. So when you travel to Madagascar please include this in your itinerary.
The site offers a hotel with 11 rooms for tourists and also a youth hostel, where they welcome groups of children from other orphanages and foundations as well as their own children, to give them nice holidays for little money. We stayed an extra night in this Residence, located in a beautiful area in the middle of the rice fields.
Visit their website if you want to know more about this foundation and all of their projects and achievements. It’s definitely worth to stay in Residence Madalief on your Madagascar trip and it’s good to know that your money is spent well.
When you continue the RN7, you need to take the RN25 to Ranomafana through the Betsileo highland region. Hills and rice fields are part of this landscape. The roads are curvy and close to Ranomafana a bit dangerous depending on the weather conditions; road verges can be very soft or roads can even be closed after rain.
Ranomafana National Park – 1 or 2 nights
The popular Ranomafana Park is part of the eastern rainforest, which used to take up nearly the complete island. Rano means ‘water’, and mafana means ‘hot’, referring to the many hot-water springs, in this area. Ranomafana is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and became a protected area in 1991 after the discovery of the golden bamboo lemur in the rainforest in 1985. Definitely one of the best places to visit in Madagascar. Ranomafana National Park is known for its tropical rainforests, humid climate, waterfalls, hot mountain streams and different species of Madagascar wildlife.
This large rainforest is home to 12 lemur species. Lemur comes from the Latin word ‘lemures’, which means ‘ghosts of the forest’. Seeing the lemurs up close requires some effort. You’ll need to hike off the beaten path into the forest with an experienced guide to spot them in the treetops. Apart from the golden bamboo lemur, you may spot some other lemur species like the rare Aye-Aye, the Sifaka or the mouse lemur. Other wildlife includes chameleons, frogs and the Malagasy striped civet. Ranomafana National Park is also a paradise for birders!
The entrance of Ranomafana National Park is located on the national road RN25. For the budget travellers: It is possible to get a taxi-brousse (shared taxi bus) directly from Antananarivo or Fianarantsoa, but there is no transportation between the park and the village of Ranomafana.
Things to do in Ranomafana
Ranomafana offers a lot of activities, but because rainforests are subject to heavy rainfall, the weather can ruin your activities. During our stay we had heavy rains all-day long and there was a lot of fog. Even inside the rainforest (where trees and plants provide some shelter) it was almost impossible to take pictures.
It is highly recommended to pack water-resistant clothes that cover arms and legs when you visit Madagascar, as well as anti-mosquito gels that will keep mosquitoes and leeches away.
Hiking or trekking lovers will love Ranomafana rainforest and its mountain ranges! There are many different hiking circuits that vary in length and duration. Some of the best hiking In Madagascar can be found here. Apart from the hiking, you can enjoy a swim in Ranomafana’s thermal bath. The hot springs of Ranomafana are located across the Namorona River and are very popular among locals. It’s best to swim in the thermal bath on Wednesday, since they clean everything on Tuesday.
One of the other activities in Ranomafana is a night walk along the road – outside of the National Park – where you have the chance of spotting the Ranomafana’s five nocturnal species, including the adorable mouse lemur. The extreme weather conditions kept me from doing this activity. Near Ranomafana NP, there is a research station called Centre ValBio that is open to visitors. They work to protect Madagascar’s unique and biologically diverse ecosystems through conservation science and projects that directly benefit the local people, including rural health care delivery.
Where to stay in Ranomafana?
SETAM Lodge Madagascar is located on a slope of the rainforest, conveniently close to the park entrance of Ranomafana National Park. The lodge is situated along the main RN25 road, but completely surrounded by rainforest. For that reason, it offers stunning views from your private terrace.
It’s a very quiet and peaceful place. The cottages are aging a bit, but they are spacious, functional and comfortable. What more do you need? There’s no Wifi in the cottages but there’s occasionally Wifi in the restaurant area. The staff is very helpful and friendly and the 3-course dinner as well as the breakfast was good. I recommend staying at this lodge when visiting Ranomafana National Park.
Fianarantsoa and Sahambavy - 1 or 2 nights
The city of Fianarantsoa is considered to be the capital of Betsileo, located 60 km of Ranomafana. On the road you will pass some wonderful landscapes and small villages.
Most of the tourists spend one night in Fianarantsoa on their Madagascar itinerary, or to take the train to Manakara at the East Coast of Madagascar. The Sahambavy train station is close to Lac Hotel in Sahambavy, where you can also enjoy a night in a vintage train wagon! They can also help you to arrange train tickets.
Sahambavy is a small place near Fianarantsoa and apart from the train station worth a visit because of their huge tea plantations and the serene Lake Sahambavy. These beautiful tea plantations are among the best places to visit in Madagascar.
FCE Train (Fianarantsoa Cote Est)
For the adventurous traveller, the train rain ride from Fianarantsoa to Manakara seems to be one of the best things to do in Madagascar. The 163km route takes you through the rainforest, offering very scenic views. It’s the only operating passenger train line in Madagascar.
In theory, this journey will take about 8 to 12 hours (20 km/h), but in reality around 12 to 24 hours. Be prepared for train failures and bring enough water and food. It’s all about the experience and getting in touch with the Malagasy villagers who use this train to cover long distances to get from one village to another.
Therefore, the train stations are quite bustling with vendors selling food and other goods. A first-class train ticket from Fianarantsoa to Manakara will cost you 70.000 Ariary (19 dollar).
Sahambavy Lake and Tea Plantation
We didn’t overnight in Fianarantsoa on our Madagascar itinerary, we decided to make a small detour to Sahambavy, which is located 23 km from the city of Fianarantsoa. I’m still happy with that choice, since I loved to relax at Sahambavy Lake enjoying the peaceful surroundings.
Lac Hotel, which lies directly at the lake, offers different activities around the lake. They also have some water bikes you can use to explore the lake, which was great fun!
If you have a chance I recommend visiting the nearby Sahambava tea plantation on your Madagascar trip, which covers nearly 400 ha. They have a monopoly position, as it’s the only centre of farming and tea production in Madagascar. Since we visited the place on a public holiday the factory was closed and there were no Malagasy working in the field, but I liked walking around the plantation chatting with some locals.
Photographer Pierrot Men
As an avid photographer, I couldn’t leave Fianarantsoa before visiting the photo laboratory of Pierrot Men. He has been the most famous photographer of Madagascar for over 40 years. Visitors can buy his books and a huge selection of postcards and poster prints of his photo collection of Madagascar. It’s a unique souvenir to bring home when you travel to Madagascar. If you’re lucky, you can meet Pierrot in the studio. Unfortunately for us, he was at an exhibition in Paris at the time we visited the laboratory.
Where to stay in Fianarantsoa or Sahambavy
I highly recommend staying at Lac Hotel Sahambavy. Lac Hotel is a wonderful and charming hotel at Lake Sahambavy and next to the Sahambavy tea plantation. It’s also close to the FCE train station. The bungalows on tilts at the water are amazing: very peaceful, huge, comfortable and clean. We were given the so-called honeymoon bungalow, the biggest bungalow at the lake with a private terrace overlooking the lake and its surroundings.
Lac hotel Fianarantsoa is also very innovative and eco-friendly. The products they use are organic, homemade and homegrown. They have their own vegetable garden to provide quality and fresh products. The restaurant offers a European and Malagasy menu and the food is good.
Another big advantage is their agreement with the Malagasy train railway, the FCE, to give customers the best quality of service in terms of ticketing. Last but not least, they are planning to build a spa to complete your relaxing stay at Lac Hotel. There’s WiFi available in the restaurant area; it’s not working in the bungalows.
Ambalavao and Anja Reserve - 1 night or stopover on your way to Ranohira
On this part of your Madagascar road trip, you will enjoy Madagascar’s vineyards with steep-terraced slopes and typical Betsileo mud brick houses with local people working on the land.
Madagascar has several vineyards in the district around Fianarantsoa and Ambalavao. They were originally planted by French Jesuit priests and make about 10 million litres a year for the local market. Along the way you’re able to visit a winery or by Malagasy wines at local wine shops along the RN7 road. You have to try the local wine when you travel to Madagascar.
Things to do in Ambalavao
Ambalavao is situated at the Route Nationale No. 7 at 56 km from Fianarantsoa and is the most southern part of the Central Highlands of Madagascar. The city is famous for their big Zebu Market that takes place every Wednesday. You can also visit the factory where they produce Antemoro Paper. Once you reached the area of Ambalavao you will notice a change in landscapes. You cannot miss the high mountain peaks with Pic Boby (Pic Imarivolanitra) as second highest mountain of Madagascar. Pic Boby is also the main attraction of Andringitra National Park and another place to visit in Madagascar on a road trip south.
During a photo-stop along the streets of Ambalavao we met friendly Malagasy from the Betsileo tribe who were celebrating their new house. It’s a tradition like a huge house warming where all family and other villagers are invited to celebrate this event together.
They were all well dressed: men wear a traditional cover over the shoulder and women braid their hair. We were invited to celebrate with them, but unfortunately we had to continue our journey because of our planned visit to Anja Reserve or Parc D’Anja, about 13 km south of Ambalavao. The friendly Malagasy people are one of the reasons you should visit Madagascar.
Anja reserve is famous for its numbers of Ring Tailed Lemurs (lemur catta- king Julien from Madagascar film). There are 11 lemur families living in this park. Some other interesting fauna such as giant chameleons and boas also call this place home.
Anja Community Reserve is a forest, protected area and freshwater lake, situated at a rocky landscape at the feet of the ‘three sisters’ or ‘telo mirahavavy’.
Hiking in the Anja Reserve is another Madagascar travel tip. You can choose between two different circuits, but a local guide must accompany you. The shorter trail can be completed in around one to two hours and you will easily see different lemur families and the variety of flora. Depending on the time you have, you can see the natural cave(s) and climb up the rocks to a viewpoint, with stunning views of the valleys, mountains and villages.
The longer trail includes a hike to the top of the mountain at 1400 meter, where you will have a 360-degree view that includes a view of the city of Ambalavao, 13km away. This trail will take up to six hours. Be sure to wear covered footwear and bring enough water. There is a small restaurant nearby where you can have lunch before or after the hike.
Because it’s a reserve run by locals, all the profits go back to the community. Unfortunately we got the impression they wanted to take advantage of the ‘rich’ tourists by charging more money. After our walk along the short circuit, we were asked to pay extra because we walked an extra small loop.
We understand that our money is very valuable for the local community, but situations like this are not pleasant. Make sure to agree on the circuit (and the time spend on that particular circuit) before you enter the reserve.
Andringitra National Park
Andringitra National Park has been called the Yosemite of Madagascar and has been declared as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007 and definitely a place that needed to be included in this Madagascar travel blog, although I wasn’t able to visit myself. If you love Yosemite National Park then you should definitely visit Andringitra National Park.
We were not able to add this place to our Madagascar itinerary, which is a pity because it seems to be a hikers paradise with spectacular views and a must-visit if you travel to Madagascar. Near Andringitra National Park lies the Tsaranoro Valley. You will pass this beautiful valley after a visit to Andringitra on your way to Ranohira.
When you’re heading to Ranohira, you will pass the huge impressive rocky hill called ‘Bisshops Hats’ and cross the Ihorombe plateau. The road from Ambalavao to Ranohira is a spectacular part of the famous RN7 with a lot of great photo-stops along the way to capture this beautiful landscape. I’m sure a Madagascar road trip will blow your mind.
While road tripping on this part of the RN7 I was sad we didn’t have enough time to overnight in this area to enjoy more of maybe one of the most beautiful places to visit in Madagascar. After seeing this part, I truly wish I get to chance to travel to Madagascar again to visit Andringitra National Park, Tsaranoro Valley and the surrounding areas.
Isalo National Park - 2-3 nights (trekking inside the park)
Isalo National Park is the most visited national park in Madagascar and one of the natural wonders of the country. It’s mostly known for its incredibly rugged Jurassic terrain that has been formed into beautiful canyons and gorges by eroding winds and rain. On top of these canyons you have breath-taking panoramic views. No wonder Isalo is a hikers paradise and one of the best things to do in Madagascar.
Apart from rock formations you will cross true oasis with crystal-clear water and natural swimming pools. A hike to the Piscine Naturelle and the Namaza circuit are definitely a must-see in Isalo National Park.
Isalo is also home to rare plants endemic to Madagascar. During your hikes you will discover the fire resistant tree ‘Uapaca Bojeri’ and the small iconic ‘Pachypodium rosulatum’ plant that grows between the inlets of the rocks. Wildlife lovers are able to spot different lemurs, including the dancing ring-tailed lemur, birds, chameleons and other reptiles.
Hiking in Isalo National Park
There are numerous hiking circuits in Isalo National Park ranging from easy hikes of a few hours to average or heavy multiple-day circuits including camping. Every circuit will show you parts of the amazing landscape of Isalo National Park.
We chose to do a hiking trail including a night at a remote campsite inside Isalo National Park to cover more of the park. This definitely is one of my best Madagascar travel tips for you. It’s not possible to do an overnight trip on your own! We planned our hiking trip in Isalo with Momo Trek. I highly recommend contacting them if you’re searching for a local and reliable agency for multiple hiking-days inside Isalo National Park.
Porters will carry your camping equipment and backpacks directly to the campsite. They follow a different route, so you have to pack a daypack with stuff you really need during the hike (like water, mosquito-repellent, sun cream, camera-equipment and lunch).
We chose a medium level hiking circuit, a combination of two circuits including one night of camping inside Isalo National Park. The medium hiking circuit offered different sights. The natural pools and the waterfall were unexpected oases among the rocks, where fresh water flows.
We also discovered cliffs, eroded massifs and savannah and desert landscapes. The visit of the Bara and Sakalava burials gave our tour in Isalo National Park a bit of a mystical touch. The Bara is the only tribe that is allowed to bury the dead inside the park, up to the rocks. If you are lover of history, then this is one of the best places to visit in Madagascar. Visit the temporary and sacred tomb where these bodies are held before the complete decomposition. The tomb is basically a heap of stones.
In the forest you have the chance to spot lemurs. Unfortunately we didn’t see any ‘dancing lemur’ in Isalo. If you are more into lemurs instead of the landscape I highly recommend visiting the Namaza campsite. Especially in the morning and late afternoon you’ll have a high chance of seeing ring-tailed lemurs sunbathing.
The different viewpoints, for example the climb to Namaza, were amazing with views of the valley. The different shapes as well as the changing colours of the eroded rock formations are quite interesting.
We enjoyed our packed-lunch – arranged by Momo Trek – at the beautiful natural pools ‘Piscine Noire’ and ‘Piscine Blue’ with a small waterfall, we had a freshly prepared dinner under a sky full of stars at a remote campsite and we ended our Isalo trek with a breakfast at the plateau while watching sunrise over Isalo National Park. If you are an adventurous traveller then this is another great Madagascar travel tip.
It was a truly memorable experience and one of the best ones on my Madagascar trip. Make sure to bring enough water during the hike(s), because it can get really hot in the fierce sun. Apart from some oases, the trails offer very little shade.
Trekking in Isalo with Momo Trek
The team of Momo Trek is specialized in organizing hiking and camping tours in Isalo National Park. They have been offering tours of all levels, for over 20 years. Momo Trek offers a very complete package including guide, porters, meals and camping equipment.
This experienced local Ranohira operator offers Isalo treks from a 2-hours hiking circuit to a 15-days all-inclusive hiking package including different campsites and expeditions to the remote Makay Massif. You can check the different Isalo hiking circuits on their website. If you want to see more of Isalo National Park I highly recommend a minimal of a 2-day hiking package with Momo Trek.
After a long day of hiking, the Momo Trek staff already set up our tent and cooked a great dinner. We also enjoyed some beautiful polyphonic live sung Malagasy songs by the talented staff members. I loved the combination of their cooking skills and musical qualities. The meaning and sounds of these live sung Malagasy songs made the peaceful and serene atmosphere in Isalo National Park even more special. We were the only ones on the campsite and it felt like we had the whole national park to ourselves.
I really loved the hiking experience in Isalo National Park. We had a great English speaking guide with a lot of knowledge of the flora and fauna of Isalo, Madagascar wildlife in general and the history of Isalo National Park and the history and traditions of the Sakalava Tribe and Bara tribe. Did I already convince you to go on a camping adventure on your Madagascar trip?
Isalo Window | famous Madagascar tourist attraction
A lot of people choose to do a one-day hike and visit the touristic ‘Window of Isalo’ afterwards. This is a natural window in a red rock formation that frames the sunset. Our initial plan was to visit Window rock in Isalo on our arrival day in Ranohira, but didn’t make it for sunset because we spent too much time in Anja Reserve including several photo stops along the way. I’m still a bit disappointed we didn’t make it there on time.
If I would do this again I would either choose to spend an extra night near Isalo National Park or to spend extra nights near Ambalavao or for example Andrigitra National Park to spend more hours exploring Anja Reserve and the beautiful granite peaks and views of the surrounding mountains. A lot of Madagascar tour agencies include Anja Reserve as a short stopover on their way to Ranohira, so it’s quite normal, but I felt very rushed and needed more time to enjoy and photograph all the beautiful views along the RN7 road.
Isalo National Park is must-visit when you travel to Madagascar. Because of the low tourist numbers in Madagascar, you will only see a few other tourists, especially when you’re planning to do a longer hike. Apart from hiking in Isalo National Park, there are plenty of other things to do in Isalo, like mountain biking, horse riding and wildlife watching. Because of the dry climate, the best time to visit Isalo National Park is all year-round. Don’t miss out on this stunning park, add this to your Madagascar itinerary.
Where to stay in Isalo (Ranohira)?
Le Relais de la Reine is a great option if you’re looking for a hotel between the rocks that is close to Isalo National Park. This eco-friendly hotel offers everything you need after a tough hike. They have huge and really spacious rooms and cottages with a comfortable bed and a spacious bathroom.
Le Relais de la Reine also offers a number of sport and leisure activities in a serene area. The most outstanding and exclusive sport activities are Via Ferrata (rock climbing) and horse riding. On top of that you can spoil yourself with a facial or massage at their professional therapy centre for beauty and massage. The service and kindness of the staff is amazing, very friendly and helpful. Their relaxing pool surrounded by the Isalo rocks is amazing! I would definitely stay here again on my next trip to Madagascar.
Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park - stopover on your to Tulear
On your way from Ranohira to Tulear along the RN7 I highly recommend to make a short stop at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. It’s one of Madagascar’s least known but most accessible National Park, located along the RN7. From Ranohira it takes 1,5 hour to reach this park.
If you are a bird lover you should visit Zombitse National Park as early as possible to have a fair chance of seeing Madagascar’s rarest endemic birds, like the ‘Appert’s Greenbul’. Apart from that, you will probably spot other Madagascar wildlife, like the Red-fronted brown lemur, the Sifaka or White lemur, the nocturnal sportive lemur, chameleons and the Standing’s Day gecko.
We chose to do the short 1,5 hour ‘Tavira Mandresy’ circuit in Zombitse-Vohibisa Park. After this walk, we continued our way to the coastal town Tulear.
Tulear (Toliara) - 1-3 nights
As you approach Tulear – the end of Madagascar’s RN7 highway – you cannot miss ‘Table Mountain’, a large flat mountain that is called the Table Mountain of Madagascar. It’s also possible to climb this mountain all the way to the top, which will only take you about 30 minutes. On top of the Table Mountain you will have a 360 degrees overview of the beautiful coastline of Tulear. The starting point to climb Table Mountain is about 10 km from Tulear.
Another thing to do in Tulear is visiting the Arboretum d’Antsokay, a botanical garden. According to experts, this botanical garden has 900 plant species of which 90% is endemic to Madagascar. They also state that 80% of these Madagascar plants have medicinal value. The Arboretum is located next to Auberge de la Table Hotel. For guests of Auberge de la Table, the entrance fee for the Arboretum is free.
Where to stay in Tulear?
Since we had to fly back to Antananarivo the next day we decided to stay our last night of this RN7 road trip in Auberge de la Table. At this place you have a wonderful view of the Table Mountain in Madagascar and it has a small swimming pool. For those who have more time to spend in Tulear (read: beach days), I would advise to continue your road trip to Ifaty; a beautiful place along the coast about 30 km north of Tulear, where you can also discover a different species of Baobab: the Fony Baobab.
Antananarivo (Tana) - 1 night
Antananarivo is the largest city in Madagascar and interesting for travellers who have enough time to visit Madagascar. If you don’t have that much time, I would only stay in Tana to bridge your time between flights. In my North Madagascar Travel Blog I wrote about my short stay in Antananarivo and the Tsarasaotra Bird Park I’ve visited that is very close to Ivato Airport.
Travel to Madagascar now!
Traveling to Madagascar blew me away. It’s an amazing place on earth, with an intense kaleidoscope of nature, that I highly recommend putting on top of your travel bucket list. In this Ultimate Madagascar Travel Blog I tried to describe the best places to visit in Madagascar, but apart from these highlights of Madagascar there’s still so much to see and do on this Treasure Island that wants me to visit Madagascar again!
This Madagascar travel guide is written by travel photographer Kim Paffen, one of Traveltomtom’s talented team members with a deep-seated passion for traveling to Africa. She traveled for Traveltomtom to this beautiful country and shared all her Madagascar tips and incredible photos in this Madagascar travel blog and itinerary. Check out her Instagram account: ourplanetinmylens.
I hope this travel blog and all the above Madagascar travel tips and things to do in Madagascar were helpful to plan your own Madagascar trip. Please help me in return by sharing the link of this article on the Internet. Every tweet on Twitter, pin on Pinterest or share on Facebook is very much appreciated. Also don’t hesitate to reach out on my Instagram account. I’m happy to help!