Teeming with extraordinary wildlife and landscapes that trace back to the Jurassic era, the Ankarana National Park should be on your list of places to visit.
What Is Ankarana National Park?
Located 108 kilometers south of Antsiranana (also known as Diego Suarez), the Ankarana National Park is one of the most diverse protected areas in Madagascar not just for its abundance of endemic plants and animals, but also for the contrasting terrains and landscapes that can be found in its territory.
The reserve’s 18,220-hectare domain features a combination of wide stretches of dry deciduous forest, deep canyons and gorges, a network of underground rivers, numerous caves as well as quite a few towering limestone formations called tsingys.
Another reserve that features the same rock formations is the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. If you’re wondering, the term “tsingy” means “walking on your toes” in traditional Malagasy.
According to local history, its usage originated in the 17th century when a civil war took place in Madagascar and people fled to these rocky formations to hide.
They only came out during nighttime to forage for food and had to tiptoe for long distances to keep their feet from getting hurt by the sharp rocks while remaining undetected by patrolling troops.
A Bit of Historical Background
The Ankarana National Park was established in 1956 and is classified by experts as possibly having the highest density of primates compared to any other forest on Earth.
It was named after the Antankarana or the “people of the rocks,” which is the main ethnic group that lives in and around the reserve’s premises.
Although formerly part of the Sakalava, the members of the Antankarana tribe left the western coastline in the 16th century and settled in the areas dominated by the tsingys in Madagascar’s northern tip.
They are mostly Muslims after King Tsimiaro I promised to convert to the Islamic faith after surviving an attack from Merina warriors sometime in the 1800’s.
General Climate in the Area
The Ankarana National Park has a generally warm climate all through the year and the temperature in the area can reach well over 30 degrees Celsius, especially during the dry season.
However, the reserve has lots of shady areas in its circuits or trails that you can rest in during your tour of the place to cool down. Receiving more than 6 feet of rainfall per year, the Ankarana National Park’s expanse is well-hydrated yet not susceptible to flooding due to the many baobabs that thrive in its deciduous forest.
Apart from helping regulate the amount of water in the soil, these pot-bellied trees also keep erosion at bay. There are four (4) rivers that flow through the reserve, namely the Antenan-Ankarana, the Besabola, the Ankarana as well as the Manjeba, which is the biggest and most prominent of all underground rivers in the park’s territory.
Its Flora and Fauna
The Ankarana National Park has an impressive catalog of eleven lemur species, fourteen types of bats, sixty amphibians and reptiles, including 96 species of birds.
Apart from being recognized as a sanctuary for the Sanford’s brown lemur and the crowned lemur, the reserve also houses populations of the Western lesser bamboo lemur, the Aye-aye, the Perrier’s sifaka, the Eastern woolly lemur, the Fork-marked lemur, the Fat-tailed dwarf lemur, the Brown mouse lemur, and the Ankarana weasel lemur.
There are also thriving colonies of Vangas, Souimanga sunbirds, Malagasy bulbuls, Greenbuls, and the Paradise flycatchers in the area.
As for plant life, there are 330 recorded species of flora in the Ankarana National Park that is primarily composed of baobab trees and several other types of vegetation that are endemic only to Madagascar.
The Small and Big Tsingys
The tsingys that you will find in the Ankarana National Park are estimated to be already about 150-million years old and are made up of Middle Jurassic limestone. What’s really interesting is that the reserve features two distinct tsingys that serve as natural demarcation lines that separate its evergreen forest from its stretch of dry scrubland.
The Small Tsingy can be accessed by taking the trail that leads to the park’s deciduous forest and up a few rocky slopes until you reach a landscaped staircase.
You can either ascend another few feet to get a bird’s eye view of the surroundings or continue down to check out a cave that houses a substantial colony of bats. You can get there in around an hour or so, depending on the weather and trail conditions.
On the other hand, the Big Tsingy lies about two (2) hours away after reaching its small counterpart. Getting there is a bit more technical and you’ll need to cross a suspension bridge as well as negotiate sharp rocks along its trail.
The local guides recommend visiting this place if you’re looking to catch a glimpse of socializing lemurs, birds getting a dust bath and reptiles sunning themselves.
The Holy Cave
The Holy Cave is set in the base of the park’s Small Tsingy and is revered by the Antankarana because it used to be a place of refuge for its members in the old days when tribal skirmishes escalated between its people and Merina warriors.
Apart from having an overwhelmingly deep musky smell due to its large deposits of guano or bat excrement, you can also see numerous coins and tattered remnants of offerings littering the cave floor. Fossils of extinct giant lemurs can be found inside the cave as well.
Moreover, it is customary to take off any headwear such as caps, hats and bandanas before entering the cave as a gesture of reverence. It is also crucial to bring a flashlight or headlamp and spare batteries before exploring the cave since it is completely dark inside.
Entry to the Holy Cave is also forbidden on certain days, especially during the rainy season when the park’s unique cave-dwelling crocodiles like to hang out in its interiors not just to escape the rain, but also to hunt for unsuspecting animals that may be hiding inside of it, too.
The Resident Lemurs
The Ankarana National Park is home to vulnerable and endangered lemur species like the Crowned lemur and the Sanford’s brown lemur, not mentioning several other types of lemur. They can be usually seen in the reserve’s evergreen forest either looking for food or mingling with other lemurs in the trees.
Interestingly, you can also catch sight of these primates playing in and around the tsingys usually during the late afternoon when they are really active. Experts say that they may be hunting for small insects to supplement their mostly herbivore diet.
The Andrafiabé Cave
The Andrafiabé Cave is also called by the locals as the “cave of crystals” since it is teeming with established stalagmite and stalactite formations as well as rich quantities of malachite and azurite.
This cave is also known for its sunken forest that serves as a sanctuary for small reptiles like the Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus henkeli) and the Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis).
The Wall of Ankarana
Set in the western tip of the Ankarana National Park, the Wall of Ankarana is a 920-foot cliff that serves as a natural border of the reserve. You can also see numerous groves of baobab trees in its general direction, some of which are so large that it will take at least seven or eight people to “hug” one.
Additionally, the areas where the park’s baobab trees can be seen are abundant with seemingly large rocks that turn out to be fossils of ancient sea creatures. Local history has it that the reserve used to be a part of the sea floor more than 160 million years ago.
The Mangily Sinkhole
Although the reserve has numerous sinkholes in its territory, the largest of them all is the Mangily Sinkhole that has a depth of 460 feet and a width of approximately 2,300 feet.
Experts share that this sinkhole is so large that it can easily hold 20 million cubic meters of rainwater. As one of the hiding spots of the Antankarana during the civil war, the Mangily Sinkhole is deemed as “fady” or a sacred place by the locals.
Things to Do
Spelunking Africa’s longest cave network
There are numerous caves in the Ankarana National Park and most of them can be explored, save for a few that are considered sacred and may only be visited during certain days with the accompaniment of the appropriate local guides.
The park actually has the largest cave network in Africa, which has a total length of 120 kilometers when measured from end to end. Most of them are also interconnected and may be toured in one go with the right know-how and equipment.
Hiking the park’s several circuits
The Ankarana National Park features many circuits or trails for visitors that will take you through different sectors of the reserve. While some may lead to the park’s deciduous forest and others may guide you to its dry savannah, all of them always culminate in the reserve’s stretch of tsingys.
Moreover, you can also find a strange hole called the Perte de Rivière in one of the park’s circuits. It is where all of the surface rivers in the reserve converge and continue underground. A part of it can be explored during the height of the dry season when the underground river isn’t as deep.
Sun protection is a must.
Sure the Ankarana National Park may have thick forest canopies that will protect you from the sun, but it is still very important to put on some sun protection when visiting the reserve. There are stretches of scrubland and savannah in the area that all circuits pass through that offer little to no shade.
Re-apply when you get to the tsingys since this is where the sun’s rays are going to be the harshest. The highest temperatures in the park can be felt between the months of March and early April.
The best time to visit is during the dry season.
Although the overall temperature of the place is going to be rather high, the best time to explore the Ankarana National Park is during the dry season — approximately from April to August — when you can check out most of its caves, sinkholes and tsingys.
Apart from being submerged in water during the wet season, most of the caves in the area will also be filled with the the park’s cave-dwelling crocodiles. As for the tsingys, they will be very slippery to travel on especially when it just rained even for seasoned hikers.
Moreover, make sure you bring at least a liter or two of water per person per day when visiting the park since you’re sure to get parched as you trudge along its scrubland and savannah.
Unlike most of its counterparts, the Ankarana National Park offers basic accommodations in its premises for visitors who are looking to stay overnight. It has two (2) small campgrounds with toilets, but with no electricity and running water.
You can arrange for the use of these campgrounds in the Park Office right at its entrance. Guests are also required to register in the office for the assignment of guides.
Go for breathable clothes.
Make sure you wear clothes that have “breathable” fabrics like polyester and nylon when touring the Ankarana National Park. Besides allowing air to freely flow so you will stay generally dry, they will also trap perspiration that will help keep your body cool.
Since there are virtually no stinging plants in the reserve, you can wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts when negotiating its trails. However, it is crucial to have on a durable pair of hiking shoes because there are parts of the circuits that are filled with sharp rocks that can be tricky to negotiate without the right footwear.
How to Get There
There are three (3) routes that you can take to reach the entry points of the Ankarana National Park. The first one is by taking the Route Nationale 6 (RN6) to get to Mahamasina, which will directly take you to the park’s entrance.
The second one is by travelling on the highway that leads to Amboandriky, but you will need a 4×4 vehicle to do so since the road can be rather difficult to pass through, particularly during the monsoon season when floods and mud traps are a common occurrence.
The third one is by getting to Matsaborimanga, but access to the place can be very tricky since the road is not yet fully finished and it is usually filled with loose rocks.
Where to Stay
While you can choose to spend the night in the Ankarana National Park’s campgrounds to really get up close and personal with the wilderness, you can also book a room in a hotel that’s in close proximity to the reserve if you’re looking for a more relaxed option.
Anjiamarango Beach Resort
With its traditional Malagasy bungalows that offer a panoramic ocean view of the Bay of Befotaka, the Anjiamarango Beach Resort is a top pick among tourists who’d like to experience laid-back vibes fused with island aesthetics. Its rooms also have modern amenities like high-speed Internet and refrigerators.
Additionally, the Anjiamarango Beach Resort offers on-site water sports facilities if you’re into snorkelling and scuba diving. Its restaurant can also cook up a variety of Malagasy favorites.
You can reach out to Anjiamarango Beach Resort at:
- Tel: +261 32 02 655 98
- Address: Commune de Befotaka Anjiamarango, Nosy Be 207 Madagascar
- Website: anjiamarango-beach-resort.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Set in the village of Doany, the Ankify Lodge offers guests the best of both worlds with its surrounding lush greenery and a stunning view of the sea. All of its bungalows also have exclusive terraces so you can enjoy the scenery in a very intimate way.
Besides featuring a diverse menu of vegetables, fruits, zebu, crustaceans and fish, its restaurant can also prepare customized orders for guests who have special diet plans and preferences.
You can reach out to Ankify Lodge at:
- Tel: +261 20 86 926 11
- Address: Ankify Bp 33, Ambanja 203 Madagascar
- Website: ankifylodge.com/index-eng.html
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org