Masoala National Park is one of the most biodiverse parks in Madagascar. Read on to learn why we think it’s a must-see for anyone visiting the Fort Dauphin area.
Considered one of the most biodiverse protected areas in Madagascar, the Masoala National Park features a stunning assembly of terrains, landscapes and microclimates that sustain some of the rarest and most unique plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth.
The Biggest Natural Park in Madagascar
Set in Madagascar’s northeastern province of Antsiranana (also known as Diego Suarez), the Masoala National Park is renowned as the largest of all protected areas in the country as regards to overall land coverage.
Apart from its sizable territory that measures a total of 230,000 hectares, this national park also flaunts a very diverse topography that is composed of a mangrove swamp, a marsh, a flooded forest, a coastal forest as well as a tropical rainforest.
Interestingly, the Masoala National Park’s premises extend to the offshore island reserve of Nosy Mangabe, which makes up most of the 10,000 hectares of its protected marine waters, along with the Tanjona marine sanctuary and Cap Est.
The predominant ethnic group that inhabits the fringes of this wildlife sanctuary is the Betsimisaraka. Established in 1997, the Masoala National Park was eventually recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a decade later for its sheer abundance of endemic wildlife and natural beauty.
Besides receiving an annual rainfall level of about 13 feet, this protected area also has a generally warm tropical climate with an average temperature of 24 degrees Celsius.
What’s really puzzling is the fact that although this national park is the biggest — and perhaps the most biodiverse — of all protected areas in Madagascar, it remains as one of the least-visited nature destinations in the country.
Named After the Eyes of a Mystical Lemur
Local oral history has it that the Masoala National Park was named after a very unique physical attribute of one of its rather elusive lemur inhabitants, the nocturnal Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis).
Besides having very long fingers to scoop out grub and other insects from holes in tree trunks, the Aye-aye also has a pair of big yellow-orange eyes that seem to glow at night, which locals refer to as “masoala.”
“Masoala” directly translates to “eyes of the forest” and it is believed that the Aye-aye is constantly surveying the goings on in this protected area’s expanse, ensuring the safety and refuge of all its inhabitants.
The Wildlife You’ll Encounter
The Masoala National Park is renowned for its very extensive list of wildlife that call its territory home. From forest-dwelling creatures to aquatic denizens, this wildlife sanctuary has become quite notable for its extremely rich biodiversity.
Its premises are also home to 2,435 types of flora that include several endemic palms and orchids, as well as many varieties of rosewood and ebony hardwood trees that provide its forests with a dense, overhead canopy.
Its rainforest sectors have flourishing lemur populations.
There are six (6) individual species of lemurs that can be found in the Masoala National Park. The most prominent of which are the Red ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra), which is known for its thick and vibrant two-toned coat, and the Aye-aye, whose eyes are the inspiration for the name of this national park.
Moreover, this protected are also houses groups of the Gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), the White-fronted Lemur (Eulemur albifrons), the Greater dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus major) as well as the Eastern Avahi (Avahi laniger).
Its winged residents are some of the most elusive in Madagascar.
This nature reserve’s premises are a collective refuge for ninety (90) types of birds, including the Madagascar Red Owl (Tyto soumagnei) and the Madagascan serpent eagle (Eutriorchis astur), which are classified as two of the world’s rarest avian species.
What’s really interesting is that the Madagascan serpent eagle was thought to be already extinct in the 1930’s. However, it was deemed “rediscovered” in 1993 when confirmed sightings have been recorded in some specific forested zones in Madagascar, one of which is the Masoala National Park.
This protected area’s list of animal denizens spans from land to sea.
The other types of wildlife that you’re going to rub elbows with when touring this national park’s forested sectors are 135 species of butterflies, 50 mammal varieties, 44 kinds of frogs, 60 classes of snakes as well as 23 types of freshwater fish.
When you explore its coastal and marine zones, you will find flourishing populations of various mollusks, corals and sea turtles. The Masoala National Park’s seascape also flaunts two (2) species of whales, two (2) kinds of dolphins and one (1) type of dugong.
Rough it out on the park’s trails.
The Masoala National Park is one of the best places to visit in Madagascar when it comes to nature hikes. While there are no established circuits in this protected area, the trails that tourists can travel on usually begin on the coast and lead up to its deeply forested areas.
While this nature park is open throughout the year, the best time to trek its expanse is between the months of August and November when the climate is comfortably warm and rain showers are few and far between.
However, it is still highly recommended that you go for waterproof or rainproof clothing regardless of the season when touring this protected area. This is because you are still going to negotiate paths that will pass through several water systems, including a marsh and a mangrove swamp.
Check out the lemurs and birds.
You can catch a glimpse of the Masoala National Park’s lemur denizens when you reach the deeper parts of its forest zones. Some of them may be a bit tricky to spot, but chances are you’re going to pick out the Red ruffed lemur with its conspicuous black and rusty-red coat.
On the other hand, the best spots to see the avian residents of this national park in action are near its waterways like streams, inlets and creeks. They usually hang out in these places to either wade and forage for food or take a bath.
If you are really lucky, you may even get to see the mysterious Madagascan serpent eagle perching on a tree branch while you’re at it. Moreover, make sure you bring a pair of binoculars to get a really good view.
Cruise its coastal zone on a boat or a kayak.
The Masoala National Park’s coastal area is renowned for its almost pristine condition. Besides snorkelling or having a refreshing dip in its waters, you can also take things up a notch by exploring its coral reefs and other marine attractions on a boat or a kayak.
If you are really up to it, you can even use a pirogue — the traditional Malagasy dugout canoe — to do the whole thing. Featuring more than 90 species of fish and 27 types of sea cucumbers, you’re sure to have an exciting time checking out the park’s coral reefs.
Remember to put on a lot of sunscreen, too, since the sun’s rays can be rather harsh during noontime and in the early afternoon. Making it a point to hydrate every half hour or so is also a must.
Play spot the whale on its shores.
The mating season of the Humpback whale usually takes place between the months of July and September. You can get to see a lot of these gentle giants swimming to and fro right from the Masoala National Park’s coastline during this time.
Additionally, you may also encounter a dugong or two chilling out near this protected area’s coastline or in the shaded sectors of its mangrove swamp. These docile creatures tend to relax in shallow, warm water after grazing on seagrass.
You must be accompanied by a local tour guide.
Unlike most of the other wildlife sanctuaries in Madagascar, it is mandatory for visitors to be accompanied by a local, experienced tour guide before they can be admitted in the Masoala National Park’s grounds.
Besides being one of the methods used by the park’s administration to properly monitor and regulate the entry of tourists in the area, it also helps guarantee the safety of visitors when exploring its vast territory.
Qualified tour guides can be hired by coordinating with the Parks Office in Maroansetra. This is also the place where you register and pay the necessary fees to be admitted inside the park. Below are the contact details of the most recommended tour guides when visiting the Masoala National Park:
- Elysee – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Emile – email@example.com
No night treks are allowed in the park.
The Masoala National Park is one of the few protected areas in Madagascar that do not allow night hikes on its premises. It is believed that this guideline was established to closely monitor the park’s forest and coastal sectors against poachers and illegal loggers.
Additionally, given the contrasting landscapes and terrains of this protected area, hiking its trails at night can be rather risky even for experienced adventurers and trekkers.
Don’t forget to bring lots of bug repellent.
Majority of the Masoala National Park’s territory features a wet climate that encourages the proliferation of insects like mosquitoes. Make sure you apply a more than adequate amount of bug repellent before even starting your journey to this wildlife sanctuary’s entrance gate.
In addition to waterproof or rainproof clothing, it is also highly recommended to wear a pair of gaiters when exploring the park’s expanse. This is to prevent leeches and other creepy-crawlies from getting inside your pant legs or socks.
How to Get There
One of the main reasons why the Masoala National Park does not get as many visitors as it should is the fact that it is extremely hard to reach. There are only two (2) realistic and affordable ways to get to this wildlife sanctuary.
The first way is by taking a boat ride from the town of Maroansetra. Depending on the weather, this can take from 2 to 3 hours. The second one is by going on a 5-day hike off Maroansetra’s eastern tip that will traverse several hills and slopes.
Moreover, this national park can also be reached by plane directly from Antananarivo via an airtsrip located inside the forest, but this is one really expensive option to go for.
Where to Stay
Camp out in the park’s grounds.
The Masoala National Park has two (2) campgrounds for visitors that can be reached from the village of Ambanizana. Apart from not having any electricity, these campgrounds also offer very basic sanitary facilities.
However, if you are looking for a more snug accommodation option, there are some lodges and hotels in the area that you can check out. Here are some of the top picks from visitors who have already explored the Masoala National Park’s territory:
Ecolodge Chez Arol
Set on the edge of the Masoala Primary Forest, the Ecolodge Chez Arol offers seven (7) modest cabins with twin size bunk-beds and mosquito nets. It can accommodate a total of twenty (20) guests at a time.
This lodge is also very conveniently near a beach where guests can take a dip or do a bit of snorkelling. Interestingly, the Ecolodge Chez Arol provides free hydroelectricity to more than a hundred residents of a neighboring village.
You can reach out to Ecolodge Chez Arol at:
- Tel: +261 32 40 889 02
- Address: Masoala, B.P. 94, Maroantsetra 512, Madagascar
- Website: arol-ecolodge.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The L’Hippocampe is one of the newer places to stay in Maroansetra and offers a mix of modern architecture and traditional Malagasy concepts. It is situated near the forest and guests simply have to look outside their window to check out some awesome wildlife.
This bed and breakfast/boutique inn also offers modern amenities like high-speed Internet and a communal lounge. Its kitchen can also cook up a number of Malagasy favorites as well as some international dishes.
You can reach out to L’Hippocampe at:
- Tel: +261 034 36 118 59
- Address: Parc Masoala Mbodiforaha, Maroantsetra 512 Madagascar
- Website: madahippocampe.com/
- Booking page: madahippocampe.com/contact