Often described as a very mysterious place for its sheer remoteness and extraordinary plant and animal species, the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is a hidden gem.
Nestled in the regions of Melaky and Menabe in the province of Mahajanga, the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve has a total land area of 24,750 hectares.
It’s known for its various terrains and environment characteristics that help it sustain a number of different flora and fauna simultaneously.
While the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve was already recognized as a protected area in 1958, it was officially established as a reserve with the help of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
This was done in 1993 because of its catalog of vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered plants and animals.
A part of the reserve is located in the farthest western end of the Bongolava mountain range, which plays a key role in keeping water levels of Madagascar’s highland rivers in check.
One of these rivers is the Manambolo, which also flows through other protected areas in the country like the Maningoza Reserve and the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve.
Generally classified as a sclerophyllous forest, the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is actually composed of two other topographies, namely a savannah and an expanse of sandy terrain dotted with inlets and streams of open water.
Experts believe that the area’s distinctive topographical attributes make it a suitable habitat for different kinds of birds, lemurs, reptiles and amphibians.
Besides its abundance of endemic plant and animal life, one other interesting thing about the reserve is its rather extreme weather conditions that can suddenly shift from very dry to exceedingly wet all through the year.
It’s not uncommon to see dried up riverbeds and streams suddenly becoming deep and flowing in just a few days’ time in the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve, especially during the months of November to March.
Members of the Sakalava and the Makoa tribes live in and around the fringes of the reserve. They grow a variety of crops, mainly rice and corn, as well as rear zebu cattle as their source of income. They are also known to maintain a number of bee colonies in the area to harvest honey.
Catch a glimpse of the Von der Decken’s sifaka
While the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is home to many lemur species, one of the highlights you’ll see when exploring the area is catching sight of the Von der Decken’s sifaka (Propithecus deckenii).
Known as one of the lemur species that are diurnal in nature, the Von der Decken’s sifaka is renowned for its unique black and white coloration sprinkled with tinges of gold.
Its coat is usually described as similar to a panda’s, but is much thicker and pronounced, especially in the areas around the belly, neck and limbs.
The Von der Decken’s sifaka is often described as sociable and usually hangs out in the trees with a group composed of as many as 10 individuals.
Get up close and personal with rare plants
With more than 12,000 hectares of sclerophyllous dense and clear forests, the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is no doubt a refuge of rare plants and trees that you won’t find anywhere else on Earth.
Two of these rare flora are the Anthocleista madagascariensis and the Brachylaena merana, which are not just endemic to Madagascar, but only grow in the most elevated parts of the reserve.
These plants are observed by scientists to only fully grow and develop in areas that are at least 1,000 meters above sea level.
Apart from serving as sanctuaries for the birds and lemurs living in the area, the towering yet slender Brachylaena merana is also prized by the locals for its aesthetic and medicinal uses.
It used to be the wood of choice for the construction of tribal coffins and its leaves are boiled to make a tonic to cure stomach and pulmonary ailments. The tea made from the tree’s leaves is also used to stimulate the appetite.
The Big Catch
Before we go on, there’s something really important that you need to know about the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve.
It is one of the most isolated areas in Madagascar and there are very little — if there are any — infrastructure to accommodate tourists.
Unlike other national parks and reserves in the country that offer a decent amount of amenities, this place is as rough and ready as it gets.
Tourists who have already explored the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve even relate that there are no modern comfort rooms, view decks or resting places available in the area.
And to top the whole thing off, you can also expect the trails to be as primitive and crude as can be.
If you’re willing to do without the creature comforts you’re used to for a few days to see some of the most amazing plants and animals on the planet, then the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve should be on your list of places to check out.
Activities to Do
The Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is a place you should visit if you’re really into trekking and would like to experience nature at its finest.
Here are just some of the sights you’re in for when you tour this reserve:
There are about 11 types of mammals in the reserve, which mainly consists of different lemur varieties.
Apart from the groups of Von der Decken’s sifaka living in the area’s dense sclerophyllous forests, there are also active populations of the Gmelin’s woolly lemur (Avahi laniger) and the Crowned sifaka (Propithecus coronatus) here and there.
The Lesser long-tailed shrew tenrec (Microgale longicaudata), the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) — Madagascar’s largest carnivorous mammal — and the Northern ring-tailed mongoose (Galidia elegans) also call the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve’s expanse home.
But that’s not all. You’ll also find over 57 species of birds and 21 types of reptiles in the park.
Trees that are way older than you think
The savannah as well as the clear and dense sclerophyll forests of the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve are teeming with Ocotea auriculiformis and Ocotea cymosa.
Their origins reach back to the ancient times when Madagascar was still uninhabited by people before 700 CE.
These aromatic evergreen trees are not just considered prime lumber by the locals, which are carved for furniture and traditional coffins by the Makoa and Sakalava tribes, but are also used to flavor up some native delicacies and drinks.
Moreover, the bark of the Ocotea cymosa has a distinct fruity tang and is a popular addition to local alcoholic brews.
Fitness counts a lot.
Exploring the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is going to be a very technical trek. It is crucial to keep in mind that you have to be in good physical shape before even thinking about braving its trails.
The combination of shifting terrains and the fickle climate can be quite exhausting not just physically but also mentally.
While it is not required that you have to be a seasoned outdoorsman to conquer the reserve, you’ll need to have at least a bit of training prior to your trek so you won’t be easily overwhelmed by its challenges.
The right gear is essential.
If you’re planning to visit the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve, make sure you go for polyester and nylon garments — preferably with a taffeta or PVC coating.
These will save you lots of time and effort so you won’t need to repeatedly change your clothes due to the area’s unpredictable weather.
The reserve is known to be quite rainy even during Madagascar’s dry season. You will also need a reliable rain jacket, a pair of gaiters to keep insects at bay that might crawl up your ankles while negotiating the trails, as well as a cap or hat.
While the chances of rain are high in the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve, it is also recommended to bring along sufficient sun protection.
After all, there are some parts of the savannah that do not have a lot of shade and the sun’s rays can be pretty harsh, especially during noontime and in the early afternoon.
Hydration is key.
Bringing at least a liter of water per person per day is a must if you’re planning to visit the reserve.
Although most parts of the sclerophyll forests in the reserve’s territory may be shrouded with trees and bushes, the excessive moisture in the air can prevent your body from cooling properly, which can lead to dehydration.
Make it a point to drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel really thirsty. One sign that you need a water break when roughing it out in the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is when your throat feels a little dry.
Choose your schedule.
Animal activity in the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve significantly differs throughout the day. If you’re more into bird-watching, make sure you explore the area during the day when the winged residents of the place are the most visible.
They can be usually spotted hanging out near the streams and inlets or pecking at the shrubs and at the foot of the trees looking for grub.
The only lemur that you can see during the daytime is the Von der Decken’s sifaka, which is one of the rather uncommon diurnal lemur species.
If you’re looking to see the rest of the reserve’s lemur residents, then the ideal time to go there is during the late afternoon.
Besides mingling with their group mates, they can also be seen foraging for fruits, seeds and nuts either in the trees or in the surrounding bushes.
The most straightforward way to get to the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is by travelling to the city of Tsiroanomandidy.
You can either choose to arrange a trip to the reserve through your hotel’s receptionist or by contacting an Antananarivo-based tour operator.
The Ambohijanahary Special Reserve is not as popular and accessible, unlike most of its counterparts.
In fact, it’s even described as “one of the most brutal” areas in Madagascar for its unrefined state and lack of facilities for tourists.
However, the rewards you’ll reap such as getting up close and personal with vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered plants and animals when visiting the area are just too hard to pass up if you are a hardcore nature lover.
Where to Stay
As emphasized earlier, there is virtually no infrastructure for tourists in the Ambohijanahary Special Reserve. There are also no available hotels, hostels or any other accommodation found in Tsiroanomandidy.
The closest accommodations you can go for are in the city of Antananarivo — also known as Tana — the capital of Madagascar. Below you will find the best hotels for value in the city.
Central Hotel Tana
The Central Hotel Tana is known as one of the most strategically-placed hotels in the city of Antananarivo. It is basically set right in the heart of the city.
And you won’t have to travel far to get to the main points of interest in and around the area, like the Gare de Soarano and the Pirate Museum of Antananarivo.
Categorized as a 4-star business hotel, its rooms provide a mix of modern amenities like free high-speed Internet (WiFi) and air conditioning while highlighting Malagasy architecture and furnishings.
It also has a restaurant that can prepare special diet menus for guests.
Pro-tip: Go for a soundproofed room when you stay at the Central Hotel Tana if you’re looking to get some serious amount of sleep. Given that the hotel is in the middle of the city, the nearby restaurants and bars can get a bit lively during the early evenings.
You can reach out to Central Hotel Tana at:
- Tel: +261 20 22 222 44
- Address: Rue Andrianamihaja Raoul Tsaralana, Antananarivo 101 Madagascar
- Website: facebook.com/centralhoteltana/
“Lovasoa” directly translates to “precious heritage” in Malagasy and this hotel actually used to be a French Colonial-style home way back when.
While all of its 11 rooms are equipped with modern amenities like high-speed Internet, they are also accented with Malagasy furnishings and decors that up the ante on comfort and coziness.
While this hotel is located in the middle of Antananarivo, it is not as exposed compared to its counterparts because you’d have to go down the main road to reach it.
Going around the city is also not a hassle since you can just hop on a taxi or taxi-bé — Antananarivo’s version of a tricycle — right from its main gate.
Moreover, its La Cuisine de Soa is popular for serving up Madagascar favorites.
You can reach out to Maison Lovasoa at:
- Tel: +261 34 07 807 71 or +261 34 93 520 65
- Address: Lot VE28 Bis Rue Razanakombana Ambohijatovo, Antananarivo 101, Madagascar
- Website: lamaison-lovasoa.com
- Email: email@example.com