Nestled high up in Madagascar’s most elevated region, the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve is renowned for its flowing volcanic granite landscape, unique high-altitude ecosystem as well as its impressive catalog of flora and fauna.
The “Roof of Madagascar”
Situated 57 kilometers off the northern tip of the city of Bealanana in Madagascar’s Diana region, the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve can be basically described as a high-altitude tropical forest that’s surrounded by an undulating mountain chain.
This wildlife reserve has an overall land area of 140,836 hectares and forms part of the country’s highest mountain range, particularly the Tsaratanana Massif, with a maximum elevation point of 2,876 meters.
The Tsaratanana Integral Reserve is considered as one of the oldest conservation sites in Madagascar and has been given a protected status as early as 1927, when the country was still a protectorate of France. The country’s tallest mountain, the Maromokotra, can be found within the reserve and is one of its key attractions.
Years of scientific research reveal that there is a very high level of endemism among the flora and fauna species recorded in this reserve. It is theorized that besides its sheer remoteness, this unique endemic biodiversity is also the result of the Tsaratanana Massif acting as a natural border that confines the wildlife in the general vicinity of this protected area.
A Key Watershed and Irrigation Source
There are four (4) major water systems that flow through the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s premises, namely the rivers of Mahavavy, Sambirano, Bemarivo and Ramena, which collectively supply most of the drinking and irrigation waters in the Diana region.
Apart from the said rivers, this wildlife sanctuary also flaunts many small creeks, inlets and streams, not to mention some thermal baths and waterfalls here and there. These water sources are scattered in this reserve’s grounds and have been seen to contain high levels of essential minerals like sodium, magnesium and calcium.
The Reserve’s Contrasting Forests
While the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s landscape is generally composed of high-altitude tropical forest, its territory is divided into three (3) specific sectors that each house different types of vegetation.
The first sector, which is about 2,000 meters above sea level, is abundant with woody vines and towering palms. The second one, which is roughly between 2,000 and 2,200 meters above sea level, is filled with dense thickets of bamboo as well as various trees and shrubs. The third sector, measuring between 2,200 and 2,600 meters, is blanketed by a sclerophyllous montane forest.
Interestingly, the fauna species that inhabit each sector are varied as well. There are some birds that prefer to stay in the lower regions of this reserve, while there are also lemurs that like to hang out in its middle sector.
These contrasting forests also feature landscapes and terrains that can be rather challenging to negotiate, especially in the more elevated zones. This is the biggest reason why this protected area is only recommended for nature lovers and adventurers who have medium to high trekking skills.
The Mighty Maromokotra
As pointed out earlier, the Maromokotra (or Maromokotro in some regions) is known as Madagascar’s highest mountain and measures at 2,876 meters. Despite its distinction as the loftiest landmass in the country, this mountain is hardly climbed due to its extremely steep ascents and dips.
What’s really amazing is that while Madagascar is a tropical country, the Maromokotra’s highest peak is sometimes covered with snow between the colder months of May and October. This temporary snow cap disappears during the onset of summer.
The very first person to ascend the Maromokotra was an unidentified French explorer in 1936. Besides getting a spectacular view of the reserve and the neighboring areas, those who manage to reach this mountain’s summit will also get to see a mysterious cairn or a man-made pile of stones. It is still unknown why it was put there or who built it.
The Wildlife You Will Encounter
Each sector has a selection of stunning flora varieties.
The several species of plants that can be found in the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s territory are distributed among three (3) particular sectors that significantly vary as regards to altitude.
The first sector, which measures below 2,000 meters above sea level, features thick patches of mostly endemic palms, such as the Dypsis tsaratananensis and the Dypsis ampasindavae. When you explore this sector’s deeper areas, you will also find an abundance of valuable wood varieties like magnary or rosewood as well as mapingo or ebony.
Having an elevation point of between 2,000 and 2,500 meters above sea level, the second sector has copious amounts of bamboo, monocots, conifers and woody plants, particularly Pandanaceae, Cunoniaceae and Podocarpaceae. This sector is often visited by scientists and researchers from all over the globe since it features one of the only natural and continuous bamboo forests on the planet.
The topmost sector, which measures between 2,200 and 2,600 meters above sea level, is not just covered with thriving sclerophyllous vegetation, but also features a number of bryophytes, lichens, epiphytes and orchids like the Angraecum dendrobiopsis, the Angraecum acutipetalum, the Angraecum spp, the Aerangis spp., and the Bulbophyllum spp.
Its catalog of mostly endemic fauna species is really impressive.
There are nine (9) types of lemurs that have been recorded in the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve, which include the long-fingered Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), the Greater dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus major), the Pariente’s fork-marked lemur (Phaner parienti), the Gray’s sportive lemur (Lepilemur dorsalis), the Brown mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus), the Common brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus), the Black lemur (Eulemur macaco), the Eastern lesser bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus) and the Western lesser bamboo lemur (Hapalemur occidentalis).
As for its winged residents, there are ninety-four (94) kinds of birds — 56 of which are endemic — that call this protected area home. This list is comprised of the Madagascan serpent eagle (Eutriorchis astur), the Yellow-bellied sunbird-asity (Neodrepanis hypoxantha), the Rufous-headed ground roller (Atelornis crossleyi) and the Madagascar Red Owl (Tyto soumagnei), among others.
There are also rare rodents and tenrecs that have been catalogued in this wildlife sanctuary’s grounds, such as the Red forest rat (Nesomys rufus), the Tailless tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus) as well as the elusive Northern shrew tenrec (Microgale jobihely).
Additionally, the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s territory also showcases an assortment of unique herpetofauna like the Stumpffia gimmeli, the Spinomantis massorum, the Rhombophryne serratopalpebrosa, the Plethodontohyla tuberata and the Platypelis tsaratananaensis.
What to Do
Rough it out on the reserve’s trails.
The Tsaratanana Integral Reserve is deemed as one of the more technical hiking spots in all of Madagascar because its trails generally start out at a steep incline right from the get-go.
This reserve does not have any established circuits and your destination is going to be all up to you. However, make sure you listen to your guide as you trudge along to get the most out of the trail you’re travelling on. This also prevents any untoward incidents from taking place.
As mentioned earlier, this wildlife sanctuary is not recommended for tourists who are looking for a laid-back trek. You’ll immediately traverse sharp slopes and steep rock walls as soon as you get in the general vicinity of this reserve.
Moreover, make sure you go for flexible hiking shoes that have thick padding when touring this protected area. Since you’re going to be in constant contact with loose rocks and hard mud, this is one practical way to help make your hike more comfortable.
Conquer the summit of Maromokotra
Madagascar’s highest mountain, the mighty Maromokotra, is located within the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve and can be scaled during your tour of this protected area. At 2,876 meters and having a profusion of steep ascents and dips, it is definitely going to be one challenging climb.
If you’re looking to scale the Maromokotra, then it’s crucial that you prepare a week’s rations, particularly food, water and toiletries, as well as camping essentials. It is also important that you properly coordinate with the reserve’s personnel before you start your trek up to its summit to avoid any confusion and delay.
Catch a glimpse of this wildlife sanctuary’s birds denizens
The Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s grounds are filled with several avian species that will surely wow any bird-watching enthusiast. Each of its forested sectors also feature different types of birds so the sights and sounds you’ll experience are virtually going to be unique as you further explore its territory.
While you can already spot a few of these birds hanging out in the trees of this reserve’s forested sectors, the majority of them can be observed in the waterways either having a refreshing drink or an exploratory wade for grubs.
If you are really lucky, you may even get to see the mysterious Madagascan serpent eagle (Eutriorchis astur) circling the area hunting for smaller animals to tuck into as you go along. Having a pair of binoculars with you is also definitely a plus when it comes to getting a great view of these flying creatures..
A permit is required to be allowed entry.
Compared to most protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries in Madagascar where tourists can just show up at their gates and pay the necessary fees to be allowed on their premises, getting inside the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s grounds requires a permit from relevant institutions like the Parks Office.
While you can coordinate with the Parks Office yourself to secure the said permit, the more practical way would be to arrange this with your tour operator or, if feasible, the front desk at the hotel you are staying.
Go for breathable clothing.
When you’re exploring the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s territory, the most ideal clothes that you can go for are those made from “breathable” fabrics like nylon, polyester and rayon. Apart from helping trap cool air, these clothes also don’t retain as much moisture compared to linen and cotton.
Moreover, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants during your visit to this reserve is more practical since there will be sectors in its expanse that offer little to no shade. You’ll also be more protected from sharp rocks and stinging plants while you’re at it.
How to Get There
There are two (2) ways to reach the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve’s entrance gate. The first one is by having the city of Bealanana as your vantage point. From there, travel fifty-seven (57) kilometers north until you reach the reserve’s vicinity.
The second one is by having the city of Ambanja as your vantage point. From Ambanja, travel eighty (80) kilometers southeast until you get to this wildlife sanctuary’s general area. Signs leading to its entrance gate can be seen from the main access road.
Where to Stay
Although the Tsaratanana Integral Reserve does not have any official campground or infrastructure for tourists, you can spend the night on its premises as long as you coordinate with this protected area’s personnel. However, it is crucial that you have all the essentials like food, shelter and other necessities covered before you can do so.
You can also book a hotel in the city of Ambanja as an alternative. Based on tourist recommendations, below are some of the best establishments in the area that you can check out as regards to overall value:
Voted as the top place to stay in Ambanja, the Ankify Lodge flaunts traditional bungalows that all have a spectacular view of the ocean. And just to take the aesthetics and ambiance up a notch, these bungalows are also spread out in a vast garden filled with native greenery.
Formerly called the Hotel Dauphin Blue, this place also has a kitchen that regularly changes its menu to match the seasonal harvests of the local farmers and fishermen where it sources out its ingredients.
You can reach out to the Ankify Lodge at:
- Tel: +261 32 45 334 61
- Address: Ankify Bp 33, Ambanja, 203 Madagascar
- Website: ankifylodge.com/index.html
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Set approximately 28 kilometers away from Ambanja’s downtown area, Chez Yolande is a picturesque combination of sea, mountains and native flora and fauna. It offers traditional bungalows that are nicely accented with Malagasy furnishings and decors.
Apart from its straightforwardly modest yet cozy atmosphere, Chez Yolande’s restaurant is also known for its interesting menu of Malagasy seafood favorites that highlight the local catch, particularly many varieties of fish, shellfish as well as calamari.
You can reach out to Chez Yolande at:
- Tel: +261 32 04 787 29
- Address: Ampangorina, Nosy Komba Madagascar
- Website: hotel-nosykomba.com/
- Email: email@example.com