The prevailing rains fall mostly on the eastern side and are prevented from crossing this mountainous range through the centre of the country, thereby the west remaining the much drier side. Madagascar is a land of extremes in terms of environments and eco systems, added to this it has unusual and endemic wildlife, too.
The most visited and notable areas include Isalo National Park and Andringitra as well as the deciduous forests on the way to the famed Avenue de Baobabs. Remote and dry, Isalo National Park in the south western corner of Madagascar is particularly rewarding for those explorers looking for interesting walks in dramatic settings.
Eroded sandstone in weird and wonderful shapes rise up in sharp formations from surrounding grasslands. The area has canyons and valleys surrounds by open grasslands and palm trees. The vegetation in this area is interesting too. Aloe isaloensis is endemic, various succulents and Pachypodium rosulatum –otherwise called Elephants foot can be found in rocky areas.
Sacred for the Bara people, Isalo is worth a three day stay. There is wildlife here too - brown lemurs, geckoes, ring tailed lemurs and sifakas, one animal often seen in the camp is the fossa, a small mammal that looks almost doglike yet is related to the mongoose family. This semi-arid area has an annual rainfall of just 300 mm and is covered with xerophilous vegetation.
Walks led by experienced guides in Isalo are very rewarding and popular routes include Piscine Naturelle which has a lovely cooling natural pool filled by a waterfall, perfect to cool off after the hike under ferns and palms. Benson’s rock thrush is one of the most sought-after birds to see and on all keen bird-watchers ‘tick list’.
Another dry area of significant interest is the amazing Andringitra National Park where ring tailed lemurs jump from rock to rock and sun themselves on the granite cliffs. The most outstanding feature of Andringitra is Pic Boby the highest point on the island, standing at 2658m. Andringitra has stunning open grass plains with around 30 different orchid species, carpets of flowers and succulents, butterflies and great insect and reptile life.
Interestingly, even though the area is mostly dry in the far eastern corner there is a montane forest which is closed to visitors and is a sanctuary for greater bamboo lemurs. The terrain changes dramatically as one travels further south from Antananarivo, with wide-open valleys and huge granite boulders looming out of the red sand. One feels dwarfed by the landscape, mango trees dot the hillside, which adds a splash of colour in a stark but beautiful landscape, even the eucalyptus rarely shows up in this dry area.
The people in this area are called the Beteleo who are traditionalists. Andringitra was created in 1999 and is noted for its walking safari trails. The Andringitra mountains have names like Chameleon, Tsaranoro and Dondy and hikers can often see ring-tailed lemurs, scorpions, snakes, lizards and good bird watching - 30 species of birds can be seen in a day - peregrine falcon, banded kestrel, black egret, Chabert vanga, white headed vanga, grey headed lovebirds, little grebe and yellow billed duck. Plant species include Pachypodium, six species of euphorbia, Kalankoe (aloe like plant), Aloe Capitaka and pampas type grass.
Berenty in the south has the spiny forest (Didiereaceae family) where sifaka leap from tree to tree miraculously not impaling themselves and here are Berenty chameleons and Dumerils boa and tortoises. The spiny forest trees that look a little like cacti (but are not related) have small leaves and hazardous thorns growing out of the branches themselves.
The Avenue de Baobabs is one of the iconic places to visit, this group of baobabs lies near Morondava and is seen when you travel to the Tsingy de Behmaraha. There are about 50 or so Baobabs -Adansonia grandidieri, rising to a height of 30 metres. Some grow on either side of the main road (making for an interesting photograph when locals carrying their goods on their heads pass by). There are rice paddies filled with water flowers and ducks potter around too.
Some images by courtesy of Kamili