Tsingys – Red and grey sandstone and limestone formations

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Groups of unusual rock formations called Tsingys are one of the iconic symbols found in Madagascar. These unusually carved rocks are located in several areas around the country but not all are the same rock or colour.

On the northern point of this vast island near Diego Suarez, the Tsingys here are not actually true ‘Tsingy’ because they are eroded sandstone as opposed to limestone but they are far more photogenic than the grey limestone.  The colours are simply stunning ranging from bleached white through 40 shades of pink to red and a hint of orange, the area is absolutely remarkable with round topped pinnacles reaching into the sky and the walk down to the canyon floor along the river bed to see the various stands of Tsingy is intriguing.

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The sandstone has been eroded into a valley surrounded by lime green vegetation. There are various springs along the river bank and the river can be prone to flash floods.  The river flows gently through a mixture of palm tree and scrub vegetation interspersed with scattered black rock boulders adding to the dramatic landscape.

The most well known of Tsingy can be found in the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve on the western side of the island.  This is a Unesco World Heritage Site that covers 666 square kilometres. The name Tsingy is Malagasy meaning’ that which is too sharp to walk barefoot on’’. These are karstic plateaus which have been eroded by groundwater both vertically and horizontally producing needles of sharp limestone.

In the forest in between the Tsingy one can find brown lemur and Vereneux Sifaka and a gorgeous type of horny tailed lizard. The forest is quite dense and very dry but actually quite beautiful in an array of pale green and white colours, other wildlife includes vasa parrots, fody and Madagascar drongo, land snails and boas. Within the park are 365 plants and 13 different lemurs.

Access is the hardest part of viewing the Bemaraha and this involves extremely challenging dirt roads and getting there takes a couple of days in each direction. The journey includes crossing two rivers, one of which is the Manambolo River by ferry, before you come to the most magnificent view – high rising, jagged grey limestone peaks rising out of lush forests.  The Bemaraha Tsingy is divided into two sections – located about 17 kilometres apart.

Limestone Tsingy are sharp formations dissected with narrow walkways and caves, and pools of rainwater collect in caverns in between the pinnacles. These provide a home for mantilla frogs and a drinking place for lemurs and other wildlife. Negotiating the route through the Tsingy takes about three hours and one must move very carefully and slowly. One has to wear shoes such as trainers with a good grip as well as support.

It is best to have a camera bag in a backpack as one needs both hands in order to negotiate the way through the Tsingy. They are amazing formations which have their own ecosystem living in them – figs and vines and creepers somehow manage to find a foothold in a small crevice and then send shoots and roots down through to the ground. There are also pacypodiums here.   The Tsingy create their own ecosystem and environment and with the combination of pools of water, and hot rocks and an overall hot environment, the air is very humid and the vegetation thrives.

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