Amber Mountain National Park: The Complete Guide

Cascade Sacrée in Amber Mountain National Park, Madagascar

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حديقة جبل آمبر القومية

Address
95M2+82J, Joffreville, Madagascar

Established in 1958, Amber Mountain National Park is located 30 kilometers south of Diego Suarez, in the far northern tip of Madagascar. The park resides on the top of a mountain of volcanic rock, making it ecologically distinct from the surrounding lowlands. The park's temperate high-altitude climate, with an average rainfall of 141 inches of rain a year, makes it a haven for varied species of flora and fauna, and provides a stark contrast to the semi-arid climate below. Amber Mountain National Park consists of 71 square miles (185 square kilometers) of lush forest intersected by life-giving streams and rivers. The park is famous for its waterfalls and its scenic crater lakes, as visitors venture here to take in the scenery while hoping to spy some of the countless endemic animal and bird species that live in the region. Known, in the island's native language as Montagne d'Ambre National Park, this park provides a unique destination for intrepid explorers looking to tack some adventure onto their Madagascar itinerary

Things to Do

Amber Mountain National Park is perhaps the best park to visit if you want to embark on a self-guided foot safari. While you won't spot any of Africa's "big five" on this island, the park will reward you with plenty of lemur species, as well as mongoose, reptiles, and butterflies.

Take a hike on one of the park’s plentiful trails to discover cascading waterfalls, varied plant life, high-altitude crater lakes. Mountain climbers will also get their fill of adventure by taking a multi-day backpacking trek on the Amber Mountain Trail.

Camping can be found at two designated campgrounds within the park, or you can backcountry camp along trails at primitive sites. Make sure you pack along all your needs—like a backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, as well as food and water—as few services exist in this park.

You can also stay in the neighboring town of Joffreville located 3 kilometers, or 1.8 miles, from the park's entrance. This French Colonial village boasts period-dated architecture and a laid-back vibe. Several restaurants and lodging options in this authentic town will allow you to immerse yourself in the Malagasy culture.

Best Hikes & Trails

Don your hiking boots and explore 19 miles (30 kilometers) of marked hiking trails in Amber Mountain National Park. Routes range from easy one-hour walks to challenging eight-hour treks. You can embark on an overnight camping adventure by combining several trails, or by hiking up Amber Mountain for an extended backcountry experience. Very little information exists on the park trails, however, once you get there, all routes are clearly marked

  • Cascade Sacrée ( Sacred Waterfall ) Trail: This is one of the easiest and most popular trails in the park—it leads to a waterfall surrounded by a fern-fringed grotto. Along the way, you may see native birds and lemurs.
  • Cascade Antomboka Trail: This trail takes a few hours to half a day to complete, depending on your pace. It involves a challenging hike to the top of a narrow waterfall with a spectacular 260-foot (80-meter) drop.
  • Lac de la Coupe Verte Trail: This out-and-back hike takes the whole day, but rewards you with a green crater lake surrounded by dense trees.
  • Amber Mountain Trail: On a clear day, a hike to this peak offers breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding forest. Many visitors choose to spread the hike over two days, with a camping trip in between, although it can be tackled in one long day hike.
  • Mille Arbres (Path of a Thousand Trees): This up-and-down route takes you off the beaten path and into a forest of towering exotic tree species. Animal lovers will enjoy this hike, as it offers a great opportunity to spot the ring-tailed mongoose.

Wildlife Viewing

Amber Mountain National Park contains three different types of ecosystems: montane rainforest, mid-altitude rainforest, and dry deciduous forest. This range of habitats makes the park one of the most biologically diverse places in the country. Twenty-five mammal species make their home here, including the endemic ring-tailed mongoose, the Malagasy civet, and eight different species of lemur. Resident lemur species, like the crowned lemur, Sandford's brown lemur, and the aye-aye are all classified as endangered, while the native northern sportive lemur is on the critically endangered list. A hike through the dense forest could likely land you the opportunity of viewing one, if not many, of these primates.

The park is also a haven for reptile species, housing 59 different types of frogs, snakes, geckos, and chameleons. Keep an eye out for the endemic Amber Mountain leaf chameleon—one of the smallest reptiles on earth. And, of the park's 75 bird species, 35 are endemic, including the long-billed bernieria and the pitta-like ground roller. Birders come from far and wide for the chance to spot the endangered Amber Mountain rock thrush, which is native only to one particular area of the Amber Mountain massif, itself.

Where to Camp

If you plan to stay longer than a day, you can opt to sleep inside the park at one of two campsites. Campement Anilotra and Campement d'Andrafiabe both have basic facilities, including toilets, picnic tables, and running cold water. There is no electricity here and the sites are very rustic, yet the lack of creature comforts is made up for by the beautiful setting and the cheap nightly rates. Staying inside the park also gives you a chance to spot nocturnal animals, like the tiny brown mouse lemur. Don't forget to purchase supplies—such as firewood and food—before entering Amber Mountain National Park, as there are no camp stores inside the park.

Where to Stay Nearby

If primitive camping is not your style, there are a few hotel options located in and around Joffreville that provide a comfortable stay, as well as the option to book guided activities in the region. You can also stay 34 kilometers (21 miles) away in Diego Suarez at a resort-like compound located right on the beach.

  • Nature Lodge: This lodging option offers 12 simple, yet cozy, thatched bungalows, complete with ensuite bathrooms and private decks. The grounds are situated only 2 kilometers from Joffreville and offer panoramic views of the Mozambique Channel and the Indian Ocean. The on-site restaurant and bar offer fresh seafood dishes and exotic cocktails made with local ingredients. Here you can book a guided hike in Amber Mountain National Park, or trips to other sites, like the Ankarana Nature Reserve.
  • Le Domaine de Fontenay: Set within its own nature park in an early 20th-century colonial villa, this Joffreville hotel offers nine beautiful ensuite rooms and one terraced suite. Choose from a twin room with two twin beds, a double room with one double bed, or a suite with a double bed and two pull-out couches. The on-site restaurant offers European cuisine and Malagasy specialties prepared using locally sourced produce.
  • The Mantasaly Resort: About an hour away from the park in Diego Suarez, the Mantasaly Resort is an inclusive stay located right on the beach. Choose from a mini-suite with a double bed and a sofa bed, a triple suite with three single beds, or a superior mini-suite with a double bed and a sofa pull-out. Resort amenities include a pool, a gym, and a playground. The resort also hosts a plethora of activities, like kitesurfing, snorkeling, and kayaking. Room service is available from their on-site restaurant. Here, you can also book a guide to Amber Mountain National Park.

How to Get There

To get to Amber Mountain National Park by air, fly internationally into Madagascar's capital city, Antananarivo. From there, you can book a flight to Antsiranana (also known as Diego Suarez), on the domestic airline Tsaradia, which offers daily direct flights that take approximately two hours.

Most visitors then travel from the port city of Antsiranana onto Joffreville, the gateway town for Amber Mountain National Park, by either a private off-road vehicle or by taxi-brousse (mini-bus). Once in Joffreville, you can pay park entry fees, pick up trail maps, and hire local guides at the town's park office.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Guides are not required for visitors wanting to access Amber Mountain's trails, as they are relatively easy to navigate independently.
  • Park entry fees are more expensive for foreigners than for Malagasy residents, and guides cost extra, depending on the trails you choose and how long you want to spend in the park.
  • Although Amber Mountain National Park enjoys a tropical climate, it's typically much cooler than the surrounding lowlands due to its high elevation. Expect daytime temperatures to range from 68 to 77 degrees F (20 to 25 degrees C).
  • Nights can be cold from June to August, so campers should pack warm clothes and warm sleeping bags.
  • The rainy summer season runs from December to April, during which time access roads may suffer flood damage. However, this is the optimum time for reptile and amphibian sightings.
  • The cooler dry season (from May to November) is best for birdwatching and clear summit views—although it still rains most days.
  • No matter when you travel, make sure to take anti-malaria prophylactics along with you.
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Amber Mountain National Park: The Complete Guide