Ranomafana National Park: The Complete Guide

Dusk in the valley.Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar.

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Ranomafana National Park

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Visitors come from far and wide to admire the astonishing array of rare flora and fauna, including at least 12 species of lemurs, in Madagascar's Ranomafana National Park. It was the discovery of one of these endemic primates (the golden bamboo lemur) in 1986 that led to the park’s establishment five years later. Today, Ranomafana National Park continues to be at the forefront of scientific research and is the home of the cutting-edge international research station, Centre ValBio. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular stops on any Madagascan itinerary, due to its proximity to primary highway RN7. Named after the Malagasy phrase meaning “hot water,” Ranomafana National Park contains several thermal springs within its 160 square miles (415 square kilometers) of montane rainforest (cloud forest). A visit to Madagascar's third-largest park will not disappoint those looking to experience the wonders of an authentic rainforest, filled with animals, birds, rare flora, and adventure activities galore.

Things to Do

Most visitors' biggest draw to Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park is to see its plethora of iconic lemur species in the wild. You can hire a guide to hike one of the trails in the park that consist of either a few hour-jaunt or a multi-day journey. Along the way, you're sure to spot these creatures, as well as several species of birds, and interesting rainforest flora, offering great opportunities for nature photography.

Many visitors pack their swimsuits and escape the humidity with a dip in one of the park’s thermal pools or streams. You can also cool off by hiring a local outfitter, like Varibolo Tours, to take you on a kayak excursion on the Namorona River, which bisects the park.

Don't miss the chance to go on a night walk offered by one of the park’s official guides. While you won’t venture into the forest itself, the walks take place on park roads where your guide uses a flashlight to scan the surrounding trees for mouse lemurs, chameleons, and other nocturnal creatures

If you have an interest in scientific research, arrange for a guided tour of Centre ValBio. Madagascar’s leading field research center occupies a state-of-the-art campus near the entrance of the park and welcomes scientists and students from all over the world. It’s run by Stony Brook University in New York and public tours must be arranged in advance. 

Best Hikes & Trails

The park is best experienced on foot via seven established hiking trails, ranging from short half-day routes to more challenging three-day expeditions. The shorter routes see lots of foot traffic during peak season, so consider a longer trek if you want to spot Ranomafana’s shyest residents during the busiest travel times. 

  • Varibolomena Circuit: This easy four-hour hiking loop is popular for its views of scenic cascades and waterfalls, and also for the heightened chance of spotting the golden bamboo lemur. Along this route, you can cool off by taking a dip in the Namorona River.
  • Sahamalaotra Circuit: This easily accessible 6-mile (10-kilometer) hike takes you across flat ground and through the dense rainforest where many species of lemur lurk. This is also a perfect haven for night dwellers, like the park's various varieties of reptiles and frogs.
  • Varijatsy Circuit: The 9-mile (15-kilometer) Varijatsy Circuit can be completed in a long day or split up into two days. Along this route, expect to see waterfalls, lemurs, and several species of birds. This trail ends at thermal baths, complete with a swimming pool—a perfect spot for taking a quick dip or a long soak.
  • Soarano Circuit: The longest and most demanding route in the park is the 12-mile (20-kilometer) Soarano Circuit which takes you through wildlife-filled primary forest and past traditional Tanala villages. This trek can be accomplished over three days and will offer the most remote experience in the park.

Wildlife Viewing

Madagascar’s guaranteed lemur population gives park travelers a memorable experience. Possible sightings include endangered species like the aye-aye, a rodent-like lemur, and the Milne-Edwards’s sifaka, a larger species of primate, the critically endangered Sibree’s dwarf lemur, and the golden bamboo lemur. One of Ranomafana’s rarest residents is the greater bamboo lemur, which was believed to have gone extinct until scientists discovered a remnant population living in the park in 1986. Other mammals include seven different kinds of endemic tenrec, a small hedgehog-like mammal, and smaller carnivores, like the Malagasy striped civet. At night, out come the bats, geckos, chameleons, and countless species of colorful frogs.

Birding & Flora

For birders, Ranomafana is one of the most rewarding destinations on the island. The park is home to at least 115 avian species, 30 of which are only found in this region of Madagascar. Special birds to look out for range from raptors, like the Henst’s goshawk and the Madagascar long-eared owl, to smaller birds, like the rufous-headed ground-roller and the velvet asity. There’s also plenty to keep novice botanists entertained, from beautiful orchids and birds' nests, to common ferns and exotic carnivorous plants.

Where to Camp

For those who relish the adventure of sleeping in the jungle, one park headquarters campground and several backcountry campsites are located inside the park. The campground contains only a handful of sheltered sites, complete with a wooden floor for your tent, and rustic amenities. The backcountry sites are located along the more remote hiking trails.

You can rent all the gear you need for backcountry camping at the park's headquarters and hire a porter to hike ahead of you and set up your camp. The porter will also take down your camp the next day. (This is highly recommended, as it provides a source of income to remote village residents.) Pack all the food and water you need for your trip, as the backcountry sites are primitive and contain no amenities except for tent shelters.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you plan on staying near Ranomafana National Park overnight, you have a choice of several accommodation options, some right on the park's boundary, and others down the road in the village of Ranomafana. Lodging in this area fills up quickly during peak season, so make sure to book well in advance. 

  • Setam Lodge: Located within a five-minute drive from the park's entrance, Setam Lodge has 20 guest rooms with air-conditioning, hot water, a private bathroom, and a terrace overlooking the jungle. There is an on-site restaurant and free Wi-Fi, which can sometimes be spotty.
  • Hotel Thermal Ranomafana: Located in the village of Ranomafana, this clean and comfortable lodging option is about a 15- to 20-minute drive from the park. The remodeled rooms give you the feel of being nestled in the jungle, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and include air conditioning, an en-suite bathroom, a television, a safe, and free Wi-Fi.
  • Le Grenat Hotel Ranomafana: The Grenat Hotel offers several different types of accommodation options, including private bungalows situated among flourishing gardens. The on-site restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This hotel is an affordable option for those wanting to stay near the park with a view.

How to Get There

In a country known for its remote nature areas, Ranomafana National Park is surprisingly easy to get to. The closest major city is Fianarantsoa (the regional capital of Haute Matsiatra), located 40 miles (65 kilometers) to the southwest. From there, take the RN7 north until you reach the rural community of Alakamisy Ambohimaha, and then turn right onto the RN45, which goes through the park to the town of Ranomafana. From Antananarivo, the park is an 8-hour drive south along the RN7, from which you can connect to either the RN45 or the RN25. Both of the smaller roads transect the park and are drivable year-round. If you don’t want to rent a car, travel to Ranomafana via taxi from Antananarivo (Tana) or Fianarantsoa. 

Tips for Your Visit

  • In order to gain access to Ranomafana National Park, you must first stop at the park office to pay your entry fee and to hire the services of a local guide. Guide fees depend on the hiking trail you choose, the number of people in your party, and the length of your stay in the park. 
  • Like most of eastern Madagascar, Ranomafana National Park experiences a warm and humid climate all year round. Even in the dry season (April to December) rain falls on an almost daily basis. Plan for this by packing waterproof shoes and a rain jacket.
  • Pack along warm layers, as well, as the park’s high altitude means chilly temperatures at night.
  • Early July through early September is considered peak season at Ranomafana National Park. Expect loads of tourists and expensive accommodation prices.
  • October and November are the best months to see baby lemurs, while September through December is breeding season for the park’s birds. And, January through March is great for reptile sightings.
  • Anti-malaria prophylactics are recommended year-round when visiting this park.
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Ranomafana National Park: The Complete Guide