Ranomafana National Park occupies over 160 square miles (415 square kilometers) of montane rainforest in southeastern Madagascar, making it the third largest park in the country. It’s also one of the most accessible thanks to its proximity to primary highway RN7. Visitors come from far and wide to admire its astonishing array of rare flora and fauna, including no fewer than 12 lemur species. 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, it continues to be at the forefront of scientific research and is the home of the cutting edge Centre ValBio. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular stops on any Madagascan itinerary. Named after the Malagasy phrase meaning “hot water,” Ranomafana National Park includes thermal springs on its long list of natural wonders.
For most visitors, the biggest reason to visit the park is the chance to see 12 of Madagascar’s iconic lemur species in the wild. Possible sightings include endangered species like the aye-aye and the Milne-Edwards’s sifaka; and critically endangered species like the Sibree’s dwarf lemur and the golden bamboo lemur. One of Ranomafana’s rarest residents is the greater bamboo lemur which was believed to be extinct until 1986, when scientists discovered a remnant population living in the park. Other mammals include seven different kinds of endemic tenrec and small carnivores such as the Malagasy striped civet.
For birders, Ranomafana is one of the most rewarding destinations on the island. It 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 herpetologists entertained with 90 amphibian and 60 reptile species including an astonishing variety of colorful frogs and chameleons. From beautiful orchids to exotic carnivorous plants, Ranomafana’s flora is worth getting excited about too.
Top Hiking Trails
The park is best experienced on foot and there are five established hiking trails to explore, ranging from shorter half-day routes to challenging three-day expeditions. The shortest treks are the Varibolomena and Sahamalaotra routes, the first of which is popular for its scenic waterfall and its heightened chances for spotting golden bamboo lemurs. The 9-mile (15-kilometer) Varijatsy circuit is more challenging but rewards hikers with the chance to take a dip in a thermal swimming pool; the Vohiparara circuit is longer still and includes a stop at one of Ranomafana’s sacred lakes. The longest and most demanding route is the Soarano circuit. It takes you through wildlife-filled primary forest and past traditional Tanala villages, and takes around three days to complete.
The shorter routes can get busy in peak season, so if you’re traveling at this time of year, consider a longer trek for the best chances of spotting Ranomafana’s shyest residents.
Other Must-Do Activities
Ranomafana National Park is a haven for birding, botany, herpetology and nature photography. Many visitors pack their swimsuits and escape the humidity with a dip in one of the park’s thermal pools or streams; while local operators like Varibolo Tours offer kayaking excursions on the Namorona River, which bisects the park. One activity that should not be missed is the night walk offered by the park’s official guides. You won’t go into the forest itself; instead, the walks take place on one of the park roads with the guide using a flashlight to scan the surrounding trees for mouse lemurs, chameleons and other nocturnal creatures.
If you have an interest in the ongoing scientific work being done at Ranomafana, arrange 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 from all over the world. It’s run by Stony Brook University in New York and public tours must be arranged in advance.
Weather & When to Go
Like most of eastern Madagascar, Ranomafana National Park is warm and humid all year round. Even in the dry season (April to December) rain falls on an almost daily basis; however, the rains are lighter and shorter during this time. Early July to early September is peak season and visitors who travel during these months can expect longer dry spells, lower humidity and fewer insects. However, this is also the park’s busiest and most expensive time in terms of accommodation. Ultimately, the best time to travel depends on your interests. October and November are the best months to see baby lemurs, while September to December is breeding season for the park’s birds. January to March is great for reptile sightings — while April is usually nice and quiet.
Whenever you decide to travel, make sure to pack waterproof shoes and rain jackets. The park’s altitude means that it can get chilly at night; while anti-malaria prophylactics are recommended all year round.
Getting There & Rates
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 northwards until you reach the rural community of Alakamisy Ambohimaha, then turn right onto the RN45 which leads through the park to the town of Ranomafana. From Antananarivo, the park is an 8-hour drive southwards along the RN7 and onto the RN45 or RN25. Both of these smaller roads transect the park and are drivable all year round. If you don’t have your own car, you can travel to Ranomafana via taxi-brousse from Tana or Fianarantsoa.
The park office and entrance are located 3.5 miles (6 kilometers) from Ramofana town in the village of Ambodiamontana. You must stop at the park office to pay your entry fee (Ar 25,000 for one day or Ar 37,000 for two days) and to hire the services of a local guide. Guide fees depend on which hiking trail you choose and how many people there are in your group.
Where to Stay
If you plan on staying at or near the park overnight, you have a choice of accommodation options. For those that relish the adventure of sleeping in the jungle there are several campsites inside the park; while a rustic lodge located next to the park office provides basic facilities including hot water and shared showers. For those that require a few more creature comforts, there are a handful of hotels near Ranomafana town. Setam Lodge is a top pick. It’s conveniently situated just one kilometer from the park entrance and has 20 guest rooms with air-conditioning, hot water, a private bathroom and a terrace overlooking the jungle.
Hotel Thermal Ranomafana is a clean and comfortable alternative with a restaurant and bar on-site. Reviewers also love tranquil B&B Cristo for its welcoming owners, home-cooked Malagasy food and scenic riverside location. The latter is a 20-minute drive from the park. All accommodation options fill up quickly in peak season so make sure to book well in advance.