Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park: The Complete Guide

Tsingy De Bemaraha In Madagascar
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Tsingy de Bemaraha NP Reception

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Madagascar

Madagascar is sometimes called the eighth continent because of the uniqueness of its geology and the sheer number of endemic species. Nowhere represents this otherworldliness better than Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, located in the northwest of the island in the remote Melaky region. Covering some 579 square miles (1,500 square kilometers), the park is dominated by two incredible limestone plateaus known as Great Tsingy and Little Tsingy. These are interspersed with areas of dry deciduous forest, savannah, lakes, and mangroves, creating an astounding variety of different habitats for the park’s flora and fauna to thrive in. Because of its uniqueness, Tsingy de Bemaraha was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.  

At the heart of the park are Great and Little Tsingy—fantasy landscapes comprised of countless razor-sharp limestone spires and pinnacles. “Tsingy” is an indigenous Malagasy word that roughly translates as “where one cannot walk barefoot”—an apt moniker considering the plateaus’ intimidating appearance. Their formation began approximately 200 million years ago when the limestone seabed rose to create a plateau that was gradually eroded by groundwater into a labyrinthine series of caves, gorges, and ravines. Because the erosion occurred both horizontally and vertically, the remaining limestone was shaped into the needle-like structures we see today.

Things to Do

The dramatic topography of the park’s badlands means that the conventional jeep safaris popular in other African countries like Kenya and Tanzania are impossible. For this reason, the park remained largely unvisited by tourists until the late 1990s, a network of aerial suspension bridges were built and made it possible for visitors to climb from one peak to the next. Today, several routes exist that can be explored with the help of a trained guide and a climbing harness. These trails are challenging in places and a head for heights and relatively good fitness levels are required.

Apart from the extraterrestrial landscapes and adventurous hikes, one of the park’s greatest attractions is the chance to see animals that you cannot see anywhere else on Earth. Up to 85 percent of the flora and fauna found within Tsingy de Bemaraha is endemic to Madagascar, and 47 percent is locally endemic to the region. Lemurs are one of the highlights for visitors, with 11 different kinds living within the park’s boundaries. Other animals you may see include the western falanouc, the cat-like fossa, the ring-tailed mongoose, and the endangered Antsingy leaf chameleon, which only exists in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

The park’s birdlife is just as special. An array of different habitats supports 96 avian species, of which 39 are endemic to Madagascar. Top spots include the near-threatened Madagascan ibis, the Madagascan wood rail, and the beautiful Coquerel’s coua (instantly recognizable by its electric blue eye patches). Keen birders should also keep an eye out for the Madagascan fish eagle, which is critically endangered and thought to be one of the rarest birds on the planet.

Best Hikes & Trails

Half-day and full-day circuits through the limestone forests of Little Tsingy and Great Tsingy are the main highlights of a visit to Tsingy de Bemaraha. Both areas include viewpoints that afford breathtaking panoramas of the karstic landscape and both afford the opportunity to look out for the park’s rare flora and fauna. While some trails are easier than others, all of them are considered strenuous hikes.

  • Anjohimanintsy Trail: Those that want to maximize their time in the park should consider packing their camping gear and tackling the two-day Anjohimanintsy Trail. You'll see giant limestone cathedrals above ground and also descend to underground caverns while hiking this trail. Many tour groups take visitors on this route and provide camping gear for hikers.
  • Ranotsara Trail: This difficult trail is only 2 miles but takes about four to six hours to complete. You'll get amazing panoramic views of the park and also cross a 60-foot suspension bridge hanging 230 feet over the ground below, making it a favorite for daredevils.
  • Andadoany Trail: This is one of the—relatively—easier trails in the park. It takes about four hours but doesn't require any ropes climbing. You'll walk through canyons and rocky labyrinths, and it's ideal for getting a taste of everything in the park.

Where to Camp

You can opt to camp at campsites within the park itself to fully immerse yourself in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. Since most travelers likely aren't lugging camping equipment around with them across Madagascar, the camps within the park offer tents and other necessary items to rent. If you book a tour in the park that lasts longer than a day, your camping accommodations will be taken care of.

Where to Stay Nearby

There are several accommodation options in the immediate vicinity of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. Most visitors who aren't camping out in the park stay in the village of Bekopaka, which has several accommodation options and is located right at the entrance of the national park for easy access.

  • Olympe de Bemaraha: This tropical-vibe hotel offers comfortable rooms, bungalows, and family apartments to suit a range of different budgets, as well as a restaurant, swimming pool, and a covered terrace overlooking the scenic Manambolo River.
  • Orchidée de Bemaraha: Rooms at this sustainability-focused lodge range from luxury apartments to eco-bungalows. The fusion restaurant at the hotel serves a blend of flavors from local cultures, including Malagasy, French, Creole, and Chinese.
  • Le Soleil des Tsingy: The most extravagant option is Le Soleil des Tsingy, owned by the tour operator Scott Dunn. These boutique bungalows all have private terraces that overlook the forest canopy, and you can book tours directly through your hotel to explore the park.

How to Get There

The park is notoriously difficult to get to (which for many just adds to the sense of adventure). The easiest way is to book a tour with a company that can arrange your transfers, usually from the west coast town of Morondava. If you choose to stay in one of the lodges in Bekopaka, many of them can also help guests with transportation from other cities in Madagascar.

If you plan on visiting independently, the most reliable way to get there is to hire a 4x4 vehicle and drive along the RN8 road from Morondava towards Belo-sur-Tsiribihina. Once you arrive, turn off towards the village of Bekopaka, which is home to the park’s headquarters and the office where you purchase entry permits and hire guides and climbing equipment. Be aware that the road is in terrible condition and includes a river crossing that can delay your journey significantly—plan to spend an entire day on the road. 

Alternative options include traveling on the RN1 road from the capital city Antananarivo to Tsiroanomandidy, and from there navigating rural back roads to the park entrance.

It’s also possible to book a river cruise up the Manambolo River and into the park, or to fly in on a charter aircraft. 

Accessibility

Exploring Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park requires intense hiking on rocky and undeveloped trails. Around Madagascar in general, there is very little infrastructure for people with disabilities.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is only open during the April to November dry season. During the wet season, the dirt roads that lead to the park entrance are susceptible to flooding and often become impassable, cutting the park off from the rest of the country.
  • The Grandy Tsingy is only open from June to November, so this is the best time of year to visit. The weather is slightly cooler and malaria-carrying mosquitoes are less prevalent.
  • Located to the south of Little Tsingy, Manambolo Gorge also deserves a place on your itinerary. A green oasis of waterfalls and pristine forest, it is best explored via dugout canoe, with stops along the way to explore natural swimming pools and caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The family tomb of the Vazimba tribe (who lived in the park in the 17th century) is housed in one of these caves.
  • If you're visiting Madagascar in the rainy season when Tsingy National Park is inaccessible, consider a trip to Isalo National Park or Ranomafana National Park. Both are open year-round and much easier to get to.
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Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park: The Complete Guide