ISALO NATIONASL PARK.
Madagascar is among the most popular nature destination, Isalo National Park, lies amidst the Jurassic-era highlands of the country’s southwest. Isalo National Park was established in 1962, it protects over 190,000 acres of land dominated by a dramatic sandstone massif that has been eroded by time and weather into an otherworldly collection of plateaus, canyons, gorges, and pinnacles. Iron and mineral deposits stain the rock formations a rainbow of different colors, and the dense forests and grassland plains that surround them are filled with unique flora and fauna.
FLORA AND FAUNA AT ISALO NATIONAL PARK.
The park is home to about 80 species of birds (of which 70% are endemic including the rare Benson’s rock-thrush which is found only here), 35 species of reptiles and several endemic frogs. The harsh landscape means that the wildlife is not as prominent as the other popular parks of Madagascar. Nevertheless, in the forested canyons, look out for the lemurs – the Ring tailed lemur, Brown lemurs and the Sifaka.
Isalo is more known for its spectacular flora. There are several local endemic plants among the 500 species which are found within Isalo, such as the elephant´s foot (the miniature Baobab – genus Pachypodium), the salotse (Ichnolepsis graminifolia) and some rare palms and aloe species. The Salotse is the only species in the genus Icholepsis and is found only in Isalo!
An interesting common tree here is the Tapia tree (Uapaca bojeri) – again a species endemic to Madagascar. This short resilient tree has evolved to withstand the constant wildfires in this arid environment. Locally, the Tapia (pronounced ‘ta-pee’) plays an important role in the economy and culture of the region. The Tapia leaves are the only food of the silkworm ‘landibe’ (Borocera madagascariensis). Local weavers collect the cacoons and spin the raw silk into shawls, cloths and shrouds to bury the dead.
Located in the southern part of the Morondava Basin, the sedimentary Isalo Group is the main geological formation of the park, forming the Isalo Massif.  The group is up to 6,000m thick, of Triassic to early Jurassic origin and made up of coarse-grained sandstone deposited by braided streams. The Isalo Massif has been eroded by wind and water, resulting in deep canyons, sandstone domes, flat-topped mountains and “uniform” mountains – steep sided outcrops that have been dissected into odd-shapes. These odd shapes are referred to as “uniform “, based on the French word for “carved”.
Isalo National Park is in the arid western part of Madagascar, within the western dry deciduous forest bioclimatic zone. The area has a hot, dry climate with two seasons; a cooler-drier season and a warmer-wetter season. Each lasts from 5–7 months. Temperatures range between 15–32 °C (15–32 °C), the average annual temperature is 21.8 °C (71.2 °F) and the average rainfall is 791 millimetres (31.1 inches) (at Ranohira). Precipitation is lowest in June, averaging 2 mm (0.079 in). December thru February are typically the wettest months. Rainfall in January averages 199 millimetres (7.8 inches), but the 2018/2019 wet season saw heavy rainfall, with 526 mm (20.7 in) of rain falling in January alone.
ATTRACTIONS AT ISALO NATIONAL PARK.
Isalo National Park is more famous for its scenery than its wildlife, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of fascinating animals to look out for. Interesting mammals include Madagascar specials like the cat-like fossa, as well as two species of tenrec and two species of civet. The park’s pristine forests provide a home for no fewer than 14 lemur species, ranging from the iconic ring-tailed lemur to the endangered Verreaux’s sifaka. If you choose to stay overnight, you also have a chance of seeing nocturnal primates like the endangered Coquerel’s giant mouse lemur and the red-tailed sportive lemur.
The park is also known for its reptiles and amphibians, with top spots including the native white-lipped bright-eyed frog, Madagascar boa, and colorfully decorated Malagasy rainbow frog. Over 80 bird species have been recorded at Isalo, of which 27 are endemic to Madagascar. The park is especially famous in birding circles as one of the best places to spot the indigenous Benson’s rock thrush. Isalo’s plant life is equally unique. Botanists should look out for specials such as the elephant’s foot plant and the Aloe isaloensis, which takes its scientific name from the name of the park and its massif.
ACTIVITIES AT ISALO NATIONAL PARK.
Hiking is the main activity in Isalo National Park and you’ll be required to hire a local guide to lead you through the park. If you’re not traveling as part of an organized Madagascar tour, it’s relatively easy to visit Isalo National Park independently. You can pay entry fees, book accommodation, and hire guides and porters at the park office, located in the nearby village of Ranohira. Some tour operators also offer options to explore the park by horse or mountain bike.
Best Hikes & Trails
The Isalo massif is crisscrossed with breathtaking hiking routes. Together, they offer the opportunity to encounter lemurs, escape the heat with a dip in a shaded natural swimming hole, or visit the sacred tombs of the Bara tribe that traditionally inhabited the area. It is possible to walk to the trailhead from Ranohira, but it’s better to take a car or hire a driver to save time.
Piscine Naturelle Trail: One of the most popular trails, this route will take you to Piscine Naturelle, a limpid pool fringed by old-world pandanus trees and fed by a crystalline waterhole. This route is easily combined with a visit to the Canyon des Singes via a hike past the park’s multicolored ranges and through forest inhabited by diurnal lemur and sifaka species.
Namaza Circuit and the Cascades des Nymphes: This route will take you to beautiful natural swimming holes, while the Canyon des Makis et Rats route combines natural wonders with the cultural heritage of the Bara people. Choose this trail, and you’ll find yourself in a former royal village complete with the ruins of a palace wall, royal baths, and burial places.
Portuguese Cave Route: This route is for keen hikers with plenty of energy and high fitness levels. It’s the ultimate way to immerse yourself in Isalo’s Jurassic landscape. It takes you on a four-day trek to and from the cave in the far north of the park, through the Sahanafa Forest with its rich animal and plant life.
ACOMMODATION ARROUND ISALO NATIONAL PARK.
Isalo Rock Lodge
Ronohira is 18.2kilometrs from the Isalo National Park situated in the Sandstone Mountains, Isalo Rock Lodge overlooks the Isalo National Park. The property offers an outdoor pool and restaurant.
The tastefully decorated rooms at Isalo Rock Lodge feature tea-and-coffee making facilities, air conditioning, armchair and table, and a private bathroom with bath and shower. The Superior Room category have 24-hour electricity.
Local and European cuisine is served at the restaurant and drinks can be enjoyed at the lounge and pool bar.
You will find a shared lounge at the property and staff can assist with booking tours and activities. Guests can enjoy various activities in the surroundings, including cycling and hiking. The lodge also offers bike hire.
Ranohira is 11 km from Isalo Rock Lodge and Toliara is 226 km away and the lodge can be reached with a 4×4 vehicle in 3 hours from Toliara Airport.
Hotel H1 Isalo.
Hotel H1 Isalo is 1 kilometer from the town of Ranohira, and its 8 km from Isalo National Park to Ranohira, Hotel H1 Isalo boasts views of the mountains. Some of Isalo’s natural pools are within 6 km of the property.
Each room at Hotel H1 Isalo is equipped with a fan and a desk, and the private bathrooms are fitted with a shower. Guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or relax on the sun terrace.
Hotel H1 Isalo has a 24-hour front desk and offers free WiFi in the restaurant and reception areas. The hotel has free private parking.
ALTERNATIVELY, THERE ARE CAMPING SITES
There are two large campsites within the park, both of which offer shared toilets, showers, and barbecue facilities. Spending a night at one of them is a great way to experience the park in all its rustic glory—especially as the campsites are often visited by ring-tailed and sifaka lemurs. Overnight camping can be arranged with your tour operator and tents and meals are typically provided. Namaza Campground is located on a plateau along the way of the Black and Blue Pools and Analatapia Campground is closer to Piscine Naturelle.
Tips for Your Visit at Isalo National park.
Before heading into Isalo National Park, pay a visit to Maison de l’Isalo, a small museum dedicated to the region’s geological and cultural heritage located just south of Ranohira in the small village of Zahavola.
If you choose to self-drive, don’t forget to stop off along the way at La Fenêtre de l’Isalo, a natural rock window on the park’s southern border that’s famous for framing the setting sun.
Isalo National Park has a dry, tropical climate with very little rain and temperatures that frequently exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) no matter what time of year you visit. Because of this, you must pack adequate protection in the form of sunscreen, sunglasses, light clothing, and plenty of water.
Unlike Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Isalo is accessible year-round and there is no optimum time to travel in terms of weather. Be aware that the park can get busy during the peak tourist seasons (July to August and December); and if you plan on traveling during these times, it’s a good idea to book accommodation well in advance.
HOW TO GET TO ISALO NATIONAL PARK.
The town of Ranohira is the gateway to Isalo National Park and the closest big cities are Toliara, which is 150 miles (241 kilometers to the southwest), and Fianarantsoa which is 170 miles (273 kilometers) to the northeast. All three settlements are connected by the RN7, Madagascar’s biggest and best-maintained road which makes access to Isalo easy. From the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo, it’s a 15-hour drive to the park along the RN7. and stopping along the way at other Madagascar highlights such as Ranomafana National Park and the ex-colonial city of Antsirabe. Alternatively, there are typically flights from Tana to Toliara and from there, you can hire a car or take a taxi to Ranohira.