Isalo National Park Adventure In Madagascar

Isalo National Park is located in the Fianarantsoa Province of Madagascar and it sprawls over 815 sq kilometers. The landscape is a geological wonderland that contains wildly eroded sandstone formations, deep canyons, gorges and shady oasis. As a result of the natural erosion the landscape is quite spectacular and presents some great photo opportunities.

Isalo National Park
After entering Isalo National park visitors are greeted with an amazing view of the landscape.

Location of Isalo National Park

The park is located in south central Madagascar about 700 kilometers from Antananarivo. However, driving from Toliara it is only about a 3-4 hour drive to reach Isalo National Park.  We had traveled from Anakao to Toliara early in the morning and did the drive from Toliara to Isalo in the afternoon. 

Map of Southern Madagascar

Isalo National Park Map
Isalo National Park Map

The Madagascar countryside has some interesting landmarks such as the giant baobab trees. We were able to stop and have a look at them on the way to Isalo because they are adjacent to the road.

Plants in Madagascar include baobab trees in isalo national park
This giant baobab tree sits roadside while traveling from Toliara.

Hiking in Isalo National Park

One of the reasons that an Isalo National Park map is hard to come by is because all visitors must hire a local guide to enter the park. As a result of the compulsory guide service we didn’t need to worry about navigation inside the park because the guide was leading the way.

After we acquired our guide in Ranohira they drove us to the nearby trail head outside of town. Transportation was interesting because the vehicle seemed like it may blow up at anytime. Additionally, the road was in very poor condition and took some navigation skills. However, we arrived safely after about 20 minutes.

Stone Graves of the Bara People

One of the first things that we encountered after entering the park was the ancient stone grave sites of the Bara people. The Bara are indigenous to this part of Madagascar and they still inhabit the area surrounding Isalo National Park.

They consider the sandstone caves and cliffs inside of Isalo National park to be sacred. As a result, in certain sections of the park ancient burial sites can be found. A unique element of the graves is that they are imposed into the surrounding cliffs. They are not easily approached but I was still able to get some decent photos.

Stone Graves of the Bara People
Some of the Bara grave sites were low but others were imposed at great heights into the surrounding sandstone cliffs.
Bara Cliff Cemetery
If you look closely at this photo you can see the stone Bara grave imposed into a very high cliff on the center right portion of this photo.

Highlands of Isalo National Park

The first leg of our Isalo National Park hiking journey went through the highlands where we enjoyed the beautiful eroded sandstone massifs. 

Isalo National Park
A view point on the first leg of our journey into Isalo National Park.

A shady oasis was located along the route and we stopped off for a swim. Feeling refreshed, we then proceeded down the trail and after a couple hours of hiking we began the descent into a huge canyon.

Shady Oasis at Isalo National Park
Shady Oasis seen along the hiking trail.
Oasis at Isalo National park
There were several oasis along the trail where we could cool off and go swimming in the shade of palm trees.

The guide then brought us to the rim of a huge canyon where we would begin our gradual descent to the bottom. With the guide in the lead we followed him down the trail into the canyon below.

Isalo National Park
Descending into the canyon below.

Isalo National Park Animals and Insects

Our guide had a natural inclination to see the unseeable flora and fauna. As a result, we were able to investigate this insect that is perfectly camouflaged to look like a small branch.

Can you spot it below? This natural camouflage is perfect cover for these insects among the plants in Madagascar.

Stick insect hides among plants in Madagascar - Isalo National Park
The park guide brought this to our attention or we would have walked right by it.
Isalo National Park Animals
Stick insect hiding in plain sight.

The Lemurs at Isalo National Park

Another peculiar species of Isalo National Park animals is the lemur. The lemurs live in the canyon lowlands and tended to accumulate at the entrance to Maky Canyon. In the local dialect, “maky” is the word for lemur. Maky Canyon is a deep narrow gorge that contains waterfalls and small fresh water pools. 

There were two different species of lemur that we encountered at the canyon head. First, we encountered the ring tailed lemurs and then we came across another lemur subspecies called the brown lemur. For me, the brown lemurs were a new experience because I had already encountered the ring tailed lemurs at Tsimanampetsotsa Nature Reserve.

Unfortunately, these Isalo National Park animals did not get along. Indeed, lemur subspecies do not intermingle and when a brown lemur approached the group of ring tailed lemurs there was an altercation.

lemurs at Isalo National Park
This brown lemur was venturing too close to the group of ring tailed lemurs.
fighting lemurs at Maky Canyon
The ring tailed lemurs had the brown lemur outnumbered and they were able to frighten it away.
ring tailed lemur Maky Canyon
A vigilant ring tailed lemur keeps a look out.
brown lemur Maky Canyon
Brown lemur poses defiantly for a photo in maky canyon.

More Photos of Isalo National Park Animals

The 2 groups of Isalo National Park animals were both very approachable and we were able to get some great Madagascar animal pictures. The lemur subspecies are also very sociable within their own groups and they tend to cuddle up when they are cold.

Ring tailed lemurs at Maky canyon
Cuddling ring tailed lemurs at the head of maky canyon.
Maky Canyon, ring tailed lemur
Ring tailed lemur wraps up with it’s own tail.
brown lemurs Maky Canyon
Small group of brown lemurs.

Hiking in Maky Canyon

We hiked through the entrance of maky canyon and made our way through the narrow gorge until we reached the waterfall at the end.

Maky Canyon
Entering Maky Canyon.
Waterfall Maki Canyon
We hiked in to the small waterfall located at the end of the Maky Canyon gorge.
Waterfall Maky Canyon

Inside the Maky Canyon Gorge there were crevices and nooks that emanated a surreal atmosphere. This was a result of the turquoise water and high cliffs surrounding us on all sides.

Sunset on the Madagascar Landscape

Spending the day at Isalo made a great adventure in our opinion. Additionally, the Isalo National Park animals created some great photo opportunities and likewise for Maky Canyon. However, the day was not yet over. We left the park and now returned to our lodge.

We stayed at Isalo Rock Lodge and the landscape in the surrounding area is very photogenic. Therefore, because the sun was going down we decided to visit some of the nearby vantage points for a few sunset photos.

As usual, the best photo opportunities come out when the sun is low on the horizon and you don’t have to go far to get some good pics. Unfortunately, there are not many Isalo National Park hotels to choose from. Isalo Rock Lodge had some faults but it was the best at integrating with the natural environment. However, accommodation is quite limited in this area. Unfortunately, I do not think camping is a very good option.

Sunset landscape
Sunset Photos in the Madagascar Highlands
Sunset landscape

Isalo Sunset

The hiking opportunities in the park were fairly limited due to the fact that there were established trails and compulsory guide service. However, this is necessary for preservation and important for posterity.

The sun had set on our trip to Isalo and I was putting my girlfriend on a plane home (permanently) and traveling to Fort Dauphin. Indeed, it was time to pursue the real reason why I came to Madagascar – surfing.