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Ankarana National Park. A place, where everything is strange and fascinating

The most unique things to see are the tsingy and the caves. Losing yourself in the Ankarana reserve is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It is a spectacularly eroded limestone fortress of sharp ridges, patches of dense tropical jungle, deciduous forest, deep caves and canyons (actually the biggest underground network of Africa with an altogether length of 120 km) and rushing rivers.

During your stay in Ankarana National Park, you will discover the vast subterranean network of the massif which will reveal you a big part of the values of the Antakarana culture. The Park is in fact one of the most visited specially among hikers: it offers incredible trails, unique and terrific landscapes and a lot of animals!

Accessible at any period of the year by the Eastern side, the beauty of this unique landscape will make your passage a real disorientation. In dry seasons, its western part will surprise you even more: the big sinkhole and the caves, the canyons as well as the suspension bridges are real treasures, and always sparkling.

Here you have a lot to hike and explore the forests and caves in this world-renown natural reserve.

Ankarana derives its name from the people living around, the Antankarana. “Antankarana” means as much as “people from the rocks”, which bears upon the typical Tsingys of this national park. 'Tsingy' is a Malagasy word referring to the rocky limestone pinnacles that were once a coral reef millions of years ago. They make a 'tsing' sound when struck, thus the local name. The many jagged 'daggers' making up the highest parts of this unique landscape are as sharp as knives. They are remains of the Jurassic age and only occur in Bemaraha national park elsewhere than Ankarana in these sizes.

This massive limestone formation is surrounded by dry forest and conceals numerous caves and unexplored canyons. Coral caves and other draperies of calcite whose folds fall like those of a fabric developed in the galleries of stalactites, stalagmites, héléctites, héligmites, giving rise to columns. In contrast with the heat outside, the caves are havens of calm and freshness. We believe that even a person with severe claustrophobia cannot feel uncomfortable here. These caves are well worth the visit and in the middle of the route, it can lead to an exciting canyon with the possibility of returning to the air. At the southern end of the reserve, you will find the caves of crocodiles, less visited but worthy of the trouble we have taken to get there. The site is spectacular and the hallways are enormous. In the cave of bats, you feel as small as a mouse, because of its steep walls spotted with bats and swallows nests.

The caves of Ankarana as well as the Tsingy only offer a habitat for specialized animals and plants to conquer this unique biosphere. In the grots, you find blind fishes, crabs, arachnids and bats.

Ankarana’s vegetation adapts to this special life, too. More than 350 plants species grow here. The luxuriant forests around the gorge are always green and are the richest ones in number of species. Photographers and nature lovers can find some significant species: the "vazaha tree", pandanus, ficuses ad the endemic baobab Adansonia madagascarensis, “shedding” Commiphora trees and Euphorbias  with red flowers between the Tsingys – or Adenia, a ballon like water saving plant. Sinkholes often inaccessible facilitated the autarkic development of the fauna and flora. Botanical path lined with tall trees Canarium, Pachypodiums baroni and hildegardia, Euphorbia, Pandanus and air orchids, Baobab (family of the Adansonia).

Inside the dry forest and even between the Tsingys, about 100 birds species fly around, eleven lemurs species jump from stone to rocks, among them Crowned lemur (Eulemur coronatus), Sanford’s lemur (Eulemur sanfordi) and nocturnal bamboo lemurs. The Crowned and Sanford’s lemurs can be easily watched during lunch at the campgrounds, because these curious creatures have understood quite quick that there might always be some bananas or other sweets left by tourists.

Visitors taking a closer look can discover several of roundabout 60 reptiles species, e.g. the ever-present panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) or some of the mostly upside-down sleeping leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus henkeli). One of the grots is home to some Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus madagascariensis). Day geckos (for example Phelsuma abotti) run along tree trunks and brunches, and various snakes like the blond hognose (Leioheterodon modestus) or the four-striped Dromycodyras quadrilineatus inhabit the leaf litter.

The landscape of Ankarana is very rugged, based on a basaltic soil with lime deposits in some places, under a seasonal dry forest cover. There is a crater lake called Green Lake. You can descend a steep and slippery slope to reach the waterfront. Another phenomenon can also be examined: the “perte des rivières” the loss of rivers (river submerged in a sink during the rainy season). A special feature of the park is the river hole, a huge stony hole which unites several rivers and continues to lead them subsurface. The rivers only carry water during rainy season, so you can sightsee these little marvels of nature during dry season safely.

The canyons and sinkholes are from tectonic movements and also the collapse of tunnels. The longest measures 8 km and crosses the mountains from one end to another. The northern edge of the reserve has a volcanic landscape, partially originating from a volcanic soil, dotted with numerous Strombolian cones. However, this landscape is less roughly arranged as opposed to limestone formations typical of other parts of the reserve.

This is an absolutely wonderful trip that is worth at least two day visit. Wooden bridges overlooking the field of the tsingy enable people to admire them safely while protecting the weak rock. The strange succulents such as pachypodiums seem to grow in the limestone itself. The fascinating walk on caves carved by underground rivers enable to see eleven caves, some of which contain royal tombs and reveal the sanctity of places of worship, especially because of the treasures hidden there. Centuries ago, during a great battle between kingdoms (an ethnic war), the Antakarana tribe fled to the field of the Tsingy and perished there. Since that time, the place has become sacred, offerings are made and ancestor worship is practiced in these caves.

Watch more photos about Ankarana National Park here.