Montagne d’Ambre National Park, a paradise for rare animals and plants
The name Amber Mountain does not come from deposits of precious amber, but the amber resin flowing from some of its trees and used by people for medicinal purposes. Park was already founded in 1958 and extends to an area 182 km² covering a mountain massif of volcanic origin. It is one of the first and oldest national parks of Madagascar. This rainforest with endemic fauna and luxuriant vegetation and its six volcano lakes and three waterfalls, one of which falls from a height of 80 m – is a paradise for rare animals and plants, which occur only here and nowhere else on Earth. The climate is perfect, the cool air refreshes after the heat of the lowlands.
Montagne d'Ambre National Park offers various attractions ranging from the visits of its various places of interest to the most demanding hiking. Hiking trails include very nice trips to the big waterfall (grande cascade) with a steepy way back and a very comfortable, easy to walk promeande to the green lake (Lac verte). In theory, the park has 30 km of tracks, but many of them are covered with vegetation, even if a staff clean them and rename them gradually.
Numerous cascades and waterfalls. The best tracks lead to the small lake, the botanical garden and two waterfalls, the big Antomboka waterfall and the small sacred waterfall. There is also a tourist trail leading to another admirable waterfall. The easiest one goes to the Sacred Waterfall (Cascade Sacree). It is a short and very rewarding walk where you have good chances to spot a lot of lemurs, orchids and birds including the White-throated rattle and the kingfisher with a malachite color. The sacred waterfall is an idyllic cave surrounded by ferns, with waterfalls flowing into a fountain. During the warm weather, a small colony of bats twitter in the overhang to the right of the fountain. The Antakarana waterfall is extremely photogenic and allows a view of the thrush forest of the rocks and many other birds. The Antomboka waterfall is connected to a path having parts with ups and downs, with a steep descent to the waterfall. You will find good opportunities to observe birds, to see beautiful tree ferns and opportunities to see lemurs, especially if we took care to bring bananas in our picnic basket.
It is also possible to climb up to the Amber Mountain itself at 1475 m high and enjoy a spectacular view over all the forest beneath you and a magnificent view of the northern tip of the island between the Mozambique Channel to the left and the Indian Ocean to the right. Except for people in good shape and great fast walkers, it is better to set up a camp at great Lake and make the journey in two days. This will allow you to wait until the weather conditions are favorable and to have a spectacular view.
The visit of the park can be done in two or more days while staying in a shelter or camping out, allowing a nocturnal visit of the park. Most people plan a two-days-trip, but if you are used to long treks you can do it in just one day too. There is many paths for everyone in this park – no matter if you want stay for the day only or discover the national park during a whole week.
Attention: during the dry season, it is possible to go by car to the main picnic area, which is a unique opportunity, for elderly visitors or those with physical disabilities, to see the forest and its inhabitants.
The riches of the Park. If someone claims he has not found any animal here, he probably has never been there. Almost every tree hides animals to gaze at, and nowhere in Madagascar it is easier to discover and watch rare animals. Still new, unique species are found here almost each year. The flora is very rich as well. Rare orchids, nest ferns and palm trees (all in all about 1000 different plant species) offer a real paradise for nature lovers. Up to date, the park acommodates about 75 birds species, 25 mammals species among them 6 carnivores such as the ring-tailed mongoose and the fossa, and 8 species lemurs as well as about 60 reptile and 25 amphibians species, such as tiny stump-tailed chameleons, leaf-tailed geckos and snakes, 35 frogs species and more than 40 species butterflies.
Crowned, Sanford- and northern fork-marked lemurs (Eulemur coronatus, Eulemur sanfordi and Phaner electromontis) are three of eight lemur species you can meet here. Especially crowned lemurs often visit the campground and curiously watch what happens there. The smallest diurnal lemur, Sambirano bamboo lemur (Hapalemur occidentalis), looks for tasty bamboo plants in Amber Mountain, too. Ring-tailed mongooses (Galidia elegans) come to the campground almost daily, where it is quite easy to take pictures of them.
Even people who are not passionate for ornithology will be fascinated by the countless species birds that may be encountered in these places: the Madagascar Crested Ibis is quite impressive to be noticed by everyone, just like the paradise flycatchers with the long feathers of its tail. The forest thrush of the rocks is less wild, and can be found everywhere, while the black and white magpie robin is everywhere. Luck, however, comes with the most beautiful birds of Madagascar, the burrowing similar to pitta. The 75 species of birds recorded in the park include the little crested kingfisher, the Pycargue which is the largest raptor of the island, heron, hawks, parrots, owls, wild pigeon, sparrow. Take your time to look for the rare Madagascar fish eagle (Haliaeetus vociferoides). Red crested couacals (Coua serriana) live in the tree tops, too. There is also here three species of bats including the fruit bat from which the name "station of the fruit bats" comes.
Montagne d'Ambre is famous for its enormous occurrence of chameleons, which you can easily find at night in trees and shrubs. From tiny pygmy chameleons like Brookesia tuberculata, small enough to sit on a thumb, to the gentle giants of this national park, Calumma ambreense: There’s such a lot to see. Furcifer petteri with females yellow colored like lemons and males with strange nose appendages, Calumma linotum with its blue nose, Brookesia antakarana with its odd spines along its bright body. Even some recently described species like Furcifer timoni belong to Amber Mountain’s inhabitants, and with a little fortune you can discover them high up in the trees. If you are looking for chameleons in Madagascar, Montagne d'Ambre is your place to be. The perfectly camouflaged leaf-tailed geckos are hard to find in the dense forest, but luckily the park has more than one species – among them smaller geckos like the spectacular Uroplatus finiavana or Uroplatus alluaudi and their biggest relative, Uroplatus giganteus.
During daytime, hognose snakes (Leioheterodon madagascariensis) take a sunbath on the paths. Amphibian friends will be happy to find certain frogs in pandanus leaf axils and along small streams, among them Boophis entingae.
The reserve is certainly very worthwhile. To make it short: If you are in north of Madagascar, do not miss to visit Amber Mountain!
Watch more photos about Montagne d'Ambre National Park here.