Expert Reviews – Isalo NP

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A sandstone jungle
Overall rating

This scenic national park in southern Madagascar protects a vast massif of contorted water- and wind-eroded sandstone formations whose majestic rockscapes rise to an altitude of 1,268m from a low-lying tract of dry grassland. The sandstone formations of Isalo are topped by a striking collection of jagged peaks and balancing rocks, and they support a succulent-dominated flora that includes the bulbous and aptly named elephant's foot plant, pretty red-flowering aloes, and the tall leafy Bismarck palm. Lemur-viewing can be excellent – we saw ring-tailed lemur, Verreaux’s sifaka and red-fronted brown lemur on our day hike into the rocky massif – and we also enjoyed swimming in the beautiful palm-fringed natural pool that stands oasis-like near its base. Although 83 bird species have been recorded, among them the very localised Benson's rock thrush, an Isalo endemic that was once regarded to be a full species but is now thought to be a dry-country subspecies of forest rock-thrush, I thought it less memorable in avian terms than most other parks in Madagascar.

The Grand Canyon of Madagascar
Overall rating

Rising from the arid, yellow plains of southern Madagascar, Isalo is one of Madagascar’s most dramatic sights and most popular parks. The red rock escarpments cut through with canyons are filled with dense forest-like vegetation. In contrast are the deep blues of rock pools and streams that gush with water after rains. This natural beauty is why you come here, and come here you should. This is one of my favorite parks in Madagascar. I’ve always found this one of the easiest places to see ring-tailed lemurs and the cuddly Verreaux’s sifaka up close. Look for them from late morning near the campsite along the Namaza Trail. It was around here I first saw the dazzling Souimanga sunbird, while Benson’s rock thrush and hooded vanga also got my heart racing. All of these are possible on the park’s many hikes, with a few nocturnal lemur species as well if you plan on camping.

The Wild West of Madagascar
Overall rating

The rugged terrain of Isalo National Park is formed by eroded sandstone formations jutting out of the surrounding grassland. The scenery, with its balancing rocks and jagged peaks is strangely reminiscent of the Wild West. There is a good range of guided hikes available with different degrees of difficulty. As it tends to be very hot here, I opted for a hike to a natural palm-fringed swimming pool filled with spring water. The little oasis is a great place for a picnic and a magnet for local birdlife including some sought-after endemics such as Benson’s rock-thrush. I didn’t see a lot of wildlife on my walk, but some ring-tailed lemurs were a permanent presence in the campsite. In the evening, I drove out to the ‘Isalo Window’, a famous rock formation perfectly positioned to capture the setting sun. This iconic site tends to be a bit crowded with tour groups but I managed to get some nice pictures all the same.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.0/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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