This extensive sandstone massif is a firm favourite with keen hikers
Winding canyons and impressive sandstone formations make the Isalo massif Madagascar's most visited national park
In the heart of the desolate central-southwestern interior, right on the popular RN7 route, the vast Isalo National Park is a wonderland of sandstone canyons, cliffs and other incredible rock formations. Meandering streams are bordered by lush greenery and there are some picture-perfect natural pools that are ideal for cooling off after a hot hike on a tailor made Isalo National Park holiday. There are also some sacred, sealed burial sites of the Bara people, and some very old Sakalava burial sites up in the rock faces.
Madagascar’s most visited national park has a network of trails sufficient to keep hikers busy for days on end. Popular amongst visitors wanting easier circuits is the walk to Piscine Naturelle, which is about 3km from the vehicle parking area. Another favourite on a luxury Isalo tour is the trail to the Canyon des Makis, which is accessible by 4WD or on foot along a rutted track beside a river, which has some natural pools and a small waterfall. Possibly the most rewarding is the trek up to the top of the plateau which offers amazing views of the canyon, before heading down for a dip in one of the natural pools. Most of Isalo’s trails are graded as easy to moderate, but the rocky terrain requires sturdy footwear. Wildlife is present in lower densities than in many other parks and in terms of species is mostly relatively typical of the semi-arid southern region. Ringtail lemur and Verreaux’s sifakas can be seen but tend to disperse deep into the massif during the summer. Birds include white-throated rail and forest rock-thrush. A park icon is the so-called ‘elephant’s foot’ pachypodium, a squat, bloated plant that grows on the sandstone cliffs and blooms in September. Keep an eye out for locally endemic rare palms too.
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