Tsingy de Bemaraha National park

map Tsingy Bemaraha

The spectacular mineral forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha stands on the western coast of Madagascar. Tsingy is the Malagasy word for “walking on tiptoes” and the nearly impenetrable labyrinth of limestone needles justifies this name. The whole protected area, designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1990, comprises a surface of 1.575 km². This remote area was not a tourist trek until 1998, when the southern part (723 km²) was declared a National Park. The northern section is an Integral Reserve so tourists are not allowed to enter the zone. The reserve’s canyons, gorges, undisturbed forests, lakes and mangrove swamps display an astonishing richness of fauna and flora which have not been completely recorded. The rate of endemism is about 85%, and 47% are even local endemic!

The limestone seabed rose to create a plateau around 200 million years ago, which was little by little eroded by heavy rainfalls until it became its actual shape. This massif is delimited to the east by the abrupt Bemaraha Cliffs, which rises some 300 to 400m above the Manambolo River valley and extends several tens of kilometres from north to south. The western slopes of the massif rise more gently, and the whole western region of the reserve forms a plateau with rounded hillocks which slope away to the west. To the north undulating hills alternate with limestone extrusions, while in the south extensive pinnacle formations make access extremely restricted. In the south of Petit Tsingy is the spectacular Manambolo Gorge where you can see waterfalls, lemurs and magnificent untouched forests. Despite the inaccessibility of the area, this park is more and more part of tour operator programs.

Tsingy de Bemaraha
   The spectacular "tsingy" of Bemaraha
   © Madagascar Travel Guide

The flora has a high local endemism rate. The western part is principally covered by deciduous dry forests, which are particularly well adapted to the extreme changing climate conditions of the area. The eastern section is formed by grassy savannas and lowland bushes. Inside the canyons we find small areas of dense tropical forests and lianas, since it is very humid among the tall tsingy formations.

Visitors can spot 11 lemur species, including for Decken's sifaka, red-fronted brown lemur, fat-tailed dwarf lemur, grey mouse lemur or the Cleese's woolly lemur and the Sambirano lesser bamboo lemur, which only occur here. Other resident mammals are the small carnivorous falanouc and ring-tailed mongoose, and several bats.
More than 100 bird species have been catalogued at present inside the National Park, including the critically endangered Madagascar fish eagle and crested ibis, Madagascar wood-rail, giant coua or Coquerel´s coua.
The 45 reptiles and amphibians which are found here are all endemic. Some significant species which only occur in Bemaraha are the Madagascar iguana, a local endemic long-tailed skink and the Antsingy leaf chameleon.

Generally most visitors coming to the park usually stay over three nights to explore this unique and amazing place. A recommended plan would be:

Day 1:

  • Petit tsingy: this circuit of 4-5 hours of duration passes through a labyrinth of limestones and two view points over the impressive pinnacles. There are some good chances to spot the Decken’s sifaka and red-fronted brown lemurs.
  • Manambolo gorge: It is a canoe trip along the gorge combined with an easier path through caves, stalactites, stalagmites and the famous family tomb of the Vazimba tribe.

Day 2

  • The big Tsingy: This is probably the most rewarding half-day trip within the park as it goes deep into the limestone forest passing through several hanging bridges with the impressive karstic formations below your feet. The trail is not technically difficult and even children can cope with it, but you certainly should not suffer from vertigo! The look down from the hanging bridge is something to avoid for the easily fainted.

A two day trek with camping within the park is also possible (Anjohimanintsy trail). This circuit is a combination of several shorter treks up and down across the Tsingy formations visiting an underground cave and discovering the different plants and animals sharing the different ecosystems.

Bridge Tsingy de Bemaraha
Dizzy-making bridge over the tsingy   © Madagascar Travel Guide

The Park is only opened during the dry season from April to November, since it is inaccessible during the rainy season (mid-end November to mid-end May). The Grand Tsingy are only accessible between June and the beginning of November.

The access to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is indeed quite tough.
If you are travelling by car, follow the road RN8 from Morondava until Belo-sur-Tsiribihina and once you have managed to cross the river (this can take longer than expected!) continue northwards along a bad secondary road until the village of Bekopaka where the Park entrance is. If you are really lucky you can manage the transfer in one day.
Starting in Tana, take the road RN1 until Tsiroanomandidy. Once here you can reach Bekopaka driving trough very bad roads passing by the villages of Morafeno and Antsalova.
There is a daily taxi-brousse conection between Morondava and Belo-sur- Tsiribihina and several days a week another one from Belo to Bekopaka.

A popular way of reaching Belo sur Tsiribihina is of course, descending the Tsiribihina River (see under the correspondent chapter). A much more straightforward way to reach the park is participating on an expedition on the Manambolo River, which ends directly on the park.
The reserve can also be reached with a charter aircraft

The entry price costs Ar 25,000 for one day and Ar 37,000 for two days. The guide fees will depend on the route chosen.

Several tour operators in Morondava (where most of the organized trips to the Tsingy start off if you have not opted to take the tour on the Tsiribihina from Antsirabe) offer 4x4 for hire. A recommendable one is Madaconnection (www.madaconnection.com).

There is a local Park Office in Bekopaka when you will be informed about the different activities within the park. The well prepared guides speak just a little English!

There are three camping places, two on the north shore and one on the south.The ANGAP camping is the cheapest one. The shared facilities are very simple and you need your own equipment. The practical thing is that you do not need to cross the river to visit the tsingy.
Camping Manambolo lies next to the ANGAP one. You can put up your own tent or just lend one. The facilities are basic and the meals really tasty. The views are nice and the atmosphere really friendly. Prices are almost as cheap as in the ANGAP camp.
Camp Croco is located just opposite the ANGAP camp. The tents are large and comfortable, there are some showers with hot water and shared toilets. The restaurant serves very good food. You can put up your own tent as well.
Price for two people in a big tent 40.000 Ar

* All prices from 2010

Chez Ibrahim (Aubergue de Tsingy)
Tel: 95 523 18
7 basic, clean and welcoming bungalows with shared facilities. Friendly atmosphere and nice staff. The best option for budget travellers.
Price for two people 15000 Ar

Hôtel Relais de Tsingy
Tel: 261 32 02 049 48
Web: www.tsingy-de-bemaraha.com/Relais-des-Tsingy
Mail: relais.tsingy@yahoo.fr
8 high standard, very comfortable bungalows not far from Bekopaka village. The views over the lake and the tsingy are really terrific. The restaurant serves very good food anf full board is compulsory (20 € per person and day).
Price for a double bungalow 33 €, a familiar bungalow with two rooms 45 €

L´Olympe du Bemaraha
Tel: + 261 (0)32 07 202 46 / + 261 (0)32 05 21 605
Mail: olympedubemaraha@yahoo.fr   info@olympedubemaraha-madagascar.com 
Web: http://www.olympedubemaraha-madagascar.com
Brand new set of 20 comfortable, beautiful and high standard bungalows and different kind of rooms built on a hill with great views over the Manambolo river. Good bar-restaurant with panoramic views serves delicious meals and a new pool.
Basic room with shared facilitiesd for 12 €, double bungalow for 44 €, double room 36 €, familiar rooms for four people 52 €, room for 8 people 88 €, room for 12 people 120 €

Les Orchidees du Bemaraha
Phone: +261 (0)32 50 898 79
mail: orchideedubemaraha@gmail.com
Web: http://www.orchideedubemaraha.com
Opened in 2007, this is a new set of 18 high standard and comfortable bungalows, 6 new rooms with private facilities  and 10 big tents with beds and shared toilets for 18 € by a beautiful lake. 
Double bungalow for 42 €, familiar for four persons 74 € and for six persons 100 €, room for 26 €

Tana Ankoay
Tel: 032 02 226 62
Mail: tanankoay@yahoo.fr 
8 nice and comfortable bungalows with shared facilities from 12 to 22 € and tents. Friendly atmosphere and nice staff. Trips to the park organised. You can book through Les Bougainvilliers in Morondava. Very good price-quality relationship. Recommended!

Tsingy Lodge
Tel: 033 11 507 56 / 032 41 051 00
Web: www.tsingy-lodge.com
Mail: tsingylodge@yahoo.fr
New bungalows complex run by a Malagasy couple. All bungalows build with traditional materials: modest, clean and really charming. Quiet and beautiful location. It is a great example of ecotourism. The traditional food is excellent and the atmosphere makes you feel at home. Recommended.
Prices between 12 and 16 € depending on facilities 

And do not forget: whenever you are in the park pointing with the figer is a serious taboo!