The far north-eastern tip of Madagascar has some stunning national parks known for both their scenic beauty and their wildlife, Ankarana Special Reserve and Montagne d’Ambre. It is easily combined with a beach stay on Nosy Be or one of the smaller islands.
In terms of touring this area, you have 2 options. One is to make the main town, Diego Suarez, your base. And take day excursions out to Amber Mountains, Ankarana and the surrounding countryside. The other option is to do a Northern Madagascar tour through the area with a guide ending in Ankify. From where you can catch a 30 minute speedboat transfer over to the island of Nosy Be.
Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) is Madagascar’s fifth largest town and lies in the far north of the country. It is of increasing interest to our visitors because of the many diverse attractions nearby. Traditionally rated second in beauty after Rio de Janeiro, this imposing bay is encircled by hills. With a conical ‘Pain de Sucre’ (sugar loaf) mountain in the middle of one of the bays. The port’s isolation behind its mountain barrier and its long association with non-Malagasy races have given it an unusually cosmopolitan population. There are Arabs, Creoles (descendants of Europeans), Indians, Chinese and Comorans. The town is colourful, compact and has some great restaurants. The surrounding countryside is very quiet and picturesque with numerous baobabs. Diego Suarez is also the starting point for a visit to the nearby Montagne d’Ambre and Ankarana.
Check out our Northern Madagascar Highlights tour.
Amber Mountain National Park (Montagne D’Ambre)
Amber Mountain National Park lies about 45 minutes (40 km) drive south from Diego Suarez. This montane rainforest on a volcanic massif ranges in altitude from 850 m to 1,475 m. And has its own micro-climate with a massive rainfall equal to the eastern rainforests. So it’s quite a contrast to the dry and sometimes hot Diego Suarez! It is one of the most visitor-friendly of all the protected areas of Madagascar. With broad walking trails, lush montane forest, crater lakes, spectacular waterfalls and a comfortable climate (cool and fresh). Its name comes not from precious amber deposits, but from the amber-colored resin that oozes from some of its trees. And is used medicinally by the local Malagasy people.
Bird watching is also very rewarding in the Amber Mountain National Park. There are some 75 bird species. Including the Madagascar crested Ibis and the Malagasy kingfisher. It is also known for its many species of orchids.
Ankarana National Park
The dry, deciduous Ankarana National Park, officially known as the Ankarana Special Reserve, lies some 100 km south of Diego Suarez. A really spectacular and bizarre area of natural beauty. You explore the park on foot to look for lemurs, chameleons and of course to view the famous and marvelously impressive limestone tsingy. (Razor sharp pinnacles which have been sculpted by erosion). The park offers a varied terrain of tropical rainforest, flowing rivers, emerald green forest, canyon and caves.
Underneath the Tsingy are miles of caves, passages and rivers. Where you can find crocodiles and blind fish. There’s even an option to descend into one of the bats’ caves. Some of the largest caves have collapsed. Forming isolated pockets of river-fed forest with their own perfectly protected flora and fauna. Crowned and Sanford’s brown lemur are commonly seen as well as the fossa – one of Madagascar’s few carnivores. And the striped civet and ring-tailed mongoose. Indeed Ankarana has the greatest density of lemurs of any park in Madagascar due to these pockets of rich forest.
Ankarana Special Reserve is ideal for keen hikers with a choice of trails from easy to more challenging. A highlight is the famous heart-raising rope bridge across one of the larger canyons.
When to visit Ankarana National Park
The best time to visit is in the ‘dry’ season. Between April and November when the trails are relatively dry. The only accommodation here is the simple Relais de Ankarana surrounded by gardens just outside the park. Or the lovely Iharana Bush camp which is a seasonal eco-lodge with 8 thatched chalets overlooking a lake on the western side of Ankarana.