The far north-eastern tip of Madagascar offers some stunning national parks known for their scenic beauty and their wildlife.
In terms of touring, you have two options. One is to make Diego Suarez, your base. And then take day excursions out to Amber Mountains and Ankarana. The other is to tour through the area ending in Ankify. Then you can catch a 30 minute speedboat transfer over to Nosy Be.
Check out our Northern Madagascar Highlights tour.
Diego Suarez (Antsiranana)
Antsiranana is Madagascar’s fifth largest town. Traditionally rated second in beauty after Rio de Janeiro, this imposing bay is encircled by hills. The conical ‘Pain de Sucre’ (sugar loaf) mountain lies in the middle of the bay. Plus the port’s isolation behind its mountain barrier gives it an unusually cosmopolitan population. With a mix of Arabs, Creoles (descendants of Europeans), Indians, Chinese and Comorans. So the town is colourful, and compact with some great restaurants. Whilst the surrounding countryside is quiet and picturesque with numerous baobab trees. Usually Diego Suarez is the starting point for a visit to the Amber Mountains and Ankarana.
Amber Mountain National Park
Amber Mountain National Park (Montagne D’Ambre) lies about 45 minutes (40 km) south from Diego Suarez. This montane rainforest 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. And a comfortable climate (which is cool and fresh). So it’s quite a contrast to the dry and sometimes hot Diego Suarez! Plus it’s one of the most visitor-friendly of all the national parks. Delights include broad walking trails, lush montane forest, crater lakes, spectacular waterfalls. Its name comes not from precious amber deposits. But from the amber-colored resin that oozes from some of its trees.. The local Malagasy people used this medicinally.
Bird watching is very rewarding in Amber Mountain with some 75 bird species. Such as the Madagascar crested Ibis and the Malagasy kingfisher. Plus it’s also known for its many species of orchids.
Ankarana National Park
The dry, deciduous Ankarana National Park lies 100 km south of Diego Suarez. Now it is officially known as the Ankarana Special Reserve. As it’s a really spectacular and bizarre area of natural beauty. Explore the park on foot to look for lemurs, chameleons and of course to view the famous and marvelously impressive limestone tsingy. (These are razor sharp pinnacles which have been sculpted by erosion). And 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. Here you can find crocodiles and blind fish. Plus there’s even an option to descend into one of the bats’ caves. Some of the largest caves have collapsed to form 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. And its highlight is the famous heart-raising rope bridge across one of the larger canyons.
When to visit Ankarana National Park?
So 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 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.