A scramble in Isalo National Park

Saturday 15 June 2024 – Le Jardin du Roy is very nicely put together. The rooms are spacious and comfortable; my main gripe is that there’s not enough light to see what you’re doing.  I suppose that this is a consequence of running from solar power and/or a generator, but it makes finding things (e.g. a black laptop on a dark surface in an underlit room) very frustrating. The internet availability was pretty poor, too, but the food was good and the service very agreeable.

Its buildings were in very lovely stonework,

and whoever designed or crafted it put several “hidden” things among the stones. At a basic level, you could find things like this star among the stones.

but there were more complicated creations as well.

Two lemurs and a palm tree

A nativity scene in our room

The day dawned, as I imagine is a regular pattern at this time of year (beginning of the Malagasy winter), cool and misty.

Our mission for the day was to explore Isalo National Park, so we headed to town (Ranohira) and Kenny (a) introduced us to our guide, José and (b) got tickets for the National Park , which, at 815 square kilometres, is pretty substantial. It was created in 1962, and is mainly dry, deciduous forest, based on sandstone landscapes, which means there has been plenty of erosion from wind and rain, creating rocky outcrops, plateaux and canyons up to 200m deep.

Our main objective for the day was to walk along one of these canyons.

After a short drive, we started our hike, for it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park, as you’ll see as you read further.

The scenery was quite spectacular with the sandstone cliffs we’d seen elsewhere.


We were headed alongside a river, as one could tell from the aquatic bamboo plants we could see.

The path started off easy enough

and, as happens so often, we started off with José explaining all sorts of non-wildlife stuff, such as: the difference between young Pandanus palms (single stem, thicker leaves, in the foreground) and older Pandanus (branched, leaves thinner, in middle and background);

and the iron pipe leading water to the town, some 6km away.

We did see some of the local fauna:

Darwin’s Bark Spider and its web

Madagascan White-Eye

I was dead chuffed to have nailed the image above, as the birds that we occasionally saw around us were exceedingly skillful at detecting the instant before a camera shutter is pressed and buggering off.

We soon reached a picnic area

where some lads were starting the preparation of a cooked lunch (what is it with men and outdoor cooking?) for those who had booked it (we’d chickened out, or rather cheesed out, and ordered a packed lunch to protect our, but particularly my, digestive systems). Here, we saw a Red-fronted Brown Lemur

who was very cute, but actually had a very sad back story.  She had got separated from her family group during a bush fire, and had failed to find them again; so she was lost and solitary. She hung around the picnic area trying to steal food – of course everyone was told not to feed her – and she must have been very lonely.

José also found us a White-browed Owl

but the real excitement was seeing a Ground Boa crossing the trail just in front of us.

We stayed very still, hardly daring to breathe, so that it carried on its way into the forest. It was about a metre and a half long.

The walk continued alongside the river into the canyon, which was the main objective of the day’s hike.

and we were treated to a succession of great views as we scrambled over the rocks (it was a real scramble in places,

and we were both grateful for the sticks we’d brought with us from Ranomafana).

Some of the trail had been prepared to make it easier for the punters

and José told us about what happens during the rainy season, when the water level rises several metres.  Some evidence of this could be seen in the trees that had been deposited among the boulders in the canyon.

We eventually reached a couple of pools: the Blue Pool

and the Black Pool (which had no illuminations)

where the trail basically ended.  So we took a rest while Jose and Kenny shot the breeze

and then headed back the way we came. There were a couple of encounters with the local fauna:


Water beetles

And the colours of the stone were fascinating.

When we got back to the picnic area, we were lucky enough to see a group of Verreaux’s Sifakas.

They were very athletic, as ever, leaping from bough to bough, rather better than the Monty Python sheep, who, of course, tended not so much to fly as to plummet.

After our packed lunch, eaten amid the haunting scent of delicious food being cooked for the other picnickers,

we headed back to the car.  On the way, we passed a rock on which was perched what I heard Jose describe as a “snot bug”.  Eventually, we understood it was a Snout Bug, for fairly obvious reasons

though I suppose that if it caught a cold, then maybe Jose’s original description might have been the better one. We also saw (among the other, more orangey coloured ones) a butterfly with a beautiful blue hue.

That was it for the hike; the canyon was a lovely, if slightly tense, experience, and I was glad to have caught some video of the sifakas.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed a couple of very colourful local scenes.

We had an evening entertainment laid on – a short walk to watch the sunset. On the way, we were lucky enough to see a Hoopoe,

though I had the wrong lens on the camera for a truly good shot. It was still nice to see it. The hotel had laid on a resting place for us (which we laid on)

and a cocktail service

(with nibbles).  The scenery was striking in the setting sun

and the sunset itself was not bad,

(middle photo from a mobile phone; outer two from my Big Camera; shows that mobile phone cameras these days are pretty damn’good).

Actually, we got more striking colours looking behind us

but it was a nice way to finish off the day. The nibbles had been enough food for us, so we simply retired to our room and took no dinner. Since we were (we were told) the only residents at the hotel for that night, it must have meant an entire kitchen staff on duty for no purpose; but we’re at the start of the tourist season, so I guess the hotel must expect quiet times.

We leave the hotel tomorrow, rather early, as we continue our south-westerly journey to Toliara, on the coast.  We have a Thing To Do en route, which we hope will be interesting.  I’ll of course report, so please stick with these pages to find out what we got up to.

5 thoughts on “A scramble in Isalo National Park

  1. Kate Burridge

    The birds are amazing. That little white eye – gorgeous. Feeling sorry for the lonely lemur. And even though the sandstone is striking, the paths look so daunting. Good on you both!

  2. Pingback: Coasting into Toliara – end of the RN7 | Steve Walker

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