Isalo National Park Adventure

Isalo National Park is located in the Fianarantsoa Province of Madagascar and it sprawls over 815 sq kilometers. The landscape is a geological wonderland that contains wildly eroded sandstone formations, deep canyons, gorges and shady oasis. As a result of the natural erosion, the landscape is quite spectacular and presents some compelling things to do in Isalo National Park.

Location of Isalo National Park

Isalo is one of the most easily accessible national parks in Madagascar. The park is located in south central region about 700 kilometers from Antananarivo. However, driving from Toliara it is only about a 3-4 hour drive. The roads were all in pretty good shape and there were no delays other than a few security checks along the route.

On the road to Isalo National Park.

The Madagascar countryside has some interesting landmarks such as the giant baobab trees. We were able to stop and have a look at them on the way to Isalo because they are adjacent to the road.

baobab tree on the drive to isalo national park
This giant baobab tree sits roadside while traveling from Toliara.

Isalo National Park Guides

Having a map of Isalo National Park map is not really necessary because all visitors must hire a local guide. As a result of the compulsory guide service we didn’t need to worry about navigation and the guide was leading the way.

We acquired our guide in Ranohira and they drove us to the nearby trail head outside of town. Transportation was interesting because the vehicle seemed like it may blow up at anytime. Additionally, the road was in very poor condition and took some navigation skills. However, we arrived safely after about 20 minutes.

Isalo National Park scenic outlook
After entering the park visitors are greeted with an amazing view of the landscape.

Stone Graves of the Bara People

One of the first things to do in Isalo National Park is visit the ancient stone grave sites of the Bara people. The Bara are indigenous to this part of Madagascar and they still inhabit the surrounding area.

The Bara people around the park consider the sandstone caves and cliffs to be sacred. As a result, in certain sections of the park their ancient burial sites can be found. A unique element of the graves is that they are imposed into the surrounding cliffs. They are not easily approached but I was still able to get some decent photos.

Stone Graves of the Bara People in cliff
Some of the Bara grave sites were at ground level.
Bara Grave site on cliff face
Other grave sites of the Bara were imposed into a cliff face high above ground.

Highlands of Isalo National Park

The first leg of our hiking journey went through the highlands where we enjoyed the beautiful eroded sandstone massifs. 

Isalo National Park sandstone massifs
A view point on the first leg of our journey.
Nature pool in Isalo National Park
Natural pool in Isalo National Park.

A shady oasis was located along the route and we stopped off for a swim.

Oasis at Isalo National park
There were several oasis along the trail where we could cool off and go swimming.

Feeling refreshed, we then proceeded down the trail and after a couple hours of hiking we began the descent into a huge canyon.

The guide then brought us to the canyon rim where we would begin our gradual descent to the bottom. With the guide in the lead we followed him down the trail into the canyon below.

Isalo National Park Canyon Trail
Descending into the canyon below.

Isalo National Park Animals

Our Isalo National Park guide had a natural inclination to see the unseeable flora and fauna. As a result, we were able to investigate this insect that is perfectly camouflaged to look like a small branch.

Can you spot it below? This natural camouflage is perfect cover for these insects among the plants in Madagascar.

Huge stick insect hides among plants
Hidden stick insect
Isalo National Park stick insect
Stick insect hiding in plain sight.

Another peculiar species of Madagascar animals is the lemur. The lemurs live in the lowlands at the park and tended to accumulate at the entrance to Isalo canyon gorge.

There were two different species of lemur that we encountered at the canyon head. First, we encountered the ring tailed lemurs and then we came across another lemur subspecies called the brown lemur. For me, the brown lemurs were a new experience because I had already encountered the ring tailed lemurs at Tsimanampetsotsa Nature Reserve.

Unfortunately, these lemurs did not get along very well. Indeed, lemur subspecies do not intermingle and when a brown lemur approached the group of ring tailed lemurs there was an altercation.

lemurs at Isalo National Park
This brown lemur near Isalo canyon gorge interacts with a ring tailed lemur.
fighting lemurs at Maky Canyon
The ring tailed lemurs frightened away the brown lemur.
Fighting Lemurs, Isalo Park
The ring tailed lemurs frightened away the brown lemur.
ring tailed lemur Maky Canyon
A vigilant ring tailed lemur keeps a look out.
Brown lemur Isalo National Park, Madagascar
Brown lemur poses defiantly for a photo.

More Photos of Madagascar Lemurs

The 2 groups of Isalo National Park animals were both very approachable and we were able to get some great Madagascar animal pictures. The lemur subspecies are also very sociable within their own groups and they tend to cuddle up when they are cold.

Ring tailed lemurs at Maky canyon
Cuddling ring tailed lemurs
Ring Tailed Lemur Madagascar, Isalo National Park
Ring tailed lemur wraps up with its own tail.
brown lemurs Maky Canyon
Small group of brown lemurs.

Hiking in Isalo Canyon Gorge

Exploring the Isalo canyon is a popular attraction at Isalo National Park because of the deep narrow gorge that contains waterfalls and small fresh water pools. 

We hiked through the entrance of the canyon and made our way through the narrow gorge until we reached the waterfall at the end.

Entrance Canyon, Isalo National Park
Canyon trail leading to the waterfalls.

Inside the Isalo canyon gorge there were crevices and nooks that emanated a surreal atmosphere. This was a result of the turquoise water and high cliffs surrounding us on all sides.

Isalo Waterfall
Small natural pool in Isalo National Park.

Sunset on the Madagascar Landscape

Spending the day at Isalo National Park made a great adventure in our opinion. Additionally, the lemurs and natural landscape created some great photo opportunities. However, the day was not yet over. We left the park and now returned to the Isalo Rock Lodge.

The Isalo Rock Lodge has natural architecture and the surrounding landscape is very photogenic. Therefore, because the sun was going down we decided to visit some of the nearby vantage points for a few sunset photos.

Sunset landscape Isalo Rock Lodge
Sunset Photos in the Madagascar Highlands
Sunset landscape, Isalo Rock Lodge

There are not many Isalo National Park hotels to choose from. Although Isalo Rock Lodge had some faults, it was the best at integrating with the natural environment. However, accommodation is quite limited in this area. Perhaps camping would be a good option for the next trip to Madagascar.