The word itself means “thorny mountains” and alludes to the famous gorge of the park. Ankarafanstika is also called “the kingdom of birds” because the area is very favorable for bird watching.
Ankarafantsika National Park is located in northwestern Madagascar in the Ambato Boeny region. It is located 420 km north of Antananarivo and 115 km west of the port city of Mahajanga. The RN4 connects both cities and leads directly through the national park. The journey from Antananarivo is possible both in the own car and with the Taxibrousse. With pure driving time, one must count on approximately 8-10 h, the Taxibrousse need however clearly longer. Since the latter are usually very old, completely overcrowded and the driving style is extremely adventurous, the better choice is a rental car. Another possibility is domestic flights from Tana to Mahajanga and the somewhat shorter journey (about 2 h) from there with an off-road vehicle including driver.
Information about the national park:
On about 1350 km² Ankarafanstika is home to enormous biodiversity. The protected area itself has existed since 1927 but was not officially designated a national park until 2003. Various hiking trails of different difficulty levels lead through the park. Particularly recommendable is the two-hour, comfortable walk around the approximately 0.6 km² large lake Ravelobe. In former times boat trips were possible here.
On cloudy days, the more strenuous route to Ambalabongo Canyon is a unique and rewarding destination, not only for photographers. The entire protected area is partly financed with aid from Germany. Directly at the national park is a small breeding station for turtles, which is dedicated among other things to the preservation and the reintroduction of the extremely rare ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) – in Malagasy, it is called Angonoka.
Ankarafantsika consists mainly of extensive dry forests and some savannah landscapes with a hot climate. The average day temperatures can reach 25-30°C and more during the dry season from May to October, so a hike can quickly become very strenuous for travelers. However, the fascinating nature rewards all efforts. Nevertheless, especially on the way to the canyon, one should plan for two to three liters of water per person and long clothing.
The National Park campground offers roofed camping sites, a restaurant, simple sanitary facilities (including showers and toilets) and some very rustic bungalows. Directly at the campground is the Park Office, where you pay the entrance fees and get assigned a local guide. Electricity for simple light bulbs under a few roofs is available most times. In Ampijoara, the adjacent village, there are no accommodations. Ambondromamy, the closest city, is 50 km away and only has very rustic accommodations. Only 115 km away Mahajanga is the location of some hotels. Ankarafantsika serves as a water reservoir for the entire nearby rice-growing region of Marovoay on the Betsiboka River but is not very well developed for tourism. The Sakalava, who live here, live mainly from their zebus and the cultivated rice.
Fauna & Flora:
The flora and fauna of the National Park leave nothing to be desired by nature-lovers. Around 820 animal species (130 of which are bird species) are native to this area, over 80% of which occur exclusively in this part of the world. A highlight of the park is the Madagascar fish eagle (Haliaeetus vociferoides), in Malagasy Ankoay, which prefers to perch around lake Ravelobe. But also other birds like Vangas, bee-eaters, Drongos and Paradise Flycatchers romp around in the park. Between trees and bushes, there are huge, enormously stable nets of the colorful Golden Orb-Web Spiders (Nephila madagascariensis). Lake Ravelobe is famous for its Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus madagascariensis), which reproduce here very well and are not disturbed by anyone as they are considered sacred by the locals. Mouse lemurs, skinks, geckos and chameleons such as the pretty Furcifer rhinoceratus are other inhabitants of Ankarafantsika. Curious Coquerel’s sifakas (Propithecus coquereli) come often up to the campground, where they can be observed best. But plant lovers also get their money’s worth in Ankarafantsika, be it with prickly crocodile trees or the last two baobabs of their kind near the lake.