The word “Saha” means a park, and Maintsoanala means “green forest”. The protected area is simply called the “Park of the green forest”.
The reserve is located only 65 km from Antananarivo near the small town of Mandraka in the Analamanga region. The journey on the winding roads of the eastern highlands takes about two hours by all-terrain vehicle or taxi. Day trips from Antananarivo are possible. But it is also worth stopping by here on the way to Andasibe. Saha Maintsoanala is located directly on RN2: to the left of the road is the office where you buy tickets and to the right of the RN2 is the forest.
Information about the protected area:
Saha Maintsoanala has an area of only 0.35 km². The small area including the forest is owned by the University of Antananarivo, more precisely the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences (École supérieure des sciences agronomiques, ESSA). The forest has been provided with paths for student training, and opposite there are picnic areas, a lake, a playground and volleyball and pétanque fields.
The site was not opened to ecotourism until the end of 2013. But it is still above all a forest for students. Most of them experience the rainforest and intact nature in Mandraka for the first time in their lives and learn locally why Madagascar’s unique biodiversity is worth protecting. In addition, opportunities for sustainable agriculture, for example, fish farming or beekeeping, and scientific studies are demonstrated here. The concept for ecotourism in Saha Maintsoanala had already been developed in 1997, but a cyclone and many shifts in the responsible ministries prevented its implementation for years.
Admission costs 3500 Ariary per person, which is not even one Euro. 30% of the entrance fees are used for the salaries of the 12 local employees. The remaining 70% goes to the university. Three routes are available, all of which are easy to walk on but quite short. In about three hours you can walk through them all comfortably.
In Mandraka, as everywhere in the eastern highlands of the island, it is rather cool at night, but mostly pleasantly warm during the day with temperatures between 20 and 25°C. You have to expect rain all year round.
The nearby Mandraka is a small town where there is a supply for the many truckers passing by: Simple food, and rustic rooms. Those who value a little more comfort will surely find what they are looking for in the capital Antananarivo, 65 km away. Andasibe, just as far away but further east, also has a good tourist infrastructure with hotels of all price ranges, restaurants and smaller shops, and it is much quieter than the capital. The accommodation and campground of Saha Maintsoanala itself are reserved for students.
Flora and Fauna:
Who comes early in the morning to Saha Maintsoanala, can observe brown Makis (Eulemur fulvus) foraging. The curious lemurs are the secret favourites of most students. The cute Lowland Striped Tenrec is not inferior to this, but you need some luck for a sighting. Reptiles in Saha Maintsoanala include the ubiquitous chameleon Calumma crypticum and the larger Calumma globifer, related to the Parsons chameleons. At the smaller chameleons is the forest Brookesia ramanantsoai, a leaf chameleon. Along the stream are Boophis goudoti and other frogs. Bird lovers will find about 60 different species of birds in the tall forest, including pygmy kingfisher and its somewhat larger relative, the Madagascar Kingfisher. With particularly good eyes one can discover here even the Madagascar ear owl (Asio madagascariensis).
So if you are on the RN2 anyway, you can take a relaxing break in Saha Maintsoanala and maybe see some animals.