Scrambling up the Tsingy de Bemaraha in Madagascar
Africa specialist Peter is currently in Madagascar and recounts his experience of visiting Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park below...
Africa is home to some of the planet's most extraordinary geological features and I have been fortunate enough to visit many of them. Namibia's stunning Damaraland region with its rolling red rock kopjes and the "organ pipes" at Twyfelfontein have to be seen to be believed, whilst the towering granite peaks and boulders of Zimbabwe's Matobos Hills National Park offer a truly breathtaking vantage point from which to survey the landscape below.
With memories of these incredible visits firmly in my mind, it was with some trepidation that I departed from the coastal outpost of Morondava to explore Madagascar's renowned Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. As we made the journey north along rutted dirt and sand roads I thought of the stories friends had told me of this amazing part of Madagascar and glanced briefly through some old photos I had been sent, which whetted my appetite for the walk we would be enjoying the following day. A long journey finally saw us reach the lodge on the outskirts of the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park for a well earned rest before the adventures ahead.
Before the tale of the journey please allow me to briefly share some practicalities with you. Tsingys can be found only in Madagascar and even then there are just three of them, all remote and off the beaten track which adds to the adventure of seeing them. The drive to them is tough, even as a passenger, requiring 8-10 hours in a car along poor roads, although for those willing to spend a little more money, private charters in and out of the nearby airstrip can be arranged. The walk up to the Grand Tsingy is arduous, taking around 4 hours in often searing heat with little cover once one reaches the top, although the 'Small Tsingy' found nearby is a viable alternative for those looking for a gentler experience.
The walk starts with a quick orientation from the guide and then visitors are strapped in to harnesses as there are some steep climbs and descents with safety lines. The walk then starts with a gentle stroll through the dry deciduous forest where a variety of lemurs, chameleons and snakes can often be spotted. The first signs you are approaching the Tsingy come when you reach the network of caves that it is accessed from and the forest gives way to more rocky terrain. After scrambling through the caves (some crawling and sliding is required) you reach the network of ladders that take you out on to the Tsingy itself. And what a view you are afforded when you reach the top! Everywhere around you see an endless sea of sharp, spiky rock formations that were formed by the awesome forces of the shifting sea bed so many years ago.
You will have the chance to take photographs and marvel at the scene around you before descending through the rocks and back into the cave system where some shaded spots make for a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch. From there you will head back to the forest and try to spot wildlife on the gentle stroll back to the start point of the walk, where your driver will be waiting to take you back to the hotel for a well earned dip in the pool or afternoon siesta.
This is undoubtedly one of the more difficult parts of Madagascar to reach, but the awe-inspiring scenery you get to experience along with the sense of accomplishment for having done the walk makes it well worth the journey on those dirt and sand roads. A truly exceptional adventure experience and one not to be missed.