Tsingy, caves and skulls in Ankarana National Park

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

It is warm, a drop of sweat runs down my sleep. As far as I can see I only see pointed grey rocks. A breathtaking sight: welcome to the Tsingy of Ankarana National Park in Madagascar!


Ankarana National park

We have been road tripping for almost a week with our jeep from Roadtrip Africa. There are several national parks in the north, yesterday we arrived at the Ankarana National Park. After spending the night camping in our rooftop tent in the parking lot at the entrance, we are going to visit the park itself today. Together with guide Sics, we start our journey through the park.Ankarana National park

Tsingy and crocodiles

The Ankarana National Park is best known for the Tsingy that lie here, a very rare natural phenomenon. They are large grey limestone rock formations, created by millions of years of erosion. The buds are pointed and razor sharp. Under the Tsingy there is a whole different world: deep caves full of bats and crocodiles.

The word Tsingy means “walking on your toes” and has its origins in the 17th century. At that time, a civil war was raging in Madagascar. The local tribes flee to the caves under the Tsingy. They only came out at night to walk to their village for food. They walked for miles tiptoeing over the razor-sharp points, and so the name Tsingy was born.Maki Ankarana National Park

Baobabs and fossils

The famous Baobab trees can also be found in this national park. We see a very big one. It takes more than seven people to stand hand in hand to be able to “hug” the tree, that’s how thick it is! Sics points out a number of shells in the rocks, they turn out to be fossils. He explains that this area was inundated 165 million years ago by the sea. These fossils are the remains of this.Baobab Ankarana National Park

Rivers and a huge hole

We walk through an area where you can only hike in the dry season (from April to November). In the rainy season, three rivers run here, in which crocodiles live. Through the river bed, we walk towards a huge hole. It is tens of meters deep and has a diameter of at least 30 meters! The water from the rivers comes together and forms a huge water chamber. On some days the water spouts up to 20 meters high!Hole Ankarana National Park

Tsingy, as far as you can see!

After a while, we arrive at the edge of the forest, ahead of us we see thousands of grey pointed rocks: Tsingy. It is a beautiful sight: a large grey plain surrounded by the bright green of the forest. We slowly climb the Tsingy via flatter stones.

A canyon appears in the distance, with a wobbly walkway over it. It is one of the most famous images of this park. You can only walk it one person at a time and I carefully cross over. Tens of meters below me I see the tops of palm trees, with every step the wood creaks noisily. Once across the bridge I take a breath of relief.Tsingy Ankarana National Park

A holy cave

Once off the Tsingy, we walk in a circle around the Tsingy area. Today we walk two different circuits: first the largest route to and around the Tsingy, then we take a look under the Tsingy by walking a route to a cave.

After a short lunch break, we start this second part. It is quite hot today and when I look at Ries I see the drops of sweat run down his face. I myself don’t look that fancy either, covered in sand, dirt and sweat. I’m already looking forward to tonight’s shower!

After a short walk through the forest we arrive at a large staircase. With 160 steps, we descend and we see the opening of a huge cave looming in front of us. After seeing caves in Vietnam, Guatemala and other countries, we are used to seeing cool caves, but we have never seen one that is so impressive. Perhaps it is because we are the only ones, or because it is surrounded by green jungle, which further emphasizes the effect of darkness, but we both fall silent.Tsingy Ankarana National park

Bats and bones!

Sics takes us a little into the cave, above us the bats are shrieking, startled by our flashlight. It smells a bit like we’re in a chicken barn, a pungent smell of beasts and faeces. I don’t like the bats so goosebumps cover my back and arms.

When we go in another direction, it is completely dark. With his flashlight, Sics points to pieces of skull and other bones, surrounded by money. This is a holy cave, with bones from its ancestors. Out of respect for these ancestors, we are not allowed to wear a cap or drink water and you are not allowed in here on certain days.

The further we go, the narrower the cave becomes, walking under stalactites. Sometimes we see a large spider or a cockroach running away. Now we don’t have to worry about anything, says Sics, but in the rainy season, there are crocodiles and tarantula spiders in this cave, no pleasant prospect!

Relieved I breathe in the fresh air again as soon as we are outside. Very impressive, this cave, but I am glad that we are out in the open again! And so we end our hike through the Ankarana National Park. And now, lets take a shower!Cave Ankarana National Park


Everything you need to know about Ankarana National Park

The Ankarana National Park is located in northern Madagascar, about 1000 kilometers from Tana (the capital), roughly a three-day journey. To Antisarana (Diego-Suarez) a big city in the north it’s only 100 kilometers, but due to the bad road, it will take you about 4.5 hours to get there.

Tip: the Tsingy of Ankarana National Park is a lot easier to reach than the Tsingy de Bemaraha. For the latter, you have to take a large detour and the roads are so badly accessible that you actually always have to do this with a driver. In addition, Ankarana National Park is much less touristy.

There are several entrances to the Ankarana National Park, we take the eastern entrance that is just on the RN6. To visit the western entrance, you have to go a long way through the wilderness, a 4×4 Jeep is absolutely necessary. In addition, this entrance often does not seem to be open because the river that you have to cross has gone beyond its banks (even in the dry season).

Tip: do you want to visit the Tsingy but don’t have enough time for a hike? At hotel Ankarana Lodge, there is a private nature reserve. Here you can also visit a smaller Tsingy just a 10-minute walk away.Tsingy Ankarana National Park

What hikes are there in Ankarana National Park?

From the eastern entrance there are several hikes that you can do:

  • The Lost river hike (1 hour): this hike runs through the dried up rivers to the big hole.
  • The Tsingy Meva hike (2-3 hours): this hike goes through the lost river and the hole, to the Tsingy, where you also visit the bridge.
  • The Big Tsingy or Benavony track (6-7 hours): this is the hike we did, first via the lost river, to the Tsingy, around it and then you visit several caves (it is also possible to visit the big cave separately in 2 hours).
  • The Lac Vert hike (8-9 hours): here you combine the above hikes and you go a bit further towards a green lake, perfect for a swim to cool off.
  • The Viewpoint of Ambohimalaza hike (4-5 hours): during this hike you walk to a high viewpoint from where you can see the Mozambique channel (the sea between Madagascar and Mozambique).

There are also various hikes from the entrance in the west, but these are currently not accessible.Maki Ankarana National Park

Where do you spend the night in Ankarana?

There used to be a campsite 2 miles from the eastern entrance. Unfortunately, this is poorly maintained and can no longer be used. We asked if we could camp in the parking lot at the entrance. For 5000 Ar (€ 1.25) this was indeed possible and we even had our own security guard!

There are several hotels around the entrance (most cannot be booked via booking.com):

  • Iharana Bush Camp: This is a luxury hotel where you sleep in beautiful safari tents. From € 150 per night (2 people).
  • Ankarana Lodge: A hotel with bungalows and a swimming pool. You sleep here from €50 per night (2pers) including breakfast. Here is the mini Tsingy.
  • Le Relais de l’Ankarana: Simple rooms from €28 per night (2pers). We slept the second night here.

Note: you have no WiFi anywhere and the range is very poor. In the high season (July-August) it can be useful to email the above hotels in advance to be assured of a room.Camping Ankarana National Park

How much does it cost to visit Ankarana?

First, you buy a park permit. That costs 65,000 ar per person per day. In addition, you will need a guide, it is not allowed to enter the park without a guide. We did the Big Tsingy hike and paid the following for this:

↠ Access to the park: 2 x 65000 Ar
↠ Guide to hike 1: 90,000 Ar
↠ Tax: 5,000
↠ Tip: 15,000 Ar
↠ Total: 239,000 Ar or € 58.00 ↞


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