Blog WHS Visits
WHS #846: Tsingy de Bemaraha
Although it has decent tourist facilities, the Tsingy de Bemaraha is only for the hardened traveller as realistically there is no easy way to reach this park on the west coast of Madagascar. The property is so poorly accessible from the nearest city or commercial airport that it almost fits into our ‘Takes more than 5 days’-connection: a return trip takes at least 5 days from Tana. To make matters worse, it nowadays should be visited as part of an armed convoy due to safety concerns as there have been robberies along the route. There is no public transport to the site, all has to be done by 4WD, although the very wealthy could charter a bush plane and land on an airstrip that lies some 8km from Grand Tsingy.
The road to Tsingy from the coastal city of Morondava (195km/8h) starts with a passage through the well-known Avenue of the Baobabs. From that point on, the sand road is all there is – Tsingy for that reason also is inaccessible during the rainy season. A bit further on lies the turn-off for Kirindy Forest, a park that has severely deteriorated since Covid: people abandoned the place, the dogs entered, and the resident fossa left after it found not enough food. The next bit of excitement comes after 4 hours at the crossing of the Tsribihina River near Belo: it takes about half an hour by a simple ferry that can take four 4WDs. Lunch is had in Belo, which has a couple of good restaurants. From Belo, the armed convoy is supposed to start, but somehow we missed it although we reported to the army post on the outskirts of the city. They just waved us on. We encountered enough gendarmerie along the road to let it feel safe enough. This is a less populated area, and the few villages look very poor. The condition of the track certainly did not improve the closer we got to our destination: in the final 20km, two nasty river crossings had to be done by 4WD.
The next morning we reported to the park office in Bekopaka. Since money got stolen from the office, the entrance fees nowadays have to be paid by mobile money transfer (my guide did that for me). However, the payment for the obligatory guided tours (which are much more expensive) can still be done in cash. I guess the entrance fees go to Parcs Madagascar and the tour money stays local. I had two days planned in the park, though most people do it in a day as most tours only take half a day. On the first day, I combined a boat ride and a visit to the Petit Tsingy.
The park is bordered to the south by the Manambolo River; its Gorge “is a scenic attraction that adds to the intrinsic values of Bemaraha” according to the IUCN evaluation. We navigated it in two wooden canoes tied together, operated by a ‘poler’. The river, which cuts all the way through the limestone massif on a length of 370km to the sea, doesn’t run deep in the dry season. It has crocodiles, but the only wild animals we saw were birds. Mostly Diomorphic egrets, which nest here. We got out of the boat twice to look at caves, one where the guide enthusiastically pointed out dripstone (he obviously hadn’t been warned about my aversion against that natural feature), and the other where we saw a pretty nocturnal butterfly. Further up, high against the cliffs, the remains of Vazimba tombs can also be seen. The white skulls of the oldest Malagasy ancestors laying there even are visible to the naked eye.
Back on land, we walked to the entrance of the Petit Tsingy which lies next to the village. It does have a creative entrance sign (made out of pieces of tsingy) including a UNESCO logo, so I think we can count that as the plaque. Hiking in the Tsingy is a skill that takes a while to get used to – the rock tops are quite sharp, but most of the time you can hold on to them sideways. They will not break easily. You have to squeeze through narrow passages, where I’d say a person 5kg heavier than me already would really have trouble. Climbing is done via well-positioned steps, using handrails and ropes for support, and ladders. All these man-made additions were in good condition and really added to my confidence in getting around safely. In the end, I must say that I found the experience more ‘interesting’ than truly spectacular – the Petit Tsingy is just a tiny plot of Stone Forest, taking 1.5 hours at most.
The next day we departed at 6 a.m. for the Grand Tsingy. Its entrance lies 17km north of Bekopaka, so we started with another hour’s drive. This stretch of road is even worse than the others we’d been on so far, and we even got stuck on the way back (but my driver, my guide and the local park guide managed to dig us out). There’s a car park just outside the forest, from where the Grand Tsingy hikes start. We did the Andamozavaky Circuit.
The hike starts in the forest surrounding the Tsingy. It is home to lemurs, and we had good sightings of Decken's Sifaka (with a baby on the back) and Red-fronted Brown Lemur. After 1.5 km you reach the first ladder and that’s where the fun starts. I felt like a mountaineer, kitted up in a harness, clipping myself to the ropes that have been attached to the trickier parts, and climbing ladders to move from viewpoint to viewpoint. It is quite amazing how they have made these stony peaks accessible for viewing. After a couple of them though, you get the idea – it is what it is (googling 5 pictures of ‘Tsingy de Bemaraha’ will give you the best-known views) and comes without many surprises, although a blossoming flower at the bare rocks was a pretty sight.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole expedition of getting there and being there, experiencing this part of Madagascar. It was one of the most adventurous WH visits I did so far. We managed to leave the area safely, this time with two armed soldiers in the back of ‘my’ 4WD as we led the convoy out.
Practicalities (June 2023):
- I reached the starting point of the expedition, the coastal city of Morondava, by a 1-hour domestic flight executed by Tsaradia from Tana (206 EUR). They only fly on Thursday and Sunday, and you have to book weeks ahead. Sometimes online booking via the official website may not work, then use Kiwi.com. I left again for Tana by Cotisse taxi-brousse, 12 EUR and 16+ hours.
- I had arranged the 4-day Tsingy transport (650 EUR) beforehand via R'jan Tsingy Expedition. Guesthouses and hotels in Morondava can link you with a local operator if you have not yet booked anything, the trip is regularly done in the dry season May-September.
- I booked the hotel in Bekopaka, the gateway town to Tsingy, myself: the Orchidee de Bemaraha, a dated but clean complex in a nice setting including a pool. They provide all meals as well, against a 50% higher cost than usual in Madagascar.
- The park entrance fee is 55,000 Ariary (12 EUR) per day. Plus the cost of a guided tour, depending on scope and group size about 165,000 Ariary (36 EUR). The boat guy and local guide expect a small tip as well. So bring lots of cash to the area (the hotel also only takes cash), I brought 2 million Ariary and used about 1.2 million!
Els - 2 July 2023
Els Slots 4 July 2023
I would not recommend it if you have an intense fear of heights. If it is just a little bit I think you would be fine.
Astraftis 4 July 2023
This sounds exceptional! Just a confirmation question: is all these ladders and scrambling compatible with some fear of heights, or is it really vertiginous as it seems?