"Enchanting Isalo" Tangorombohitr' Isalo by CatherineReichardt

Tangorombohitr' Isalo Travel Guide: 41 reviews and 89 photos

Of all the wonderful places that we visited in Madagascar, Isalo was the one that stole my heart.

Maybe one of the reasons why we enjoyed it so much was that we didn't have any preconceptions or expectations of the place: we had high hopes of the wildlife that we might see in the forest reserves, but Isalo was a bit of an unknown quantity - what a relevation!

Isalo is a sandstone massif (a huge, steep sided rock mass) which rears unexpectedly out of a very flat plain. It is incised by a number of steep, forested gorges and is a paradise for hikers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. Perhaps the best known features of the area are La Reine (a rocky outcrop which - using the eye of faith - resembles a queen's head) and La Fenetre, a 'window' in the rock through which you can watch the sun set. Both of these attractions are easily accessible from the main road - and thus, are 'well touristed' by the standards of the area - but you can only properly appreciate Isalo if you've prepared to pull on your hiking boots, hire a guide (which is mandatory for all of the Madagascar reserves) and explore on foot.

Wind and water have carved the sandstone outcrops into bizarre shapes, and at dawn and dusk, the rocks seem to literally glow in shades of yellow and pink. Similar erosive forces have cut the steep gorges, which are densely forested due to the presence of permanent water and provide a stark contrast to the sparse dryland vegetation of the exposed parts of the massif. Cliffs are pockmarked with numerous caves, and overall, it is a geomorphological marvel. Even having left my geologist roots long behind me, I was reminded of what attracted me to the discipline in the first place!

The wildlife at Isalo is also spectacular, and distinct from what we saw in the rain forest of the other reserves that we visited. The forested gorges are a haven for lemurs - particularly sifakas and ring tails - and we were lucky enough to have a guide who was knowledgeable about frogs and reptiles - and had clearly been a boy scout at some point as he came prepared with his own surgical glove so that he could show us the tiny but very poisonous 'blue jeans' frog! We were also lucky with the range of chameleons we saw - from the tiny brookesias to the enormous Ousterlet's chameleon that we discovered metres away from where our vehicle was parked. However, perhaps the stars for us were the massive stick insects that we found in bushes on the exposed open plain of the massif - not so much twigs as walking sticks!

Isalo is also of immense cultural significance to people from the surrounding towns and fady pervades every aspect of the way that people interact with this landscape: a simple example is that it is forbidden to point directly at anything (you indicate the direction with your knuckle rather than an extended finger). The numerous caves are used for 'temporary burial' - a cultural practice distinct to that particular region, which requires the body to be temporarily interred in a cave until decomposition/dessication is complete. The body is then reclaimed by the family and buried in the home village, leaving the coffin for reuse at a later date. The Malagasy rituals around death and burial are, for many tourists, one of the most intriguing aspects of the culture, and a reminder of how ever-present the threat of death is in a society with such a short life expectancy: it certainly wrenched at my heart to stumble across a child-sized coffin awaiting reuse.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Starkly, staggeringly beautiful with amazing wildlife and intriguing cultural aspects
  • Cons:You need to hike to fully appreciate Isalo, so come prepared
  • In a nutshell:For hikers and wildlife enthusiasts, this is pretty close to paradise!
  • Last visit to Tangorombohitr' Isalo: Nov 2008
  • Intro Updated Aug 14, 2013
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  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Aug 12, 2013 at 1:20 AM

    Fantastic!! I would love to hop into the natural pools and have a waterfall as shower :-)) That hotel sounds fantastic too and the landscape.... marvellous!

CatherineReichardt

“Never go the same way twice!”

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