In sharp contrast to the lush tropical vegetation of the east, Isalo's attraction is its vast rolling plains interspersed with stunning rock formations. The combination of rare endemic plants and dramatic sandstone rock towers cut by deep canyons and eroded into spectacular shapes simply makes Isalo one of Madagascar’s iconic parks.
Isalo National Park is famed for its spectacular geology, but even in its vast open landscapes the visitor can see some very special wildlife. Head into the canyons where clean streams are flanked by patches of gnarled, ancient woodland to find large groups of must-see ring-tailed lemurs, plus beautiful red-fronted brown lemurs and Verreaux's sifaka.
A patient night walk can yield sightings of an impressive 14 nocturnal lemur species, from mouse lemurs, to sportive lemurs to woolly lemurs. Birders here won't tot up the same numbers of species they might in the eastern rainforests, but with 80 resident species including many endemics, there are some star characters to find here. The most sought after is the rare Benson's rock thrush, but birders will relish the chance to see other endemics including Madagascar crested ibis, Madagascar sandgrouse, Chabert's vanga and Madagascar coucal.
There are some seriously interesting reptile species to be found here too, with 35 species of reptiles and several endemic frogs. Look out for the incredible leaf-nosed snake disguised motionless in small bushes. Botanists will delight in the bizarre elephant's foot trees (Pachypodium), and large locally endemic aloe species.
Isalo is also sacred to the Bara tribe; for hundreds of years they have used caves in the canyon walls as burial sites.
A popular trail is the ‘Canyon des Singes’ which winds through the dense foliage of the forest and brilliantly colored rock formations to reach a stunning azure rock pool known as the ‘piscine naturelle’.
Isalo National Park: where to stay
Jardin du Roy
Perfectly located just outside Isalo National Park and with lovely views, Jardin du Roy has 40 delightful rooms built out of the local stone. A wide variety of activities is available, and the cuisine makes excellent use of vegetables and fruit grown in the hotel’s garden.
Isalo Rock Lodge
A contemporary and beautifully designed hotel, Isalo Rock Lodge sits high in the Sandstone Mountains with fantastic views over Isalo National Park.