Coquerel's Sifaka

Ankarafantsika National Park – Travel Blog. Everything you need to know and what to expect when visiting this easily accessible and hugely rewarding park.

Ankarafantsika National Park (Parc National d’Ankarafantsika) is one of the largest dry, dense, deciduous forests left in Madagascar. Sadly, it is also one of the last. Visiting Ankarafantsika National Park wasn’t originally on our itinerary. But as we ended up a few days ahead of schedule, we had just enough time to squeeze it in! Although quite a distance (about 450km) from the capital Antananarivo, it was actually very easy to access by taxi-brousse.

As mentioned in our ‘Andasibe-Mantadia National Park‘ blog, we had pre-booked our return taxi-brousse tickets to the park. This was through Cotisse and done before heading to Andasibe, which meant our journey from Tana to Ankarafantsika was super smooth and relaxed. A very early morning taxi ride from our hostel, Madagascar Underground, got us to the Cotisse bus station with time to stock up on some snacks from their cafe and we were on our way bang on time. But as they say ‘things don’t always go to plan.’ About 15 minutes after setting off, the driver pulled over due to brake problems. A new bus was sent out straight away which was even more modern and comfortable than the previous one.

As we set off towards Mahajanga (Majunga), about an hour out of Tana, the landscape changed. All we really saw was bare rolling hills hour after hour, with hardly a tree in sight. It was both surreal and sad to see the extent of Madagascar’s extreme deforestation.

Drive from Ankarafantsika National Park

We stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch before heading onto Ankarafantsika National Park. As this bus was bound for Mahajunga (Majunga) it was hardly surprising we were the only ones dropped off at the park, which straddles the RN4. There were several options for accommodation at the parks Gite d’Ampijora, with camping, gites and bungalows on offer. We resisted the temptation for one of the spacious bungalows and instead went for one of the much cheaper basic gite options.

After settling in we discussed the hike options with a guide for the following days and opted for a 4-6 hour private hike (Ar65,000.) This would take us on Coquereli Circuit (in search of lemurs) and the Ankarokaroka Trail (out to the Lavaka of Ankarokaroka) through the western half of the park. We then retreated to the restaurant for a couple of cold beers. Whilst sitting in the open-sided restaurant, we were pretty excited to see some endangered Coquerel’s Sifaka’s leap by.

Up for an early start to try and beat the oppressive heat, we set off on our hike starting with the Coquereli circuit. Not too far into this section of forest we came across our first group of what we thought were Madagascar’s most inquisitive and photogenic lemurs so far- the Coquerel’s Sifaka.

Despite Ankarafantsika’s incredibly accessible location, it was one of the lesser-visited parks, which meant we were able to really enjoy these Sifakas almost entirely alone. In fact, we only came across three other people and two guides during our whole hike.

These Coquerel’s Sifaka were worth the long journey alone, they really were amazing creatures. We reluctantly moved on in search of Ankarafantsika’s critically endangered endemic Mongoose Lemur, finding a couple not too far away. Those guys couldn’t have been more different from the Coquerel’s. Where as the Coquerel’s were inquisitive, photogenic and reasonably docile, the Mongoose Lemurs were exactly the opposite, seemingly trying to do all they could to avoid getting their photo taken.

After the elusive Mongoose lemurs, we saw an endangered Milne-Edwards’ Sportive Lemur gazing out of its tree hole. Again, these were certainly far easier to capture on camera than those Mongoose Lemurs! Sadly like many other creatures that rely on tree hollows to sleep and/or nest in, their numbers are dwindling and they are classed as endangered. With ever decreasing suitable sites due to deforestation, the hollows that take decades to develop are simply disappearing.

Milne-Edwards Sportive Lemur, Ankarafantsika National Park - Madagascar

Our guide then led us over to a tree and pointed high up into its branches. Silhouetted in the bright sunshine was a nocturnal Western Woolly lemur and its infant. It was hard to get a clear shot, but after a little bit of manoeuvring we eventually got an angle. Even with the obstructed view, we could see their characteristically big eyes staring down at us. Though you could see the similarity between the Eastern Woolly’s in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park and the Western Woolly’s, there were a few obvious differences – their eyes and face colour.

Woolley Lemur, Ankarafantsika National Park - Madagascar

Next up we saw both Crested and Red-Capped Coua and a distinctive Sickle-Billed Vanga. There were plenty more lemurs too, with several more groups Coquerel’s Sifaka, Brown Lemur and a couple more of the cute and sleepy looking Milne-Edwards’ Sportive Lemurs.

Crested Coua, Ankarafantsika National Park

Our guide then showed us some Flatid Leaf Bugs. We had already seen the highly camouflaged adult bugs with their pink flower-like appearance in Anja Community Reserve. But these were their wingless juvenile nymphs. The juveniles had a different trick up their sleeves to avoid the predators. They excrete a waxy substance which ‘grows’ from the animal-like long wispy feathers. If a bird or other predator makes a grab for one of these insects it gets a beakful of white nothing and the animal jumps to safety with a flea-like hop. The guide explained that they also excrete a sugary material, which hardens on the leaves and is a favourite snack of the parks Mouse lemurs.

flatid-leaf juveniles Ankarafantsika National Park

We then left the forested Lemur-laden Coquereli Circuit and headed out on the Ankarokaroka trail. This led us across the seriously hot grassland plateau towards the canyon. In contrast to the forest, there wasn’t much wildlife out here. But, we did see some Madagascar Bee-eaters, one of our favourite bird species. Not quite as flamboyant as some of the other Bee-eaters we had come across in other parts of the world, but still always great to see.

Madagascar Bee-eater, Ankarafantsika National Park

Ankarokaroka Canyon, known as the Lavaka of Ankarokaroka was pretty impressive. Being sandstone, it was very different from the limestone pinnacles we had seen in Tsingy B . Sadly as you can see from our picture, it also clearly shows the devastating deforestation that has taken place around the park and beyond.

Lavaka of Ankarokaroka, Ankarafantsika NP

Keen to get out of the roasting sun, we headed back to the forest and saw yet more Sifaka and Coua before reaching the park headquarters and our gite. After a very enjoyable few hours in the extreme heat, we had a nice leisurely remainder of the day.

Coquerel's Sifaka, Madagascar

For the following day, we had ummed and ahhed about what to do. As with all the parks, there weren’t multi-day entry tickets available. So, if we wanted to go on another hike the following day, even if it was only for an hour, we would have had to pay the park entrance fee again. So, although we had been keen to see the other side of the park (the northern half) we just couldn’t justify the entrance price . And, this would have been on top of another guide’s fee. There was also a boat trip available offering the chance to see Nile Crocodiles. However, as we had seen many Nile crocs throughout Africa already, we instead decided on a night walk that evening.

As this was on the outskirts of the park, no entrance fee was required. We were keen to see the remaining 3 of the parks 5 nocturnal lemurs – the Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur, Grey Mouse Lemur and the Golden-brown Mouse Lemur. The latter can only be found in and around this park.

During the morning we explored the extensive campsite and areas around the park headquarters. Home to plenty of wildlife, particularly birds, what was intended as a quiet start to the day, turned into an incredibly sweaty one, chasing birds around with the camera. These included the Crested Drongo, Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, Crested Coua, Madagascar Hoopoe, Grey-Headed Lovebirds, Broad-billed Rollers, Madagascar Green Pigeon, Greater Vasa Parrots, White-headed Vanga, Rufous Vanga and another Sickle-Billed Vanga. One of the funnier moments came when we witnessed a colourful male Souimanga Sunbird getting pretty confused by its reflection on the shiny park office windows. It really is a bird enthusiasts paradise with 130+ bird species found here.

Grey-Headed Lovebirds, Ankarafantsika National Park
Ankarafantsika Hoopoe

That afternoon we discovered a raised bird hide overlooking the lake across the road from the park’s headquarters. We retreated there for a good while to make the most of any breeze. It was also a great place to see yet more birds. We saw thousands of Bubulcus Ibis, or Cattle Egret as we know them.

Parc National d'Ankarafantsika Bird Hide

We saw numerous Squacco Heron too. They were there in largish numbers because these usually solitary birds are colonial breeders and we were there during the breeding season. These herons also change in appearance during that season from relatively drab to pretty slick. The makeover includes breeding plumage feathers elongating and their bills turning from a dull grey and yellow to a bright blue with a black tip.

We also saw a Malagasy Coucal as well as the endangered Humblot’s Heron (Madagascar Heron.) Whilst at the raised viewing platform, we also noticed the menacing grey clouds rolling in. After fearing the worst for our night walk after our wet experience in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, we were initially slightly relieved when our guide didn’t turn up to meet us at the park office on time.

Madagascar Coucal, Parc National d'Ankarafantsika

15 minutes late he appeared and tried to reassure us it wouldn’t rain imminently, despite the incredibly dark clouds above us. He then suggested rather than wait to catch a taxi-brousse to the start point, we walk an hour or so to get there. Apparently the taxi-brousse weren’t regular at this time. We had wrongly assumed we were going to use one of the parks minivans to get there. And, we were slightly alarmed by the idea of a 3 hour round trip on foot. Not only did it look like the ass was going to fall out of the sky at any moment but, walking in the dark on the main road to and from the night walk was not a particularly safe idea either. With no street lighting and speeding vehicles, we were not keen at all.

Sensing the guide didn’t seem overly eager for the night walk either we decided it was best to cancel. And no sooner had we sat down in the restaurant, the heavens truly opened. It literally hammered down for the next 6 hours. Thank goodness we hadn’t set off on foot. We would have had some very soggy camera gear!

The next morning we were both up early fretting about our pick up from the park. We had pre-booked our bus tickets with Cotisse in Tana and they noted we were to be picked up at the park entrance, rather than Mahajanga (Majunga) where the bus journey commenced. But we were unsure of exactly what time it would stop to pick us up and were afraid that the driver wouldn’t know to pick us up and would drive right past us! We had no phone reception to call the office to reconfirm. On the plus side, whilst waiting, we were able to see more wildlife in the surrounding trees which were a nice distraction. Needless to say, we were incredibly happy to see our Cotisse bus pulling over to pick us up.

Ankarafantsika National Park Entrance

After our initial worries, it was nice to have another hassle-free journey back to Tana. And being our last night, we treated ourselves to another tasty meal at Sakamanga’s, along with a few icy cold THB draught beers to celebrate a successful month in Madagascar!

Getting to/from and around Ankarafantsika National Park

Right on the RN4, Ankarafantsika is easily accessible by taxi-brousse from Antananarivo and Mahajunga (Majunga). Jump on any taxi-brousse heading towards Mahajunga (if in Antananarivo 8-9hrs) or towards Antananarivo (if in Mahajunga 2 hrs) and ask to get off at the park entrance.

If travelling by taxi-brousse, Cotisse Transport is an awesome option to travel to/from Ankarafantsika National Park. The Antananarivo – Mahajunga route goes right past the park entrance. If taking the Cotisse bus in either direction, tickets must be pre-booked as they sell out in advance. Price as of 2018 was Ar35,000p/p

Cotisse Transport offers reliable and well-maintained vehicles, safe drivers and is a comfy way to make the long journey. Seats sell out fast and well in advance, especially during peak seasons. We recommend pre-booking tickets. At the time of our visit, foreigners couldn’t pay online. If this is the case, ask your hostel to call and reserve your seats. You will then need to go to the Cotisse bus station 24-48hrs prior to your departure to pay.

Accommodation at Ankarafantsika National Park

Gite d’Ampijora has a range of accommodation. We stayed in a gite. it was super basic but clean and comfortable enough for a couple of nights. The shared facilities were basic also (cold water only) but fine. There is also bungalows which were very spacious, but 3 times the price. They all seemed to sleep 4 people, so maybe a good option for a small group

  • Camping (tents provided) Ar20,000
  • Gite TWN/DBL with shared facilities – Ar30,000
  • Private en-suite bungalow – Ar90,000

There is a restaurant on site, below is an idea of prices.

  • Breakfast from – Ar15,000
  • Entree/dessert – Ar15,000
  • Main course lunch/dinner – Ar20,000
  • Large Water – Ar5,000
  • Large beer – Ar4,000

Best time to visit Ankarafantsika National Park

Madagascar is a massive island and its climate varies from east to west and from north to south. But as general rule April to October are the drier months, with December to end of April are the wetter months in Ankarafantsika National Park. Though, this part of Madagascar is a pretty dry area, it doesn’t see too much rain and is accessible year round.

Things really start getting busy from June with the peak months being the European school holidays of July and August. If you can avoid those two months you will have a quieter experience in parks and accommodation will be far less busy! December can also be quite busy here too.

Ankarafantsika National Park has a huge array of birdlife, and it’s at is most impressive from October to December. Lizards and snakes tend to come out of hibernation from September through to December too.

How much time do you need at Ankarafantsika National Park

This often overlooked park is a lovely place to visit for a day or two. It is also a very popular journey breaker for those travelling from Antananarivo – Mahjunga.

Prices as of November 2018

  • Ankarafantsika National Park entrance fee – Ar55,000p/p per day
  • Guiding Fees
    • 2-4 hrs in the (up to 4 ppl) – Ar65,000
    • 1 hr boat ride – Ar40,000 (that price is for the boat, not p/p)
    • 1 hr walk on the northern side of the park around the lake – Ar45,000

Essential information & tips

  • Take lots of water as it can get seriously hot and water is expensive at the park
  • Long lightweight clothes will help protect you from the sun. Likewise, take sunscreen and a hat
  • There is a restaurant on sight. Food was pretty expensive for Madagascar. Take snacks with you
  • Unlike the Southern section of the park, there isn’t much wildlife in the Northern section of the park
  • Park admission is paid on a daily basis. You could easily do a hike in the morning and boat trip and/or hike in the afternoon. In which case, you would only need one day in the park and only pay the entrance fee once.
  • Take a raincoat in the wet season, mostly for the afternoon
  • There is no WIFI at the park and no phone reception either. However, we were able to get a little phone service out at the canyon
  • There is literally nothing else near the park at all. Take a book etc to help bide the time in between hikes etc. There is also a lot of wildlife in and around the park headquarters, including sifakas.
  • Biodegradable wet wipes or antibacterial hand wash. Good way to clean the hands before a packed lunch.
  • Head torch for night walks and when theres no electricity.
  • Quick-dry travel towel, for the swimming spots on the hike.
  • If you have a passion for wildlife photography, we highly recommend taking a decent zoom lens. We shoot the majority of our wildlife pics with a Canon 100-400mm.
  • The Madagascar Wildlife – Bradt Guides book was so informative and helpful for identification purposes.
  • Download to your phone so that you have offline maps. We love pinning our journeys as we travel.

Our Highlights

  • Seeing the Coquerel Sifakas. Their curiosity meant we were able to see them quite close for a long time. They are also really beautiful, as were the Western Woollies.
  • As bird lovers, we were so happy with the numbers and diversity of birds at the park.

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  1. Ellie DeBeer
    3 April 2019 / 2:12 pm

    Love this! You answered lots of my questions. What is the rate for Au$ to Ar $? Like how much is a beer in Au $? or USD? One of my friends said not to go to Madagascar in Jan.–March due to cyclones & too much rain. Of course, that’s when I wanted to go. But that’s probably the reason there are no G Adventure, nor Intrepid, or Tucan tours at that time. I want to do Garden route Cape Town to JNB including Kruger, but no camping, so Dale can go too. I have found one, but I’d like to add on places I haven’t been like Mauritius and Madagascar. Ideas? Your pictures are fantastic & the whole thing quite educational.

    • alittleoff
      4 April 2019 / 10:35 am

      Glad you’re enjoying it. With the rate, we put it in local currency as it often fluctuates (we tend to use to get a currency conversion,) but in Ankarafantsika we were paying Ar4000 for a large local bottled beer, which is currently USD$1.10. So pretty cheap. Generally, bottled beers were around this price in most places. The Craft beers we had at the hostel in Tana were more expensive around A7000/8000 for a small bottle. Your friends correct, the weather in that period makes it almost impossible to travel, flooded roads and horrible conditions to search for sheltering wildlife, make it less than appealing. For the West coast and specifically Tsingy de Bemaraha it tends to be cut off from mid-November to March due to flooding, so you can’t even get there if you wanted. When we left in late November, you could see the wet weather moving in and each day was getting a little wetter. We’ve just posted our Kruger Blog and will post our Panorama Route, Mauritius and Seychelles ones shortly.

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