Blue-Legged Chameleon - Exploring Ranomafana National Park

Exploring Ranomafana National Park – Travel Blog. Everything you need to know and what to expect when visiting one of Madagascar’s premier parks.

Madagascar has dozens of National Parks. So many, it’s hard to know which ones to visit. For us, Ranomafana was one of the ‘must-see’ parks in Madagascar. The simple reason being, it is one of the best parks to see numerous different species of lemurs. Apart from the lemurs, Ranomafana has the reputation as the best place to see Giraffe-Necked Weevils!

Our journey to Ranomafana National Park started very early from Antsirabe. We had pre-booked our bus tickets at the main bus station the previous night, right through to Ranomafana. Initially, we were expecting to change buses at Fianarantsoa (aka ‘Fianar’). But, we had been intercepted at the bus station by a tout and were trying hard to lose him. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get rid of touts once you engage with them in any way. Not only that, the man selling us our tickets was a ‘non-English’ speaker and communication was proving difficult. So, the tout quickly seized the opportunity to get more involved and help us out.

Madagascar rickshaw

Having read that there were no direct buses to Ranomafana through various platforms, we were surprised when we were told that for an extra Ar10,000 (USD$2.50), the bus would run directly there. Feeling confused and worried we were being scammed, we reconfirmed the route several times before reluctantly buying a ticket. We were willing to take a $5 gamble.

We headed off at 6 am on the RN7 from the main bus terminal, in our taxi-brousse. The journey itself was one of the more spacious ones we ended up having during our month in Madagascar. The landscape was mainly made up of rice terraces and every now and then we would pass a big town.

Tracking the journey on Maps.me we weren’t overly surprised when we drove straight past the first turn off towards Ranomafana. And as we suspected, we shot straight past the second and last turn off. Instead we went directly to Fianar as we had expected to do. Fearing we had been ripped off by paying the extra 10,000 for the direct bus, we were pleasantly surprised when we were immediately herded directly onto a much smaller and far more crowded taxi-brousse. This left straight away for the 2-hour drive to Ranomafana. Our earlier skepticism proved unnecessary!

We asked the bus ‘steward’ to drop us off at Rianala Gite, which was right by the park entrance, which they did. This saved us the 6km backtrack from the actual town of Ranomafana to get to the park.

We’d chosen Rianala Gite for its location right by the park, as we had no car. It proved a great choice not only for its location but for a number of reasons. The young lady manager (whose name we have forgotten) was so friendly and nice. And, as we were travelling in low season we had the whole dorm to ourselves at a great price.

Unusually for us, we hadn’t done too much research into exactly which hiking trails we wanted to do in the park. So when we arrived early the following morning to arrange our guide, we were a bit underprepared by the options available for exploring Ranomafana National Park. There were 3 trails to choose from, ranging from 4-6-8 hours. The longest was by far the most appealing. But as we had not brought any lunch with us, we had to arrange something to eat.

The receptionist suggested the Varibolo, a restaurant right by the park. But when we got there, they had nothing suitable for a packed lunch. So we ran back to our Gite and they made us a lovely omelette sandwich. By the time we were ready to go, some tour groups and 4WD’s had turned up. It was quite busy by the park entrance, a sign of things to come!

The park itself was beautiful rainforest and the trail we were following was a combination of uphill climbing, stairs and downhill scrambling! It didn’t take long for our guide and spotter to find our first lemurs for the day. And, very fittingly, the first ones we saw were the Golden Bamboo Lemurs (female pictured).

Golden Bamboo Lemurs, Ranomafana National Park

We say ‘fittingly’ as it was the Golden Bamboo lemurs discovered here in 1986 by Dr Patricia Wright, which led to the area gaining National Park status. They are still critically endangered sadly, but there’s a good chance of seeing them at Ranomafana. Due to our slightly delayed start of our hike, there were a lot of groups and people floating around.

After the Golden Bamboo Lemurs, we found more of the 12 lemur species found here. The guides are in constant mobile phone communication with other guides and spotters. So, as with the Golden Bamboo Lemurs, when we reached the Red-Bellied Lemurs, there was already a number of other tourists surrounding them. Imbi was even shoved out of the way ‘mid-photo’ by one tourist intent on getting a good angle for his photo. We were then led to the elusive, but beautiful Black and White Ruffed Lemurs. When I say elusive I mean every time we got to where they sitting still, they leapt off a little further and a little higher. It was worth the effort of following them, as they really were beautiful Lemurs.

Black and White Ruffed Lemur at Ranomafana National Park

Eventually giving up on these fidgety Lemurs we moved off in search of the Milne-Edwards’ Sifaka. And again, our guide led us to a group of three of them. Sadly, we were not alone, as when we reached the Sifakas, there were several people already there, pushing and jostling for the best positions.

After a short while, the Sifaka’s moved on and we and the others dissipated. To our surprise when we found the Milne-Edwards’ Sifaka a few minutes later slightly further uphill, we were completely alone and had them to ourselves for a good while. One very confident Sifaka seated himself only 2-3 metres away from us, for a rest.

Milne-Edwards Sifaka at Ranomafana National Park

We were able to photograph him for half an hour, waiting patiently for him to raise his head every 10 minutes or so. Our guide explained that most visitors to the park only do the shorter 4-hour hike option. So by this stage of the day, almost all of them have left the park. So after this, when we found any wildlife, we were often the only ones around to experience it.

This really lifted our mood and we were looking forward to the next few hours of exploring Ranomafana National Park without the crowds! Wretchedly, the weather gods had other ideas. The rains came, so we were led to a viewpoint shelter where we had our packed lunches and waited thirty minutes or so for the rain to stop. We then went off in search of more wildlife via a nice waterfall.

Ranomafana National Park waterfall

Sadly we saw no more lemurs for the day, no doubt sheltering from the intermittent rain. Though we did come across a few bird species and some of the over 100 species of frogs that live here. There were plenty of creepy crawlies too. Some of which Imbi was keener on than others!

We’d chosen to finish our hike at the park entrance (rather than in town) and as we approached it, we were a bit disheartened having not seen the Giraffe-Necked Weevils. But obviously very happy with lemurs we had spotted. As we crossed the river, our guide led us over to a plant called Dichaetanthera Cordifolia. He explained to us that this is the plant the Weevils feed on and he quickly found us both male and female weevils.

Giraffe-necked weevil ranomafana National Park

The males have a long neck which looks giraffe-like, which is where their name is derived. We had expected them to have bright red bodies, but they were all black. Our querying of this was slightly lost in translation, but we think they were juveniles and that was the reasoning for the colour.

giraffe necked weevil

Whilst we were busy photographing the tiny weevils our guide went looking for other wildlife. He excitedly came back to tell us he’d found a chameleon nearby. It was a very steep climb up a bank to reach it, but worth the scramble, as it was the first chameleon we had properly seen on our trip. Our guide said it was a Blue-legged chameleon. However we’re not so sure after later comparing our photo with other Blue-legged chameleon pictures. But hey, we’re definitely not experts!

A Chameleon in Ranomafana National Park

These late finds were an awesome way to finish and we were really happy with our day overall. We definitely had mixed feelings about Ranomafana. The large numbers of tour groups in the Talatakely Trail meant it felt almost ‘zoo’ like when you found the lemurs. But the variety of wildlife was really impressive.

After a long day exploring Ranomafana National Park we retreated the short distance to our accommodation where we enjoyed another amazing meal. The manager had very sweetly gone out to get the two Star Gold Blonde beers. We’d seen them on the menu and asked about these the night before and they hadn’t had any. So she went out and bought some for us especially! It would have been rude not to indulge!

Due to the success of our first day, but ultimately because the ominous looking weather moving in for the next few days, we reluctantly decided one day in the park would have to be enough for us. We left the following morning and were able to flag down a taxi-brousse in the rain heading back to Fianar. From where we connected onto Ranohira, the gateway to our next planned visit – Isalo National park.

Getting to/from and around Ranomafana National Park

From Antsirabe – Ranomafana

Ranomafana is the gateway town for the its namesake park. If you are travelling by taxi-brousse from Tana or Antsirabe to Ranomafana you will likely need to head via Fianarantsoa (Fianar) bus station (6hrs and cost approx Ar20,000p/p. From Fianar buses to Ranomafana from take (2hrs and cost approx Ar6,000p/p. We travelled from Antsirabe-Fianar-Ranomafana in 1 day (approx 9hrs total at a cost of 30,000p/p). If you have no interest in seeing the actual town of Ranomafana and are happy to sleep in a dorm with shared facilities, jump off at Rianala Gite, right by the park entrance (the town is roughly 6 kms further past the park). This will save you taking a bus to get back to the park, along with saving you an extra bus fare!

From Ranomafana – Isalo National Park

If travelling by taxi-brousse, there are direct minibuses running from Fianarantsoa-Ranohira (6hrs Ar15,000p/p) We flagged down a bus passing Rianala Gite from Ranomafana town and paid Ar6000p/p to Fianarantsoa.

Accommodation at Ranomafana National Park

We booked with Rianala Gite directly via email rianalagite@gmail.com. This was basic dorm room with bunk beds and rudimentary communal toilet and cold water shower. Delicious food from their small restaurant. Amazing location right next to the park entrance and very friendly staff. Highly recommended for a budget conscious backpacker!

  • A dorm bed at Rianala Gite – Ar15,000 p/p
  • Meals at Rianala Gite – From Ar4,000+

Best time to visit Ranomafana 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 January to March, the wettest period.

‘Rano mafana’ literally translates to ‘hot water’ and even during the ‘dry’ season you should expect humid conditions with some wet weather in the park. But, as a rule May through to October tend to be the least wet.

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! The shoulder seasons of April-June and September to November are ideal times travel.

For wildlife, October through December are great for lemurs, as babies are born at this time. Birds, also breed in this period. Lizards and snakes tend to come out of hibernation from September through to December.

How much time do you need at Ranomafana National Park

If you’re coming for the wildlife, the longer the better. We were lucky and saw a lot in our 1 day here. The weather dictated our visit and limited it to one day, but we would love to have had one more full day.

Prices as of November 2018

  • Park entrance fee – Ar55,000 p/p,
  • Guiding Fees. This is based on the trails and their timeframe. Hikes up to 4, 6 and 8 hours are available:
    • 4 hours – Ar40,000 p/p
    • 6 hours – Ar60,000 p/p
    • 8 hours – Ar80,000 p/p

Essential information & tips

  • Do one of the longer ‘hike options’ and start early, as soon as the park opens.
  • If staying out by the park, take lots of water with you. We had enough with us but Rianala Gite didn’t have any for sale.
  • It’s worth wearing long lightweight clothing to avoid getting scratches or cuts from bushes/branches.
  • Ranomafana is a rainforest. Take a raincoat/poncho as it can rain at any time.
  • Definitely wear sturdy shoes, sometimes the lemurs may take you ‘a little off track’ and as it rains, the ground may be muddy and slippery.
  • Take a packed lunch if doing the longer hikes.
  • Biodegradable wet wipes or antibacterial hand wash.
  • Head torch for night walks and when theres no electricity.
  • Quick-dry travel towel.
  • If you have a passion for wildlife photography, we highly recommend taking a decent zoom lens as sometimes the animals are far away. 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 Maps.me to your phone so that you have offline maps. We love pinning our journeys as we travel.

Our Highlights

  • Exploring Ranomafana National Park was full of highlights. But we think it’s a toss-up between the Giraffe-Necked Weevils and the Milne-Edwards’ Sifaka. The latter might just shade it as, it was so nice to enjoy them alone after the earlier crowds had gone.

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