Mangily & Isalo National Park, By Ellie

Amidst all those days of serious research (and maybe the odd game of cards) during your stay in Madagascar, you may want to venture outside of Honko and explore the surrounding region. You can reach some cool places by taxi brousse in a day or less and you’ve got to make the most of your time in this beautiful country. The twice weekly trips to Tulear are always a treat – we mainly take advantage of the good food and wifi connection, but you can also go to the beach or try surfing. And if you fancy staying over, partying in Tulear is always good fun. During my month or so at Honko I have enjoyed a few days and weekends away beyond the bi-weekly Tulear trips, including several excursions to the nearby Mangily and a weekend at Isalo National Park.

My first trip to Mangily was within a few days of my arrival at Honko. Mangily is a coastal town about 14km from Ambondrolava (40 min to more than an hour by taxi brousse; you’ll get used to Madagascar time). Alison, a fellow volunteer, and I headed out early to go for a morning dive with Anne at Mangily Dive School. We started the day with coffee and hot chocolate at Anne’s bar and restaurant on the beach, and then headed out on a motor boat to the dive site.  After an hour or so of exploring the reefs where we saw lots of beautiful brightly coloured sea life, we headed back to the beach. Mangily is a great place to relax and to channel your inner tourist. That day, Alison and I went souvenir shopping and got massages on the beach before journeying back to Honko.

Photo 1 - The beach at Mangily

On another day trip to Mangily a couple of weeks later, several Honko staff and volunteers went to Reniala, a spiny forest nature reserve, for a bird-focused guided tour. We saw 17 bird species, including the rare and endemic long-tailed ground roller and subdesert mesite. As well as the birds there are several species of baobab, plus a lemur conservation programme. It’s a fantastic place to explore. A couple of weeks later, I spent another awesome morning whale watching in Mangily with Nina. We did it the traditional way: via parogues, and were lucky enough to see both dolphins and whales. The whole parogue reverberated with the calls of whales from deep in the ocean, which really was incredible. You can also go fishing or just on a boat trip from Mangily, and if you’re interested in wildlife and conservation then there is the Tortoise Village, another local conservation initiative, to visit. I really enjoy just relaxing at the beach and in the bars and restaurants by the sea when we visit Mangily. The town gets lively in the evening, and it’s another fun place for a night out.

Photo 2 - Reniala Nature Reserve

On another weekend trip, several Honko volunteers travelled to Isalo National Park. A one way journey from Tulear to Isalo takes around 6 hours, not including any unexplained stops your taxi brousse may make along the way. On our recent trip, the other volunteers and I left Honko early to catch a taxi brousse to Tulear. From here, we got on another taxi brousse headed to Ranohira, the town closest to Isalo. We left Tulear at around 9am to arrive outside our hotel at around 3pm – we were lucky to have a relatively fast journey. Guides were waiting for tourists getting off the taxi brousse, and we walked with one to the nearby Isalo Information Office to book our tour for the following day. We ate and drank for the rest of the evening: Ranohira is small, but there are a few nice local and international restaurants.

At 7am the next morning after a Malagasy street food breakfast, we met our guide at the Information Office. We were driven to the park entrance, and from there started our hike. The landscape was beautiful, and our guide very knowledgable. Early in the day he showed us family burial sites in the caves within the park boundaries. Locals are still allowed to use these graves because the tradition stretches back long before Isalo was a national park. We saw some amazing flora and fauna, and our guide loved making us play the game ‘who can find the stick insect in the bush first’. I never won. At the lunch spot, we saw ring-tailed lemurs, red-fronted brown lemurs and the beautiful and almost entirely white sifaka – the first I had seen in Madagascar. They were stunning, and pretty habituated to human presence; especially when there was lunch available to steal. You can choose whether to take your own supplies (which you should probably buy in Tulear, as Ranohira isn’t big on shops) for lunch, or to pay 20 000 Ar to have lunch provided at Isalo, which is both enormous and delicious. You can buy some drinks at the picnic site, but you should make sure to take plenty of water with you to Isalo: there often isn’t shade.

Photo 3 - Ring-tailed lemur at Isalo

We continued our walk after lunch and along the way there are a few opportunities to swim in some small pools; the water is a gorgeous blue and crystal clear. It is also icy cold, but it’s fun to swim and cool off during the hike. After visiting a waterfall and havng a final swim, we headed back to the park entrance. We were met at the gates and driven back to our hotel. Exhausted after our day, we relaxed for the rest of the evening. We were walking for most of the day, and your group can choose to extend or reduce the hike a little. The walking, the scenery and the wildlife at Isalo have been a real highlight of my time in Madagascar so far, and I would strongly reccommend this trip during your stay. There are several varied and interesting places to visit not too far from Honko, and spending a few days exploring them is a wonderful way to experience more of this amazing country.                                                                                                                                                                    Photo 4 - To cool off at Isalo

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