Only opened to visitors in 1998, Parc National de Marojejy now vies with Masoala as the country’s most impressive rainforest sanctuary, its rugged mountains providing the region’s distinctive terrain. Marojejy’s soaring multi-green landscape, with buttress-rooted Canarium trees growing to more than 40m in height, is one of Madagascar’s largest mid- to high-altitude rainforest zones, and home to one of the rarest lemurs of all – the snowy white silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus), known as simpona fotsy in Malagasy. With a single baby born usually every two years, after a mating season that lasts just one day, and the world’s entire population of silky sifakas confined to these dramatic forests (there are none in captivity), it’s perhaps not surprising that no more than 200–300 silky sifakas are believed to survive, which makes it even more rewarding when you come across a troop playing and tumbling through the trees like animated escapees from a cuddly toy shop.
Ten other species of lemurs live here, including aye-ayes and the very rare hairy-eared dwarf lemur (Allocebus trichotis) – but no longer any indris, now only found in neighbouring Anjanaharibe-Sud. But the park boasts a huge list of fauna and flora, many of the species rare and very local. To focus on just one group: of seventeen species of chameleons found at Marojejy, five are endemic to the park, living nowhere else on earth.
From November to April, the Marojejy region is slammed by daily torrential rainstorms. There is some respite, but so much water falls that roads are often closed for hours, the trails become impassable and the leech problem reaches epidemic proportions. The best time to visit is from May to October, when it’s slightly cooler and – if not exactly dry – then certainly less rainy.
Hiking in the park
There’s really only one main hiking trail, and Marojejy’s steep, wet slopes are tough for all but the hardiest of visitors – there’s a 2000m altitude variance in the 8km from the park entrance to the peak. Starting from the visitor centre in the village of Manantenina (just 80m above sea level), at the confluence of the Manantenina and the broad, meandering Lokoho rivers, you hike or drive north for about 6km to the park entrance at 180m above sea level, following the Manantenina.
Once inside the park, the trail becomes steeper, with a 270m climb in the course of 3.5km to the first camp, Camp Mantella (450m). The Cascade de Hubert waterfall is a half-hour walk from here, but this area only gives a flavour of the park’s inspiring scenery – and while you might just see northern bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur occidentalis) there are no silky sifakas at this altitude. Marojejy’s prize denizen inhabits the forest from around 700m and above, where you start getting into highland rainforest. You need to be based for the night at Camp Marojejya, 2km further to the west and 325m higher (775m), to have a chance of seeing them.
If you don’t clock the silkies, the majestic scenery alone is still worth all the effort, with the rocky pinnacle of Ambatotsondrona – Marojejy’s icon – soaring up across the valley from Camp Marojejya. Geology lessons don’t get much more vivid than this rocky peak, demonstrating as it does the tooth-like gneiss scenery, with its sheer, hard cliffs facing south where the landforms have buckled and the softer rock has been weathered away by thousands upon thousands of cyclone seasons.
From here, west to Camp Simpona (at an altitude of 1250m), you scale 475m over the course of 2km. Most people don’t go any further, but if you want to summit Marojejy, it’s another half-day’s slog, climbing nearly 900m over the course of a brutal 2km trail that takes you out of the forest into a rocky and often misty, moorland environment, peaking at Marojejy summit (2132m) and putting you above the jagged, neighbouring peaks, with views, on a clear day, as far as the Indian Ocean.
Réserve Spéciale Anjanaharibe-Sud
The forest-swathed, granite Anjanaharibe hills are protected at their southern end by the Réserve Spéciale Anjanaharibe-Sud, containing some of the least disturbed mid-altitude rainforest in Madagascar. These highlands (peaking at 2064m) are akin to the Marojejy twenty years ago: immaculate, inaccessible and compelling – at least for now. Since the 1970s, ministers in Tana have stabbed at maps of Madagascar and lamented the absence of an east–west road link in the north. Many would like the tarmac that reaches Andapa to continue west, straight through Anjanaharibe-Sud, a prospect that alarms conservationists.
Lemurs found in this remote rainforest bastion include, as well as silky sifakas, the black race of the indri (Anjanaharibe-Sud is the northern extremity of the indri’s range), and most of the lemurs found in Marojejy. They all tend to be relatively shy, however, having had until recently little contact with humans that wasn’t violent.
The obvious primary destination in the special reserve is the hot springs, just over 4km from the rough motorable trail that runs through the reserve. It’s a real slog that takes a full day there and back, with plenty of river-fording, log-straddling and leech-removing en route. At the end, you have the reward of a warm bath to look forward to, and the possibility of seeing white-fronted brown lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) and occasionally silky sifakas along the way, in addition to innumerable birds, frogs, reptiles and invertebrates.