Eventually the road bypasses the small fishing village of IFATY (25km from Tuléar) and reaches the coconut groves and scattered wooden bars and shops of MANGILY centre 3km further on. From here, various tracks trail through dry fields and over the dunes to the beach (about 500m) and inland into the bush. As a beach getaway the area plays second fiddle to Anakao and beach vendors can be a nuisance. The main attraction is the beach hotels themselves, some of which are very nice – and the more questionable appeal of Mangily’s watering holes – though the barrier reef here is extensive, and there’s great snorkelling and diving to be done (and the chance to learn if you’re a novice).

Baie de Ranobe coral reefs

The brightest note in this area is focused on the undersea world. A voluntourism reef-diving NGO, ReefDoctor, based on the north side of Ifaty village, works on community-based reef conservation the length of the Baie de Ranobe, the 26km lagoon behind the barrier reef between Ifaty and Manombo. With local participation, they have created the small marine reserves of Andabotira, Ankarajelita and Massif des Roses, which visitors can dive.

Reniala Forêt de Baobabs and around

Several areas of the original wild spiny forest in the Mangily area have been fenced and commercialized as wildlife reserves for guided visits. The largest, though less than 1 square kilometre – and also generally the best reviewed – is the Reniala Forêt de Baobabs, which incorporates a labelled plant trail and bird reserve. The park is open from dawn to dusk, though you should check in with the office by the main road the evening before if you want to make a really early start.

The standout flora here are the baobabs (reniala means baobab in Malagasy), with roughly a thousand specimens of the smooth, cylindrical Adansonia rubrostipa, and the fantastical, cactus-like Didierea family of octopus trees and their relatives, with their tiny leaves and fearsome spines, for which the spiny forest is named, and which are endemic to southwest Madagascar. Lemurs include the attractive little nocturnal grey-brown mouse lemur (Microcebus griseorufus), while the endemic birds highest on every self-respecting birder’s list are the very rare Madagascar plover (Charadrius thoracicus), the very localized red-shouldered vanga (Calicalicus rufocarpalis), the sub-desert mesite (Monias benschi) and that would-be roadrunner, the long-tailed ground roller (Uratelornis chimaera) – though increasingly you’ll need to be lucky to see the last named.

Sharing an entrance off the RN9 with the Reniala Forest on the north side of Mangily are two other parks, the Spiny Forest Ifaty Private Reserve (t 034 36 579 72 or t 033 85 549 44) and the Réserve du Parc Mosa (t 034 36 579 72 or t 033 85 559 44; guided visits from 15,000ar depending on trail and subject of interest).

Village des Tortues

Different from the other reserves is the Village des Tortues, a highly recommended 7-hectare private sanctuary and conservation project for the big radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and diminutive spider tortoise (Pixys arachnoides). Visits among the baobabs, euphorbias and strangely shaped Didierea are accompanied by guides from the sanctuary, and as well as free-roaming adults you can see hatchlings in the nursery areas.

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