On the southern edge of the central highlands, the spectacular landscape of the 310-square-kilometre Parc National d’Andringitra looms up between the RN7 highway and the east-facing escarpment that drops to the coast, 100km away. Only created in 1999, the park has sharply divided ecosystems, from forest and grassland on the northern and western sides, where there’s a notable dry winter season, to mountain moorland around the bare granite peaks, to remote ravines tangled with rainforest on the eastern slopes. Andringitra is extraordinarily rich in wildlife, with 13 species of lemurs, more than 30 other mammals, 106 species of birds, 35 reptiles, no fewer than 57 species of frog and at least 1000 species of plants and trees.
You should be prepared for rain throughout the year (especially higher up) and for low temperatures at night.
Most of the park circuits start at the Namoly Gate in the east. Walks in the west mostly take place outside the park proper but give you great views and ring-tailed lemur encounters. Walking west to east (from the Morarano Gate in the west to Namoly) or vice versa takes a minimum of two days in each direction.
The trails in the park are mostly in good condition, but they’re long and quite arduous. The easiest is the Circuit Asaramanitra, a 6km loop (plus the 4km access trail from the Namoly Gate) which takes a good half-day to complete, including a visit to the base of the Riandahy and Riambavy falls, just 500m apart. To the east, the 8km Circuit Imaintso (plus a 7km access trail from the Namoly Gate) loops through primary rainforest.
If you have a full day and make an early start, you could do the Circuit Diavolana. This 13km route through a range of climate zones runs below the cliffs, above the waterfalls, and finishes at a campsite. As you climb, the landscape becomes increasingly Lord of the Rings, with streams tumbling through the rocky grassland, stone-walled Betsileo tombs tucked into clefts in the mountain and the vast, curtain-like folds of the higher altitudes creating a looming backdrop that never seems to get any closer – until suddenly the cliffs are right above you.
With two or three days available, you could tackle the tough, 28km Imarivolanitra trail, which takes in the 2658-metre summit of the same name. The second highest point on the island, it’s still more often known by its old name, Pic Boby, so called after a French hiker’s dog that went missing up here in 1920. To reach Pic Boby at sunrise, you’ll need to leave the plateau camp by 3am.
Although the park is extremely biodiverse, its wildlife isn’t always easy to see and the greatest number of species is found in the inaccessible eastern rainforest. Andringitra’s most emblematic species is the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) and you’ll invariably encounter ring-tails at Camp Catta, as well as higher up in the mountains. Other lemurs – all found in the eastern forests – include the red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur rufifrons) and red-bellied lemur (E.rubriventer), Milne-Edwards’ sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi) and the greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus).
Outstanding birdlife includes the handsome and relatively common Madagascar blue pigeon (Alectroenas madagascariensis), with its distinctive red tail, and the much less easily seen, hook-billed and stump-tailed yellow-bellied sunbird-asity (Neodrepanis hypoxantha), which is like a diminutive flying lemon, flashing through the high forest.
Reptiles and amphibians
Andringitra’s most notable chameleon, found in bushes in the high-altitude grasslands, is the unmistakeably jewel-like Campan’s chameleon (Furcifer campani), with its three lateral stripes and multicoloured scales. Above the tree line, look out for two Andringitra endemics – the mottled mountain climbing frog (Anodonthyla montana), which breeds in rainwater puddles in the granite and can often be found tucked under stones, and the prettily green-patterned Andringitra bright-eyed tree frog (Boophis laurenti), which makes do with heather bushes for trees and breeds in fast-flowing streams above 2000m.