Situated nearly 1,000 kilometres south of Madagascar’s capital, Tsimanampetsotsa National Park (also known as Tsimanampetsotsa Reserve) is a remote and fascinating region. Dominated by a salt pan in the centre and marked by a relatively inhospitable terrain, the landscape is certainly unusual. The vegetation surrounding the salt pan is characterised by spiny forests, wetlands, and avenues of baobabs.
Nature lovers who choose to visit the park tend to explore the 20-kilometre salt lake and its avifauna. The stark blue waters of the sulphate lake regularly shift in colour, creating a gradient of shimmering blue. These colours are greatly contrasted by the pink flamboyance of flamingoes gracing the shallows. Almost 100% of wildlife in this area is endemic, making it a great destination for finding distinct species. Hiking, guided night walks, and birding are the most popular activities in the park.
The lack of tourist infrastructure means that the park is a hard-to-reach destination, only accessible by overnighting in neighbouring towns. Visitors can easily fly from Antananarivo to Toliara, and from there it’s a 45-minute boat ride. Toliara is the town serving the region, but visitors tend to stay in the coastal resort town of Anakao.
The giant soda lake is the main attraction of the park and draws in a wealth of birdlife. Flamingos frequent the soda lake, putting on quite a display of pink for onlookers. In the drier spiny forest areas, visitors can spot the energetic coua, grebes and the rare plover. The park is a sanctuary for over 100 bird species, making it fantastic for birders.
Over 24 mammals species and several lemurs dwell within the confines of the reserve. Ring-tailed lemurs and Verreaux’s sifaka lemurs are the most commonly spotted. The white-footed sportive lemur and fat-tailed dwarf lemur can be spotted while out on a thrilling nocturnal walking safari.
Safari-goers can consider themselves lucky if they spot the very localised Grandidier's vontsira, a giant striped mongoose. In addition to the abundant small mammal populations, there are also impressive reptile populations.
There are very distinct seasons in Tsimanampetsotsa National Park. The dry season is from April to October, and the wet season is from November to March. The dry season is the best time to visit, given that the national park is predominantly a walking destination. During the wet season, paths can become slippery and unnavigable; and temperatures soar. September is the best time for birding.
Walking safaris are the name of the game in this reserve, with the most thrilling being the nocturnal lemur-spotting walks. The spiny forest at night can be eerie, but there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the glow from a white-footed sportive lemur’s eyes.
There are four hiking circuits for walking safaris, each offering a specific theme. One of the loops is located around birding hotspots and various viewpoints. A second loop meanders through hills and caves and is ideal for fit nature lovers. This loop includes a riveting caving experience where travellers can spot bats. The third loop is all about the endemic flora, and the fourth is a lemur-watching excursion.
Just three kilometres outside of the park along the coastline is a peeling wave, ideal for surfing. Visitors can combine birdwatching at the soda lake with surfing on the coast and a whale watching experience. A popular lodge in the area offers quad biking safaris into the park.
Most accommodation options are in the town of Toliara where visitors will find basic hotels, bed and breakfasts, and basic lodgings. There are two very rustic campsites in the park, but they are usually utilised by overnight hikers and the birding fraternity. Most visitors choose to stay at the beach lodges, which are closeby. One of the more popular beach lodges offers self-contained rooms, private balconies, and gourmet cuisine.