Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar’s Heritage Site That Few Can Reach

Getting to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park isn’t easy, but those who make the trek are handsomely rewarded.

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Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar's Heritage Site That Few Can Reach-Surge Zirc
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park/photo credit: BBC

Getting to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar isn’t easy, but those who make the trek are handsomely rewarded.

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The place where one cannot walk

Gazing up at the jagged pinnacles that surrounded me, I could see why the locals had labelled them as tsingy. Meaning the ‘place where one cannot walk’ in Malagasy, the tsingy have been shaped by time and the elements into a spiky forest wonderland. Not only are the limestone karst towers razor-sharp, the thought of trying to climb them is terrifyingly daunting.

Then again, nothing comes easy when it involves one of the world’s most difficult-to-reach Unesco World Heritage sites: Madagascar’s 1,500 sq km Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar's Heritage Site That Few Can Reach-Surge Zirc
Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar’s most exhilarating attractions/photo credit: BBC

An exhilarating attraction

The jagged pinnacles were largely inaccessible until the 1990s, when French explorer and speleologist Jean-Claude Dobrilla founded the Antsika Association (antsika meaning ‘together’ in Malagasy), an organisation designed to help the Malagasy preserve and profit from their natural resources.

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With help from locals, Antsika Association members set up a comprehensive set of aerial suspension bridges, steel cables, pegs and ladders ‒ all of which can be traversed safely using climbing harnesses – and trained local guides in climbing, equipment maintenance and safety skills. Nine years after the Antsika Association’s founding, Tsingy de Bemaraha has become one of the country’s most exhilarating attractions.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar's Heritage Site That Few Can Reach-Surge Zirc
The Tsiribihina and the Manambolo River infested with crocodiles/photo credit; BBC

A treacherous crossing

While even amateur climbers can now safely make it to the top of the tsingy, getting to the park is no easy feat. Located on Madagascar’s remote west coast, the national park is only accessible by dirt road, which becomes an unnavigable quagmire for six months of the year during the rainy season. There are also two major river crossings en route: the Tsiribihina and the Manambolo, both of which are infested with crocodiles.

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I opted for a dry season visit; the plan was to drive 10 hours to Tsingy de Bemaraha from the city of Morondava on Madagascar’s west coast. I hired a four-wheel drive vehicle and driver and supplied a cash payment for the privilege of having our car ferried across the rivers on rafts made from wooden pirogues with planks on top.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar's Heritage Site That Few Can Reach-Surge Zirc
Avenue of the Baobabs/photo credit: BBC

An iconic view

About 20km from Morondava, we came upon the aptly named Avenue of the Baobabs, where imposing adansonia grandidieri baobab trees, endemic to Madagascar, line the dirt road. At sunset, the massive trees form silhouettes against the glowing horizon.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar's Heritage Site That Few Can Reach-Surge Zirc
The small village of Bekopaka/photo credit: BBC

The gateway to a jagged forest of stone

After completing the second river crossing at the Manambolo, the road came to an end in the small village of Bekopaka, home to many of the park’s guides and employees as well as a handful of seasonal lodges. This is also the national park headquarters, where travellers can get entry permits as well as hire a guide and climbing equipment for ascending the tsingy.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar's Heritage Site That Few Can Reach-Surge Zirc
Ascending the Tsingy de Bemaraha/Photo credit: BBC

Ascending the tsingy

It was an exciting and nerve-wracking climb through narrow gullies and rocky crevices. At the start of the ascent, I found myself flat on my belly, crawling through caves and sliding through tight passages. My guide led the way, pointing out the best hand and footholds as we neared the top of the tsingy.

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Three hours later, we summited the peaks, and my guide clipped my tether directly onto a bridge, which swayed perilously to and fro above the serrated rocks.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Park: Madagascar's Heritage Site That Few Can Reach-Surge Zirc
forest of limestone/Photo credit: BBC

A view caged in limestone

The views from the suspension bridges and platforms stretch for kilometres across the arid plateau, which appears caged behind the forest of limestone in the foreground.

It was an arduous journey to Tsingy de Bemaraha – but like anything that takes time, it was well worth the effort.

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