Masoala National Park

map Masoala Encompassing 2,300 square kilometres of rainforest and 100 square kilometres of marine parks, Masoala is Madagascar's largest protected area. The park was established in 1997 to preserve this unique ecosystem comprising coastal rainforest, flooded forests, marsh and mangroves from the serious threatens by encroachment from the local communities that depend on the area for agricultural land and firewood, and from international logging companies seeking to harvest timber.
Aye aye
The aye aye is one of Masoala's most bizarre creatures
Picture © Edward Louis Jr
That the Masoala peninsula is truly exceptional is not new: two percent of all of planet earth's animal and plant species resides here. Some species like aye-aye, red-ruffed lemur, Madagascar red owl and the extremely rare serpent eagle are endemic to the peninsula and thus found nowhere else. Masoala harbours also many other novelties.

The park forests abound with chameleons, geckos, frogs as well as several species of butterflies and fish which are new to science. As if that weren't enough, the forests, filled with rare, endemic species, tumble down to the edge of a pristine, unspoiled shore peppered with unexplored golden beaches and the three marine parks that protect over 10,000 ha of coral reefs, marine plants and mangroves around the peninsula. Presently, more than 3,001 fish species have been inventoried in the marine parks. Moreover, the Antongil Bay itself is used also as a sheltered place by humpback whales that gather here during breeding season. During the months of the austral summer, Antongil's waters literally froth with cetaceans. The region also supports one of the most diverse groups of palm species in the world.

leaf-tailed gecko
   Leaf-tailed gecko © Muzzanese
Masoala frog
    Tiny frog © Muzzanese

The hiking and trekking opportunities are immense. The main trails for visitors are at Nosy Mangabe, Tampolo/Ambodiforaha, Cap Est, and a several-day hike is possible across the peninsula. One of the best areas is the Alohatrozana, trail, a stunning virgin rain forest located about midway down the western side of the peninsula. On the Western coastal trail, Lohatrozona is a paradise for ornithologists. The marine reserve of Tanjona grows a wonderful mangrove forest. The marine reserves of Tampolo, Ambodirafia and Marofototra have superb corals and nice, clean beaches perfect for a swim. Exploring the coastal trail, the path between Alhoatrozana and Antalavia weaves in and out of golden-sand beaches, rocky coves, and lush forest in which is probably the most beautiful site in Masoala.

If you are staying in Antalaha, you can get from here either by bicycle or by taxi-brousse to Ambodirafia and Cap-Est. At the detached parcel of Andranoanala trails are easy, and you can easily observe water birds in the park's pond and even crocodiles on the river. If you want to venture south from here, a trail leads you through small fishing villages to the Masoala Cap. The white - and in some places reddish - sands of the gently sloping beach are crossed by mangroves and rivers.

The park can be accessed from the towns of Maroantsetra or Antalaha. From Maroantsetra, transport by motor boat can be arranged. From Antalaha, the park can be accessed by road to Cap Est using daily bush taxis or by mountain bike as far as the village of Masoala.

It is possible to sleep in Tampolo at the Tampolo Lodge on the coast. The very basic bungalows cost about Ar 30,000 for two. There is also a campingsite attached. 
In Ambodiforaha, near Tampoco, there is Chez Arol (http://arollodge.free.fr, e-mail: masoala@free.fr, mobile + 261 (0) 33 12 902 77) which offers 6 bungalows at 22 €  with private facilities, and 3 at 13 € (with common facilities).  This place is really nice and offers many activites to explore Masoala National Park, though it is not located on the beach. 
Masoala forest lodge

A new address destined for a more upmarket public is the Masoala Forest Lodge (www.masoalaforestlodge.com). To reach this isolated paradise you take a boat in Maroantsetra which drives you through the Bay d´Antongil until you reach the lodge: just seven palm thatched tents set on hard-wood platforms discreetly sited amidst the forest lining the beach. All tents are netted, furnished and have en-suite bathroom and hot water. The wholesome three course meals of organic local products are server in the restaurant overlooking the beach. Apart from relaxing and enjoying this private paradise, there are a wide range of activities offered: guided forest walks and sea kayaking tours, bird watching, snorkelling, whale watching, fishing or swimming. The Masoala Forest Lodge is committed to a program of community benefit to assist local popuilations to maintain a sustainable lifestyle. Price per person 196 € with full board, boat transfers, park guides and certain activities.

Several packages of generally five or seven days of duration are offered by these three lodges and generally include a visit of Nosy Mangabe, throught trails within the park, all boat transfers and two nights in Maroantsetra. Prices from 700 € for two.

Camping is also possible in Masoala. In Antalaviana, three hours from Tampolo, there is a wonderfully set campingsite. Other campingsites are located in Tanjona, Masoala and Marofototra.

Following villages also offer the visitor a simple and very basic accommodations: Mahalevona, Fizono, Ampokafo, Ambanizana, Masoala, Ampananavoana, Vinanivao and Ambohitralanana.

Accommodations in Cap Est were literally swept from the globe  after the cyclone Gafilo, which struck Madagascar’s east coast in March 2004.

Several multi-day treks of differing grades of difficulty are also possible within the peninsula:

  • Maroantsetra – Antalaha on the inland trail: 3 – 5 days, depending on conditions and pace.

If you want to experience the rain forest on this trek, it is best to spend the night in Ambatoledama and explore the Ambatoledama corridor. Otherwise, the 45-minute walk through the corridor will be your only chance to experience the protected forest of the park on this route.

  • Maroantsetra to Antalaha – Coastal Route: 10 – 14 days

This challenging trip will take you on local trails from Maroantsetra, down the beautiful coast of the Masoala peninsula. You will pass through the park in several locations, through villages, and along the coastline of the marine parks. You may elect to stay for several nights in Tampolo. Other beautiful locations include Ambodilaitry, where there is a tent shelter, Cap Masoala, Vinanivao, Ratsianarana, and Cap Est.

For any Masoala visit remember: This is an exceptionally wet area of Madagascar. The best chances of a dry visit are from September to December. If you come during the high season, be sure to book well in advance if you're planning to come during this time of year: accommodation on the peninsula is still limited.

The park’s internet site is currently the best information source for preparing any visit to the park: www.masoala.org