Masoala National Park is the largest (230,000ha) of Madagascar’s protected areas. Its extraordinary biodiversity was recognised when it was declared a World Heritage Site earlier this year. The park encompasses rainforest, coastal forest, marsh and mangrove habitats, and is one of the few places where the primordial rainforest extends unbroken from the mountains to the sea.
Beyond beaches of golden sand, three marine parks protect important coral reefs and an abundant diversity of marine life. The Masoala is not the easiest option, but if you are after truly stunning wildlife, a taste of traditional Madagascar and are reasonably fit, you should certainly include the Masoala Peninsula in your holiday.
The Masoala Peninsula is justly renowned for containing the largest lowland rainforest in Madagascar. In places, the rainforest stretches unbroken right down to the deep blue Bay of Antongil, a spectacular landscape which is one of the island's 'postcard' images. The altitude ranges from sea-level to 1224m.
The special reserve island of Nosy Mangabe is part of the protected areas complex of the Masoala, as are the three marine parcels at Tampolo, Cap Masoala and Tanjona.
Masoala National Park is one of Madagascar’s richest ecosystems in terms of species diversity. It contains ten lemur species, including white-fronted lemur and the nocturnal Eastern woolly lemur, Brown mouse lemur and Eastern fork-marked lemur. Masoala is the sole location for the Red-ruffed lemur.
Lowland streaked tenrecs are commonly encountered at night and both fosa and the rare mongoose are present. Reptiles are abundant, with key species including the Panther chameleon, Hooded chameleon, various species of Stumptailed (Brookesia) chameleons and Leaf-tailed geckos. Of the many resident frogs, the Tomato frog and Greenbacked mantella are best known.
From June through September, Humpback whales can be seen in the Bay of Antongil, where they come to give birth or to mate. The sea can be rough in July and into August, so if you really want to watch the whales, give yourself a day or two to spare.
The park is a birder's delight and the best site for sought-after endemics like the Helmet and Bernier's vangas, Red-breasted coua and Scaly ground-roller. Two critically endangered endemics, the Madagascar serpent eagle and Madagascar red owl, have their stronghold in this park. Lohatrozona is a favoured area for birding.
When to go
The Masoala Peninsula has the distinction of being the wettest place in Madagascar: the annual precipitation often exceeds 5000mm. The best period to visit is between September and December, when the rain generally falls at night and the days are often warm and fine. July and August are also drier months, but can be windy.
The Masoala Peninsula lies to the east of the town Maroantsetra in northeastern Madagascar and is usually reached by a boat journey of about 2 hours from Maroansetra.