A journey along Madagascar’s famous RN7 highway will take you from grassy highlands to lush rainforests teeming with wildlife, deserts that reminisce a Martian landscape and before finally reaching its western shores. Along the way you will climb massive boulders to find ring tail lemurs, rub shoulders with tribes in bustling markets and hike in some of Madagascar’s most impressive scenery. The RN7 represents all that is strange and wonderful in a nation that is commonly referred to a “the big island”. Hop on a Taxi-Brousse or rent a 4x4 and tackle this epic road!
Driving Madagascar’s RN7 Highway
Looking at a map the distances can be very deceiving. Antsirabe to Toliara is only 750 km, but the journey will take upwards of twenty hours! This can take even longer if you decide to take local Taxi-Brousse as breakdowns or delays are not uncommon.
Taxi Brousse or Rent a Car? – Although renting a 4x4 with a driver will start at about 80 USD per day it will make a trip down the RN7 not just a lot more comfortable, but much more practical as well. This is because many interesting and remote detours from the RN7 are only reachable with your own wheels. Taxi – Brousse are slow, often breakdown and can be very uncomfortable depending on the company you got with. They are however a great way to meet locals and they are very cheap. If you’re on a budget, try using Taxi-Brousse between major stops and renting a 4x4 at daily rates.
Outdoor Adventure in Ranomafana
Around six hours down the road from Antsirabe is one of the first major stops along the RN7, Ranomafana National Park. From the main highway you descend from the highlands dropping into a lush and dense misty rain forest.
In Search of the Golden Bamboo Lemur – In the early morning we set off into Ranomafana National Park. The Parks entrance is located at the research centre a few kilometres up the highway from the town of Ranomafana.
Many of the parks paths are muddy and filled with jungle tree roots so be sure to wear good hikers. As my guide took me deeper into the clouds forest the elusive Golden Bamboo Lemurs began to appear. Many times, in groups as high as ten! This rare critter is what made Ranomafana famous as they cannot be found anywhere else.
Ranomafana Night Walk – Around 8pm my guide and I ventured up the road near the main gate to Ranomafana. Here along the roads dense brush we spotted dozens of chameleons and an adorable lemur know as the Mouse Lemur. You can see many kinds of Ranomafana’s species at this time I highly recommend it!
Kayaking Ranomafana – Recently introduced to Ranomafana by Varibolo is the opportunity to Kayak through Ranomafana’s gorgeous river scenery and make stops at remote villages. Paddling aong you also get the opportunity to see rare bird species and a unique side of Ranomafana. Check out Varibolo HERE!
Lemur Spotting at Reserve d’ Anja
Leaving the highlands, you enter the Ambalavao Valley. If you didn’t know any better, you would think you were in California and not Madagascar from all the rolling desert hills with the nations only vineyards.
This region is also famous for the locally run Anja Reserve. This small reserve is famed for its numbers of Ring Tailed Lemurs. Not long ago they numbered only about 60, now there are over a thousand resident Lemurs here!
Hiking through the massive boulders you will see these comical critters bouncing down the trails and from tree to tree. Often they come close enough that you can almost touch them!
There are also plenty of other species such as Chameleons, strange insects and other kind of lemurs.
Desert Trekking in Parc National de I’Isalo
Continuing along the RN7 from Anja you ascend from the deep canyons up to the vibrant yellow grasslands. As you cross the grassy flat lands the jagged peaks of Isalo National Park. This is one of Madagascar’s most scenic regions and is often referred to as Madagascar’s Grand Canyon.
Parc National de I’Isalo is also one of Madagascar’s largest park so you must allocate enough time to truly experience this region.
Staying over night my guide and I tackled the Crest Circuit which starts off a steep hike into the National Park. From here we followed a valley to countless view points of the desert canyons and yes it did look like the Grand Canyon in the USA. Mid day we arrived at the natural pools. These blue pools of water are being sourced from a gushing waterfall and are a great stop for a break or photo op.
The 5-hour hike ends at another dramatic canyon, here the desert disappears, and it becomes a lush tropical paradise filled with Ring Tailed Lemurs. Your compulsory guided tour stops here and cooks you a bush lunch. Its an amazing experience!
Sailing with the Vezo in Tulear
The final stretch between Isalo National Park to where the RN7 ends in Tulear takes around seven hours. This region is home to the Mahafaly tribe who are renowned for their elaborately decorated tombs. They use carved totem poles known as Aloalo that depict the deceased life.
Arriving to Tulear might feel like the end of the journey and although the RN7 ends the great reef begins. The oceans around Tulear have plenty of opportunity for snorkeling/scuba diving, fishing, whale watching and sailing with the Vezo ethnic groups that call the coastline here home.
I spent a few days exploring the small towns north of Tulear and lazing around the beaches before setting off in a traditional Madagascar wooden sailboat. The captain of my vessel was also a renowned Vezo fisherman who brought me to parts of the great reef that have the best chances to catch fish! Using the traditional line hand holding fishing way I caught several fish each day which we BBQ on the beach. We also dove down to grab sea urchins and ate them raw!
Madagascar Travel Video
Spending over a month in Madagascar and visiting some very remote regions required me to get assistance from a tour company. Madagascar Natural Tours is Malagasy owned and is a eco friendly company that can help specialise your own unique trip regardless of how remote it gets. They made my trip not just possible, but incredibly enjoyable. Check out their website HERE!