About 65km southeast of Diego lies one of Madagascar’s most awesome natural wonders, the Tsingy Rouges. These scraggly pinnacles, erosion’s work of art, are made of laterite, an iron oxide–rich soil with an intense red-brick colour.
These surreal formations stand on the edge of beautiful canyons: it’s a fragile environment, and local authorities have thankfully stepped in to protect the site. There are three areas you can access, including a breathtaking viewpoint.
The most stunning site is at the bottom of a small ravine, where tsingy (pinnacle formations) line an entire bank like an army of sentinels. If you’re here with a guide, ask him or her to show you the three natural pigments found in the soil – ochre, vermilion and magenta – which northern Malagasies use for face paints and natural dyes.
Because of their colour, the tsingy are best admired early in the morning (around 7am or 8am) or late in the afternoon (around 4pm), when the light is low and warm.
You will need a 4WD to access the Red Tsingy: the turn-off on the RN6 is 45km south of Diego and signposted. It’s then 20km eastwards along a dirt track that’s pretty good in some places, dismal in others. En route, you’ll cross a number of eucalyptus plantations destined for charcoal production. (The majority of Malagasies use charcoal for cooking and its production is a leading cause of deforestation, so these plantations help preserve primary forests.) You’ll also be treated to sweeping views of the Indian Ocean. The dirt track can be impassable during the rainy season (December to April).