A visit to Ranomafana combines excellent wildlife watching with some exciting (and muddy!) forest walks of various levels of difficulty.
Seasons matter when it comes to wildlife in Ranomafana. Lemurs can be spotted pretty much year-round, and on a typical day’s walk, you are likely to see between three and five species, including the famed golden bamboo lemur (Ranomafana is one of its two known habitats – a handful of individuals are now well-accustomed to the presence of visitors) and the overly cute sifaka lemur.
Of the estimated 118 species of birds here, an incredible 68 are endemic to Madagascar. The best season for birdwatching is spring, from September through to December, when migratory species return to the park.
Reptiles and amphibians are at their most active in summer, from December to March. The park has 13 species of chameleon (easily seen during a night walk), 14 species of snake (all harmless) and an amazing 106 species of frogs and toads. Summer is also the best time of year to admire the park's beautiful flora, including some 80 different species of orchid and nearly 200 ferns.
As with so many Malagasy parks, much of the wildlife is disarmingly non-plussed by humans and easy to approach. Binoculars though are a bonus for watching lemurs frolicking in the canopy.
The park is divided into three parcels of land containing both primary and secondary forest. The former is more impressive, with enormous trees, but takes more hiking to reach.
The best thing to do is to discuss your options with your guide, depending on how much you want to walk and what you want to get out of the walk. Walking circuits vary in length from 4 hours to 8 hours. Ranomafana is a very popular park but the vast majority of visitors only spend one night in the area and do a single morning tour of the forest. While this will give you some snap-shots (albeit with several dozen other tourists all elbowing their way into frame!) of lemurs and a brief overview of the park, it's not the most rewarding way of seeing Ranomafana. Much better is to do one of the longer 6 or 8-hour treks. This will allow you to see more of the forest and give you a pretty decent chance of communing with lemurs all alone.
The Talatakely Trail system in Parcel III (secondary forest) is the most visited and also one of the best for spotting lemurs (walks will vary from three to four hours). There is a nice lookout (where striped mongoose are regular visitors) and a pretty waterfall popular for picnics.
Guide fees per person: four hours (Ar75,000), six hours (Ar105,000) or eight hours (Ar120,000).
It can be very muddy in the park and heavy afternoon rain storms are common, so bring good boots and some waterproofs.