You may need to pinch yourself in Isalo. This national park, one of the most popular on the island, has one of the weirdest terrains on the planet. Its lunar-esque landscape is owed to centuries of sand erosion, and the winds and rains of time have created phantasmagorical pinnacles, surreal bulbous rocks, canyons and gorges cradling spectacular waterfalls. Despite the water sources, at times Isalo seems more Death Valley than the sub tropics. That is until you see a ring tailed lemur or two basking in a tree by a stream – then you know you are in Madagascar.
This mind-blowing landscape is Isalo’s drawcard and why it’s such an attraction for hikers. The area contains 500 species of endemic plants, amongst them rare palms clustered into oases, species of aloe and elephant’s foot (Pachypodium) - a short and thick succulent with a distinctive yellow flower. Like most places in Madagascar, particularly in rural areas, Isalo National Park has its own set of fady (taboos). Many of the rocks contain ancient tombs in which descendents of the Sakalava ethnic group (‘the people of the long valley’) are buried. Pointing at them with your finger is considered disrespectful. Instead, you should place a small rock on top of the tomb, which will ensure you a safe journey and possibly grant you a wish. If your wish is fulfilled, you should return to the tomb to give thanks.