Baie de Baly National Park in Madagascar is a remote destination characterised by productive mangrove forests, untouched beaches, and meandering rivers. Dry savannah, swampy terrain, lakes, and forests of dry bamboo also make up some of the landscape. It’s safe to say that Baie de Baly is off the tourist route and well worth the adventure it takes to get there. The park is about 150 kilometres southwest of the big city of Mahajanga, close to a sleepy fishing village.
The coastal and terrestrial ecosystems provide a refuge for a treasury of wildlife where nature lovers can spot the critically endangered ploughshare tortoise, as well as nesting turtles on the beaches. A few circuits criss-cross the park, some of which are a combination of walking, 4WD and trips on pirogues. The coral reefs provide an idyllic destination for scuba diving. This national park is one of the few places where visitors can dive, birdwatch and spot lemurs.
The Baly Bay (Baie de Baly) National Park comprises 58 square kilometres and is only accessible from May to October. Soalala is the closest town that has a domestic airport, connecting to the capital city of Madagascar.
In 1999, Baie de Baly National Park was identified as an important birding area. There are a recorded 250 species to spot in the park, half of which are endemic to Madagascar. Because of the dry and aquatic environment, birders can expect to see woodland specials and water birds. The Madagascan fish eagle and rare Malagasy pond heron are two species in the area favoured by avid Twitchers. The most famous resident is the critically endangered ploughshare tortoise, while other endangered species include the Madagascan side neck turtle and the dugong. Dugong and dolphins fill the waters, along with rare species of coral. Visitors can often spot green, hawksbill, big-headed, and loggerhead turtles guarding their nests on the sandy beaches.
In total, there are 13 mammal species, six primate species, 37 reptiles, eight amphibians. The park truly is a wildlife sanctuary.
Madagascar doesn’t experience extremes in temperature, but there is a definite dry season. May to October is the best time to visit the park and is also the only time the area is open. November, December and April are the hottest months of the year. However, the park is closed during this period.
A variety of marine and land ecosystems characterise the Baie de Baly National Park. From mangroves to forests, ocean and beaches, there is plenty for visitors to see and do. Scuba diving excursions lead to frequent sightings of rare dugongs, dolphins, and schools of colourful fish. Sailing is yet another water-based activity offering abundant opportunities to spot marine mammals, and experience island life from a unique vantage point.
A 70-kilometre circuit in the national park combines activities such as hiking, 4WDing, and boating. Visitors can opt for shorter routes and should book the services of local or private guides. Nature lovers will enjoy spotting Decken's sifaka and brown lemurs, commonly spotted in the drier areas.
There is no accommodation inside the park. Visitors can bring their camping equipment and find a spot within the park for wild camping. Alternatively, there is one rustic hotel in Soalala, but most people choose to stay in the city of Mahajanga.