Tourist exploring Tsingy de Bemaraha
(Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)

There's no shortage of fascinating places in Madagascar, but one not to miss is the otherworldy terrain of Tsingy de Bemaraha on the western side of the island.

The area's jagged, needle-like "tsingys" — an indigenous Malagasy term that translates as "where one cannot walk barefoot" — were formed as groundwater undercut and eroded the elevated limestone seabed in both horizontal and vertical patterns. The result is an extreme karst plateau (similar to the famous Burren terrain of western Ireland) that looms so dramatically it has earned the nickname "stone forest."

Tourist hiking through the rock formations of Tsingy de Bemaraha
(Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)

Although a large chunk of the area is not accessible to humans due to the area's highly protected status as a Strict Nature Reserve (not to mention the craggy terrain, which is incredibly difficult to traverse), tourists can safely experience a small slice of this remarkable place by visiting adjacent Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

Looking up from the Tsingy de Bemaraha rock formations
(Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)

The strange karstic landscape of Tsingy de Bemaraha is treacherous to navigate, but its intimidating appearance belies its important role as a protective ecological cradle for some of Madagascar's most rare and endemic flora and fauna.

Although many creatures have yet to be documented, it's estimated that about 85 percent of species are endemic to Madagascar, while 47 percent are locally endemic to the specific area.

This includes 11 species of lemur, as well as numerous varieties of birds, amphibians, reptiles and more! One of the locally endemic species is the Nesomys lambertoni, a rodent that exists only within the confines of the reserve.

HDR view of Tsingy de Bemaraha
(Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)

With its rich biological diversity and spectacular geological phenomena, it's no wonder that both the reserve and park were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.

Continue below to see more photos of this fascinating place.

Rope suspension bridge at Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
(Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)
Beautiful blue sky over Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
(Photo: Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock)
Looking between two rocks at Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
(Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)
Rock formations and trees in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
(Photo: Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock)
Golden light shines on the rock formations of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
(Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock)

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.