The shouting of children catch my attention as I step on the 7th step of the mouth of cave number one. Not knowing Malagasy I stop and turn around to seek a bit of approval from my Malagasy companion, Clara. She looks at me and chuckles then turns around and converses with an old village man that had offered to give us a tour. The two of them discuss something briefly and then laugh as they nod their heads. “We have to remove our shoes before we proceed,” Clara informs me with a bemused look as if she found the custom to be folklore.
I read about the caves in one of the official Madagascar tourism guide lying on the table in my room at Andasibe. Having traveled about 11km from Mahajanga town center i was finally in one of the caves of Belobaka and I immediately understood why we had to take off our shoes. It seemed that many people had visited this cave as a spiritual journey to have a prayer answered evidenced by the number of offerings in the cave. It is either that or the fact that some groups of tourist had just come for a pic nic. It was hard to decide having evidence of both offerings and litter from soda bottles and other junk food wrappers.
There are six caves in Belobaka enclosed in a stone walled fence each one with very different structure and atmosphere but with the same cunning ability to elicit different emotions and wonder. Looking at the caves in the perspective of the Malagasy to whom they represent a spiritual essence you will notice how the contrast between light and darkness can represent hope in times of difficulties. While looking at them in the curiosity of an adventurous tourist then you will me mesmerized by the rock formations as well as the outlay which varies from huge roomy spaces over flowing with light from the entrance or overhead openings to dark narrow under ground holes. The floors of some of the caves are covered with dried leaves while others remain bare. You can also notice roots from trees above hanging down openings on the roof of some caves. You can engrave your name on the many rocks inside the walls of the caves as a memento.
How do you get to Belobaka caves?
From Mahajanga (Majunga) town centre navigate to the bus stand after Mada Hotel and take bus number 7. The cost is 400 Ariary one way and the journey takes about 30 minutes or slightly longer depending on traffic.
Tips and Recommendations
1- A guide to Belobaka caves is absolutely essential although you may feel adventurous or desire to save money and go alone. The caves are located in the village’s interior and unless you are well versed in Malagasy to ask around you may not find them. Google maps is not helpful either (at the time of writing).
2- During our visit there were no official guides around. We had to depend on the help of one of the villagers.
3- The walk around the caves is about 1 hour but may vary depending on your speed and interests.
4 – There is almost non – existing English tour guides so come having done your research or with your visit objective well prepared knowing that you will be your own guide.
5- If you are not on a tight budget consider hiring a taxi which should be negotiated in Mahajanga town centre. A taxi is recommended because the journey back could involve over 1 hour of sitting in the Taxi Brousse as the driver drives through the village looking for passengers or other odd jobs.
Check out our other caving adventure in Amboni, Tanga