Travel Madagascar: The Sacred Lake of Mangatsa (Lac Sacre)

Located 18km from Mahajanga (Majunga) in north west of Madagascar is ‘Lac Sacre’ an enchanted lake with a fairy tale like story.

“Local legend tells us that in the past Mangatsa was a village. One day, the village chief’s son fell ill, and they asked a sorcerer to heal him. But alas, the son died and the sorcerer was expelled. He returned in the night, transforming the village into a lake and turning the people into fish.” (Guide Touristique de Madagascar)

On your arrival at the sacred lake of Mangatsa you will be welcomed by a display of red and white fabric wrapped around the trees surrounding the lake, a sign of prayer offered by visitors. “Here is good to pray for good luck” my Malagasy companion informs me. “Come on pray for good luck,” she insists as she hands me a piece of bread to feed the fish accompanied by prayer. As I stand by the edge of the lake I observe my companion devotedly feed the fish some bread and meat. The fish of the sacred lake are indeed spectacular however the most striking feature of the lake at Mangatsa is the clear water that reflects the surrounding, creating a perfect portrait of the beautiful nature. The water was so enchanting that I found myself dipping my hands to get a feel. “No! No! Don’t do that!” My companion suddenly warned me in a state of panic. Out of ignorance I did not realize that one was considered rude if you tried to touch any part of the lake’s water with your body. This was indeed true for the pools where the sacred fish swam. It was hard to inquire about the custom due to my lack of understanding of the language. “To bath, we go another side,” my companion explains as she tries to unravel my astonishment.

Once we had completed feeding the fish we started on our way to the streams, the waters of which locals believe have the miraculous powers to grant wishes. On our way to the stream I noticed tens of plates with silver coins submerged in water under a tree wrapped with red and white fabric. “Hmmm, a local wishing fountain,” I thought to myself as I related two very different but similar beliefs involving coins and water. When we got to the stream we were met with three teenage girls cheerfully taking a bath. “Go in, take a bath!” “Not today, may be another time” I gently turn down the proposal.

What else can you see at the sacred lake?

The sacred lake and its inhabitants are not the only attraction at Mangatsa. When you take a walk down the touristic route you will be able to see and even feed white lemurs (a specie common in the Mahajanga) that are always hanging around the surrounding mango trees. “Mak, mak, mak” is a special call that you can use to catch their attention. Further down the road you will come to the crocodile enclosure.

How to get there?

Unfortunately the only way to get to the lake is by hiring a private vehicle which could cost any where from 140,000 Ariary. The positive side is that the entrance fee costs 5000 Ariary only (the lowest fee compared to other touristic places we have visited in Madagascar).

Tips and Recommendations

– Take a swim suit, better yet pit one on as your undergarments. Even if you don’t believe in the mythical nature of the lake having a dip in its water can be a refreshing experience especially to cool down the heat.
– The aid of a guide is highly recommended.

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