About 13km south east of Ambalavao is the wonderful community-run Anja nature reserve. We visited as a extended lunch stop on the long haul to Isalo, and found it the perfect location to stretch legs and take in the marvellous scenery.
Anja is huddled into the base of a cliff, and much of the reserve is dominated by enormous fallen rocks which have come to rest at the base of the escarpment. This makes for dramatic scenery and lots of sheltered habitat in the pocket of forest that has established between the vast boulders, which the ring tailed lemurs and woodland bird adore.
As we left the parking area, we spotted movement in a tree with turned out to be a baby Parson's chameleon no longer than a finger - when that's the start to your visit, you know that you're going to have a spectacular time! We then proceeded to play 'peekaboo' with the ring tails among the rocks - they were so unconcerned by our presence that we stood directly below them as they conducted a variety of 'lemur business' just above head height.
Perhaps the highlight of the tour was our picnic - we had clambered up through a 'cave' between the boulders, and munched our lunch looking down from a magnificent vantage point over the valley below.
If I've not done a good enough job of persuading you that Anja should be on your 'must do' list when you're passing through this area, then perhaps the deciding factor is that this reserve is run by, and for the benefit of the local community. This is an example of genuine ecotourism in action, and the revenue from entrance and guide fees has helped to persuade the people of the area that the wildlife is of greater value to them if they protect - rather than exploit - their magnificent ecological heritage.
The paper factory is probably the most obvious tourist attraction in Ambalavao. Bark from an indigenous tree (sometimes substituted by sisal these days) is pounded to a pulp with water, covered with ornate flower patterns and left to drain and then dry in the sun.
You will come across the paper often throughout your time in Madagascar, as it is much favoured by hotels for guest books and lampshades!
The factory is small but fairly interesting. In addition to almost every conceivable paper product, the on site shop also sells some beautiful but costly native silk products made from the endemic Malagasy silkworm.
Before you go on a buying spree, be sure that your home country allows the import of plant matter - especially flowers and seeds - as it would be heartbreaking to have to surrender your gorgeous paper products to those officious little customs dogs in the arrivals hall!