Madagascar richly deserves its nickname of the Eighth Continent, being home to 2% of the world’s biodiversity. A small piece (if you can call the world’s fourth largest island small!) of Gondwanaland, sandwiched between Mozambique and India during the break-up, Madagascar has been isolated for the past 80 million years. This isolation has meant that a unique (and largely endemic) fauna and flora has evolved. Before humans landed on Madagascar, less than 2,000 years ago, all mammal species on Madagascar (except for the six species of bat) were endemic to the island, as were 100% of the frogs, and more than 90% of the reptiles. Of the birds, which always show a lower endemicity because of their ability to fly, still 45% are endemic to Madagascar. Lemurs are, for most visitors, the stars of the show, from the largest: the singing indri, to the smallest primates on Earth: the 25g mouse lemurs. We will be looking for more than 20 species on our tour, both by day and on spot-lighting walks at night. Our itinerary takes us from north to south, east to west, coast to coast, in our quest to find many of the wonders that Madagascar has to offer.
Day 01, November 5th
We arrive in Antananarivo (known as Tana by the locals), capital of Madagascar, and transfer to our hotel.
Day 02, November 6th
This morning we begin our adventure with a flight north-east to the tropical town of Maroansetra, jumping off point for the island of Nosy Mangabe. After settling in at our beautiful sea-side lodge, we take an afternoon boat ride through the canals and backwaters looking for birds, including purple heron and the spectacular Madagascar red fody. These backwaters are used by local peoples to ferry their produce to market, and our cruise offers wonderful photographic opportunities. .
Day 03, November 7th
Following breakfast, we take a boat to the nearby island of Nosy Mangabe. This island was made famous when zoologist, Gerald Durrell, introduced some aye-ayes onto the island in order to protect them. The aye-aye is one of the world’s most bizarre-looking creatures: a nocturnal lemur with huge, bat-like ears and bushy tail, which uses its skeletal middle finger to winkle grubs out of rotten wood. These animals are not only nocturnal, but also incredibly elusive, and we are unlikely to see one, however the island is also home to black-and-white ruffed lemur, white-fronted brown lemur, and the incredibly camouflaged leaf-tailed gecko. The Uroplatus leaf-tailed geckos are truly one of nature’s miracles, and searching for them (and finding your own!) is great fun. After a picnic lunch we can take a swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, or relax on the beach, before returning to Maroansetra.
Day 04; November 8th
This morning we take a speed-boat across Baie d’Antongil to Masoala National Park. Masoala Peninsula is a vast area covered in primary rainforest, and only sparsely populated by communities of fishermen. In the 1990s the whole Peninsula was offered up by the government for logging, but fortunately the united outcry of several conservation bodies led to the creation of a spectacular national park in 1997. Covering some 840 square miles, Masoala is Madagascar’s largest protected area, and is home to what many people consider to be the most beautiful of all lemurs: red-ruffed lemur. We will walk the forest trails in search of this shy lemur, and some of the nine other lemur species that live here, not to mention some spectacular birds, such as the bizarre helmet vanga.
Day 05; November 9th
Today we fly back to Tana, and explore some of the highlights of this picturesque city, including a visit to the Queen’s Palace for a wonderful view of the city, as well as visiting Tzimbizaza Zoo and museum. Its architecture is unique, with tall, rickety-looking houses perched on the seven hills that make up the city. The main inhabitants of Tana come from the Merina tribe, whose people trace their ancestry back to the first settlers who arrived on the island, all the way from Indonesia.
Day 06; November 10th
This morning we fly to the northern tip of Madagascar, to the city of Diego Suarez, set along the edge of beautiful Sakalava Bay. On arrival we drive inland, to the lush, tropical montane forest of Montagne d’Ambre National Park, where we look for Sanford’s brown lemur and crowned lemur, as well as one of the smallest vertebrates on Earth, the inch-long Brookesia minima. There are also a host of endemic birds to be found here, including Amber Mountain Rock Thrush. This evening we come back into the Park for a night walk, looking for Amber Mountain fork-marked lemur, Ankarana sportive lemur and greater dwarf lemur.
Day 07; November 11th
Today we drive south to Ankarana National Park, home to the famous tsingy formations. These limestone pinnacles are found in only two sites in Madagascar, and provide a challenging habitat for the soft-footed lemurs. On our walk through the dry forest we look for crowned lemur, Sanford’s brown lemur, as well as roosting nocturnal lemurs, including northern sportive lemur. This afternoon we return to Diego Suarez in time for our flight back to Tana.
Day 08; November 12th
Today we catch a flight to the beautiful coastal town of Fort Dauphin. With its long, curving bays and turquoise waters, Fort Dauphin is probably Madagascar’s most attractive city. It is also the jumping off point to Madagascar’s most famous attraction, Berenty Reserve. Berenty is a privately-owned reserve, a patch of gallery forest and spiny thicket in a sea of sisal plantations. It is justly famous as the most accessible place to get up-close and personal with ring-tailed lemurs and Verreaux sifaka, and is a highlight for many visitors to Madagascar. Leaving Fort Dauphin we drive over the coastal mountain range and into the spiny forest, stopping to look at the endemic triangular palm en route.
The spiny forest is a habitat endemic to Madagascar’s south-west (with 95% of the plant species here found only in Madagascar). It is home to some incredible plants, including the endemic Didieraceae family, members of which can reach heights of 50 feet, as well as several species of euphorbia and aloes, not to mention some of the seven species of baobab found on Madagascar. The spiny forest is the driest region in Madagascar, which is why it is also sometimes known as the spiny desert. We arrive in time for dinner, and then set out on a spot-lighting walk, looking for Madagascar hissing cockroach, grey and grey-brown mouse lemurs, and white-footed sportive lemur.
Days 09 & 10; November 13th & 14th
We have two days to enjoy and explore everything that Berenty has to offer. Walking in the gallery forest of huge tamarind trees, we look for white-footed sportive lemurs asleep in their day roosts, troops of ring-tailed lemurs strolling the paths, and families of Verreaux sifakas dancing in front of us. The spiny thicket is spectacular in its own right, with towering Alluaudia and Didieracea trees towering above us, but it is also home to several lemur species. Watching Verreaux sifakas jumping from spine-covered tree to spine-covered tree is a marvel to behold.
Day 11; November 15th
This morning we drive back to Fort Dauphin in time to take a flight across the island to the coastal town of Tulear. From here we drive to the seaside resort of Ifaty, stopping en route to marvel at the tombs made the local Mahafaly and Antandroy tribes to honour their dead.
Day 12; November 16th
Today we venture into the spiny forest around Ifaty, We will look for a variety of lemurs, including Verreaux sifaka and ring-tailed lemur, as well as reptiles including diminutive spider tortoises and warty chameleon, not to mention some spectacular birds, such as the beautiful long-tailed ground roller.
Day 13; November 17th
This morning we drive north-eastwards towards Isalo National Park. Our destination is the spectacular Isalo massif, which we approach through the eerily silent Horombe Plateau. En route we visit Zombitse National Park, an area of dry forest that is home to some unique birds, including Appert’s greenbul and giant coua, as well as the dancing Verreaux sifaka, and the world’s largest chameleon, Oustalet’s chameleon, which can reach a length of over two feet. On arrival we settle into our beautiful hotel.
Day 14; November 18th
Today we spend in Isalo National Park, exploring the nooks and crannies of this limestone paradise. Home to the Bara tribe, we will learn the burial practices of these people, and see some of their multi-stage grave sites. Isalo is home to the iconic ring-tailed lemur, and we will enjoy our last glimpses of these wonderfully entertaining creatures. The park also has some very interesting plants, including endemic aloes and the bizarre elephant’s-foot plant, Pachypodium isaloensis.
Day 15; November 19th
This morning we continue our journey overland to Ranomafana National Park in the heart of Madagascar. We arrive in Ranomafana late this afternoon, and settle into our comfortable hotel.
Day 16; November 20th
We have a full day to explore the wonders of Ranomafana National Park, which is home to all three species of bamboo lemur, including the endangered golden and greater bamboo lemurs, as well as the ruby-eyed Milne Edwards’ sifaka, red-fronted brown lemur and ring-tailed mongoose. Ranomafana is not only famous for its 12 species of lemur, but also for its birds, and we will look for velvet asity, pitta-like ground-roller and Pollen’s vanga, to name but a few. On our nocturnal walk we hope to see Madagascar striped civet, eastern avahi lemur, red mouse lemur and one of the great examples of convergent evolution, the hedgehog-like greater tenrec.
Day 17; November 21st
We have a long drive today through rural Madagascar and back to the highlands around Tana. En route we pass through the towns of Antsirabe, with its colourful pousse-pousses (cycle rickshaws) and Ambositra, as well as numerous villages. This part of Madagascar is densely populated, both by people of the Merina and Betsileo tribes, and their unique breed of zebu cattle. Cattle ownership is a status symbol, and families accumulate as many cows as possible. From Tana we continue our journey through Madagascar’s varied landscapes towards Anamalozoatra Special Reserve, better known as Perinet, home to the largest extant lemur, the teddy bear-sized indri. We travel out of the sprawling Tana metropolis, down from the highland plateau, and through agricultural land dotted with rice paddies and rudimentary brick factories. We arrive at our charming lodge in time for dinner.
Day 18; November 22nd
Today is a busy day as we explore Mantadia National Park, an area of pristine rainforest which has only become accessible to visitors in the last few years due to the cutting of a rough road. Mantadia is home to the beautiful diademed sifaka, black-and-white ruffed lemur, grey bamboo lemur, red-bellied lemur, as well as indri. We also look for some of the reptile and amphibian denizens, including Madagascar ground boa, Parson’s chameleon and the spectacularly coloured Madagascar mantella frog. In addition, we venture into Perinet Reserve, looking for family groups of common brown lemur and grey bamboo lemur, as well as Madagascar magpie-robin, nuthatch vanga and the beautiful Madagascar blue pigeon. Our main target is the endearing, teddy bear-like indri. Indris live in small family groups, made up of an adult pair and their two or three offspring. Like howler monkeys, indris are territorial and separate themselves from rival groups by singing. All members of the family sing in raucous harmony, and to stand underneath a family group in full song is one of the most magical experiences on the planet.
Day 19; November 23rd
This morning we bid a sad farewell to this magical place, and drive back to Tana to catch our international flights home, or to continue the adventure on the extension to Anjajavy. For those of us continuing on to Anjajavy we check into our now familiar hotel.
Days 20, 21, 22; November 24th, 25th & 26th
For those of us heading to the beach, we fly from Tana north-westwards to the spectacular peninsula, and to our home for the next three nights. Our gorgeous hotel is rated as the best hotel in Madagascar. Accommodation is in luxury rosewood bungalows set on a beautiful sweep of beach. Behind the hotel is an area of pristine dry forest covering approximately 50 square kilometres.
It is home to seven species of lemur, including Coquerel’s sifaka, grey mouse lemur, fat-tailed dwarf lemur, pale fork-marked lemur and Milne-Edwards’ sportive lemur, as well as two species of tenrec and numerous reptile species. Birdlife is also prolific, both along the water and in the forest, including the rare Madagascar fish eagle, bizarre sickle-billed vanga, white-tailed tropic bird and crested coua. The wildlife is relaxed, and several species of lemur can often be found right around the lodge. Walks can also be taken to a giant Adansonia madagascariensis baobab, or to visit a local Sakalava fishing village. As well as enjoying the wildlife, there are a variety of water activities, including canoeing in the crystal clear waters of the Mozambique Channel.
Day 23; November 27th
Today we fly back to Tana and connect with our international flights home.