- 18 June
- 1 October
- 16 June next year
- 29 September.
The island of Madagascar occupies a unique place, both culturally and geographically, within Africa. Separated from the mainland millions of years ago, its fauna has developed very differently from the rest of the continent's wildlife, and it is home to countless species found nowhere else on earth. Its people are an intriguing mix of Malay and African ancestry, with complex patterns of beliefs and an unusual history.
On this trip we take in the very best of this enigmatic and alluring land. Our journey takes us to the little visited Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on account of its amazing rock formations, yet virtually unknown to the outside world until twenty years ago - few other operators take the trouble to reach this area, but it is without a doubt one of the highlights of Madagascar.
We also visit superb national parks, including the bizarre moonscape of Isalo and the lush rainforests of Ranomafana, home to countless species of lemurs including the rare golden bamboo lemur, only discovered by scientists in 1986. We end up at Andasibe, one of the best places in Madagascar to see the curious indri, the largest species of lemur, and spend time taking walks through the forest in search of endemic wildlife. Madagascar is unlike anywhere else on earth &ndash join us to experience its diverse charms on a trip that will challenge what you thought you knew about Africa.
Day 1: Antananarivo. Arrive in Antananarivo and transfer to the hotel. Depending on your time of arrival, you may have time to explore the city. Overnight at IC Hotel or similar.
Antananarivo: Antananarivo, commonly known as Tana, is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. The name Antananarivo means lsquo the City of the Thousands rsquo, a reference to the thousand warriors of King Andrianjaka, who established Tana as the capital city of the Merina tribe and accorded it a sacred status. The city was largely chosen for its privileged location Andash being on high ground (1,370 m) and surrounded by marsh made it easy to defend and thus a natural choice for the capital. Tana, as the city is often called, has unusual French and Asian inspired architecture with winding cobblestone streets and staircases that create a medieval impression. The large open-air Zoma market has been disbanded, which means there is now plenty of room to walk around Araben ny Fahaleovantena (Avenue de l'Independence), the capital's main street.
Other attractions include the colorful daily flower market on the edge of Lake Anosy and the botanical and zoological gardens, where you can see the egg and 3m-tall skeleton of the extinct aepyornis, or elephant bird. Sadly, the Rova (Queen's Palace) burned to the ground in 1996. Though virtually nothing remains at the site, there are nice views of the city from the hill where the palace once stood. Antananarivo does not have too much in the way of conventional sightseeing, but if you enjoy walking around, watching local scenes and experiencing the laid back atmosphere that is prevalent here, the city is a very pleasant place - interesting markets, colonial buildings and many craft shops make it a great place to explore.
Day 2: Morondava. Fly east across the island to Morondava, a coastal town with a laid back atmosphere and home to many of Madagascar's different ethnic groups. On arrival we take a boat trip through mangrove swamps to visit a nearby fishing village, situated on an island. Overnight at Renala Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 3: Bekopaka. A full day of traveling, driving through the baobab forests, with great opportunities to see a side of rural Madagascar that few other visitors experience. We stop at local sacred sites including the 'Baobabs amoureux' and a sacred tree used for ancestor worship. We also pass through Kirindy, a biologically important area home to Madagascar's endemic carnivore, the fossa, and stop at the tombs of the local Sakalava people. We arrive at Belo to take boats for the final part of our journey to Bekopaka. Overnight at Hotel Olympe de Bemaraha or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 4: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. We spend today exploring the remarkable World Heritage Site of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, a bizarre landscape of eroded limestone pinnacles and one of the most scenic areas in all of Madagascar. Boardwalks between the pinnacles allow us to explore the area, replete with deep canyons and gorges and home to several species of lemurs and birds. Overnight at Hotel Olympe de Bemaraha or similar. Includes: (B).
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park: Only gazetted as a national park in 1998, Tsingy de Bemaraha contains some of the most unusual landscape in the country, comprised of limestone karst pillars and pinnacles that seem to form stone forests. Its lakes, forests and swamps are home to many endangered species including the stump tailed chameleon and Decken's sifaka. The flora consists of a dry western deciduous forest, and plants typical to dry limestone areas, such as species of Aloe and the baobab Andasonia, as well as the red-flowered and rather flamboyant tree Delonix regia, widely planted in the tropics. Madagascar's sole native banana Musa perrieri also occurs here.
Day 5: Morondava. Drive back to Morondava, stopping en route at the 'Avenue of the Baobabs', where imposing trees up to 800 years old line the road and provide an iconic snapshot of Madagascar, giving hints of the extensive forests that once covered this part of the island. Overnight at Renala Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 6: Ifaty. Fly from Morondava to Tulear, and then transfer to Ifaty on the coast. The region around Ifaty is extremely dry and dominated by 'spiny forest' of cacti and other plants that thrive in arid environments. Our accommodation is situated idyllically on a gorgeous beach overlooking the Indian Ocean, where we can watch the local fishermen take boats out as the sun sets. This is a truly beautiful part of Madagascar and a great place to relax or explore. Overnight Hotel Belle Vue or similar. Includes: (B).
Ifaty: On the south-west coast of Madagascar, looking out over the Mozambique Channel, lies Ifaty, an idyllic sun-soaked part of Madagascar. Home to the local Vezo people, Ifaty is an excellent place for snorkelling, diving, or just relaxing and watching the waves lap the shore. Pirogues manned by local fishermen move up and down the coastline, bringing their catches back to land to sell in the local markets, and you'll soon find yourself slipping into an easy pace of life. There are also plenty of other options for the more energetic, including trips to local nature reserves, boat trips to spot whales and other marine life, and walks to local villages.
Day 7: Ifaty. Free day to either relax or explore the area. From July to September whales are frequently spotted offshore and it is possible to take boat trips out to get close to them - they sometimes surface very close to the boats making this a very special experience. Ifaty is also home to coral reef and offers good diving and snorkeling opportunities. It's also possible to take a walk to the nearby village of Mangily where we can get a good insight into the life of the local Vezo fishing community. Overnight Hotel Belle Vue or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 8: Isalo National Park. Leaving Ifaty behind we head to Isalo. Travelling through the land of the Mahafaly people, we can stop to see the traditional tombs used for burying their dead. Before reaching Isalo we travel through Zombitse National Park, renowned for its birdlife. Overnight at Isalo Ranch or similar. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 9: Isalo National Park. We spend today walking through the moonscape of Isalo National Park, stopping at the perfectly formed 'natural swimming pool', fringed with lush vegetation and a great place for a dip. Later we head to a stunning rock arch to watch the sun set over this dramatic landscape. Overnight at Isalo Ranch or similar. Includes: (B), (D).
Isalo National Park: Isalo National Park, in the south of the country, is largely made up of interestingly-shaped sandstone rocks, and is a world away from the lushness of some of Madagascar's other parks. The park is renowned for the colors of the surrounding terrain and impressive panoramic views, as well as a sense of utter tranquility. It is also a sacred area to the local Bara tribe, who use caves in the cliffs as burial chambers.
Day 10: Ambalavao - Fianarantsoa - Ranomafana National Park. Heading north we stop first at Anja Park, a community run reserve situated in stunning scenery with great opportunities to see ring-tailed lemurs. We then head to Ambalavao, once a centre of Arab civilization on Madagascar, where we visit a winery to sample the local brew. A short drive further takes us to Fianarantsoa and from there on to Ranomafana National Park. Overnight Hotel Domaine Nature or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 11: Ranomafana National Park. We spend the morning exploring the rainforests of Ranomafana in search of its many species of lemurs, reptiles and birds. This afternoon is free to either relax or visit the nearby village, with its interesting market. Overnight Hotel Domaine Nature or similar. Includes: (B).
Ranomafana National Park: Ranomafana is considered to be one of Madagascar's most beautiful National Parks, and was established in the early 1990s to protect the newly discovered golden bamboo lemur, as well as the very rare greater bamboo lemur. The park is covered with forest, and in higher areas moss and lichens cover the trees, giving it a prehistoric feel. Exotic plants such as orchids, as well as mountains, waterfalls and natural hot springs, make this endangered forest a charming and unusual place to discover.
Lemurs: Lemurs are a special group of primates found only on Madagascar and the Comoros Islands. There are fifty species of lemurs, seventeen of which are on the endangered species list. Lemurs are prosimians, or primitive primates. They are social animals with long limbs, flexible toes and fingers, and long noses. Habitat loss is the main threat to lemurs today, as people clear their native forests for farmland.
How and when lemurs became separated from the monkey family is unclear. Although it was once thought that lemurs were on Madagascar when the island separated from Africa, recent advances have shown that Madagascar was separated from Africa by hundreds of kilometers before lemurs evolved. Accordingly, the ancestors of Madagascar's lemurs must have crossed over from Africa on floating vegetation early in primate evolution and become isolated from Africa. Once on Madagascar, the lemurs evolved into about 50 different species. Then, about 2,000 years ago, the first human settlers arrived on Madagascar from the Malaysian-Indonesian area. By the time the Europeans who wrote about the natural history of the island reached Madagascar in the mid-1600s, 15 species of lemurs had become extinct.
Day 12: Ambositra - Antsirabe. Driving into the central highlands of Madagascar, we notice changes on the features of local people as Asian heritage becomes more visible. We stop in Ambositra, the center of Madagascar's wood carving industry and home to the Zafimaniry tribe. We then head to Antsirabe, founded by Norwegians in 1856 and home to Madagascar's brewing industry. We explore the town and then head to the picturesque Lake Andraikiba. Overnight Arotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Ambositra: Ambositra, meaning 'the place of the eunuchs' (supposedly because the Merina tribe castrated all defeated warriors of the local tribe), is an excellent place to see examples of Malagasy wood carvings, and is the capital of the Zafimaniry tribe. The local houses boast intricately carved balconies, panels and shutters.
Antsirabe: The city of Antsirabe has about 100,000 inhabitants, and was founded by Norwegian missionaries in the late 18th century, who were attracted by the pleasant climate. It lies on the slopes of the nation's second highest peak, Tsiafajavona, in the Ankaratra Mountains, and has nearby thermal springs, locally renowned for their healing properties. The city is also known as the center of Madagascar's brewing industry, and indeed you will smell the brewery on the way into town.
Day 13: Andasibe National Park. Drive to Andasibe through lush vegetation, stopping en route at a private reptile reserve to get up close to some of Madagascar's many species of chameleons. This evening we take a night safari in the park, looking for some of the nocturnal species that live here. Our accommodation is situated within the forest. Overnight Vakona Lodge or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 14: Andasibe National Park. Andasibe is probably the best national park in Madagascar and a good place to watch the indri, the largest species of lemur on the island. We take morning walks through the forest in search of this enigmatic creature as well as other wildlife, accompanied by an expert guide. This afternoon we visit a Betsimisiraka village to experience the local lifestyle. Overnight Vakona Lodge or similar. Includes: (B).
Andasibe National Park: Andasibe National Park is home to some of the best of Madagascar wildlife, including the endangered aye-aye, bamboo lemurs, chameleons, and the indri, which was named by mistake. When Pierre Sonnerat, a French naturalist, was exploring the island, a local guide spotted the animal and pointed at it, shouting 'Indri', which means 'look at that' in Malagasy. Sonnerat assumed the guide was giving him the local name, and ever since then the largest species of lemur has been known as the indri, even to Malagasy speakers. These beautiful animals have black and white markings and pale green eyes, and live in the tree canopy. The park itself contains montane forest and a wealth of plant and bird life as well.
The Betsimisaraka People: The Betsimisaraka constitute the second largest (15%) ethnic group in Madagascar's population and are mostly found on or near the east coast. They are divided into three subgroups: the northern Betsimisaraka, the Betanimena, and the southern Betsimisaraka. Their territory extends along the coast in a narrow band from the Bemarivo River in the north to the Mananjary River in the south, a distance of some 640 kilometers.
The Betsimisaraka, whose name means 'numerous and inseparable', have traditionally been traders, seafarers, and fishers, as well as cultivators of the tropical lowland areas. They trace their origins to Ratsimilaho, reputed to be the son of a British pirate and a Malagasy princess, who unified several small coastal states in the 18th century.
Day 15: Antananarivo. Head back to Antananarivo. Upon arrival we explore the city, including old buildings that once belonged to the royal court, its colonial architecture, and a flower market. Overnight IC Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 16: Antananarivo. Tour ends. Includes: (B).
Also see tour packages in:
Africa Madagascar Nature & Wildlife National Parks Cultural Journey
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