Madagascar Landscapes and Wildlife Holiday
17 day holiday from - £2,245 per person based on 4 adults in twin/double rooms . Excluding international flights.
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- Experience the best of the spectacular landscapes and vistas of Madagascar.
- Diverse geography from rainforest and mountains to limestone massifs and coastal idylls.
- Spend time with the Mikea and Zafimaniry tribes, enjoying their customs, skills and crafts.
- Explore isolated and unfrequented far reaches of the island.
- View the fantastical tsingy features of the Bemaraha park and take on the Grand Tsingy circuit
- Encounter a superb cross-section of Madagascar’s endemic flora and fauna.
Suggested Madagascar Landscapes and Wildlife Holiday Itinerary
Day 1 – Arrive Antananarivo
Arrive in ‘Tana’. On arrival, you will be met and a member of our local team who will travel with you to the hotel. Depending on your time of arrival, you may have time to explore the city. Overnight Gassy Country House, or similar. (D).
Day 2 – Antananarivo – Morondava – Kirindy (Flight – 1 hour; Drive time approximately 2 hours)
Enjoy a refreshing breakfast at the hotel before embarking on the first phase of this adventure in Madagascar. After breakfast our local team will meet with and brief you on the itinerary and your needs for the entirety of the tour. From here, transfer the short distance to the airport and fly to Morondava, a sleepy seaside town which provides the gateway to one of Madagascar’s most iconic sights: as you embark upon the drive to Kirindy, your route will lead you through the incomparable “Allée or Avenue des Baobabs”, a protected natural monument where the road is flanked by magnificent baobab trees, some of them calculated to be over 1000 years old, which tower above you on either side. After arrival and check-in at Kirindy’s bungalow accommodation in the forest, you will be guided on an hour’s hike in Kirindy Reserve. At around 6pm, you will meet your guide again for a night walk to see the array of nocturnal creatures. Overnight Relais de Kirindy. (B)
This privately managed reserve preserve 100 km² of some of the most threatened and exquisite habitat on the island: famous for the iconic baobab tree, the dry deciduous forest that remains is a mere 3% of its original extent. This makes the landscape especially rich in flora and fauna which seek a refuge here. The reserve is home to 8 species of lemurs, most evident of which are the diurnal Common brown lemurs and the Verreaux's sifakas which abound in the high canopy. Kirindy also prides itself on being the island’s best site for seeing the Fossa, the only predator for lemurs and the world’s smallest primate, the Giant jumping rat, as well as dozens of amphibian and reptile species and 70 species of bird, including Madagascar crested ibis and several species of the endemic Vanga family (and no poisonous snakes!). The site has its present origins since the 1970s in sustainable logging which, evidenced by the abundance in wildlife, may well be the saving act for the remainder of the dry forest. Its success is best evidenced at night-time when nocturnal lemurs such as Grey mouse lemur, fat-tailed dwarf lemur and fork-marked lemur are relatively easily spotted and the rare White-breasted mesite emerge – a night’s stay here is definitely the best way to experience the park’s idiosyncrasies.
Lemurs are a unique 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 native forests are cleared 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 kilometres 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 the 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, 17 species of lemurs had become extinct.
Day 3 - Kirindy – Bekopaka (Drive time approximately 5 hours)
Since Kirindy enjoys such a strong list of species of birds, you will explore the park on foot for 2 hours before breakfast to look for some of the rarities here. After breakfast, at around 9.00am, your 4X4 will drive you the 2 hours to Tsimafana through the majestic Baobab forest, surrounded by the rugged landscape and vivid red soils of the west. A small ferry-boat transfer across the languid waters of the River Tsiribihina takes you to Belo, home of the Sakalava tribe’s royal family and an ideal spot for a short break. Then head on to Bekopaka for another 4 hours of adventure along the dirt track. This drive, only passable in the dry season, brings us to an isolated and stunning part of Madagascar, the African-style-bush western region of the country with its arid, russet terracotta soil. Here, one gets some insight into the lifestyles of the Malagasy people, eking out an existence in the driest part of the country. You will arrive in Bekopaka by end of the afternoon and check into the lodge, perched above the Behamara National Park, with its swimming pool that boasts incomparable views of the immediate region. Overnight Soleil de Tsingy (B)
Day 4 – Bekopaka: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
This morning, experience the exquisite beauty of the landscape from the timeless elegance of pirogue: you sail along the river to the dramatic Gorge of Manambolo admiring the splendour of the environment. The scenery is framed by gravity-defying undercut sandstone cliffs topped by luxuriant forest. Afterwards there will be the opportunity to take an hour-long walk on the Petits Tsingy and enjoy the panoramic view atop the dizzying plateaux. If the challenge wins you over, the route of the Grand Tsingy circuit with its precipitous walkways and awe-inspiring vistas is also highly recommended for you tomorrow. Overnight Soleil de Tsingy. (B)
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is an unmissable site for those travelling in the west side of Madagascar. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, it comprises of 1575 km² dominated by the limestone which rises 400m above the valley floor at its highest point. The remoteness of the area meant that it wasn’t until 1998 that the southern half was designated a National Park. Visitors come for a variety of reasons: first and foremost, it is a sight whose beauty is almost unfathomably varied, from a multitude of intricately eroded pinnacles (tsingy literally means “walking on tiptoes”) and labyrinth of deep, impenetrable humid gorges to placid mangrove swamps and unsullied swathes of deciduous forest canopy – a veritable photographer’s dream. Many people will opt for the exhilarating via ferrata tsingy treks, characterised by extraordinary feats of engineering to suspend walkways and, ladders and cables which thread their way through the karst spires, high above the forest floor. The two main routes – Petits and Grand Tsingy require patience and a decent head for heights but offer astounding visual rewards. Of equal draw is the wildlife: endemism here is thought to be at 80%! The dry western deciduous forest houses plants typical of these dry limestone areas, such as species of Aloe and Baobab Andasonia, as well as the red-flowered flamboyant tree, Delonix regia, which is so widely seen in the tropics. Nature lovers seek out the critically endangered stump-tailed chameleon, the 11 species of lemur on view, including Decken's sifaka, Fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Cleese's woolly lemur and the Sambirano lesser bamboo lemur. The bird list stands at over 100 species, including many ornithologists’ most-prized Madagascan bird, the Madagascar fish eagle. Amazingly, the 45 reptile and amphibian species which are found here are all endemic.
Day 5 – Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
Enjoy a further day in this incredible park. You can opt to take the more challenging Grand Tsingy circuit (speak to one of our team if you would like a personal account of this trek) or simply enjoy the views from the pool deck at the lodge. Overnight Soleil de Tsingy (B).
Day 6 – Bekopaka – Morondava (Driving time approximately – 8 hours)
After breakfast and a quick swim, take the 4x4 track south towards Morondava. The route will be broken by a series of stops to take in the myriad of photo opportunities that arise as you pass through the arid landscape. The drive will be timed with the aim of reaching the Allée des Baobabs for sunset, the best time at which to capture the drawing out of the trees’ shadows and the softening of the light and colours at this unique location. The last half hour drive will take you to your beach-side hotel at Morondava with its beautiful outlook from your private terraces. Overnight Hotel Palissandre Cote D’Ouest. (B)
Day 7 – Morondava – Manja (Drive time approximately – 6 hours)
After breakfast, your vehicle drives southwards towards Manja, ultimately via a private road owned by Kanto Hotel, our evening destination. These next couple of days will really feel like frontier-land, as the road snakes through arid landscapes of thorn, lush savannah and passes typical west Madagascar villages consisting of tiny wooden huts. The locals will greet you with warmth and genuine interest, and children love to run alongside the vehicles, as their mothers stride on, carrying unfeasibly heavy loads to and from local markets, atop their heads. Some of today’s most memorable features are the water crossings as you ford your way across saline flats and through rivers, the most substantial of which is the Kabatomena. Along the way, watch out for chameleons and some of the many non-poisonous snakes of the island. Expect to arrive in Manja late afternoon. A former colonial hub, as evidenced by the exquisite, but faded grandeur of its more substantial buildings, nowadays, the locality is characterised by its fertility – corn, rice and beans all fill the region’s fields, making Manja a small, but bustling market town. We stay in the simple Hotel Kanto, the only real option amidst such isolation, but a clean and safe place to overnight. Overnight Hotel Kanto. (B)
Day 8 – Manja – Andavadoaka (Drive approximately 6-8 hours)
Today’s drive is immensely rewarding, and its length is easily forgotten as the landscape gives way to stunning scenery all round: you will be enthralled by the wonderful range and variety of the baobabs, from towering columns to squat, immensely-trunked pill boxes. The spiny forest with its distinctive bush is home to a host of natural wonders: 95 percent of plant species here are endemic and lemur, mongoose, sifaka and even the Madagascar radiated tortoise are all to be seen in the landscape, so it is well worth keeping an eye on the surroundings. For those keen on birding, several coua and vanga species are to be seen and Madagascar buzzards and Madagascar kestrels are regular companions in the skies above. The drive includes a ferry across the Mangoky River to reach the town of Bevoa and the crossing of two further rivers. The road then sweeps west towards the coast and you will stop on several occasions before your arrival by the end of the afternoon at Andavadoaka’s stunning coastal location. Here you feel as if you’ve truly escaped time itself: centuries old traditional fishing outrigger-canoes ply their trade amongst the azure turtle and manta filled waters. Your hotel is comprised of a series of beautiful sea-front private bungalows where you can unwind in a veritable paradise. Overnight Hotel Laguna. (B)
Day 9 – Andavadoaka – Andravona (Drive time approximately – 2 hours)
This morning there will be ample time to enjoy the beauty of this unique landscape, a synthesis of natural wonders from the sapphire sea’s surge and its obscure, hidden creeks to the magnificence of the spiny forest. The much briefer next stage of your adventure initially takes us a mere 4km to the utterly photogenic baobab pond, where the stately arboreal guardians oversee waters which are a real draw to wildlife. Continuing the drive, plunging through the coastal dunes, flanked by the sparkling ocean and the spiny forest. The final 30km of sandy roads are a challenging pathway to Befandefa before we reach the idyllic charm of Andravona and your luxurious home for the night, either high quality bungalows or, if you choose, tented rooms, nestling in the alabaster dunes. Arrival here early afternoon again allows you some time to settle, unwind and simply enjoy the panorama of delightful sea, sands, lagoon and languid fishing village. Overnight Mikea Lodge (B, D)
Day 10 – Andravona
Andravona’s location on pristine sands, where the spiny forest and baobabs stretch as far as the shore makes it a photographer’s dream with its carnival of colours While its visually stunning enchantments may be enough, the hotel also offers the opportunity to head into Mikea Forest to experience its cornucopia of natural wonders and to spend valuable time with the last remaining members of the Mikea tribe, experiencing a little of their way of life, traditions and arts. Another equally attractive opportunity is to enjoy the walk along to the Vezo fisherman’s village, watch the enthralling spectacle of the return of the fishermen from the sea and see the explosion of activity as the waiting women and children greet the daily catch. Overnight Mikea Lodge (B, D)
Mikea Forest consists of around 4000km² of (as yet much of unprotected) transition dry deciduous and spiny forest. Although under constant threat of deforestation, the area still holds on as a last bastion of many of Madagascar’s rarer species. Whilst Ring-tailed lemur still are relatively easy to see here, they are becoming increasingly isolated in pockets of population owing to habitat loss, as are the other 9 species of lemur found in this terrain. One of the island’s most iconic birds, the Long-tailed ground roller, also still has a stronghold here. A favourite with botanists, there are countless endemic species of plant here and 3 of the world’s 8 species of baobab are to be found in Mikea. However, it is the Mikea tribe themselves who many people come first and foremost to encounter: a much reduced population and availability of forest territory has seriously endangered their way of life. Principally hunter-gatherers, the tribe have an almost mythical status amongst other cultures on the island. They are associated with the magic and legend of the forest and subsist off its harvest, originally having sought refuge and escape from pressures exerted by other tribes and developments in the trees. Some of their customs, which you might experience, is their eerie musical skill, a combination of falsetto voice and hiccup-like ululations.
Day 11 – Andravona – Zombitse National Park - Isalo (Drive time approximately – 5 hours)
After breakfast, we head south to Ifaty. The road follows the same synthesis of dazzling ocean to the right and dry dunes, baobab and scrub on the left. At Tuléar, you will move onto the relative luxury of Madagascar’s premium highway, National Route 7! This stretches as far as the capital, but today your goal is Isalo. From there, take the National Route 7 which links Tuléar to the capital; for Isalo, 4 hours’ drive away. En route, the road is flanked by a multitude of magnificent colourful tombs of the Mahafaly, Masikoro and Antandroy tribes. A few kilometres ahead, in Andranomaintso, you pass through the plateaux of baobab Andansonia za, a species unique to Madagascar. Continue to the protected forest-island of Zombitse National Park, which hosts many birding wonders, perhaps the highlight of which is the terrestrial Appert's Greenbul, one of Madagascar’s rarest endemics. Afterwards, the road leads through Ilakaka, the town at the centre of the burgeoning sapphire industry where you will have a stop. Arrive in Isalo National Park late afternoon, where you check into the bungalows at Satrana Lodge which nestle against the rocky slopes and look across the beautiful park. The Lodge has an excellent restaurant and fabulous swimming pool from which you may wish to enjoy one of nature’s stunning sunsets. Overnight Satrana Lodge. (B)
Isalo National Park
The Isalo National Park’s 815 km square area was created in the 1960s and is comprised of the entire stretch of the Isalo Massif. A spectacular landscape, with its eroded sandstone dome, cut by deep canyons, it makes for the most breath taking scenery and hence is the most visited national park in the country. Reminiscent of The Grand Canyon in the USA, its geological layers lend it the appearance of a relief map. The sandstone has been eroded into exotic shapes, pillars, towers, and is cut through by impressive gorges and canyons. Vegetation is concentrated in the sheltered canyon bottoms where streams still flow. These wooded areas dominated by the fire-resistant Tapia-tree, on which a Malagasy endemic silkworm feeds. On the cliffs and rocks are several endemic succulents including the elephant’s foot and the localised endemic Isalo Aloe. The balance of nature here is intriguingly harmonious: plants have adapted perfectly to the harsh and dry climate of Isalo. Pachypodium, which grow in the rocks, have some of the succulent qualities of cacti, having specialist water-storing roots and trunks which ensures survival without water for many months. For animal lovers you may encounter ring-tailed and brown lemurs, many types lizard, and the exceptional jewelled chameleon: in all, Isalo proudly boasts 82 species of birds, 33 species of reptiles, 15 species of frogs and 14 species of mammals. The massif is also the place where the Bara tribe buries its dead, first in temporary graves, pausing to raise enough silver, then into definitive tombs. The tribe were essentially the last to lose their independence, resisting the national amalgamation under the Merina, and only falling into submission during the French colonisation. Traditionally there were a warlike group, whose young men only attained manhood by rustling cattle from neighbours!
Day 12 – Isalo National Park
After breakfast, take a guided half day or full day excursion in the National Park of Isalo: one option is the trail to the top of the mountain, where a fantastic panoramic view of the eroded mountain is attained, with its kaleidoscope of rock shades, shifting from ochre to russet to blue-gray. From here you might choose to visit the natural swimming pool, and then perhaps head on to reach “the Canyon des Singes”. A most profitable area if you enjoy bird watching is the oasis and forested area around Relais de la Reine: here we can spot Benson’s rock-thrush, Lesser vasa parrot, Madagascar coucal, Madagascar bee-eater and even Giant coua. The walk can be tailored to how you feel on the day. At the end of the afternoon you may wish to visit the Fenetre d’Isalo, a natural rock formation in the shape of an exquisitely airy window, where one can experience the beautiful sunset framed magnificently between the rocks. Overnight Satrana Lodge. (B)
Day 13 – Isalo – Andringitra (Drive time approximately 6 hours)
In the morning, head northward, experiencing a rich diversity of settings, landscapes, with great options for photo stops on the way. The drive is through the huge savannah region of Plateaux de Horombe, with its vivid red soil, until arrival in Ihosy the capital of Bara tribes, the proudly independent shepherd tribe who herd the idiosyncratic Zebu cattle. The tribal culture is wound closely around the Zebu: to be allowed to marry a wife, a man has to steal several zebus as a badge of his strength and virility. The death of a Bara hunter is similarly marked by the sacrifice of the cattle. The next phase of the trip heads towards the spectacular mountain chain of Andrigitra National Park: the landscape changes dramatically, with huge domes of granite searing out of the flower-carpeted grassy plains, with Varavarana (“The gateway to the South”) and the imposing and locally sacred Bonnet de L’Evêque (“Bishop’s Mitre”) being especially dramatic examples. The latter is held locally to be a sacred spot, where few traditionally ventured. The route continues down an exhilarating dirt track for an hour of some of the most spectacular views that Madagascar has to offer, until you reach your destination in the heart of the Tsaranoro Valley, close to the gates of the National Park. Overnight Tsara Camp, or similar. (B, D)
Day 14 – Andringitra & Tsaranoro Valley
Access to Andringitra and the Tsaranoro Valley will involve touring round the tracks in a 4x4 and taking in some of the abundant highlights of these exceptional environs. You may choose to enter Andringitra National Park, or rather explore the delights of the Tsaranoro Valley. The Valley boasts a hotter, drier climate and is accessible all year round. Trekking opportunities abound, from low-level to ambitious mountainous routes. At every turn, photography opportunities present themselves in the guise of glorious vistas. Flora and fauna beg your attention too, from exotic aloes and cacti to splendid birds, mammals, amphibians and of course, lemurs. If you wish, there are walks to a local waterfall where views of the sunset across the plain make for a stunning end to a day of exploring the area. Overnight Tsara Camp, or similar. (B,D)
The valley below Andringitra National Park, dotted with mango trees and abundant in zebu pasture, gives way to the huge granite outcrops of the National Park itself. Since the 1920s, the 311 km² of inaccessible wilderness has been protected and it still manages to preserve a blend of rainforest, montane forest and high-altitude vegetation for the few visitors to tread so far off the usual RN7 tourist routes. Historically, it is held as a sacred place by the Bara tribe, being a place of ritualised burial and it was here that acts of mass suicide took place when the Merina tribe were seeking to force dominion over the whole island. The climate here can be varied, so warm-weather gear may sometimes need supplementing with waterproofs and, at nights, thermals and fleeces! The fauna here draws keen naturalists, offering 108 species of recorded birds, including Pollen’s vanga and the Madagascar blue pigeon, 34 types of reptile, an astonishing 55 frog species, 55 different types of mammal and an impressive 13 lemur species. The Ring-tailed lemurs of Andringitra which populate the valley are distinct from those you might have spotted elsewhere, having adapted their colour, size and fur to the empty rocky environment in which they live. The few visitors who do make it as far as Andringitra are drawn by the dramatic landscapes and so the park offers a great range of treks, even as far as the summit of Pic Boby, the highest accessible peak in Madagascar: the trek can be done in two days, if you wished to extend your stay here.
Day 15 – Andringitra – Anja Reserve - Antoetra (Drive time approximately 6-7 hours)
After breakfast continue to the thriving community-run reserve of Anja, a great place for charming close-up encounters with extremely tame ring-tailed lemurs. Beyond the lemurs, reptiles and insects here include the idiosyncratic trio of Barbour's day gecko, Dangalia lizard and planthoppers, as well as beautiful species of bird such as Grey-headed lovebird and Souimanga sunbird. The income from your visit will go towards the salaries of teachers in the local school. From here, continue north to Fianarantsoa the capital of the Betsileo tribes and known as the gateway to the south. A very catholic city, this is the seat of the Jesuits and boasts arguably Madagascar’s finest university. The upper old city and market are well worth investigation: the latter is a good opportunity to pick up locally produced tea and bottles of the celebrated Lazan’I Betsileo wine, grown on the surrounding slopes. Taking the road on from here, our route gradually bids farewell to the rainshadow of the south-west and fringes the outliers of the lush rainforest belt. You continue to Ivato and then take 15 km track to Ambalandingana where you will check in to the secluded and tranquil eco-lodges, nestling in the heartland of the highland farmland of the Zafirmaniry people. Overnight Sous le Soleil de Mada. (B,D)
Day 16 – Antoetra
The lodge is the starting point for an intriguing hiking opportunity to discover the landscape of the Zafimaniry world and today you can choose from either a shorter half day walk or a more in depth full day exploring the area on foot. Antoetra is the only vehicle-accessible village amongst the set of 17 protected Zafimaniry tribal villages, a sub division of the much larger Betsileo tribe. The Zafimaniry are essentially a forest-based culture and make their living from a model of sustainable forest exploitation. They are masters of wood carving and their wooden huts comprise of exquisitely carved windows frames and doors, indeed virtually every wooden surface displays elaborate ornamentation. The tribe is the sole remaining people to sustain Madagascar’s unique woodcraft culture, previously widespread over the whole island. Their art is classified as a world heritage culture by UNESCO. You will spend the day with these welcoming and fascinating people, as well as exploring the inaccessible highland region they inhabit. Overnight Sous le Soleil de Mada. (B, D)
Day 17 – Antoetra – Antsirabe – Antananarivo (drive time approximately – 6 hours)
Today’s final drive emerges from the rural escape onto the Ambositra road. The drive takes us through the highlands, where the RN7 route takes traverses the ‘hauts plateaux’, with its spectacular eroded hole-features called lavaka, a journey that once took 3 days on foot, but now enjoys the best road surfaces on the island. The landscape is reminiscent of the far-east with its paddy fields and green landscapes covered with patchworks of vegetable and fruit plantations. Stop briefly to visit some Zafimaniry handcrafts ateliers where one can pick up a souvenir such as examples of wood carving, marquetry and sculptures, which made this tribe very famous. Continue to the unusual city of Antsirabe (“Place of Much Salt”), an elegant European-styled city, residing at 1500m above sea level and boasting the reputation as the centre of Madagascar’s beer production. Founded by a Norwegian in 1856, it is the only Malagasy place which really feels and looks like a European city. It has a temperate climate and consequently fruits and vegetables which favour cooler conditions are grown here. Continue making our final approach to Tana and the conclusion of this amazing adventure through the diverse landscapes of Madagascar. A hotel room will be available for you to freshen up before your late evening flight (B).