Madagascar - Northern Explorer
Northern Explorer - Madagascar
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 the North of this enigmatic and alluring land. Our journey takes us first to Sambava, Madagascar's vanilla capital on the North East coast before we head to what is undoubtedly one of the jewels of an off the beaten track tour of Madagascar; Marojejy National Park which is only accessible on foot. Marojejy is part of the World Heritage Site of Atsinanana, which UNESCO has placed on its endangered list and contains lowland, mid altitude and high altitude rainforest, as well as the island’s most intact remaining mountaintop moorlands. Visitors need to have a reasonable level of fitness due to the steep slopes in some places. The floral and faunal diversity in the park is bewildering, with the star attraction on the lemur front being the critically endangered Silky Sifaka. We then head to Daraina where we will hope to encounter the Golden Crowned Lemur before continuing to the far North to Ankarana with its fantastic landscape of razor-sharp pinnacles (Tsingy), home to wildlife such as sportive lemurs. In this area we also pay a visit to the lush forests of Amber Mountain National Park. Our journey south back to the capital takes us to Ankarafantsika National Park and Lake Ravelobe with its wildlife-rich deciduous woodland mixed with teak trees. This is an adventure not to be missed.
Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●○○ | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●●●●●
- Trek and camp in Marojejy National Park, one of the most pristine parks in the country
- Track the critically endangered Golden Crowned Sifaka at Daraina
- Travel to the far northern tip of Madagascar at Diego Suarez
- Explore the wonderful tropical rainforest of Amber Mountain National Park
- Experience the extraordinary spiny limestone landscape of Tsingy D ‘Ankarana
Accommodation: Mix of comfortable hotel/lodge accommodation and 5 nights camping or basic huts
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum group size 12
Start Point: Antananarivo
End Point: Antananarivo
Transport: 4WD or minibuses, private boats and domestic flight
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 - Antananarivo
Arrive in Antananarivo and transfer to the hotel. Overnight at Gassy Country House or similar
Day 2 - Antananarivo – Sambava
We take an early flight to Sambava (subject to change), the only flight we shall take on this overland adventure. The landscapes around Sambava are dominated by vanilla fields and coconut plantations. On arrival, if time allows us, we can visit a workshop where you will get a demonstration of how to prepare vanilla from the field to the vanilla pod. Overnight at Las Palmas Hotel or similar (B)
Sambava is nestled in a small bay and is sheltered by luxuriant vegetation such as bamboo, banana and palm trees. It is one of the most prosperous cities in the north and known as the capital of the vanilla triangle.
Day 3 - Sambava – Marojejy National Park – Approximate walking time today 3.5 – 4 hours (gentle uphill for most)
Today we depart around 07:30am, accompanied by our special Marojejy park guide we travel by 4WD to Manantenina arriving around 9am. From here after a short break we continue along a dirt track to Mandena, which is as far as the car can go. We then continue on foot for 1 hour to the entrance point of Marojejy National Park. From the park’s entrance it is a further 2 ½ hour walk to reach Camp Mantella. We should arrive in good time at the camp to be able to enjoy the forest surroundings. For those wishing to do some more exploring on foot we walk to Humbert waterfall which is approximately 1 hour each way. Overnight camping or staying in basic huts (BLD)
Marojejy National Park
Marojejy National Park is one of the most strikingly beautiful and wild areas of Madagascar. It is unique in the world, a place of dense jungle rainforest, sheer cliffs, and plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. Marojejy National Park comprises 60,050 hectares (148,387 acres) of land, and protects the entire Marojejy Massif. The forests, ranging from low altitude rain forest through to high altitude montane scrub, harbour an impressive list of plants and animals: at least 275 species of ferns, 35 species of palms, 149 species of amphibians and reptiles including 60 frogs such as the green climbing mantilla, leaf-tailed geckos, brookesia chameleons and lots of leeches. The park is also home to eleven species of lemurs, including the critically endangered Silky Sifaka (Propithecus candidus) which only occurs here. Other lemurs found here include Indri, red-bellied lemur, Eastern woolly lemur, aye-aye, bamboo lemur or Weasel sportive lemur. Birds are also very well represented with 118 species having been observed so far including the helmet vanga, Madagascar serpent-eagle, velvet asity, and the cryptic warbler.
Please note that Marojejy National Park is a true wilderness area in Madagascar. Facilities are basic at the camps and consist either of shared huts or camping. Outside bathroom facilities are shared. You should be well prepared for basic conditions in Marojejy National Park. Even in the dry season rain is common and trails can be slippery. From Days 3 – 6 you will be walking every day. The walking times between the camps are outlined in the day to day itinerary. Walks from the camps vary depending on the wishes of the group and the state of the trails which will be determined by the local park guide. Should clients wish they can stay at camp on Day 5 if they do not wish to walk from Marojejia Camp.
Please note that night walks on the trails in Marojejy are no longer permitted. We will however be able to look for wildlife around camp on the nights spent in the park.
Day 4 - Marojejy National Park – Approximate walking time – 2 hours to camp (some steep uphill)
Today we continue our trek and reach Camp Marojejia (Camp 2), a trek of approximately 2 hours mostly uphill with an elevation gain of around 750m. The walk is quite tough in parts but we have plenty time and will be able to make lots of stops to enjoy the forest and to look for wildlife. Marojejia camp is located at the transition between lowland and montane rainforest. It is located on a mountainside thus it offers breath-taking views, overlooking large areas of the park. On arrival at the camp we can get some rest and those that want to can do some further exploring of the park with the special park guide. Hopefully we will be lucky and spot the “Silky Sifaka” a beautiful white lemur only found in this area. Overnight camping or staying in basic huts (BLD)
Day 5 - Marojejy National Park – Walking time depends on trail condition (variable terrain)
Today we explore the National Park on trails starting from the Marojejia camp searching for flora and fauna. Overnight camping or staying in basic huts (BLD)
Day 6 - Marojejy – Vohemar – Walking time 3-4 hours (descent)
We depart camp today around 07:30am and descend to Camp Mantella and then back to Mandena where our vehicles await. The descent should take around 3-4 hours. We then drive around 1 hour back to Sambava where we will stop for lunch. From Sambava we head on northwards to Vohemar through the green and peaceful landscape of the east. The journey should take around 2 hours from Sambava to Vohemar. On arrival we will explore Vohemar. On arrival in Vohemar we can explore the town if time allows. Overnight Hotel Baie d’ Iharana (B)
Vohemar is situated in an attractive bay and has one of the few natural harbours on the East coast. It is also one of the main vanilla producing areas of the country.
Day 7 - Vohemar - Daraina
Today we take a dirt track between Vohemar and Daraina. The trip is only 55kms but if there has been recent rain then it can take many hours to navigate this track. The landscape becomes very dry with red laterite soil. On our journey today we should see local people panning for gold. On arrival at Daraina depending on the road condition we should have some time to take a walk in the forest before dark. Overnight camping (BLD)
Day 8 - Daraina
A full day exploring the Daraina Reserve, a place rich in flora and fauna. During the walk it may be possible to spot the Tattersall's Sifaka and other species of lemur as well as many birds. In the tropical forest we will also stop at some waterfalls along the way and time permitting there is also an opportunity for swimming in some natural pools. The walk today should take around 6 hours. Overnight camping or basic huts (BLD)
Daraina National Park
The park is a mosaic of rolling hills covered with patches of deciduous and semi-evergreen forest, which is one of the richest and most ecologically sensitive areas in the north. The principal reason for its importance is the golden-crowned sifaka, one of the world's rarest primates, that is found here and nowhere else. Other lemurs are also seen with regularity including crowned lemurs, and Sanford's brown lemurs and even, occasionally, the aye-aye. Recently a new lemur species has been discovered the “Fork-marked lemur”. They belong to the genus, or group of species, called Phaner and if confirmed as a new species, this would be only the fifth member of that group. Natural ecosystems in Daraina have been transformed and fragmented by human activities. Currently, the area presents a complex and rich mosaic of small, medium, and large forest fragments. Despite the fact that the forests found throughout the region are highly fragmented, the floral and faunal communities found in the area are rich and diverse.
Day 9 - Daraina – Ankarana
After an early breakfast we take a dirt track to the predominantly Muslim town of Ambilobe, a journey of around 7 hours and from there a sealed road to Ankarana. In Ambilobe we will take a look around the lively and picturesque market. Overnight Relais de l'Ankarana Lodge or similar (B)
Day 10 - Ankarana - Diego - Joffre Ville
This morning we head along the National Route 6 which is a much smoother road than we will have been used to in recent days. We will visit the city of Diego Suarez and also the 'Montagne des Francais' to see the endemic Baobab Antseraniensis. We continue to Joffre Ville where we stay overlooking Diego and its picturesque bay. Overnight Nature Lodge or similar (B)
Day 11 - Amber Mountain National Park
We spend a full day searching for flora and fauna in Amber Mountain National Park. There are lots of different trails in the park and you will be able to do a longer or shorter walk depending on how you feel today. Overnight Nature Lodge or similar (B)
Amber Mountain National Park
Created in 1958 this national park is located 7km's from Joffre Ville and 32kms from Diego Suarez. It is a tropical rainforest with an area of 18,200 hectares and the altitude in the park ranges from 850m - 1485m. The park has its own microclimate which makes the flora and fauna unique. Seven species of lemur have been recorded in the park including the crowned lemur and Sanford's brown lemur which are usually easily spotted. With a high annual rainfall rate, the park is covered with upland moist tropical forest, with numerous giant tree species, smaller ferns and several orchid species.
Day 12 - Joffre Ville - Ankarana
Halfway to Ankarana we take a detour on a dirt track to visit the 'Red Tsingy' which are strange natural sculptures resulting from erosion of the local river. The excursion into the Red Tsingy should take us around an hour. After lunch we continue to Ankarana and en route we can stop at a local sapphire shop. The landscape on our route to Ankarana is dotted with picturesque rice fields, rivers and streams. Overnight Relais de l'Ankarana or similar (B)
Ankarana Special Reserve is located about 108km south of Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) and covers 18,220ha. Ankarana is known for its limestone karst pinnacles called tsingy along with its extensive cave system and network of underground rivers, some of which contain crocodiles. Dry deciduous forest is found in much of the reserve. Visitors may encounter the crowned lemur, Sanford's brown lemur, Perrier's black lemur, the northern sportive lemur and dwarf lemurs. A variety of chameleons and leaf-tailed Uroplatus geckos can also be found in the reserve.
Day 13 - Tsingy D ‘Ankarana
This morning we visit the Tsingy D ‘Ankarana, where the limestone highlands have been sculpted by natural erosion. It gives the impression of walking on a spiny landscape and is an extraordinary spectacle. Abundant wildlife lives in the forested canyons and during your walk we should have chances to see brown lemurs, geckos and non-poisonous snakes. The nature of the environment here makes the walking a little challenging but there are different grades of difficulty so there will be different options in terms of the walking. This afternoon there will be an opportunity for further walks or just to relax at the hotel. Overnight Relais de l'Ankarana (B)
Day 14 - Ankarana – Antsohihy
This morning we drive to Ambilobe before driving past the coffee, cacao and ylang ylang plantations of this volcanic and fertile region of Madagascar. We will drive alongside the Tsaratanana mountain chain which has the highest peak in the country. On arrival in Ambanja we visit one of the 3 main cacao plantations and learn about the whole transformation process. From Ambanja to Antsohihy we will travel through a pleasant landscape dotted with rice fields, streams and rivers. Overnight Hotel Paradisier or similar (B)
Day 15 - Antsohihy - Ankarafantsika
This morning we journey to Ambodromamy, at a crossroads between North RN6 and West RN4. It is a little village brought to life by local vendors and their products, especially local fruits that are exhibited on the roadside. Then from there we take the national road number 4 towards Majunga to reach Ampijoroa. This is a Sakalava region, home to the largest tribes of the eighteen ethnicities of Madagascar. The tombs of this tribe tend to be different from other tribes. We arrive by late afternoon and this evening we will take a walk looking for nocturnal creatures (subject to national park approval). Overnight Gite d'Ampijoroa or similar (B)
Ankarafantsika National Park
A paradise for birds, Ankarafantsika is one of the largest remaining dry deciduous forests, and forms a mosaic with extensive wetlands and provides the final refuge for numerous critically endangered and endemic species including lemurs, reptiles and birds. The forestry station campsite has numerous sought-after "campsite residents. At night a pair of Tortoroka Scops Owls normally start calling in the campsite and Madagascar Nightjars can be seen foraging on the edge of the camp or along the trails on a night walk!
Day 16 - Ankarafantsika
For early risers there will be an opportunity to take a dawn walk for bird watching and exploring the trails around magical Lake Ravelobe. After breakfast we spend the day exploring the natural treasures of Ankarafantsika. The terrain here is quite flat so today’s walk will not be too challenging. Overnight Gite of Ampijoroa or similar (B)
One of the key features of the Lake Ravelobe is one pair of the critically endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle. With an estimated 50-100 breeding pairs remaining in the wild, this bird is on the edge of extinction. While it is exhilarating to see such a rare bird, it is equally sad to know it is disappearing so fast. The crocodiles in Lake Ravelobe are protected by fady (superstitions and taboos taken from ancient folklore) and have been known to attack unsuspecting villagers.
Day 17 - Ankarafantsika - Tana
Today we journey back to the capital which should take 6-7 hours through grasslands and savannah and we may come across farmers with their zebu herds. On arrival in Tana check in to the hotel before enjoying an early farewell dinner where we can reflect on an amazing journey through the North of this incredible country. Overnight Les Trois Metis or similar (BD)
Day 18 - Depart Madagascar
This morning for those that wish to we can take an early morning tour around the high parts of town which afford great views and appreciate the soft light against the colourful houses of Tana. Later transfer to the airport for your onward flight (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of local English speaking guide and local park guides
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Optional local tipping kitty collected on arrival between 55-75 euro
Tip for main tour guide (discretionary)
Items of a personal nature