Madagascar Group Tour - Northern Explorer

Northern Explorer

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 18 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


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 pure white Silky Sifaka. We then head inland across the country along a poorly maintained road to Daraina Reserve run by an NGO, where we will hope to encounter the critically endangered 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 see us search for the Turquoise Eyed True Lemur and finally 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.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●○○ | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●●●●●

Tour Pace


Tour Essentials
Accommodation: Mix of comfortable hotel/lodge accommodation and 4 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, Domestic flight Tana to Sambava
Countries: Madagascar
Extensions: Pre or post tour extension in Anjozorobe and lots of other options including beach extensions

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.

Tour Guide
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.


Optional pre-tour extension – Anjozorobe Forest Corridor 4 days 3 nights

Pre-tour Day 1 – Arrive Antananarivo
Arrive in Antananarivo. On arrival transfer to the hotel. Overnight Gassy Country House or similar. Please note that for those arriving before 3pm into Antananarivo it is possible to travel straight to Anjozorobe.

Pre-tour Day 2 – Antananarivo – Anjozorobe (approximate driving time today – 3 hours)
Depart after breakfast and our first stop is the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga (UNESCO) a significant symbol to the culture and people of Madagascar. We then journey to Anjozorobe Forest Corridor where you can relax or take walks in the surrounds of the beautiful forest. Overnight Saha Forest Camp (BLD)

Ambohimanga (UNESCO)
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga consists of a royal city and burial site, and an ensemble of sacred places. It is associated with strong feelings of national identity, and has maintained its spiritual and sacred character both in ritual practice and the popular imagination for the past 500 years. It remains a place of worship to which pilgrims come from Madagascar and elsewhere.

Anjozorobe Forest Corridor and Saha Forest Camp
Anjozorobe is home to one of the last large and unfragmented remnants of the central highland's natural ecosystems. Two types of forest are present: high altitude humid forest (over 1500 m) and mountain humid forest (800 - 1500 m). The corridor is still of sufficient size and integrity to guard safe populations of plant and animal life.  Anjozorobe is the richest known forest highland sites for biodiversity of flora and fauna. Anjozorobe is somewhat of a hidden gem and despite its beautiful forest and biodiversity receives relatively few visisotrs compared to more famous parks in Madagascar. We stay at the beautiful Saha Forest Camp which offers a fabulous nature experience. Run by the NGO Fanamby and nestled in the heart of a humid and tropical forest, the structure is composed of 10 elegant bungalows. Equipped with private bathroom with hot water and mobile heating in winter, each bungalow has a large balcony opening to a lush green landscape. The restaurant and its raised balcony is an excellent place to enjoy the surroundings with a book or a pair of binoculars to observe the abundant birdlife. This is a great way to start your trip to Madagascar.

Pre-tour Day 3 – Anjozorobe
A full day to relax in the surrounds of the beautiful forest of Anjozorobe. There will also be the opportunity to take walks in the forest with a local guide to get your first taste of some of the magnificent flora and fauna of Madagascar. The forest has an abundance of plant and animal life. It may be possible for you to spot the beautiful Indri Lemur as well as other flora and fauna. Overnight Saha Forest Camp (BLD)

Pre-tour Day 4 – Anjozorobe – Antananarivo (approximate driving time today – 3 hours)
After an optional early morning walk in the forest the rest of the morning is at leisure before returning to Antananarivo in the afternoon. This is Day 1 (arrival day) of the main tour. (BL)


Main Group 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 a morning 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 Mimi Hotel or similar (BD)

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 driving time 1.5 hours approx. 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. This is around a leisurely 3km walk and an elevation change of 80 metres.  From the park’s entrance it is a further 2½ hour walk to reach Camp Mantella. The difference in elevation on this section is around 270 metres but the trails are quite good (can be slippery under foot after rain) and we shall stop frequently to look at the flora and fauna in the beautiful forest.  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 can walk to picturesque Humbert waterfall which is approximately 1 hour each way. Overnight wild camping or staying in basic huts with no shower/bath facilities and outdoor toilet (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 (optional Day 5). 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 you wish then you can stay at camp on Day 5 if you do not wish to walk any further from Marojejia Camp.

Fresh food is cooked for clients at the camps and in our personal experience is plentiful, hearty and delicious.

You will be able to leave your main luggage in Sambava or at the Marojejy park headquarters so please pack lightly for the Marojejy experience. Ensure you have waterproof clothing, insect repellent, antiseptic wipes and any other medication you may routinely need. Ensure you have some dry clothes for time spent at camp. It is a good idea to have a waterproof cover for your small pack or have valuables kept in a plastic bag. Ensure you bring adequate numbers of batteries for your equipment as you cannot charge equipment whilst in the park.

Please bring a light sleeping bag and a sleeping inner sheet. A travel towel is advisable. You will need a head torch or torch for the camps at night.

There are no shower/washing facilities at the Marojejy camps but there is an outdoor hut at each camp with western style toilet.

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 sections)
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 350 meters. The walk is quite tough in parts but we have plenty of 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 critically endangered “Silky Sifaka” a beautiful pure white lemur only found in this area and one of the top 25 rarest primates on the planet. Overnight wild camping or staying in basic huts with no shower/bath and outdoor toilet (BLD)

Day 5 - Marojejy National Park (Walking time depends on the trail conditions and the location of the wildlife)
Today we explore the National Park on trails starting from the Marojejia camp searching for flora and fauna. The walk today should be around 4 hours but depends on our success observing the flora and fauna, much of which is unique to this magnificent park. Overnight wild camping or staying in basic huts with no shower/bath and outdoor toilet (BLD)

Please those that wish to stay at camp and enjoy the amazing views and tranquillity of Marojejia camp can do so, rather than hiking in the forest

Day 6 - Marojejy – Vohemar - (Approximate driving time 3 hours and approximate walking time 3-4 hours – gentle descent)
We depart camp today around 07:00 am and descend to Camp Mantella and then back to Mandena where our vehicles await. The descent should take around 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. As you travel don’t be surprised to inhale the unmistakeable scent of vanilla. The journey should take around 2 hours from Sambava to Vohemar. On arrival in Vohemar we check in to our accommodation before visiting a vanilla plantation and learn about the processes involved in cultivating one of Madagascar’s most famous export products. Overnight Baie D’Iharana or similar (BD)

Note – We may visit a vanilla plantation in Sambava instead of Vohemar as described on Day 2

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 (Overall driving time approximately 3 – 5 hours – very difficult to estimate)
We have an early breakfast before continuing to Daraina Reserve. The journey from Vohemar to Daraina can take anywhere between 3-5 hours depending on the road conditions which can be very poor so please be prepared for slow going! After getting comfortable at camp we take a walk in the forest aiming to spot the critically endangered Tattersall's Sifaka or Golden Crowned Sifaka which is only found in this area. There are also other species of lemur to look out for as well as many birds. Overnight camping or basic huts at Tattersali Camp or similar. (BLD)

NoteThe Tattersali Camp huts are basic but quite comfortable where you will have a mattress and sheets and blankets. Some may prefer to use their sleeping bags. The huts have lights and an attached bathroom with western toilet and shower/sink which does not have hot water but plans are in the pipeline to have solar hot water system soon but it is unclear when this will be ready. There is no facility for charging camera/phone equipment so please ensure you have spare batteries.

Daraina Reserve
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 critically endangered 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. The reserve is managed by NGO Fanamby and the Tattersali Camp accommodation is run by people from the local community where proceeds from tourism contribute to enhancing the lives of local villagers.

Day 8 - Daraina – Ambilobe – Ankarana National Park (Overall approximate driving time is 6 – 7 hours)
After an early breakfast we take a dirt track to the predominantly Muslim town of Ambilobe, a journey of around 5 hours. The road is a real adventure but in some parts in very poor condition. Please be prepared for a bumpy ride. In Ambilobe if time allows we will take a look around the lively and picturesque market. From Ambilobe we continue to Ankarana National Park where if time allows we can have short walk in the park before dark – this will depend on the road condition from Daraina to Ambilobe. Overnight Relais De L’Ankarana (BD)

Ankarana Reserve
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 9 - Ankarana National Park
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 walks on offer and your guide will discuss these options with you. Overnight Relais De L’Ankarana or similar. (BD)

Day 10 – Ankarana National Park – Diego Suarez (Overall approximate driving time is 4 hours)
After breakfast we continue to the northern most tip of Madagascar and the town of Diego Suarez where we have a short city tour including a visit to the World War 2 cemetery and memorial dedicated to the allied soldiers that fell during the battle of Madagascar and operation Iron Clad in 1942. For those that wish we can take a hike in Montagne Des Francais National Park which affords magnificent views out over the 3 Bays of Baie des Dunes, Baie des Pigeons and Sakalava Bay. During the hike it is also possible to see lemurs and endemic trees including species of the baobab tree. Overnight Le Suarez or similar. (BD)

Note – The hike up Montagne de Francais is steep in parts and conditions can be very hot. Please take plenty of water and wear a hat and other appropriate sun protection. For those that do not wish to walk then you can relax at the hotel.

Day 11 - Diego Suarez – Amber Mountain National Park – Andrafiamena - (Overall approximate driving time is 5 hours)
We depart early from Diego and head on for a 1-hour drive to Joffre Ville a crumbling but atmospheric former retreat for the French elite. Only a few km’s from Joffre Ville we reach Amber Mountain National Park where we will spend a few hours 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. There are some beautiful waterfalls in the park. Later we take a picturesque journey to Andrafiamena Reserve, at the foot of the Andranomanera Protected Reserve. En route we will visit the curious rock formations of the Red Tsingy, formed by erosion of the Irodo River. The final section of our journey today will be on a poorly maintained track for around 1 hour to our overnight stay, but once we are there the location itself makes today’s tough journey well worthwhile. Overnight Black Lemur Camp or similar. (BD)

Note – The bungalows at Black Lemur Camp are very comfortable with tremendous views but do not have charging facilities. Charging can be done at the bar/restaurant area.

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 – 1,485m. 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 - Andrafiamena
After breakfast with a local guide we will hike inside Andranomanera Protected Reserve home to unique and endemic species, in particular the black lemur (Perrier Sifaka) which is only found in this area. The reserve is 30,000 Ha in size and on one side the reserve is quite wet and on the other it is relatively dry and in the middle is a transition zone where the last refuge of the black lemur is found. Overnight Black Lemur Camp or similar. (BD)

Day 13 – Andriafamena – Ambanja (Overall approximate driving time is 5 hours)
This morning we travel to Ambanja passing alongside the Tsaratanana Mountains which is home to the highest peak in the country. Arrival in Ambanja, we visit the local market. Overnight Nourd Inn or similar. (BD) 

Day 14 – Ambanja – Mahitsizato - Antsohihy (Overall approximate driving time is 5 hours)
In the morning, after breakfast, we take an interesting visit to the Millot plantation for an explanation of the crops such as cacao, coffee and vanilla that are prevalent in this fertile region of Madagascar. Continue to the village of Mahitsizato. This is the area run by a community project where we hope to see the blue eyed true lemur scientifically known as Eulemur flavifron. This is an extremely endangered species of lemur and is the only primate besides humans known to have blue eyes. The forest here is fragmented so the lemurs here are quite shy but our local guide will do their best to spot them. We will have a picnic lunch in this area and then this afternoon travel for a few hours on to Antsohihy where we can explore the town. Overnight Belle Vue or similar. (BD)  

Mahitsizato Walk
This is a dry area of forest but there are no well-marked trails here. To see the blue-eyed lemurs we need to walk quite steeply uphill at times and sideways along a slope. As the conditions here are usually dry the walking is not particularly hazardous but care should be taken underfoot and good footwear worn. Also as we may have to push our way through dry forest long sleeves and trousers should be worn.

Day 15 - Antsohihy – Ankarafantsika – (Overall approximate driving time 8 hours)
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. (BD)

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 d’Ampijoroa or similar. (BD)

Lake Ravelobe
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 (Overall approximate driving time is 7 hours)
Today we journey back to the capital, passing by 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 Gassy Country House 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)


Tour Inclusions/Exclusions

Arrival and departure transfers
Domestic flight from Tana to Sambava
All transports throughout the tour
All accommodation
Services of local English speaking guide and special Local Park guides
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Travel Insurance
Visa if applicable
Optional local tipping kitty collected on arrival by our guide between 40 - 60 euro depending on group size (or the equivalent in GBP)
Tip for main tour guide (discretionary)
Items of a personal nature

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