Secrets of Madagascar


Madagascar - Secrets of Madagascar

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 17 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Dossier

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, recognised 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 also visit 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. Finally we spend time at Ifaty on the coast – a relaxing end to the trip. Madagascar is unlike anywhere else on earth – join us to experience its diverse charms on a trip that will challenge what you thought you knew about Africa.


Tour Rating

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

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour Highlights

  • Incredible endemic flora and fauna and an opportunity to see different lemur species
  • Travel off the beaten track to the incredible Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
  • Look for nocturnal creatures on a night walk in the forest at Ranomafana National Park
  • Diverse landscapes from rainforest to semi desert
  • Spend time on the beautiful Mozambique Channel at Ifaty

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Comfortable hotel/lodge accommodation with private bathrooms
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 and minibuses, river boat and domestic flights
Countries: Madagascar

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.

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 Gassy Country House or similar.

Antananarivo

Antananarivo, commonly known as Tana, is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. The name Antananarivo means ‘the City of the Thousands’, 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 – being on high ground (1,370m) and surrounded by marsh made it easy to defend and thus a natural choice for the capital. Tana 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 colourful 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 - Andasibe

This morning enjoy a short city tour of the capital before we drive to Andasibe (approx. 3 hours) through lush vegetation, stopping en route at a private reptile reserve to get up close to some of Madagascar’s many species of chameleon. On arrival at Andasibe you will visit a private sanctuary where you can get up close to Lemurs. This evening there will be an opportunity to take a walk in the forest looking for nocturnal creatures. Overnight Vakona Lodge or similar. (BL)

Andasibe National Park

Andasibe National Park is home to some of the best of Madagascar’s 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 birdlife.

Day 3 – Andasibe National Park – Antananarivo

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 a morning walk through the forest in search of this enigmatic creature as well as other wildlife, accompanied by an expert guide. In the afternoon we visit a lemur sanctuary to get up close to these fascinating creatures. At the sanctuary the lemurs may jump on you but please note that this is perfectly safe. Return to Antananarivo (approx. 3 hours drive) in the afternoon. Overnight Tana Plaza Hotel or similar. (BL)

Andasibe National Park Walk

The walk in Andasibe National Park is along marked trails and involves walking up and down hill. At times it may be necessary to leave the trails to see the wildlife. Total walking time is approx. 3 hours.

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 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 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 4 – Morondava

Fly west across the island to Morondava, a coastal town with a laid back atmosphere and home to many of Madagascar’s different ethnic groups. If the flight is on time there should be time to relax by the pool at the hotel. Overnight Kimony Resort or similar (BL)

Day 5 – Bekopaka

An early start and a full day of travelling by car (approx. 8-10 hours depending on traffic and road conditions) and boat to cross the Tsiribihina River, driving through the baobab forests, with great opportunities to see a side of rural Madagascar that few other visitors experience. En route we will visit Kirindy Reserve which has the best opportunity for viewing the elusive Fossa as well as lemurs. After Kirindy we will continue the journey to Bekopaka and again take to the water to cross the Manambolo. We arrive at Bekopaka in the early evening. Overnight at Hotel Olympe de Bemaraha or similar. (BL)

Day 6 – 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. We take the Grand Tsingy circuit where boardwalks and ladders 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. (BL)

Please note that although the Grand Tsingy circuit is a highlight for most people, some people may find it challenging. There are two paths that can be taken – the Grand Tsingy and the Petit Tsingy. The Grand Tsingy path involves going through caves and some narrow canyons, and harnesses may be used for safety reasons. You also have to go up ladders attached to rocks to reach different levels. It is not rock climbing. People of a reasonable fitness should have no problem but it is not advisable for those not comfortable with going up ladders or those who suffer from vertigo or uncomfortable with exposure to drops. Your guide will explain the difference between the paths so that you can choose the more suitable option.

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 7 – Tsingy de Bemaraha

A further day to explore this wonderful national park. You may wish to do the Petit Tsingy circuit or for those that did the Petit Tsingy yesterday instead of the Grand Tsingy, other walks are possible or you can relax by the pool at the hotel. Overnight at Hotel Olympe de Bemaraha or similar (BL)

Day 8 – Bekopaka to Morondava

A full day of driving (approx. 8-10 hours depending on traffic and road conditions) back to Morondava stopping en route at the ‘Avenue of the Baobabs’ where these imposing trees up to 800 years old line the road and provide an iconic snapshot of Madagascar, giving hints of the extensive forest that once covered this part of the island. Overnight Kimony Resort or similar (BL)

Day 9 – Antsirabe

After breakfast, drive towards Miandrivazo. En route experience varied landscapes and the transition from the very dry west to the red soil and rice fields around Miandrivazo. Situated on the Tsiribihina River, Miandrivazo is a very fertile region for cotton, corn, manioc, beans, tobacco and rice. After lunch we continue to Antsirabe. You will also notice changes on the features of the local people as Asian heritage becomes more prominent. We finish the day in Antsirabe, founded by Norwegians in 1856 and home to Madagascar’s brewing industry. Total driving time is 10-12 hours depending on traffic and road conditions. Overnight Royal Palace or similar (BL)

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 centre of Madagascar’s brewing industry, and indeed you will smell the brewery on the way into town. 

Day 10 – Ambositra – Ranomafana National Parks

Continuing south, we stop in Ambositra (approx. 4 hours), the centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry and home to the Zafimaniry tribe. We then continue to Ranomafana National Park (approx. 4 hours) for the night. Overnight Centrest Sejour or similar (BL)

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.

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 you have some time at leisure before an optional night walk on the on the outskirts of the park to search for nocturnal creatures. Overnight Centrest Sejour or similar (BL)

Walk in Ranomafana National Park

The walk in Ranomafana National Park can take approx. 4-5 hours. The walk is along marked trails which includes many steps, and it may be necessary to leave the trails to search for the lemurs.

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.

Day 12 – Anja - Isalo National Park

Leaving Ranomafana behind we head to Isalo. We stop first at Anja Park (approx. 3-4 hours depending on traffic and road conditions), a community run reserve situated in stunning scenery with great opportunities to see ring-tailed lemurs. Arrive in Isalo in the late afternoon (approx. 4-5 hours depending on traffic and road conditions). Overnight at Satrana Lodge or similar. (BL)

Please note that at Satrana Lodge, electricity is only available between 0600-0930hrs and 1700-2200hrs.

Day 13 – 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 Satrana Lodge or similar. (BL)

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 colours of the surrounding terrain and impressive panoramic views, as well as a sense of utter tranquillity. It is also a sacred area to the local Bara tribe, who use caves in the cliffs as burial chambers. We will be walking for much of the day at Isalo so you should be prepared for this. 

The walk to the natural swimming pool is 3km both ways and the trail is climbing steps and heading upwards for about 1km, then flat for 1km and finally descending to the natural pool. Whilst walking along the flat part of the route you can climb the rocks to the view point. There are 2 areas you can climb to depending on how comfortable you are with heights. Your guide will explain these to you so you can decide the best viewing platform.

Day 14 - Isalo - Ifaty

Leaving Isalo behind we head to Tulear (approx. 5-6hrs depending on traffic and road conditions). Travelling through the land of the Mahafaly people, we can stop to see the traditional tombs used for burying their dead. From Tulear we transfer to Ifaty on the coast (approx. 1 hour). 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 La Mira or similar. (BL)

Ifaty

On the south-west coast of Madagascar, looking out over the Mozambique Channel lays 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 15 – Ifaty

A free day to relax or explore. Ifaty is also home to coral reef and offers good diving and snorkelling 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. All excursions can be booked through the hotel and are payable locally. July and August are the best months to see the migration of the humpback whales. Overnight Hotel La Mira or similar. (BL)

Day 16 - Antananarivo

Transfer to Tulear (approx. 1-2 hours) where you will catch a flight back to Antananarivo. Overnight Gassy Country House similar (BL)

Day 17 – Depart Madagascar

Free time at leisure until your transfer to the airport and your onward flight. Please note optional excursions are possible for those with late flights. Day use available at Gassy Country House until 6pm for clients travelling on late night Air France flight. (B)

PLEASE NOTE THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO EXTEND THE STAY AT IFATY – PLEASE CONTACT US FOR DETAILS

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure airport transfers
Domestic flights
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guides
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Excluded:
International flights
Travel Insurance
Visa
Drinks
Optional local tipping kitty collected on arrival between 55-75 euro
Tip for main tour guide (discretionary)
Items of a personal nature


Other tours in Madagascar

Northern Explorer - Madagascar »