This Pioneering Northern Madagascar Tour has plenty of rewards

A Pioneering Northern Madagascar Tour

Mark has recently returned from a pioneering Northern Madagascar Tour visiting some of the most remote and unvisited regions of Madagascar. Even for someone who has visited Madagascar numerous times, this was a challenging and exciting new tour.

The start of my Northern Madagascar Tour

Northern Madagascar Tour

Day 1 – Anjozorobe
I’m tired but excited to begin this Northern Madagascar tour. After a late arrival into Tana and a few hours sleep we left early for the forest corridor of Anjozorobe, journey time being around 2.5 hours depending on how long it takes to escape from the Tana traffic bedlam!

The drive is mostly a smooth one save for the last 10km’s to the Saha Forest Camp which is a rough going 4WD only track. Still the bumps are worthwhile as you walk through rice fields with the lush looking canopy of Anjozorobe ahead.

The Saha forest Camp is the only accommodation of note in this tranquil setting but it is very comfortable and has a stunning verandah where one could easily spend many hours with a book and a pair of binoculars overlooking the forest. The Saha Camp has nice bungalows with tremendous views.

All of the staff are from the local community and lunch was delicious with traditional Malagasy dishes on offer.

We took a short circuit in the forest and were extremely fortunate to observe 2 Indri lemurs feeding in the canopy. The local guide also explained the medicinal properties of some of the flora. The forest here is a delight and bird watching is also recommended.

Our time was short but there are hikes ranging from 1 hour to a full day at Anjozorobe. Good footwear is required and the trails are steep at times.

We travelled back to Tana in beautiful late afternoon sunlight and as we did I thought how much Anjozorobe is well worth a couple of nights perhaps either before or after a tour of the country to relax and unwind in a truly blissful setting.

Days 2 and 3- 24 hours in Marojejy
This morning we visited a local orphanage and teaching institution near Tana airport. It was great meeting the kids and seeing how the project is run. The school equipment we donated courtesy of Churchill Community College was well received and UD donated some English reading books.

After a good sing song with the kids it was time to head to the airport for a flight to the North East and the town of Sambava, vanilla capital of Madagascar.

We had a mad dash to make the hour journey from Sambava to Marojejy National Park before sunset. We set off with the light fading and before long head torches were switched on for the 3 hour trek to Camp Mantella. What an experience this was.

The rainforest was alive with the chatter of frogs and we were also lucky to spot a leaf tailed gecko and some nocturnal lemurs high in the trees, visible only by their bright red eyes shining back at us from the torchlight.

The trek to camp 1 was manageable even in the dark but good footwear is essential as heavy rain can occur any time in this eastern rainforest. We arrived at Camp 1 and were treated to a delicious dinner of traditional Malagasy fare by our team under candle and torch light.

The huts were basic but comfortable enough given how wild Marojejy is. The next morning after tucking into delicious pancakes we trekked to Camp 2 Marojejy in steady rain.

The trek to the next Camp took around 2 hours and was a little tougher mainly due to the wet conditions. On the way we met a family of bamboo lemurs deftly navigating their way through the forest.

The location of Camp 2 at Marojejy is utterly stunning situated around natural cascades and with a knockout view over distant forest and a shear rock face which reminded me a little of El Capitan at Yosemite. We rested at camp while our spotter searched for the jewel of this forest, the critically endangered Silky Sifaka.

The clouds broke and we basked in the midday sun and felt as though we were in a true paradise. We had an exquisite sighting of the stunning Helmet Vanga and butterflies danced all around us seemingly excited by the sunshine. Then the call came from the forest and it was to time to climb again out of Camp 2.

After around 20 minutes there were the Silky Sifakas, ghostly white and incredibly beautiful. We watched them for around half an hour feeding and bouncing from tree to tree before heading back to Camp 1 for a late lunch.

Buoyant from our rainforest experience we made good time back down to the park entrance for dark, again meeting our bamboo lemur friends on the way. We shared a beer with our Marojejy crew in the village before heading back to Sambava. Marojejy is a dream of a place for nature lovers there is no doubt.

Day 4 – Sambava to Daraina
I woke as the sun popped up over the horizon and admired the sandy expanse of the beach at Sambava as the Indian Ocean crashed in. After breakfast we headed north to Vohemar with the window down, constantly catching the unmistakable aroma of vanilla as we rolled on.

We had lunch in Vohemar knowing the next 120km’s of of our journey would be tough. Oh and how.

This road that links Vohemar to Ambilobe is one of the worst in Madagascar if not the world. After 5 hours of hellish ‘road’ we had covered the 60kms to Daraina and our overnight stop at the reserve run by NGO Fanamby to protect the critically endangered Golden Crowned Sifaka, the only place in Madagascar this species can be found.

We had a lovely night walk in the dry forest on arrival, spotting a gorgeous Sportive Lemur and a Mouse Lemur in addition to the wonderful orchestra of the early evening forest cacophony.

After a hearty dinner of rice and chicken it was time to turn into the simple but surprising comfortable huts complete with attached outdoor shower and toilet.

Day 5 Daraina to Ambanja
We set off at 6am back into the forest and within 30 minutes our local guide had found the Golden Crowned Lemurs still huddling in the fork of a tree not yet full awakened from their slumber. We stood and watched as the sun kissed the canopy.

The lemurs started to stretch and before long were bounding impossibly from branch to branch and then settling down somewhat for breakfast of their favourite leaves.

Lower and lower they came until at times we were no more that a few metres away. An amazing treat to see such a rare primate so close. We also had a lovely chameleon sighting as we headed back for breakfast.

We then had a another 5 hour adventure on the ‘road’ again our driver showing extreme precision and skill in navigating the challenging conditions. Finally we made it back to tarmac and smoothly cruised into Ambanja for the night.

Day 6 – The search for the Turquoise Eye Lemur
Another early start passing through lush plantations of cocoa and bananas with the cool morning air rushing in through the open windows.

We had heard through our driver that a community project had started on the main RN6 route south of Ambanja to help protect a number of Turquoise Eyed Brown Lemurs living in a small pocket of dry forest.

We met the local guide and organiser who led us through the back of the tiny village and into a corridor of forest dotted with huge mango trees. We searched the canopy for around an hour with no luck but unphased headed to a different area. Our luck was in and we were treated to great sightings of these beautiful Turquoise Eye true Lemurs before they bounded off into the distance. T

he next stop was a fascinating visit to a large plantation north of Ambanja where a local guide enthusiastically showed us around the plantation, told its history and explained the process of cocoa production from the nursery plants all the way through to the crop being ready for export.

My main guide Patrick tells me that only Cote D’Ivoire beats Madagascar for cocoa quality! We continued through Ambilobe north passing fields of sugar cane and ended our day in Ankarana.

Day 7 – Tsingy and Black Lemurs
This morning we took a beautiful 3 hour circuit in the Tsingy De l’Ankarana National Park. As well as great views of the Tsingy itself (literally meaning to tiptoe as the Malagasy ancestors were known to traverse the limestone formations themselves) we were treated to great views of Sanford Lemurs and Crowned Lemurs as well as a couple of sleepy Sportive Lemurs dozing in their favourite trees.

Our guide also showed us one of the dangerous scorpions that reside in Ankarana and gleefully explained that a sting will result in 26 hours (precisely) of agonizing pain!!!

Probably the most amazing sight of this excursion though was a gaping chasm where 3 rivers meet only for fleeting moments each year during flash flood. This huge hole then takes the raging torrent under ground through a subterranean system and eventually dumping into the Mozambique Channel.

Testimony to this remarkable and infrequent event were massive logs stranded high up in the trees on the edge of the now dry river bed that had been dumped there during the flash floods. One can only imagine the carnage of such a scene.

Later we took the journey north to the off the beaten track Andrafiamena Special Reserve to track the critically endangered Perriers Sifaka. This lemur lives only in this pocket of dry tropical forest and is completely black in colour.

On arrival at the amazing camp run by NGO Fanamby (also running the Daraina camp) we were welcomed with a local refreshing fruit juice and shown to our bungalow which was very comfortable and afforded stunning views of the dry forest.

It was already mid afternoon so we headed off into the forest with our local community guide in search of the ‘Black Lemur‘. The trek was hot and tough for a short while but after around an hour our guide caught sight of one individual in the canopy.

This dry forest is quite dense so we had to hack our way off the path to get closer. We were treated to quite a display by these Sifakas. Their ability to bound effortlessly for what seemed like huge distances was a sight to behold.

Rather than try to get photos I just watched and admired in awe at the agility and beauty of these animals. All the more special given their fragile status. Back at the lodge a blazing sunset awaited and a great feed by the local Fanamby crew. What a fantastic day!

Day 8 – Amber Mountain
After some early morning birdwatching from the superb terrace we were on our way again. After only 10km’s of bone jarring off road our tyre burst in spectacular fashion.

The driver changed it in 10 minutes to my utter amazement. On we travelled and after a couple of hours we left the main road and climbed up towards Joffre Ville. The temperature here is sometimes 10 degrees cooler and the town itself has a faded charm with crumbling buildings dating from the early 1900’s when Joffre Ville used to be a retreat from the heat for the well to do French elite.

The village store on the Main Street is particularly atmospheric. The entrance to Amber Mountain National Park is only 4 Km further along a snaking track from Joffre Ville. We picked up a local guide and spent a couple of hours meandering around a beautiful loop comprising off lush forest and glittering cascades.

We saw Crowned Lemurs and a ridiculously camouflaged Leaf Tailed Gecko that I personally would not have spotted in a month of Sundays.

This park is very accessible with wide trails but it retains a prehistoric air to it and is utterly captivating in its beauty. We descended from the mountain early evening into Diego Suarez the final stop on this northern adventure. It was my guide Patrick’s birthday as well so we celebrated with a zebu steak and a banana infused rum. Another great day on this Northern Madagascar tour.

Day 9 – Diego Suarez
First stop today was to take in some superb vistas over the Baie de Francais and the Sugar Loaf mountain of Nosy Longo. Next was a visit to the WW 2 cemetery and memorial to the allied soldiers who died in operation Iron Clad and subsequent military operations from early May 1942 to defend strategically important Madagascar from falling into the hands of the Japanese.

The cemetery is immaculately kept and the poignant inscriptions on the gravestones of young men, some only 20 years old who lay so far from home were deeply moving. Finally we took in some of the colonial architecture of downtown Diego before heading to the airport for our flight to back to Tana.

This Northern Madagascar tour was everything I expected and more. In a nutshell it is adventurous, spectacular, at times rough going, contains extremely rare wildlife, and of course as is generally the case in Africa give the locals a wave and warm smiles flash back at you.


Notable species viewed on the trip

Birds

  • Paradise Fly Catcher
  • Verrauxi Coua
  • Harrier Hawk
  • Madagascar Hoopoe
  • Helmet Vanga
  • Short Legged Ground Roller
  • Madagascar Crested Ibis
  • Lesser Vassa Parrot
  • Madagascar Kestrel
  • Madagascar Sparrow Hawk
  • Crested Drongo
  • Madagascar Buzzard
  • Scops Owl
  • Red tailed Vanga
  • Blue Vanga
  • Ashy Cuckoo Shrike
  • Swift
  • Cattle Egret
  • Yellow Billed Kite
  • Magpie Robin
  • Madagascar Bee-Eater
  • Common Newtonia
  • Long Billed Greenbull
  • Madagascar Bull Bull
  • Madagascar Forest Fody
  • Hooked Billed Vanga
  • Greater Vassa parrot
  • Minor birds
  • Souimanga Sunbird

Lemurs

  • Silky Sifaka (one of the top 25 rarest primates)
  • Perrier Sifaka (known as Black Lemur one of the top 25 rarest primates)
  • Golden Crowned Sifaka (one of the top 25 rarest primates)
  • Crowned Lemur (True Lemur)
  • Turquoise Eyed Lemur (True Lemur)
  • Western Bamboo Lemur
  • Sportive Lemur
  • Grey Mouse Lemur
  • Sanford Lemur (True Lemur)
  • Indri Indri Lemur

Reptiles

  • Panther Chameleon
  • Brookesia Minima Chameleon
  • Leaf Tailed Gecko
  • Madagascar Green Day Gecko
  • Four striped snake
  • African House Gecko
  • Hog Nosed Snake
  • Nile crocodile

Mammal

  • Ring tailed mongoose

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