The following itinerary lists a range of sites which we plan to visit. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in flight schedules, road and weather conditions. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches (usually boxed lunches) and evening meals as indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch, and D=evening meal. The duration of walks described below are approximate only.
Lemurs belong to the suborder Strepsirhini, which also includes bushbabies, pottos and lorises. These groups are the most basal living primates. Ancestral prosimians, possibly resembling today’s Mouse Lemurs, are thought to have colonised Madagascar from mainland Africa 50-60 million years ago. In the absence of competition from other non-primate mammals, these species diversified to fill a wide range of unusual ecological niches. There are five distinct families of lemurs: Lemuridae, Indriidae, Megaladapidae, Cheirogaleidae and Daubentoniidae. The Lemuridae comprises 10 species, divided into two subfamilies: the Lemurinae (‘true’ lemurs) and the Hapalemurinae (Bamboo or Gentle Lemurs). All species of lemurs are endemic primates of Madagascar. They are the smallest primate in the world, from Ms Berthe Lemur which weighs 30 grams to the Indri, which can weigh up to 9.5 kg. Recently extinct species were much larger. In 2010, five families, 15 genera and 101 species and subspecies of lemurs were officially recognised. Between 2000 and 2008 39 new species were identified. During this tour we shall study several beautiful species including the Indri Indri, Sifaka and some interesting nocturnal species.
Guiding in Madagascar and visits to the National Parks
Entry to national parks and reserves in Madagascar requires that you be accompanied by a local guide. During visits to the national parks there will be at least two local guides as well as our English-speaking national guide from Wild Madagascar. This will enable us, if necessary, to sub-divide into small groups according to preference and ability levels. If you feel you cannot keep up with the rest of the group or feel tired, you may return to the entrance of the national park, shorten your visit or take a short-cut to meet the rest of the group at a different place.
Antananarivo - 1 night
Day 1: Monday 9 September, Arrive Antananarivo
- Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight (from Mauritius MK288 1410-1505)
- Orientation tour of Antananarivo
- Welcome Dinner
We arrive in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city, affectionately known as ‘Tana’. We proceed immediately from the airport for a short orientation tour of the city including stops at the former Prime Minister’s and Queen’s Palaces.
The city of Tana was built in three stages; the high city was the first area occupied during the royal period, and it is here that the old Manjakamiadana Rova (Queen’s Palace) is located. This royal palace complex (rova in Malagasy) served as a residence for the kings and queens of the Merina Kingdom during the 17th and 18th centuries and the rulers of the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 19th century. Its religious counterpart is the nearby fortified village of Ambohimanga, which served as the spiritual seat of the kingdom. Originally made of wood, in 1869 the palace was rebuilt in stone by order of Queen Ranavalona II. In 1995 a fire almost completely destroyed the palace sparing only the stone walls. From its high position the palace offers great panoramic views of the city and the Twelve Sacred Hills.
The Andafiavaratra Palace, also known as the Prime Minister’s Palace, is located north of the Queen’s Palace. The original wooden palace was built under the supervision of Queen Ranavalona I. In 1872, it was rebuilt according to the plans of British architect William Pool. The 3-storey palace centres on a large reception hall lit up by a glass dome. Each of the four corner towers includes a bell tower. From 1864 to 1895 the palace was the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who married three queens and exercised ultimate power from here. After Madagascar became independent, the palace was used as army barracks, a court, school of fine arts, presidential palace and finally again as the prime minister’s office. In 1976 the palace burnt down. Following extensive restoration it now houses a museum displaying precious items which were saved from the fire of the Rova in 1995 including the red jacket of Radama I, the royal coral jewels, various royal portraits and the diadem of the last queen. Note: this palace is is currently closed for restoration and may not be open by September 2019.
We next drive down to mid-city Tana, or the administrative district, ending at the Rainiharo tombs. While poorly maintained, the tomb designed by Jean Laborde in 1835 for the deceased prime minster is nevertheless a significant example of French colonial architecture and the first structure in Madagascar to use carved stone. A three-year stay in Bombay, shortly before Laborde’s fateful shipwreck on Madagascar, gave a decided Hindu air to his design for this mausoleum.
Finally we visit the low city which is the commercial area of the town with its magnificent Avenue de l’Independence and its imposing colonial buildings including the old railway station. In the late afternoon we transfer to our hotel located in the heart of the government district. This evening we gather for a welcome meal at a local restaurant. (Overnight Antananarivo) LD
Andasibe National Park - 3 nights
Day 2: Tuesday 10 September, Antananarivo – Marozevo – Andasibe
- Peyrieras Reptile Reserve (Mandraka Nature Farm), Marozevo
- Physical Endurance: Our visit to the reserve may include an optional ten-minute hike to the top of a nearby hill, where a family of Coquerel’s Sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) and a group of Common Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) reside. The hillside is quite steep. Duration: 2hrs
- Early evening walk in the VOI Community managed forest of the Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra
- Physical Endurance: The night walk starts at around 1800 from the entrance to the VOI preserve. The trail, winding in the understorey of the forest, is reasonably flat. Duration: 1.5hrs
This morning we depart Antananarivo for Andasibe, a region of primary forests and lakes. En route we stop at the Peyrieras Reptile Reserve, founded by the French entomologist and naturalist André Peyriéras, for a close-up look at some of Madagascar’s numerous reptiles and amphibians, including several species of chameleons, snakes, geckos and frogs.
In the late afternoon we arrive at our atmospheric lodge set on the edge of the rainforest. In the early evening we make our first visit to the special Reserve of Indri d’Analamazaotra with a stroll through the VOI community managed forest. Here we search for a number of nocturnal species including various tree frogs, chameleons, the Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger), Furry-Eared Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogalus crossleyi) and Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus Lehilahitsara). (Overnight Andasibe) BLD
Day 3: Wednesday 11 September, Andasibe
- Journey by 4WD
- Birdwatching and nature tour of Mantadia National Park: The Tsakoka and Belakato Trails
- Physical Endurance: Hiking trails in Mantadia can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. As our plan is to combine birdwatching and wildlife, lemurs in particular, we cannot limit walks to the lower elevation. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 4-5hrs.
- Time at leisure
The Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is a pristine primary growth rainforest reserve, separated into two sections, each home to plants and animals found only in that part. The two protected areas are referred to as the ‘special Reserve of Indri d’Analamazaotra’ (or Andasibe National Park) and Mantadia National Park. Mantadia National Park, located 21 kilometres north of the Andasibe National Park, was created primarily to protect the Indri and also constitutes a habitat for the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegat). A quiet, beautiful area with numerous waterfalls, it is undeveloped and less visited than its popular neighbour to the south.
We spend today exploring this section of the park, looking for lemurs, reptiles and rare endemic birds. The terrain at Mantadia is ranked from rough to very rough and searching for wildlife will be physically demanding. We will dedicate four to five hours to following a combination of the Tsakoka and Belakato trails. We intend to be back at our lodge around mid-afternoon. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Andasibe) BLD
Day 4: Thursday 12 September, Andasibe
- Birdwatching and nature tour of the special Reserve of Indri d’Analamazaotra
- Physical Endurance: Hiking trails in the reserve are steep in spots and can be sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 3-4hrs.
- Lemur Island
This morning we explore the special Reserve of Indri d’Analamazaotra, world famous for its population of Indri, whose unforgettable wail can be heard emanating from the misty forest throughout the day, most commonly in the early morning. There are about 60 resident family groups of two to five Indris each. In 2005 the Goodman’s Mouse Lemur was discovered here and identified as a distinct species. There are numerous other species to see as well, such as the Bamboo Lemur and the Brown Lemur, the Emerald-Green Parson’s Chameleon and a number of rainforest dependent birds.
In the middle of the afternoon, we visit Lemur Island, a tiny reserve owned by Vakona Lodge, home to three species of lemur including the Bamboo Lemur, the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur and the Brown Lemur. Here we may obtain a close-up view of these endemic creatures. (Overnight Andasibe) BLD
Antsirabe - 1 night
Day 5: Friday 13 September, Andasibe – Ambatolampy – Antsirabe
- Aluminium Pot Workshops, Ambatolampy
We spend most of the day travelling from Andasibe to Antsirabe. Our journey will take approximately seven to eight hours. South of Tana we make a brief visit to the charming and very typical plateau town of Ambatolampy, famous for its aluminium pots. A visit to a local foundry will enable us to view the workers who, out of the blazing hot metal, create small artworks, cutlery and cooking pots. Their skilful technique is interesting to watch. The metal is smelted by one worker in a crucible until it is molten. In the meantime, another member of the team creates the inverted shape of the inside of the pot on the floor of the workshop using a very fine-grained mixture of sand, laterite and powdered charcoal. Once this shape has been completed, a wooden mould is lowered carefully over the foundry sand, and more sand is packed around it. Finally, the molten metal is poured into the cavity between the two to create the pot. The pot is then left to cool – which is a surprisingly quick process – before the mould is removed and the foundry sand is gently swept away to expose the new pot. It is then sanded and burnished to remove the rough edges and reveal the characteristic silvery white colour of the metal. (Overnight Antsirabe) BLD
Ranomafana National Park - 3 nights
Day 6: Saturday 14 September, Antsirabe – Ambositra – Ambatovaky – Ranomafana
- Rickshaw ride: visit to the semi-precious stone workshops and handicraft sector of Antsirabe
- Wood carving of Ambositra
- Blacksmith village of Ambatovaky
Early this morning we begin with a short tour of Antsirabe, the third largest city in Madagascar. Located on a high plateau, at an altitude of approximately 1500m, it has a relatively cool climate. Its name, meaning ‘where there is salt’, honours the large number of hot springs whose curative qualities were appreciated by the local population when French colonists decided to locate a thermal bath here in the 19th century. It is also renowned for having hundreds of registered rickshaws (or pousse-pousses in French) and specialises in the cutting of semi-precious stones. In the town’s thriving handicrafts sector we may view a variety of products including jewellery made from zebu horn, toys crafted from old tin cans, wood carvings, polished minerals, embroidered tablecloths and clothing.
Mid-morning we depart Antsirabe and continue 90km south to the Betsileo town of Ambositra, whose close proximity to the forest has made it the centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry. Its name means ‘the place of the eunuchs’, supposedly because the Merina tribe castrated all defeated warriors of the local tribe, the Zafimaniry. The cultural influence of this tribe can be found in the traditional motifs on the local houses with their intricately carved balconies, panels and shutters. We’ll encounter many specialised workshops in printmaking, wood carving and marquetry. Saturday is market day; raffia products are particularly plentiful.
The village of Ambatovaky, situated 24km from the entrance to Ranomafana National Park, consists of a small population of farmers and artisans. Here shall visit a local blacksmith before continuing to Ranomafana National Park in the mountainous highlands. (Overnight Setam Lodge, Ranomafana) BLD
Day 7 & 8: Sunday 15 September & Monday 16 September, Ranomafana National Park
- Mornings: Birdwatching and nature walk along the Varibolamena Trails
- Physical Endurance: One of the most difficult trails, it is taxing due to the rough terrain and humidity. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 4 hrs.
- Afternoon: Birdwatching and nature walk along the Vohiparara Trails
- Physical Endurance: The Vohiparara Trail is flatter than the Varibolamena Tail. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: dependent on bird species spotted; approx 2hrs.
Particularly rich in wildlife, this hitherto unprotected fragment of mid-altitude rainforest and higher-altitude mountain cloud forest first came to the world’s attention with the discovery of the Golden Bamboo Lemur in 1986; formal protection followed in 1991. Today this exquisite upland cloud forest is one of Madagascar’s top wildlife hotspots. The twelve lemur species that live here include all three Bamboo Lemurs: Grey Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus), Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) and the Golden Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus). The Bamboo or Gentle lemurs have grey-brown fur. Their muzzles are short and their ears are round and hairy. Lengths vary from 26 to 46 cm, with tails just as long or longer, and they weigh up to 2.5 kg. Bamboo Lemurs prefer damp forests where bamboo grows and as their name suggests they feed almost exclusively on bamboo. Completely dependent on this low-energy food source, the lemur must lead a very sedentary lifestyle and spend much of its time eating. As with many specialised species, this lemur is unable to adapt to its rapidly changing habitat. Widespread clearing of its rainforest habitat has caused populations to become isolated in the few remaining patches of forest capable of supporting the species. Other residents of the park include the striking Milne-Edward’s Sifaka and the robust Black and White-Ruffed Lemur. There are also scores of reptiles and beautiful chameleons.
We shall spend two days in Ranomafana National Park exploring the network of paths through the forests and dense stands of giant bamboo. Expect to see various lemurs, such as Red-Fronted Brown Lemur (Eulemur rufus), Red-Bellied Lemur (Eulemur rubriventer) and the shy Grey Bamboo Lemur. For the tree lover we will see some of the species of Dombeya with their heads of pink or white flowers. Ranomafana is also superb for birdwatchers as many of the rainforest dwelling endemics occur in the park. There are Brown Mesite, Blue Coua and the Velvet Asity. Ranomafana is a herpetologist’s paradise, with a variety of chameleons, geckoes, skinks and frogs. The floral diversity is bewildering, with numerous species of palm, bamboo and orchid thriving here.
The Ranomafana National Park trail is considered to be one of the most difficult walks included on this tour due to the roughness of terrain and the permanent humidity. Difficulty will undoubtedly arise while tracking wildlife, in particular Golden Bamboo Lemurs and Milne’s Edward Sifaka, the former being very often met only off track – which can be a strenuous endeavour. The terrain where birds are usually encountered is more even. (Overnight Setam Lodge, Ranomafana) BLD
Isalo National Park - 2 nights
Day 9: Tuesday 17 September, Ranomafana – Anja – Isalo National Park
- Ring-Tailed Lemurs of Anja Community Reserve
- Physical Endurance: Relatively easy trail with only slight uphill slopes. The narrow trails follow open vegetation through dry-deciduous forest. Duration: 2hrs
Leaving the rainforest early after breakfast, we drive across the desolate central southern interior to the community-run Anja Reserve. Known for its superb scenery, the reserve covers eight hectares and is home to about 300 Ring-Tail Lemurs (Lemur catta), instantly recognisable by their banded tail, and some intriguing plants adapted to the dry southern climate. The region is sacred to the Betsileo; their ancestors are buried here and it has always been fady (meaning taboo in the traditional culture of Madagascar) to hunt the lemurs. The caves here have provided a useful sanctuary in times of trouble and were inhabited up to a century or so ago. We spend a couple of hours in the Anja Reserve following a relatively easy trail through dry-deciduous forest to spot groups of Ring-Tailed Lemurs and various species of reptiles.
In the afternoon we continue our drive to Isalo’s remarkable landscapes, with eroded ‘ruiniforme’ sandstone outcrops, giving hints of silver and green reflections of sunlight, and interspersed with endless palm savanna of the endemic Bismarkia Palms (Bismarkia nobilis). (Overnight Hôtel Le Jardin du Roy, Ranohira, Isalo National Park) BLD
Day 10: Wednesday 18 September, Isalo National Park
- Morning nature trail, Isalo National Park
- Physical Endurance: The path to the natural pool climbs steeply and there is little shade along the way. The hiking time for the uphill climb is approximately 1-1.5 hours at a leisurely pace with stops. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2-3hrs.
- Afternoon at leisure OR optional trail to the Piscine Noire et Bleu, Isalo National Park.
- Physical Endurance: This 4km walk begins with easy walking, but becomes more difficult towards the end of the canyon due to stream crossings on flattened boulders, cliff ascents on carved steps, followed by a descent to the pools along narrow steps and stepping stones. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 3hrs.
We explore Isalo National Park’s fascinating plant community, including some very localised species of palm, aloe and the squat ‘elephant’s foot’ pachypodiums, which flourish on the rock faces. With luck, we’ll see some Ring-Tail Lemurs or Verreaux’s Sifakas in dense vegetation lining the canyon streams. Isalo offers several options for hikes into rocky canyons and verdant oases, with opportunities to take a refreshing dip in naturally formed pools at the base of hidden waterfalls. We shall look for Ring-Tail Lemurs, Verreaux Sifakas and Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs that have adapted to life in this dry desert climate.
Our early morning trail provides views of xerophytic and sclerophyllous vegetation as well as stunning sandstone runiforme scenery.
This afternoon is at leisure for you to enjoy the lodge’s facilities. Alternatively, you may wish to join an optional walk to the ‘Piscine Noire et Bleu’ (Black and Blue Pools), both fed by narrow waterfalls, located at the end of the Namazaha Canyon. This canyon features riparian (riverbank) vegetation and shelters a variety of birds including the Benson Rock Thrush (Monticola bensoni). We begin the trail in a dry deciduous pocket forest that is home to birds, reptiles and insects. At the centre of this forest we may see Ring-Tailed Lemurs, the Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs and a Verreaux Sifaka. (Overnight Hôtel Le Jardin du Roy, Ranohira, Isalo National Park) BLD
Ifaty - 2 nights
Day 11: Thursday 19 September, Isalo – Zombitse National Park – Toliara – Ifaty
- Zombitse National Park
- Physical Endurance: An easy walk along the Mandresy Trail; terrain includes loose sand. Duration: 2hrs
- Arboretum d’Antsokay, Toliara
We make a very early start to drive to Zombitse National Park. The forest is a very special transition zone between the southern flora and the western deciduous forest. Similar in appearance to the latter, it contains the baobab species of the former. Here we may find our first Angraecum orchids and see Rhopalocarpus, a large tree and a member of a family unique to Madagascar. The large white Verreaux’s Sifakas bound from tree to tree and often allow close views.
After lunch we visit the splendid Aboretum d’Antsokay, located 12km south-east of Toliara. Created in the early 80s on the initiative of a Swiss amateur botanist, Hermann Petignat, the arboretum is devoted to the conservation of plants from the south-western part of Madagascar. In close collaboration with many institutions including the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and WWF, it presents a typical spiny thicket (also known as spiny forest) in a botanical garden preserving more than 900 species, of which 90% are endemic to the region and 80% have medicinal virtues.
In the late afternoon we drive to Ifaty, a small fishing village with idyllic palm-fringed white beaches on the southwestern coast of Madagascar. (Overnight Ifaty) BLD
Day 12: Friday 20 September, Ifaty
- Reniala Reserve: Spiny Thicket
- Physical Endurance: An easy walk; terrain includes loose sand.
Today we make an excursion to the Reniala Reserve, whose name ‘mother of the forest’ is the nickname of the baobabs endemic to this area. The reserve, which opened in 2001, functions as a botanical garden, ornithological park and baobab forest, and includes some of the last pieces of primary forests of the South. The spiny thicket or ‘spiny desert’ of southern Madagascar, also referred to as deciduous thicket, is a globally distinctive ecoregion with 95 percent of the plant species endemic to the region. Members of the endemic Didiereaceae family dominate the thicket, which have similar xeric adaptations to New World cacti, such as small leaves and spines, but are woody rather than succulent. The reserve also features the the famous baobabs (Adansonia rubrostipa), Pachypodium and countless Euphorbia.
For bird lovers, you may see the Madagascar harrier-hawk (Polyboroides radiatus) or find the sickle-billed vanga (Falculea palliata), the white-headed vanga (Artamella viridisa) and Madagascar buttonquail (Turnix nigricollis) in their natural habitat. Reniala is also home to many endemic reptiles. A big population of the rare radiated tortoise and the smaller spider tortoise (Astrochelys radiata and Pyxis arachnoides) lives on the sandy ground and shares its territory with many Madagascar iguanas (Chalarodon madagascariensis). The forests are rapidly disappearing and becoming fragmented by charcoal production, agricultural expansion (for maize and cattle grazing), and wildfires associated with generation of new cattle pastureland. (Overnight Ifaty) BLD
Kirindy Forest Reserve - 1 night
Day 13: Saturday 21 September, Ifaty – Toliara – Morondava – Kirindy
- Fly Toliara to Morondava via Antananarivo
- Journey by 4WD to Kirindy
- Nocturnal guided visit of Kirindy Forest Reserve
- Physical Endurance: Trails are broad and mostly flat, making walking easy. Duration: 2hrs
Today we fly from Toliara to Morondava, and then travel by 4WD to the Kirindy Forest Reserve. This 10,000-hectare reserve is a rare remnant of Madagascar’s threatened dry tropical deciduous forest. The reserve contains such oddities as the endangered Giant Jumping Rat collected by Gerald Durrell and now resident at the Durrell Wildlife Foundation, the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) – Madagascar’s largest predator and a member of the mongoose family, and seven species of nocturnal lemur including the Fork-Marked Lemur, Coquerel’s Dwarf Lemur and the smallest of all primates, the Pygmy Mouse Lemur. Also present is the hissing cockroach. Kirindy boasts the highest density of primates of virtually any forest in the world. Diurnal lemurs include the acrobatic Verreaix’s Sifaka and Red-Fronted Brown Lemur.
Kirindy is part of the Manabe forests, also noted for their diverse botany which includes three of the island’s seven endemic baobabs, including the Giant Baobab and the smallest, the Bottle Baobab. Birdwatching is excellent, and we should see the Madagascar Jacana, Coquerels and Crested Couas and Sicklebill Vangas to name but a few. You may also see iguanids and the Flat-Tailed Tortoise – known as Kapidolo (ghost turtle), currently one of the most threatened of all the world’s tortoises.
This evening we take a walk through the reserve to spot some of these nocturnal species including the Giant Jumping Rat (Hypogeomys antimena). (Overnight Relais du Kirindy, Kirindy Forest Reserve) BLD
Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve - 3 nights
Day 14: Sunday 22 September, Kirindy – Belo Tsiribihina – Tsingy de Bemaraha
- Return visit to Kirindy Forest Reserve
- Journey by 4WD to Bekopaka via the Tsirbihina River and Belo Tsiribihina
Following an early return visit to the Kirindy Forest Reserve we drive northwards to the shores of the Tsiribihina River, where a barge will transport us across the river to the town of Belo Tsiribihina. The river crossing takes about 45 minutes.
Following lunch in Belo Tsiribihina we make the four to five-hour drive to Bekopaka. Our journey takes us across savanna, a grassland home to the Madagascar Harrier-Hawk (Polyboroides radiatus). One of the commonest raptors of Madagascar, this is a very large bird of prey. Aside from its size, it is unmistakable with its black and white stripes (called barring) on its underside, grey back, long bare yellow legs and bare pink or yellow skin patch around the eye.
A second barge will take our party across the river Manambolo to the village of Bekopaka; we shall spend the next three nights based at the Soleil des Tsingy. Located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Tsingy de Bemaraha, the lodge is perched on the highest point in this region, offering spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. (Overnight Soleil des Tsingy, Bekopaka) BLD
Day 15: Monday 23 September, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
- The Gorge of the Manambolo River by pirogue
- Physical Endurance: The excursion by pirogue on the Manambolo River is not suitable for anyone with bad knees. Further details are provided below. Duration: 2hrs
- The Petite (Small) Tsingy
- Physical Endurance: The walk includes a short ascent following a series of iron ladders and wooden walkways. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2-3hrs.
The spectacular mineral forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha stands on the west coast of Madagascar. The area, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990, comprises 1575 square kilometres of canyons, gorges, undisturbed forests, lakes and mangrove swamps. The northern section is designated an Integral Reserve, and therefore off-limits to visitors, but we shall visit the southern section, declared a national park in 1998. This vast forest of rugged and eroded karst pinnacles supports about 90 species of birds, 8 species of reptiles and 11 species of lemurs. Scientists estimate that 86.7% of the flora and flora are endemic to Madagascar, and 47% are endemic to this region.
This morning we make an excursion by pirogue (wooden dug-out canoe) to the spectacular Manambolo Gorge, where the river has carved a deep channel through the limestone plateau. As we canoe past dry forest and sheer, vertical cliffs, craggy caves and overhangs, we shall view unusual vegetation, endemic water birds, and hear the shrill cries of black parrots resounding against the rock walls. Madagascar Fish Eagles can sometimes be seen perching in large trees edging the river. The park is generally divided into two parts – the Petit (Small) and the Grand (Big) Tsingy – a distinction based upon on area and also on the height of the pinnacles.
This afternoon we visit the Petit Tsingy. An easy walk through a dry deciduous forest (where you’ll get to see plenty of lemurs) takes us to the base of the karst formations. Here a short ascent – following a series of iron ladders and wooden walkways (designed by a French mountaineer) – takes us to the viewpoint that opens up to a vista of the surrounding Tsingy forest. (Overnight Soleil des Tsingy, Bekopaka) BLD
Day 16: Tuesday 24 September, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
- The Grand Tsingy: Adjacent Forest Walk (Option 1)
- Physical Endurance: Option 1: A leisurely forest walk. Duration: 2hrs
- Climbing The Grand Tsingy (Option 2: strenuous)
- Physical Endurance: Option 2: Climbing the Grand Tsingy is long and strenuous and can be very hot during the middle of the day. It includes many steps, cables, walkways, caves, and a fair bit of rock scrambling. You need to be okay with heights. A climbing harness is provided for those undertaking the cables and rock scrambling section. Duration: 4hrs.
- Afternoon at leisure
We depart very early this morning for a one-hour drive to the Grand Tsingy; a packed breakfast will be provided. We may see lemurs and dozens of birds, orchids, aloes, pachypodium and baobabs. The endemic and medicinal plants make the flora of this park unique. On arrival we take a leisurely walk exploring the adjacent forest for birds: Decken’s Sifaka (Propithecus deckeni), Randrianasolo’s Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur randrianasoli). At the entrance of the Tsingy we may also search for the Western Ring-Tailed Mongoose (Galidia elegans occidentalis). Note: the Grand Tsingy, the outskirts of which are characterised by xerophyte vegetation, may be viewed from below, from quite short distance without needing to climb.
Alternatively you may wish to take an adventurous (and indeed strenuous) walk traversing the pinnacles either along a harnessed track or following the iron ladder way. A harness clipped to a steel cable is used for safety on the vertiginous and exposed scrambling sections amongst the rock. (Note: no technical climbing experience is necessary).
After visiting the park we shall return to our hotel for lunch and an afternoon at leisure to relax. (Overnight Soleil des Tsingy, Bekopaka) BLD
Morondava - 1 night
Day 17: Wednesday 25 September, Tsingy de Bemaraha – Morondava
- Return journey to Morondava by 4WD
- Avenue des Baobabs
We return to Morondava by road, viewing the sunset in the Avenue des Baobabs. This cluster of towering Grandidier’s Baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri) is one of Madagascar’s most famous views. In 2007 the avenue (together with about 300 baobabs of three species in the surrounding one kilometre) became an officially protected natural monument. Andansonia grandidieri is the most majestic and famous of the baobab species and may reach 30m in height. The best-known specimens form the Boabab Avenue. These trees would once have been surrounded by dense forest, but today their isolated silhouettes can be seen for miles across the flat, featureless rice fields. There is now an active program to plant saplings amongst the existing trees. The project suffered a setback late in 2012 when a fire engulfed 11ha of the 320ha reserve, destroying 99 of the 2220 newly planted trees, but no mature baobabs were affected. We overnight in Morondava, a relaxed coastal town located on the Mozambique Channel. (Overnight Morondava) BLD
Antananarivo - 1 night
Day 18: Thursday 26 September, Morondava – Antananarivo
- Flight Morondava – Antananarivo
- Royal Hill of Ambohimanga
Following some time at leisure we take a flight back to Antananarivo. We spend the remainder of the day exploring this city, including the UNESCO heritage listed Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, one of the most important spiritual and historic sites for the Malagasy people. Occupied since the 15th century, it was a fortified political capital, royal palace and royal burial ground. In the nineteenth century, the French colonial authorities made several attempts to undermine the significance and national symbolism of Ambohimanga, all of which proved unsuccessful. (Overnight Antananarivo) BLD
Maroantsetra - 1 night
Day 19: Friday 27 September, Antananarivo – Maroantsetra
- Flight from Antananarivo to Maroantsetra
- Orientation tour of Maroantsetra
- The Tomato Frog, Dyscophus antongilii
This morning we fly to Maroantsetra. Located at the far end of the Bay of Antongil, near the mouth of the Antainambalana River, this charming town, described as ‘Madagascar at its most authentic’, enjoys both river and ocean views.
This afternoon we make a short tour of the town which often smells of vanilla and cloves; looking around we may see tables of drying vanilla beans on colourful blankets or cloves drying on mats and plastic bags.
Vanilla is a major export from Madagascar’s east coast. The only fruit-producing orchid, it is one of the most labour-intensive crops in the world, taking as long as five years from planting the vine to producing aged extract. Production involves the entire family, who pollinate the vanilla by hand when it flowers after two years, and then collect, cure and dry the pods. World vanilla prices experienced a massive spike after a 2000 cyclone devastated much of the East Asia crop. The sudden drop in supply pushed vanilla prices to nearly $500 per kilogram. However, by 2010 prices had dropped to as low as $25 per kg. Today, vanilla prices are surging again due to drought, fungal attacks and low prices driving many producers out of the market. Vanilla now sells for $80-$120 per kilogram. Despite the establishment of a financial cooperative which allows farmers to access credit during the lean season that lasts for most of the year (vanilla is sold only between June and October), very few people are still interested in caring for their plantations. Many have moved away from vanilla to other cultivations. Seeing drying vanilla pods is therefore very much dependent on the year and whether vanilla plantations are still tended.
There is an abundant market featuring food such as large jumping shrimp, rice, greens, coconuts and a variety of cooked dishes, housewares, clothing and jewellery. Among the local crafts are lovely handmade raffia hats and bags which are primarily used by the local women. Women with stately postures may be seen balancing raffia totes and baskets piled high with fruit, vegetables and other goods on their heads.
While in Maroantsetra we also visit an area dedicated to the breeding habitat of the Tomato Frog, Dyscophus antongilii, a conspicuous red-orange frog belonging to the Microhylidae family. Currently listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it is present in eastern and north eastern Madagascar, with two main nuclei, one around and within the town of Maroantsetra, and the other in the surroundings of Antara, close to the town of Toamasina. (Overnight Maroantsetra) BLD
Masoala National Park - 2 nights
Day 20: Saturday 28 September, Maroantsetra – Nosy Mangabe – Masoala National Park
- Réserve de Nosy Mangabe
- Physical Endurance: Hiking trails can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2hrs
Early this morning we travel by boat to the Masoala Peninsula. En route we make an excursion to the island nature reserve of Nosy Mangabe, a small island (520ha), located in Antongil Bay two kilometres offshore from Maroantsetra, and covered in humid dark-green thick forest.
The boat takes around 40 minutes before we wade ashore. The island is home to White-Fronted Brown Lemurs and Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs, Leaf-Tailed Geckos (Uroplatus fimbriatus), several species of chameleons, frogs and snakes, including the Madagascar Tree Boa (Sanzinia madagasciensis), some of which can usually be spotted easily on the forest trails during a day visit. There is also the nocturnal Aye-Aye Lemur, which in the past could be seen if one stayed overnight on the island. However, the Aye-Aye on Nosy Mangabe are now more elusive and night walks are no longer permitted on the island.
In the early afternoon we continue by boat to the Masoala Peninsula. Here we spend three nights based at the Masoala Dounia Forest Lodge offering accommodation in rustic, but quite adequate, thatched huts. (Overnight Masoala Dounia Forest Lodge) BLD
Day 21: Sunday 29 September, Masoala National Park
- The Western Coastal Trail, Lohatrozona
- Physical Endurance: Hiking trails can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels.
The Masoala Peninsula is truly exceptional: two percent of all of planet earth’s animal and plant species are to be found here. Some species like Aye-Aye, Red-Ruffed Lemur, Madagascar Red Owl and the extremely rare Serpent Eagle are endemic to the peninsula.
Encompassing 2300 square kilometres of rainforest and 100 square kilometres of marine parks, Masoala is Madagascar’s largest protected area. The park was established in 1997 to preserve this unique ecosystem comprising coastal rainforest, flooded forests, marsh and mangroves from the serious threat of encroachment by local communities that depend on the area for agricultural land and firewood, and from international logging companies harvesting timber. The park forests, which abound with chameleons, geckos, frogs as well as several species of butterflies, tumble down to the edge of a pristine, unspoiled shore peppered with unexplored golden beaches.
The three marine parks protect over 10,000 ha of coral reefs, marine plants and mangroves around the peninsula. Presently, more than 3001 fish species have been inventoried in the marine parks. Antongil Bay is also used as a shelter by humpback whales that gather here during the summer breeding season, when Antongil’s waters literally froth with cetaceans.
The region also supports one of the most diverse groups of palm species in the world. The park is home to a total of 102 species of birds, more than 60% of which are endemic. During our stay we shall be looking for, among others, the rare and localised Helmet and Bernier’s Vangas, Madagascar Long-Eared Owl, Red-Breasted Coua and both Short-Legged and Scaly Ground-Rollers. There are also several rare species of lemur (Red-Ruffed, White-Fronted Brown, Fork-Marked) and chameleon. Among the carnivores, Masoala is the only locality where the Mongoose Salanoia Concolor or Brown-Tailed Mongooses have been observed since 1970. This species is the least known of the Malagasy carnivores. (Overnight Masoala Dounia Forest Lodge) BLD
Antananarivo - 1 night
Day 22: Monday 30 September, Masoala – Maroantsetra – Antananarivo
- Morning Charter Flight from Maroantsetra to Antananarivo
- Farewell Dinner at La Varangue
We travel this morning by boat to Maroantsetra where we connect with our flight back to Antananarivo. The afternoon is at leisure. This evening we enjoy a farewell meal at La Varangue, one of the city’s top gourmet restaurants thanks to its chief Lalaina Ravelomana, who is a kitchen maestro and chocolate specialist. (Overnight Antananarivo) BLD
Day 23: Tuesday 1 October, Antananarivo TOUR ENDS
- Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight (MK289 1655-1940)
Following some time at leisure in the morning we transfer to the Antananarivo airport in order to check-in for our late afternoon flight for Australia (via Mauritius) B