13 days for £6,595 11 and 25 September 2021
Experience Madagascar’s unique and richly diverse ecosystem by plane, boat and authentic bush camps. Visit the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust team and accompany community rangers on daytime patrol.
Explore Andasibe Forest which is packed with lemurs, and discover the fossas of Kirindy Reserve, Amber Mountain National Park and Tsingy. Canoeing, sunset hill walks and night-time exploration give a unique experience of this stunning country with landscapes like nowhere else.
DAY 1: ARRIVE INTO ANTANANARIVO
On arrival, transfer to the Relais Des Plateaux Hotel and enjoy an evening meal. Antananarivo is literally translated as ‘City of a Thousand’, in reference to the 1,000 Merina tribe warriors, used by the king as protection of his city. More familiarly it is known as ‘Tana’. Split into two regions (upper and lower towns), the city itself is a maze of bustling streets and alleyways, full of colourful markets, interspersed with ancient stone steps and historical sites.
DAY 2: ANTANANARIVO – ANDASIBE-MANTADIA
Depart for Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. This four-hour journey is an adventure, as the drive takes in spectacular mountain highlands and traditional Merina villages, with rice paddies stretching away into the distance.
Andasibe is one of Madagascar’s most popular wildlife parks and offers great opportunities to see some of the country’s exceptional wildlife including the unique indri. Its popularity is reflected in the high-quality accommodation and guiding available.
After lunch, venture into Andasibe National Park for the first time. Home to the largest lemur, the indri, the park is one of the best places to spot them. Their eerie calls often give away their location in the forest canopy. Also look out for other lemur species, as well as chameleons and numerous types of birds.
This evening enjoy a nocturnal walk in the nearby reserve run by the Mitsinjo Association, a local Non-Governmental-Organisation promoting reforestation and other conservation measures.
DAY 3: MANTADIA
Head out early for a tour of Mantadia National Park, dominated by towering primary forest – sadly increasingly scarce in Madagascar. Ranging in altitude from 800 to 1,260 metres, the park harbours a great variety of species and has some good trails with beautiful views across the forest.
Several lemur species are found here, including the indri, who’s eerie calls echo spookily through the tall trees. Given the high canopy, the lemurs are often spotted further away than in neighbouring Andasibe. However, there are plenty of things to spot closer to the ground, including centipedes, frogs and even nesting paradise flycatchers. There are some great bird-watching opportunities here, including endemic species such as the scaly ground roller, pitta-like ground roller and red breasted coua.
Given the remoteness of the park, the joy of Mantadia lies in the chance to explore this relatively untouched wilderness at your leisure. There is also the chance to visit Vakona Island for some close encounters with the recued lemurs that live here.
DAY 4: ANDASIBE-MANTADIA TO ANTANANARIVO
After a final walk in the morning, return to Antanarivo. The rest of the day is at leisure.
DAY 5: ANTANANARIVO TO KIRINDY
Transfer to airport for a flight to Morondava, followed by a road transfer to Kirindy via a stop at the iconic Avenue of Baobabs, where ancient baobabs line either side of the road.
Check into Relais du Kirindy and if time permits, take a night walk in search of nocturnal wildlife.
Travellers who make the effort to come here, consider this one of the most rewarding wildlife habitats in Madagascar, but it remains overlooked by many visitors. Located midway along the western coast, this dry, deciduous forest reserve remains one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the elusive fossa, a carnivorous cat-like mammal that is endemic to the island. It is also home to several endemic dry forest species such as the giant jumping rat (not as bad as it sounds), narrow-striped mongoose and pygmy mouse lemur, along with over 70 species of bird found here. Plenty of lemurs allow for some wonderfully close-up shots and as many of the lemurs here are nocturnal, night walks are particularly rewarding.
DAY 6: DURRELL WILDLIFE CONSERVATION TRUST
In the morning, meet Anselme Toto Volahy, manager of Durrell’s Menabe project. After a short introduction to the dry forest and Durrell’s work to conserve this unique ecosystem, set out into the forest, accompanied by Anselme. Return to the lodge for lunch, then in the afternoon, return to the forest. Join a patrol with the local community rangers, whose job it is to protect this threatened environment. You will again be accompanied throughout by Anselme.
In the evening, explore on foot, in search of the nocturnal creatures that inhabit this dry forest environment. Look out for dwarf lemurs, chameleons and endemic giant jumping rats.
DAY 7: KIRINDY TO JOFFREVILLE
Return to Morondava by road for a flight to Diego Suarez. On arrival, you are welcomed by your guide and then begin your journey to Joffreville, the main access town for Amber Mountain National Park. There is usually time for a short tour of Diego Suarez itself, known for its spectacular setting and harbour. The town is dotted with old colonial buildings and crumbling, two-storey town houses and is buzzing with markets and shops. Heading out of town, you will pass by Les Trois Baies, a series of stunning bays and beaches, before heading off road into the countryside. Upon arrival at Joffreville, check into the Nature Lodge, safari tent style cottages (but with stone bathrooms and thatched roofs).
After dark, set out to explore the Domaine de Fontenay Nature Reserve – a private reserve that borders Amber Mountain National Park. Follow well-established paths that run through the forest, spotting nocturnal species with a flashlight. It is surprising how much can be seen on the path and right beside it. Walk beneath huge golden orb spider webs, watch tree frogs chirp as they swell in size, spot shimmering flatworms and identify countless chameleons that lie motionless on thin branches.
There is also a good chance of spotting various nocturnal lemur species found here, including northern sportive lemurs, Geoffrey’s dwarf lemurs and brown mouse lemurs.
DAY 8: AMBER MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Established by the French in 1958, this volcanic massif and its surrounding forests are now one of the most exciting parks to visit. Named after the amber resin found in the trees here, this montane rainforest is home to extraordinary plant and animal life. Huge ferns and strangler figs add drama to a park filled with endemic species, including Sanford’s lemurs and the crowned lemurs
Explore the network of trails that cut through the trees, climbing up ridges, passing sacred waterfalls and descending to various crater lakes. This montane forest is noticeably different from Andasibe and the lowland coastal forests. Far lusher and wetter, it also attracts a fraction of the number of visitors.
The thick vegetation and tall trees hide a host of wildlife, ranging from lemurs and birdlife in the canopy, to centipedes and leeches on the forest floor. There are also numerous chameleons, including the striking panther chameleon and the inch-long dwarf chameleon – the second-smallest species of chameleon. The birdlife here is also impressive. Spot crested ibises, paradise flycatchers and rock thrushes flitting through the greenery.
In the evening take another night walk in the reserve.
DAY 9: ONTO ANKARANA SPECIAL RESERVE VIA TSINGY ROUGE
After leaving the lodge, begin your three-hour drive to Ankarana East. On the way, stop at the Tsingy Rouge, a unique geological formation that is rich in iron oxide, hence the colour. The northern Malagasy people also use the natural pigments found in the soil for dye and face paint. The setting itself is spectacular, overlooking several small but beautiful canyons.
Ankarana, a remote and undeveloped park, is almost a fantasy grotto of stark tsingy pinnacles and dry forests, where bats and crocodiles hide in subterranean caves and forest filled canyons.
The imposing grey cliffs are dotted with splashes of green, as the weird and wonderful flora found here take hold, providing both habitat and food for the 10 species of lemur found here. Tougher than other parks, but definitely worth it.
The east of the park is slightly more accessible, with several walking circuits beginning from the eastern gate. Here, you start at the same level above the tsingy, allowing you to look down on this spectacular landscape. You will be joined by a local guide who can explain how the tsingy were formed. In the evening, take a night walk close to the lodge.
DAY 10: ANKARANA SPECIAL RESERVE
In the morning, visit some of the numerous caves in the tsingy that have been formed by underground rivers. Many of these rivers are said to be home to crocodiles – very unusual considering the cold-blooded nature of these predators.
In the afternoon continue your journey through Ankarana to the western region of the park and check into Iharana Bush Camp. The setting alone is worth a trip, overlooking a huge lake, looking up at the Ankarana massif which makes for some spectacular sunsets (and great birding). The handful of rooms are a wood, stone and thatch combination, which manages to combine a very natural feel, with a surprisingly stylish look.
DAY 11: EXPLORE ANKARANA WEST
Iharana Bush Camp sits at the foot of the limestone massif from which the tsingy emerge, making it the ideal base for exploring this slightly remoter and less accessible side of Ankarana.
The western side offers a very different perspective on this spectacular landscape, since you start below the tsingy. This is best appreciated on a dawn or dusk hike up into the tsingy, as you clamber up a winding path, watching as a golden light washes over the pinnacles and the distant plains below. This a steep climb that is uneven in places, so please check with your guide if you have any mobility issues.
As well as exploring the tsingy on foot, you have the chance to canoe on the lake in front of the camp (water levels permitting). This is a lovely way to explore and affords beautiful views of the massif. Everyday rural life plays out along the water’s edge, where local villagers wash clothes, grow rice and bring their cattle to drink.
After dark, take a night walk through the surrounding area. Look out for chameleons and frogs – the latter particularly attracted by the nearby river and lake.
DAY 12: ANKARANA TO NOSY BE
Today, you leave Ankarana and drive through rural Madagascar to the port of Ankify, a journey of around three hours. At the port, you are met and transferred to Nosy Be by speed boat. Then check into Home the Residence.
Nosy Be is one of the most popular regions in Madagascar, famous for its beautiful beaches, stunning coastline and fantastic sea life. Nosy Be is also known as the perfumed isle for its heady scent of ylang-ylang and vanilla from the plantations dotted around the area and it is this tropical ambience and relaxed feel, combined with the lush forests leading down to squeaky white sand that draws people from all over the world. The rest of the day at leisure to unwind before flying home tomorrow.
DAY 13: DEPART MADAGASCAR