Madagascar is a country I have longed to visit for many years after first seeing some of the BBC’s early wildlife documentaries.
Fifty years ago, Sir David Attenborough went to Madagascar to film the early wildlife TV series Zoo Quest. With several return visits over the intervening years, the country and its wildlife has continued to capture both his and his audience’s imagination. Then when in 2009 Mark Carwardine and Stephen Fry travelled to Madagascar in the series “Last Chance to See” exposing the shocking rate of deforestation and potential loss of some of this unique flora and fauna we decided we should visit before it was too late.
Many travellers have commented that Madagascar is unlike anywhere else in the world. And they are quite right. Places like this are unique and need all the help they can get to protect them from human destruction and preserve them and all the amazing flora and fauna for future generations to see. Eco tourism may be the only way.
Madagascar has been isolated from the African landmass for approximately 165 million years and its flora and fauna evolved in isolation from that time onwards. It is the world’s fourth-largest island and it contains an immense diversity of flora and fauna, there are 12,000 plant species identified here, 10,000 are endemic to the island including seven of the world’s nine species of the iconic Baobab tree.
The island is one of the world’s most biologically diverse areas, with many endemic species. More than half of the island’s breeding birds are endemic. There are over 80 different species of lemurs, a primate group found only on Madagascar, and many species of chameleons and some of the world’s most bizarre creatures on Earth like the nightmarish hissing cockroach and the Giraffe-necked weevil (pictured right). Madagascar has a rich and fascinating culture which today is composed of 18 different ethnic groups that derive from a long history of trade and migration from throughout Indonesia, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, all united today in a common Malagasy culture and language.
September 2012 Tour.
On this our first visit to Madagascar which was arranged by World Primate Safaris, we flew with Air France via Paris to Madagascar’s capital city Antananarivo (Tana) almost 12 hours flying time. We stayed in Tana at Residence Lapasoa for the first night and then travelled by road the next day to Andasibe.
We stayed for three nights in Vakona Lodge in Andasibe and spent two days exploring Andasibe and one day in Mantadia as well as two night walks, we saw a great variety of frogs and Chameleons on the night walks and were especially lucky to have close encounters during the day in Andasibe NP with the Indri and Mantadia NP with the Diademed sifakas.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is 154 km² and encompasses two distinct areas. Andasibe and the much larger Parc National de Mantadia to the north. Both parts belonged to the same humid forest, but because of human activities are now divided in two. The park was created in 1989. In combination this is now perhaps Madagascar’s premier rainforest reserve. Almost all visitors to Madagascar will choose to come here to follow the Indri call, which is the star of the park.
The primary forests of Andasibe-Mantadia are dense humid forest covered with lichens, mosses, ferns and more than one hundred orchid species blooming between September and January. Other common plants growing here include palm-trees and bamboos.
All the visitors within a mile of the park can hear the peculiar call of the indri (pictured left) very early in the morning until noon and again in the late afternoon. Indris (called Babakoto in Malagay) are the largest living lemurs of all reaching up to one meter. Andasibe is the best place to observe the Indris given that there are a couple of families habituated to humans. It lives in small groups and cannot survive in captivity. There are several legends trying to explain its origins since it is considered a sacred animal in the whole Madagascar. Nowadays it is endangered due to deforestation and agricultural activities next to the reserves.
Apart from the Indri, another 13 lemur species inhabit these forests, including the woody lemur, grey bamboo lemur, diademed sifakas, brown lemur, red mouse-lemur, red-bellied lemur, black and white ruffed lemur and even aye-aye.
The extraordinary animal diversity includes another 15 mammal species, more than 100 species of birds many of them endemic, 50 of reptiles, among them the biggest chameleon of the island the Parsons Chameleon, leaf-tailed geckos and more than 80 amphibians. There are also a few local endemic fishes swimming in the small rivers and hundreds of insects, among them some extraordinary colourful and big butterflies.
We then travelled back to Tana for our internal flight to Fort Dauphin, we stayed in the hotel Croix Sud in Fort Dauphin that night and recharged our batteries ready for the drive next morning to Berenty. It is a 4.5 hour scenic drive on very poor roads passing through traditional villages and countryside, stopping many times to photograph the people and wildlife.
Berenty is one of the best-known reserves in Madagascar and has been featured in numerous television documentaries.
Berenty Reserve lies 90 km west from Fort Dauphin and is a small private reserve set in the semi-arid spiny forest of the middle of what used to be spiny forest, but is now largely a sea of sisal fields. The reserve was created in 1936 by the de Heaulme family as a private park to protect 300 hectares encompassing spiny forest and dry tamarind gallery woodland along the Mandrare River. The reserve is home to six species of lemur and the south’s largest colony of Madagascar fruit bats.
The stars of the reserve are its numerous ring-tailed lemurs and Verreaux sifakas, as well as some red fronted brown lemurs, which were introduced to Berenty.
During the day time walking through the reserve we had the opportunity of seeing some of the 103 bird species, 56 of whom breed here, and also observing the many prolific reptiles including various chameleons, and lizards, the endangered radiated and spider tortoises and many unusual insects and beautiful butterflies. We also went on night walks to look for white-footed sportive lemur, Grey mouse lemur and chameleons.
We had some great photo opportunities and had our last day carefully planned out to make the most of this great place, but sadly our time here was cut short due to an unexpected heavy rain fall closing the access roads which meant we had to leave and try to get back to Fort Dauphin while we still could.
The following day we had an early flight to Tulear, we then drove for about two hours north of the town along a sandy track to Ifaty.
Ifaty’s main attraction for us was to see the little remaining spiny forest left in Madagascar, it is a unique habitat adapted to the heat and drought, and one that is severely threatened by deforestation coupled with the delays in creating a much-needed national park in the area.
The forests have been cut for firewood and charcoal. One consequence is that most of the benefits of the repairs to the road between Tulear and Ifaty have been lost – without the forest, there is nothing to hold the topsoil. The deforestation has also resulted in a high sedimentation rate in the bay. High water temperatures have caused extensive coral bleaching and algal blooms that smother the corals.
We stopped in the hotel Les Dunes but due to last minute internal flight changes it meant we only had the one night here, it is a great place to rest and unwind but you would want a minimum of two nights. The highlight for us was watching a Harrier Hawk (pictured right) making a nest in the top of a Baobab Tree. We preferred the Spiny forest at Berenty to Ifaty and if we were going to do the trip again we would skip Ifaty and have an extra night or two in Berenty.
The next morning we made our way eastwards towards Isalo National Park stopping off at Zombitse NP on route.
Zombitse National Park was established in 1997 and covers 363 km² of dry forest, marshes, and savannas. It is located on the southwest of Madagascar about 90km west of Isalo NP. This National Park can personify the biggest environmental problem of Madagascar – deforestation. Hundreds of years of slash-and-burn agriculture and tree falling have turned the landscape into an arid and almost lifeless plateau. The local Bara and Mahafaly populations are zebu holders who need more and more space to feed their herds and grow rice and corn. Only a patch of protected forest remains nowadays in the middle of this devastation, giving shelter to an abundant fauna and flora biodiversity.
These isolated forests constitute the most important remnant of dry deciduous forest of Madagascar. Zombitse acts as a transition zone between the dry and the humid forests of Madagascar. Therefore the flora is especially rich within the protected area. Baobabs and several orchids are particularly common.
The number of animal species living here is also remarkable. 15 small mammals, 2 carnivorous and 8 lemur species, such as the Verraux´s sifaka, red-fronted brown lemur, ring-tailed lemur, pale fork-marked lemur and the Hubbard´s sportive lemur can be observed here. Birds are also a park highlight. There are 85 species, most of them endemic like the rare Appert´s greenbul, which only lives in this forest. 33 reptile and 8 amphibian species have been reported in Zombitse, such as the Standing´s day gecko (pictured left), which is also endemic to the Park.
As a stop at Zombitse en-route it is interesting and a great introduction but you really need a day or two to explore this area properly.
We stayed at the hotel Relais de la Rein in Isalo for two nights but again I would recommend three or four nights to give you enough time to really explore Isalo, you could also possibly revisit Zombitse NP if you got chance. Isalo National Park was established in 1962, the is located approximately 700 km southwest of Antananarivo and it protects 815 km² of sandstone massif wildly eroded by wind and rain into bizarre ridges (known as “runiformes”) featuring wild forms, impressive gorges and canyons and tiny stalagmite pinnacles. The far Wild West reminiscent of the landscape, dominated by rugged massive that rises up from the flat surrounding grassy plain. The climate is dry tropical with warm temperatures all year around.
Though wildlife is here not as prominent as in other parks of the country, there are still several species worth looking out for, Ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, sifakas and 14 nocturnal lemurs hide in dense vegetation along the streams.
The park is also home to approximately 80 species of birds, 35 species of reptiles and several endemic frogs. The flora is indeed more interesting than the fauna, there are several local endemic plants among the 500 species which are found within Isalo, such as the elephant´s foot (pictured left) and some rare palms.
Often overlooked we found the variety of insects here amazing with scorpions, several species of stick insects and praying mantis and many more.
Anjaha Conservation Site
Anjaha Community Conservation Site is a community-run park with habituated ringtails and dramatic scenery it is well worth a stop as it is halfway when traveling between Isalo and Ranomafana, it is a great place to get some good photo opportunities with the ring-tailed lemurs but we would recommend timing the trip to avoid lunch time between 12.00 and 14.00 as we found it extremely busy then.
We continued our journey to Ranomafana where we stopped at Setam Lodge. We had three nights here and two full days to explore the park, the paths are steep and often muddy and hard going but well worth the effort, we found the “holy grail” the Golden Bamboo lemur as well as the Milne-Edwards sifakas, Red-bellied lemurs, Ring-tailed mongoose, and many chameleons, frogs and insects.
For us The Greater Bamboo Lemur (pictured right) was the highlight as there are only two left in the park now and are listed as a critically endangered species achat viagra pfizer.
Ranomafana (which means “hot water” in Malagasy) is doubtless one the most spectacular National Parks of Madagascar. Due to the good access and suitable location near the RN7, great biodiversity and developed infrastructures, it has become one of the most visited places of the island. Established in 1991, it expands over a mountainous terrain of 415 km² totally covered by dense moist primary and secondary forest area at altitudes between 800m and 1.200m. In 1986 the critically endangered golden bamboo lemur was discovered here by Dr. Patricia Wright, a fact that definitely pushed the government to create a national park.
The park contains twelve lemur species. Aside from the golden bamboo lemur, visitors can spot eastern woolly lemur, red bellied lemur, eastern grey bamboo lemur, greater bamboo lemur, red-fronted brown lemur, black-and-white ruffed lemur, Milne-Edward´s sifaka, Small-toothed sportive lemur, greater dwarf lemur and brown mouse lemur and the very rare aye-aye. Other mammals include 7 species of tenrecs, 8 bats and 6 carnivorous, like the Malagasy striped civet and some mongooses.
The Uroplatus phantasticus is maybe the strangest gecko of Madagascar – Photographed in Ranomafana
General Information that may help you to plan your trip.
Please note these are our own personal independent opinions based on this experience and locations we wanted to visit, there are many other good locations, travel agents, guides and hotels. We would love to go back to Madagascar, and with it being such a rich and diverse country there are many other areas to choose from. We can however thoroughly recommend all the locations and hotels on this our first tour.
Time of the year to travel.
We chose to visit in September as it is reported to have least rainfall, it is also a good time to see baby lemurs. However it was still a bit cool for Madagascar so there were not many reptiles about. September and October are good months for Lemurs and nesting birds but you may find December much better for the reptiles and frogs.
Travel Agent –
We travelled with the UK Travel agent World Primate Safaris – This was our second time we had used them the first time was in 2008 when we went to Borneo. Will Bolsover worked extremely hard to ensure we got exactly the tour we wanted and again did not let us down. The tour went very smoothly which with a few last minute changes due to Air Madagascar was not easy. I think some of World Primates Safaris success on there safaris is also down to the ground agents they pick, we can highly recommend them.
Guides can make or break a wildlife tour an un-experienced or lazy guide is our biggest worry. Usually on most of our trips around the world we had very good guides but occasionally you get an exceptional guide who will put lots of effort in and have a fantastic specialised knowledge, and I would like to give some thanks and recognition of our appreciation. Generally all our guides in Madagascar were very good and we would like to thank them all. We were however lucky enough to have 3 extra special guides. Rija Ratotonirina who picked us up in Tana and took us to Andasibe and back, I am afraid I did not get the names of the other two guides one in the Berenty Spiny forest (pictured left) and the other in Isalo, both of these worked extremely hard to find and identify the flora and fauna and added greatly to the Madagascar experience. If I can track down the names or these guides I will update this report.
Residence Lapasoa in Tana – We only stayed overnight but found it a clean and tidy hotel with a good breakfast.
Vakona Lodge in Andasibe – We stayed here for three nights and again found it a clean and tidy hotel with very good food, the grounds were also a good attraction with many frogs, insects and birds.
Croix Sud in Fort Dauphin – We stayed here for two nights one either side of our trip to Berenty it is a very clean and tidy hotel with good food. It is part of the same group that own Berenty lodge. If you require a stopover in Fort Dauphin and want to go to Berenty you usually have to book a hotel within the same group.
Berenty Lodge in Berenty – We stayed here for three nights, this is the only lodge in Berenty as it is a private reserve, we found it clean and comfortable and the food was good, you will find the ring-tailed lemurs may wake you jumping on the roof of your bungalow in the early hours and expect to join you for breakfast, but that is part of the attraction. It has had some negative reviews but you visit Berenty for the wildlife not for a 5 star hotel, we loved this place.
Les Dunes in Ifaty – We stayed here just for the one night following alterations to our trip. We had an en-suite bungalow on the beach and could not fault it the bungalow was amazing. If you want a beach extension during a trip to this area of Madagascar then you won’t be disappointed.
Relais de la Reine in Isalo – Located amidst the rocky outcrops of Isalo National Park, we stopped here for two nights and again were very pleased, the rooms were clean and tidy, food was very good we also had some laundry done here which was returned washed and ironed the same day and the costs very reasonable.
Setam Lodge in Ranomafana – Located close to the entrance to the National Park, we stayed here for three nights and again, the rooms were clean and tidy and the food was good, this was perhaps the worst hotel of the trip but it is located in a rain forest and we were still quite happy with no complaints.
Relais des Plateaux in Tana – Located in a secure compound near the airport it does not have the “curb appeal” but the hotel it’s self was great we only had use of it as a day room prior to getting our 1.20AM return flight home. We found the rooms very good it had a nice swimming pool and the food was the best of the whole trip. If you want a hotel close to the airport either side of your tour then this would be our choice.
Generally all the accommodation exceeded our expectations and we found the Staff in all the hotels we stopped in very pleasant and helpful.
Flights & Transfers
Flight – London to Tana via Paris 14 hours (including changing planes)
Road – Tana to Andasibe 4.5 hours including photo stops.
Flight – Andasibe to Fort Dauphin 1 hour 15 Minutes
Road – Fort Dauphin to Berenty 4.5 hours including photo stops.
Flight – Fort Dauphin to Tulear 45 Minutes
Road – Tulear to Ifaty 2 hours including photo stops.
Road – Ifaty to Zombitse 3.5 Hours
Road – Zombitse to Isalo 3 Hours
Road – Isalo to Ranomafana 8 hours including 1.5 hour stop at Anjaha Conservation Site.
Road – Ranomafana to Tana 12 hours including photo stops.
Photographic equipment taken.
Cameras – Canon 5D 111 and Canon 7D, Lenses – 100mm F2.8 Micro, 24-105 F4, 70-200 F2.8 with 1.4x and 2x convertors.
I take a small Samsung 300Gb notebook with me it is light weight but does not have not very good image quality however it is good enough to upload all that days images on, sort through and rename them, I use a small Western Digital 500Gb passport external hard drive to back up the images to then reformat the memory cards ready for the following day.
I also take a light weight 4 in line 13A power strip as there are never enough power outlets to re-charge the cameras & laptop and mobile phone – the latter is mainly used as an alarm clock.
We have produced this report biased on our personal experiences and information available when we went in September 2012, we have tried to be as accurate and honest as possible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this report I do hope it may have been some help in planning your trip.
TO SEE THE PHOTOS FROM OUR MADAGASCAR TOUR please follow this link Madagascar photos
TO DOWNLOAD A PDF VERSION OF THIS REPORT please follow this link Madagascar 2012