Madagascar is a place of adventure - raw and wild, diverse and unique. Here's our travel expert Dan's experience of travelling in Madagascar on a budget.
(You may want to start with Part I of Dan's Madagascar Experience: Day 1 to 4)
Day 5: Manafiafy for Island Vibes
We head south on a domestic flight to explore the drier coastal area and spiny forest. Much tourist travel is done by air because the roads are in bad repair and take long to navigate. Flying means packing light for your travels, the weight limit on local domestic flights is usually 20kg.
We fight back through the Tana traffic to Ivato, requiring a 2-hour check-in for domestic flights. Fort Dauphin is a 2-hour flight with the only domestic carrier, Air Madagascar; it is a great opportunity to view the interesting and changing landscape of the country across the southern interior.
We are met by our driver and guides who take us for delicious local Malagasy fare at the beach restaurant Chez Marceline, not far from the airport.
Fed and watered we are prepared for a 3-4 hour journey in tough looking Land Rovers along some of the worst roads I’ve ever experienced. The first 15km is a tarred road servicing the Rio Tinto titanium mine.
Of course, money talks, and the rest of the journey takes us some 45km along seriously damaged muddy tracks. Our guide uses the time to entertain and educate us as we pass through small rural villages stopping en route to show us flora including Pitcher plants.
We arrive at the beautiful Manafiafy Lodge just after sunset.
Nestled between sparkling blue seas, verdant rainforests, abundant wildlife and distant mountains, this small and intimate lodge offers both serenity and adventure. Built by the local tradesmen, the Manafiafy Lodge oozes laid-back island charm whilst providing creature comforts.
It is the perfect place to unwind doing as little as possible and ideally have a 3 or 4-night stay. Alas, we’ve only got 2 so it’s time to get down to business of holidaying – a candlelit dinner on the beach offering local and imported produce is a real treat, as is the walk back to the coastal forest to the rooms on paths lit by oil lamps, avoiding the land crabs who are up to their evening shenanigans.
Day 6: Manafiafy Magic
The full monty in Manafiafy, begins with a motorboat cruise through the mangrove canals, spotting different bird species and gliding through the calm waters. Against a backdrop of faraway mountains, the thick coastal forest is bathed in the warming glow of the early morning sun.
Back at camp, a hearty breakfast and a chance to relax is in order. The afternoon’s adventures include a short hike through the forest, sighting lemur and wild orchids
Then off into another area of the forest seeking yet more variety of lemur, snakes, bats and other reptiles. We are so impressed with the abundance of sightings on foot in Madagascar, safe in the knowledge there are no venomous snakes or dangerous animals. Before our night walk, we have time to see some local art and craft, followed by sundowners.
Our evening finishes back at the Lodge, for dinner & entertainment by a local Malagasy band performing traditional music and dance.
Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge is a natural playground with distant mountains, lush rainforests, white sand beaches and the lapping waters of the Indian Ocean on its doorstep.
Had we stayed longer we could have participated in many free cultural activities on land visiting schools, villages, palm weavers and markets or indulged in adventure activities offered at extra cost including whale watching and sports fishing.
Day 7: Mandrare River Camp & the Spiny Forests of Madagascar
We head out early to make the most of the day with a 3-hour bumpy ride back to Fort Dauphin, which is the half way mark to our destination, west towards the interior.
Traversing mountains, crossing rivers over old bridges and cutting through busy villages on market day, makes for an exciting journey. As the lush coastal forests make way for the drier interior, we start to see first signs of the spiny forest. This area is also ideal for sisal farming and we pass through endless plantations of this hardy plant. Agave sisalana is a species native to southern Mexico, its fibre is traditionally used for rope and twine, and has many other uses, including paper, cloth, footwear, hats, bags, carpets, and dart boards. Madagascar is now among the largest producers, it has created livelihoods for Malagasy tribes in this area.
Mandrare River Camp is surrounded by large shady trees. An oasis in the hot, dry and dusty sisal plantations, our luxury tents overlook the river.
The evening’s excursion is a guided walk in the surreal Spiny Forest, where Octopus trees, covered with tiny barbs, reach up to the evening stars. It is hard to imagine this area is home to any animal species, let alone the beautiful yet fierce Antadroy, a nomadic tribe who follow traditions of ancestor worship.
Lemurs move between the trees effortlessly and we also have bird and reptile sightings. There are five different species of lemur that you can see during your stay at Mandrare River Camp, Ringtails, Verreaux's Sifaka, White-foot Sportive, Grey Mouse and Grey Brown Mouse.
Day 8: Mandrare River, Sacred Forest & the Antadroy Tribe
Life revolves around the Mandrare River. In May, parts of the river are passable on foot but we are ferried by canoe for a morning walk in the Sacred Forest.
Our guide explains the required etiquette, including no shouting, pointing of fingers (use a hand or fist) or urinating. We are also reminded not to move or remove any fallen trees.
The forest floor is spongy with decomposing trees and teeming with insects, fungi growing on broken logs, saplings sprouting everywhere, wasps nests are found hanging from branches, nothing gets disturbed. Broken beams of sunlight and deafening silence set the tone of this highlight.
Spending time alone with different groups of lemur is enchanting, we are able to get close to the ring-tailed lemur and the creatures appear comfortable in our presence – to the Malagasy, lemurs represent their ancestors.
Chameleon, owl, snake and frog sightings send us back to camp satisfied.
Late afternoon we take a local village tour to learn more about the Antadroy tribe’s customs and culture and then onto sunset amongst a cluster of Madagascar’s iconic trees.
The silhouetted baobabs against a purple, pink and orange sunset, are spectacular, drinks and snacks are provided, so we don’t have to rush the moment.
Treated to traditional fire making methods, using a hand drill, we are surprised when a group of local performers, embark on a 45-minute display of traditional music and dance.
Oftentimes these scenarios feel contrived but the energy and enthusiasm were infectious –a genuine storytelling experience.
We return to Mandrare River Camp for an alfresco BBQ before bed.
Day 9: Final Shop & Dinner, then Farewell Madagascar
The majority of the day we are retracing our steps back to Fort Dauphin and onto Tana with Air Madagascar. A quick stop in the afternoon gave us the opportunity to do some shopping and hunt out Malagasy wares - peppercorns, coffee, vanilla and raffia craft. A final group meal at the Sakamanga Restaurant wraps up this adventure.
A unique experience as promised, alive with creatures and comforts.
Check out Part I of Dan's Adventures in Madagascar for more photos and his experiences on Day 1 to 4 in Antananarivo, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Lemur Island and rural Madagascar. For more about Madagascar see Unspoilt Madagascar: Beautiful Beaches, Wildlife & Unique Cultures.