Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and remains relatively unexplored. The people are friendly, the towns and villages are lively and the natural beauty is overwhelming. During this 12 day Best of Madagascar Tour you have the opportunity to discover all this and more with lemurs, colourful tribes, tropical beaches, bustling markets and diverse scenery.
Your Budget Madagascar Safari will start in Antananarivo, travelling east to Andasibe National Park where we will spend the evening and the next morning exploring this fascinating park. We then visit Madagascar's second largest tribe the Betsimisaraka and learn about their intriguing culture.
Then we head southwards to Antisirabe and spend a day discovering Ranomafana National Park. From here we drive further south to Isalo National Park where we embark on a day-long hike. Next we travel to Tulear with its Spiny Forest, before putting our feet up in Ifaty on the coast, or trying out several optional water activities. Lastly, we make our way back to Antananarivo and explore this interesting city.
Our Madagascar Beach & Rain Forests Tour starts in Antananarivo, the diverse capital of Madagascar. You are met at the airport and transferred to your hotel in the city. The remainder of the day is free for you to rest at the hotel or explore the bustling city.
We then travel eastwards to Andasibe driving via the lush countryside.
Continuing towards Andasibe we enter a humid region of Madagascar where thick primal forests and scenic lakes are found. We pass Merina villages that lie in the rugged mountains, before arriving in Andasibe in the early evening (18h00).
First, we settle in at our overnight lodge where we stay in bungalows (chalets) with verandah areas and en-suite bathrooms. At about 19h00 we set off on a walk in the Andasibe area, looking out for nocturnal lemurs and other animals. After our night walk, we return to the lodge for a restful night's sleep.
On the morning of day three on the Best of Madagascar Tour, we venture into the 810 ha Special Reserve of Andasibe, to watch the biggest lemurs found in Madagascar - the Indri Indri.
This Andasibe reserve is home to endemic plant and animal species, making it a special stop. Here we see an array of flowering orchids, endemic animals such as chameleons, tenrecs, and many birds. From the Special Reserve of Andasibe, we head to the Orchid Park to walk amongst the gorgeous flowers.
This afternoon we visit the Vakona lemur island, a private reserve offering up close photo opportunities with the many habituated lemurs who find refuge there.
Returning to Antananarivo, also known as Tana, we then turn south and drive to Antsirabe. Our drive takes us into the highlands where tiers of rice fields cover the mountain slopes. Fruit trees and vegetable patches are also grown on the lush slopes of these weathered hills, called 'lavaka'.
Along the way we pause in Ambatolampy to take a look at this massive agricultural centre. Late in the afternoon (at about 17h00) we reach Antsirabe, ‘the place of salt'. The climate here is temperate supporting a range of fruits and vegetables that prefer cooler areas.
This city has a distinctly European feel, unlike other Madagascan cities, given its roots as a Norwegian founded settlement back in 1856. The unique city of Antsirabe is also famous for its brewery, making it the heart of Madagascar's beer producing industry.
Day five starts with breakfast and then we set off for Ambositra, considered the heart of the wood carving industry in Madagascar. Located in the highlands the houses of Ambositra feature brightly-coloured shutters and ornate hand-carved balustrades, befitting the capital of the wood carving industry.
Along the next stretch of road, we see fire-resistant ‘le col de tapia' trees along with more terraced rice fields, as well as eucalyptus and pine trees growing in the rocky landscape.
Soon we arrive at our next stop, the Ranomafana National Park.
Parc National de Ranomafana covers about 40,000 ha of wilderness ranging between 800m to 1200m above sea level. Ranomafana Park lies near a village of the same name and is characterised by patches of indigenous rainforests in the eastern areas.
An abundance of wild animals, insects and birds live in the dense forests through which the Namorona River and its many rivulets flow.
Ranomafana is a top travel highlight in Madagascar and is as such one of the most popular national parks. We explore the forest habitats on foot, going in search of the famous and fascinating creatures of Madagascar, from lazing lemurs to colourful chameleons.
We leave Ranomafana along the same route, passing by the historic city of Fianarantsoa, which means ‘the city where one can learn good things'. A cultural and religious centre, Fianarantsoa was founded as a royal city in the early 19th century and is now the capital of the Haute Matsiatra Region. It is also the main centre of education and wine growing, the hub for travel to Isalo and Ranomafana and home to the Betsileo tribes.
We keep travelling southwards into the wine-producing area of Ambalavao, stopping to taste some of the local wines. (Please note that wine tasting visits may not be possible over weekends.) Although the climate is not ideally suited to viticulture, this is still the heart of Madagascar's traditional winegrowing sector. Priests and monks were the first to cultivate grapes in Ambalavao which also has Arabic influences which we see on a visit to the Anteimoro Paper Factory.
We continue to Ihosy the capital of the Bara tribes, who are the shepherds of Zebu, and pass through the mountain chain of Andringitra, which serves as a transition between the dry south and green highlands with its famous ‘3 hillocks' and its huge ‘archbishop's cape'.
Along the way we will see afar a spectacular huge granite dome with twin rock towers called: ‘the gate of the south', which marks the end of the highland and the beginning of the south. The other imposing one is the ‘Bishop's hat', which is a sacred place for the local people, as it is a place where their ancestors chose a collective suicide rather than to give in to the Merina tribes.
We then pass through the huge ‘Plateaux de Horombe' with rich red soil that reminds one of ‘the no man's land', before arriving in Isalo.
Visit Isalo National Park on day eight of the Best of Madagascar Safari. The park covers an area of 81540 ha comprising of the entire stretch of the Isalo massif. This huge mountain is very spectacular with its eroded sandstone mountain.
Today we will walk to the natural pool where we can take a dip. After a 10-minute drive from Ranohira village, we leave our vehicle behind and walk for about an hour and a half to reach the natural swimming pool. Along the way we will see vegetation like Uapaca bojeri, Pachypodium rosulatum or ‘elephant's foot', Aloe isaloensis, a native species of aloe and endemic to Isalo. We walk through the eroded mountains, which are also where Bara placed their dead before they can bring them into their real tombs.
Start climbing and reach the ridge of the massif, after 20 minutes of walking, where we will have a spectacular view of the huge sandstone mountains with its beautiful colours and its strange and eroded forms giving many different images like ‘the tortoise', ‘the masks' and ‘the crocodiles'.
We see small streams of water, and rivers which are marked by lines of brilliant green generally made up of numerous Pandanus pulcher and the delicate, slim-stemmed, feathery-leaved palm Chrysalidocarpus isaloensis. Along the way, for lemur lovers, there may be sifakas, brown lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs, as well as fifty-five species of birds, lizards and snakes.
We finally reach the swimming pool, with its crystal clear water, which is a great reward after a long, hot walk.
After breakfast, we continue to Tuléar, the terminal of the National Road Number 7. This step brings us new scenery, among the dry forests of the west and the spiny desert of the south.
On the way, we admire the different ‘Mahafaly tombs' and ‘Antandroy tombs'. After a short visit of Tuléar we drive to Ifaty, which lies about 27 km from Tuléar. Due to the bad condition of the road, it will take us about two and a half hours to reach Ifaty, and this step brings us to the driest part of the country.
Situated in the deep south, the landscape is dominated by the spiny forest like the cactus, different euphorbiaceae and didieracea. We will cross the dry and sandy soil where the local people battle to find drinking water.
Mangrove trees line the coast alternated by Vezo villages, which earn their living from fishing. We will see many small pirogues and men who go out fishing twice a day. Children and women wait along the coast to take the fish to Tuléar where they are sold.
Day 10 of the Best of Madagascar Safari is spent at leisure in this town on the biggest estuary in Madagascar. Ifaty is located on a stretch of coast sheltered by an extensive coral reef, offering excellent scuba diving and snorkelling. The town is a good place to see how the Vezo Fishermen live and the area is ideal for bird watchers and boat-based whale watching (in season). Between July and September, the whales arrive along the shores here, calving just off the coast. Watching the whales up close from a boat is an amazing sight, especially because these huge mammals come to this part of the ocean off Madagascar to calve.
One of the numerous outings and activities to choose from is a trip to Reniala Forest. This communal nature reserve is home to baobab trees, spiny bushes, reptiles like geckos and chameleons, including parsoni - the largest kind of chameleon.
In the afternoon we have the option of walking to the village of Mangily where we visit a local school and watch the Vezo Fishermen returning with the day's fresh catch.
We head to the airport early this morning (at about 6:00) for our flight to Antananarivo, where this tour began. Back in the capital we transfer to the hotel and spend the afternoon exploring the area or relaxing at the hotel.
Tana is known as the ‘City of Thousands' as this is the place where the first kings of Madagascar started unifying the myriad of kingdoms across this huge island. The city consists of three overarching zones - the high city, mid-city and low-lying city. The high city was established first, built for the royal leaders and therefore houses the old queen's palace. In the mid-city, you can browse the upmarket boutiques and get some modern retail therapy. The low city area is the commercial part of the city.
One of the recommended sightseeing routes starts in the high city to see Rova, the old queen's palace and the museum at the house of the first minister. Many of the old buildings were designed by a Frenchman named Jean Laborde during the royal era of rule. From there you can walk in the mid-city with its administrative buildings and the Rainiharo tombs and lastly check out the lower section of town with main avenue (L'avenue de l'independence) where the railway station is situated.
After breakfast we can transfer you to the airport for your onward flight, bringing the memorable Best of Madagascar Beach & Rain Forests Tour to a close.
Standard accommodation on the Madagascar Tour is in en-suite rooms at basic, yet comfortable hotels and lodges. Some of the mid-range accommodation options feature a restaurant and bar.
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