A Small-Group Exploration of the Planet's Most Unique Biodiversity Hotspot
Please note that this is our 2018 itinerary. 2017 departures begin in Antananarivo, Madagascar instead of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Day 1: Johannesburg, South Africa
Our adventure begins on arrival in Johannesburg, a 19th-century gold mining settlement that's now a cosmopolitan city of 3.6 million. Food and music are central to life in "Joburg," and its clubs and pubs are an integral part of the social fabric. Gather with our small group this evening for a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader.
Days 2–3: Antananarivo, Madagascar / Perinet Reserve
Fly this morning to Antananarivo, where our Madagascar tour begins. We continue by road through rice paddies and rain forest to reach the Perinet Reserve, one of the two main sectors of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Here, we'll have our first opportunity to look for lemurs, found only in Madagascar. The country is home to approximately 100 species and subspecies of lemur, and the world’s largest, the indri, is found in this park. As exciting to hear as it is to see, this pied creature’s call sounds like a loud, eerie wailing in the trees. During the day we may also spy gray bamboo, Eastern woolly
and black-and-white ruffed lemurs, as well as dancing diademed sifakas. On night walks, look for palm-sized brown mouse lemurs that awaken to skitter among the strangler figs and giant ferns.
Madagascar’s premier national park is a critical component of the country’s efforts to conserve its biodiversity in the face of extensive deforestation. Besides lemurs, this threatened biome contains a thousand different orchid species that bloom during the rainy season, numerous medicinal plants, the turquoise Parson’s chameleon (one of the largest in the world), and a spiky insectivore called a tenrec, which looks like a striped hedgehog. The protected tract of rare
montane rain forest is also one of the world’s top birding locales. We'll also visit Lemur Island, a small sanctuary where orphaned lemurs are thriving. Four species, including the bamboo lemur, black-and-white ruffed lemur, brown lemur and diademed sifaka, have become habituated to visitors, allowing for close encounters and excellent photo opportunities.
Day 4: Mantadia National Park
Today we travel farther
afield to the less-visited Mantadia section of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Mantadia's virtually untouched primary forest is filled with magnificent buttress-rooted trees and lichen-covered trunks beneath a canopy reaching more than 100 feet high. Experience true seclusion while exploring quietly among towering tree ferns and fan-shaped traveler’s palms that shelter various endemic birds and rare reptiles. Diademed sifakas and black-and-white ruffed lemurs launch themselves from tree to tree overhead, and we'll also witness varieties of couas
, bright-plumed vangas and ground rollers flitting through the forest. Mossy-green leaf-tailed geckos and short-horned chameleons are special sightings when our sharp-eyed guides point them out.
Days 5 & 6: Ranomafana National Park
We return to Antananarivo by road and take a chartered flight to the hilltop town of Fianarantsoa, noted for its 19th-century colonial old town filled with colorful houses and cobbled streets. From here, we drive to Ranomafana National Park, created in 1991 following the discovery of the endangered golden bamboo lemur. Today, the park is a hub of research and discovery that is vitally important for the conservation of regional wildlife. Comprised of steep, mountainous terrain, Ranomafana's 250 square miles encompass varied habitats at a range of altitudes, from lowland rain forest to cloud forest to high plateau forest. Cliffs draped in lush vegetation and waterfalls abound in this rugged wilderness.
The park is home to 12 species of lemur, including three different bamboo lemurs, 120 frog species, numerous chameleons and other reptiles, 90 butterfly species, and the fascinating but rarely seen fossa. Birds are abundant, too, with more than 100 species present, including ground-rollers, red-fronted coua
and collared nightjar. A night walk may reveal brown mouse lemurs and various amphibians active after dark. The lush rain forest also harbors many different carnivorous plants.
Days 7 & 8: Isalo National Park
Ready your camera and enjoy your guaranteed window seat on a full-day scenic drive to southern Madagascar. Get glimpses of local life as we pass through small villages into a land in stark contrast with the eastern rain forests. Stop en route at the Anja Community Reserve for a picnic lunch and a chance to see rambunctious ring-tailed lemurs feeding in the trees or foraging on the ground. Continuing south, we enter a region of mountainous plateaus and eroded canyons reminiscent of the American Southwest, as granite outcrops rise from dry grass plains. As we reach the striking Isalo massif, we witness the fascinating flora that thrives against this Jurassic-era sandstone backdrop, including the odd-looking swollen pachypodia
, or “elephant’s foot.”
Several varieties of lemur live among the cacti, aloes and palms, in particular
the resident ring-tailed lemur we’ll look for in Isalo National Park. The 200,000-acre park is also home to more than 80 bird species and 33 reptile species. It is the sacred homeland of the tribal Bara people, whose burial sites are marked by mounds of tiny stones placed in crevices in the rock faces. Amid the arid landscape, we come upon a swift stream running through a deep, ancient gorge. Here, there's an option to climb a series of steps to a natural pool fed by a thundering waterfall that has carved its course into the sandstone. At night, as temperatures fall, the sunset fades and the ebony sky beckons our gaze upward for some of the best stargazing on the planet.
Day 9: Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park / Isalo
We drive to Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park today, a little-visited reserve on the border of two biological zones, dry deciduous tropical forest and more humid forest and savanna. The park is an island in the middle of a widely deforested region, and as such, it provides crucial natural habitat for an array of flora and fauna. Some of Madagascar’s finest birdwatching
is here, with a number of endemic species including the very rare Appert's tetraka native to this forest alone. We also look for the giant coua, the iridescent souimanga sunbird
, greater and lesser vasa parrots, Oustalet’s chameleon, and, always, lemurs. Among the park's eight lemur species, we may see Verreaux's sifaka, red-fronted brown lemur
and the Hubbard's sportive lemur, a prize sighting found only in this park. Late this afternoon, return to Isalo to spend one more night.
Days 10–12: Anjajavy Private Reserve
Board an early chartered flight to the 17,000-acre private coastal nature reserve of Anjajavy. This vast protected area with private walking trails through secluded forests and empty beaches is
reached only by flying into the private airport—exclusive access that is a distinct advantage in traveling with our small group. The seaside lodge that fronts the cerulean waters of the Mozambique Channel is our base for exploring the dry deciduous Anjajavy forest of northwest Madagascar. This remote area, less disturbed than other regions of the country, hosts a striking number of endemic species. Look for Coquerel’s sifaka and the common brown lemur during guided forest walks, while night strolls may reveal gray and golden brown mouse lemurs, giant hairy crabs and a various reptiles
. The forest contains some 1,800 plant species, among them massive baobab trees shaped like squat bottles and richly colored rosewood trees. The 4-star resort, Madagascar's only member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group, accommodates guests in thatched bungalows overlooking a private white sand beach.
Private boat excursions offer a close-up look at this remote region that's mostly uninhabited except for a couple of small fishing villages. While we may pass a few fishermen in their dhows
with triangular white sails or paddling wooden pirogues
, we're largely alone along this wild coastline. It's a scenic landscape of rocky outcrops and tiny indented coves with untouched beaches dotted by pale ghost crabs. We travel by boat to Moramba Bay to view eroded limestone formations protruding from the azure sea and huge baobab trees that stand sentinel over densely vegetated environs. Search the coastline for the Madagascar fish eagle, rare Madagascar sacred ibis and crested ibis. A sunset cruise through the mangroves reveals more birds, and, if we’re lucky, Madagascar flying foxes leaving their roosts at dusk. From our lodge, guests may also opt to explore the mangroves by kayak or snorkel over a coral reef from the beach. On the grounds, the "oasis" provides a garden sanctuary for a wide variety of aquatic and climbing plants, papyrus, tree ferns and palm trees that offer refuge to green kingfisher, red fody
and lemurs. A saltwater infinity pool offers welcome refreshment after a day of discovery.
Day 13: Anjajavy / Antananarivo / Depart
After a leisurely breakfast at the lodge, fly to Antananarivo for connecting flights homeward, or on to South Africa for extensions.
Please note that this is our 2018 itinerary. Our 2017 departures end on Day 14, making the trip one day longer, as we spend Day 10 in Antananarivo.
Physical Rating: Moderate