Day 1: Antananarivo, Madagascar
Our Madagascar tour begins in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, where we gather for a welcome dinner and orientation with our Expedition Leader. Both Malagasy and French are spoken here, the latter a vestige of the island’s colonial heritage. Antananarivo, better known as Tana, was founded in the early 17th century as the capital of the Merina people, who continue to form the majority of the metropolitan area's estimated 3 million inhabitants. It remained the island's capital after Madagascar was colonized by the French in 1897 and after independence was attained in 1960. All 18 Malagasy ethnic groups, as well as residents of Chinese, Indian, European and other origins, are well represented in this diverse and vibrant city.
Days 2–4: Andasibe-Mantadia National Park—Perinet Reserve
Very early this morning we travel by road through rice paddies and rain forest to Perinet Reserve in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Madagascar has more than 70 species and subspecies of lemur, and the world’s largest, the indri, is found here. As exciting to hear as it is to see, this pied creature’s call sounds like 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. After dark, the nocturnal greater dwarf and palm-sized brown mouse lemurs 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, a plethora of medicinal plants, the turquoise Parson’s chameleon, 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 also visit Lemur Island, a small sanctuary where orphaned lemurs are thriving. Four species, including the bamboo lemur, black & white ruffed lemur, brown lemur and diademed sifaka, have become habituated to visitors, allowing for close encounters and outstanding photo opportunities.
Days 5 & 6: Ranomafana National Park
We return to Antananarivo by road and take a chartered flight to Fianarantsoa, then drive to Ranomafana National Park, created in 1991 following the discovery here of the endangered golden bamboo lemur. Comprised of steep, mountainous terrain, the park’s 250 square miles encompass varied habitats at a range of altitudes, from lowland rain forest to cloud forest to high plateau forest. Verdant cliffs and waterfalls abound in this rugged wilderness. The park is home to 12 species of lemur, 120 species of frogs, various chameleons and other reptiles, 90 different butterflies, more than 100 bird species, and the fascinating but rarely seen fossa. The lush rain forest also harbors many different carnivorous plants.
Days 7 & 8: Isalo National Park
Our full-day scenic drive to southern Madagascar takes us into a land in stark contrast with the lush northeast. As we reach the striking Isalo massif, we enter a region of mountainous
plateau and eroded canyons reminiscent of the American Southwest, with limestone pinnacles rising from dry grass plains. Fascinating flora thrive
against this Jurassic-era sandstone backdrop, including the odd-looking swollen pachypodia
, or “elephant’s foot.”
Several varieties of lemur live here among the cacti, aloes
and palms, in particular
the resident ring-tailed lemur that we’ll look for in Isalo National Park. The 200,000-acre park is also home to more than 80 bird species and 33 different 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. As the heat of the day rises, we cool off in a secret swimming hole—the piscine naturelle
—fed by a swift stream running through a deep, ancient gorge. At night, the 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 abundant array of flora and fauna. Some of Madagascar’s finest birdwatching is found here, with a number of endemic species including the very rare Appert's tetraka that is native to this forest alone. We also look for the giant coua, iridescent souimanga
sunbird, greater and lesser vasa parrots 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. This afternoon we return to Isalo to spend one more night.
Day 10: Isalo / Antananarivo
We return by chartered
flight to Antananarivo today and transfer to the Palissandre Hotel & Spa. Our accommodations enjoy a striking view of the Malagasy capital, situated on a hillside overlooking famous Independence Avenue at the heart of the city.
Days 11–13: Anjajavy Reserve
This morning we board our chartered flight to the 1,360-acre coastal nature reserve of Anjajavy. Our seaside lodge fronting the cerulean waters of the Mozambique Channel is our base for exploring the dry deciduous Anjajavy forest in northwest Madagascar. This remote area, less disturbed than other regions of the country, boasts a striking number of endemic species. We’ll look for Coquerel’s sifaka and the common brown lemur during guided forest walks, as well as a wide variety of reptiles and birds including the fish eagle. The forest contains some 1,800 plant species, among them massive baobab trees shaped like squat bottles, and rosewood trees used in the construction of our lodge. The 4-star resort, Madagascar's only member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group, is a secluded tropical paradise, with accommodations in thatched rosewood 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 shaped by rocky outcrops and indented with tiny coves where untouched beaches are dotted with pale ghost crabs. We stop on some of the islands in Moramba Bay to view huge baobab trees that stand sentinel over their lushly vegetated environs. We may also see where old tombs of the indigenous Sakalava people were located as we wander ashore with our Expedition Leader. Before heading back, we'll likely have a chance to swim and snorkel in the clear turquoise water. From our lodge, guests may also take to a canoe to explore the mangroves, or try fishing in one of the seven creeks that flow to the sea. 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 hummingbirds, green kingfisher, red fody and lemurs. A saltwater infinity pool offers refreshment after a day of discovery.
Day 14: Anjajavy / Antananarivo / Depart
After a relaxed breakfast at the lodge, fly to Antananarivo for connecting flights homeward or on to South Africa for extensions.