Bespoke Honeymoons and Holidays to Madagascar
Probably the natural history highlight of the world, Madagascar has a completely unique range of animals and plants 80% of which is found no where else. It is the oldest island on earth, having been isolated from the super continent of Gondwanaland 160 millions years ago.
There are over 200,000 species living here in habitats ranging from mountains to mangroves and desert to rainforest. Of the weird and wonderful mammal species living here, the lemurs are the best known – an entire branch of the primate tree which evolved on it’s own and survives in isolated pockets of habitats around Madagascar. Most of the fauna and flora of the island is viewed on foot through miles and miles of forest trails and dramatic mountains, rainforests and gorges. The parks and forests are full of mountains, canyons and ‘Tsingy’ unique spirals of rock formations.
The subject of fascination for zoologists over many decades, Madagascar was the location of David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest journeys and of course famously that of Gerald Durrell’s many exploratory travels and books including Zoo in my luggage as he collected species which in later years formed the populations for conservation efforts based at Jersey Zoo (now the Durrell Conservation Trust). Along with other Indian Ocean islands such as Reunion, Mauritius and the Comoros, many exotic species which were collected in the early 1900’s have been bred in zoos and some re-habilitated with location based conservation centres on the islands now carrying on the work.
Flora – for the botanist, Madagascar is truly paradise with about 13,000 species of plants of which around 89% are endemic. There are about 950 species of orchids alone! Ferns, cycads and pitcher plants adorn the forests everywhere on the island. Of the thousands of trees, the baobab is probably the most iconic with its strange swollen trunk and sparse branches, sometimes called the ‘upside down tree’ as it looks with no leaves as if it’s roots are up in the air! The Malagasy baobabs tend to be taller and thinner than those on mainland Africa and there is an area called ‘Avenue des Baobabs’ where some excellent specimens can be found.
If insects and invertebrates are your thing, Madagascar has over 150,000 species to show you including some weird millipedes, praying mantis, ant lions, spiders and butterflies. The later consist of around 300 species, 211 being endemic. There are 266 recorded frog species here and the freswater lakes, marshes and rivers are home to endangered cichlid and other fishes and amphibians. The 4000km of coastline is legendary for it’s shark populations and marine species with lovely coral reefs and mostly shallow waters on the west coast.
Reptiles here are amazing with some truly weird creatures to be seen! 96% of Madagascar’s reptiles are endemic – around 365 species. Some have evolved from the ancient Gondwanaland and some more related to South American or Asian species. Half the world’s types of Chameleon are found on Madgascar including the smallest and largest. There are amazing geckos, skinks, plated lizards and many snakes.
Bird watching – for the serious birder, there are a suprisingly small number of species compared to other African countries, but 51% of them are endemic, making it a real birding hotspot. Best areas and seasons for bird watching are mid September to January in the Eastern rainforests or year round in the tropical dry deciduous forests of the west.
Madagascars mammals are it’s main attraction with the most amazing ‘living museum’ of creatures to be found here. The Aye-Aye is one of the oddest animals on earth with it’s long, skeleton like finger which it uses to fish out grubs from trees and looks like a cross between a bat and a fox! It is actually a type of lemur but is classified in a family of its own. The Lemurs are beautiful and belong to the Prosimian (meaning ‘before monkeys’) family of primates their body design having evolved between 40 to 50 million years ago. Today there are about 100 varieties living in a range of habitats throughout the island. Some are active during the day and some at night. The most prolific and commonly seen are probably the Ring-tailed Lemurs of Berenty Reserve, Isalo, Andohahela and Andringitra National Parks. The large Ruffed Lemurs have a thick coat and are found in Eastern rainforests. The biggest lemur is the Indri and has not much of a tail, making it look a bit like a teddy bear! You can see them in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. The funniest looking and entertaining with their ‘dancing’ action are the Sifakas. Having very long back legs they bounce along the ground in an upright position and leap in spectacular jumps from tree to tree. Tenrecs, bats and the strange cat like Fossa are just some of the other mammals found on Madagascar.
Marine life here is also stunning with many Europeans favouring the tropical beaches of the Indian Ocean here and there are waters full of big game fish and colour reef life. Some areas, particularly to the north, there are sheltered bays and islands perfect for diving and snorkelling and other watersports.
To the east of Madagascar is Ile Ste Marie (Nosy Boraha) a narrow tropical island with many sandy beaches and coves, sheltered coral reefs and surrounded by lush, green hills and forest. July – September here you can enjoy whale watching and there are various other off shore islands in the area (some uninhabited) which can be explored by boat with one or two good standard lodges such as Princesse Bora Lodge & Spa which is a centre for the whale research. Off the NORTH WEST coast is the Nosy Be Archipelago, probably the most visited of the beach areas of Madagascar. Sandy beaches, coral coves, reefs, tiny islands mingle with a variety of hotels, dive centres and nightlife. There is some forest areas that support Black Lemurs and chameleons and offer the chance to see little bits of all of Madagascar in one small region. Some of the smaller, unspoilt areas include Nosy Komba, Noxy Tsarabanjina and Nosy Iranja. It is possible to live aboard a boat and cruise the islands here. At the end of a remote peninsula Anjajavy is a deciduous forest near the Mozambique Channel with a luxury lodge and beach resort offering fabulous scenery and hospitality in a tropical forest setting on the beach. On the SOUTH WEST coast You can visit Anjajavy near Tulear where sandy beaches and a long barrier reef make it popular for water sports and marine life. There is whale watching here June to September. In the SOUTH EAST the area of Fort Dauphin has an amazing setting on a peninsula, so beaches on three sides with mountains behind you. Surfing, whale watching and climbing Pic St Louis, are attractions here along with stunning coastal scenery.
Parks and Reserves. The most visited parks of Madagascar include Majajavy, Ifotaka and Masoala. The easiest to reach by road from the capital Antananarivo (Tana) heading EAST is the Perinet – Mantadia park system which protects 11 lemur species, about 100 frog species and many rare birds. Perinet is 810 hectares of mid-altitude rainforest with easy and well maintained forest trails. To the north of this region Mantadia conserves gorgeous primary rainforest home to specilist lemur species and with narrow and steep forest trails. Night walks can be enjoyed at Mitsinjo – the rainforest at night is a completely different experience! Vohimana offers the chance to see incredible reptiles and frogs, the beautiful Diademed Sifaka and magnificent rainforest views. Stay at Vakona Forest Lodge here in a plantation and private reserve, near the entrance to Perinet. In the NORTH-EAST is Masoala National Park is the largest remaining lowland rainforest with ten lemur species some only found here and the island of Nosy Mangabe being the place most likely to see the Aye-Aye. This is also a hot spot for birding and the wettest place in Madagascar! Stay at the Masoala Forest lodge with exclusive nature trails or the friendly little Chez Arol Eco-lodge with an observatory in the primary forest, great to photograph Red-ruffed Lemurs. In the NORTH of the island is Diego Suarez airport servicing the surrounding area which is a ring of mountains and beautiful beaches and parks. At Montagne d’Ambre you will find 18,500ha of rainforest which is not part of the eastern ‘corridor’ so the flora and fauna is different and includes the Crowned and Sanford’s lemur. There are crater lakes and waterfalls. At Ankarana Est admire the grand tsingy here which can be covered on an all day walk. These razor sharp pinnacles are park of a 35km long limestone massif full of caves and canyons. Heading SOUTH in Madagascar is the most commonly taken tour route, in a loop through Ranomafana, Fianarantsoa, Anjaha, Isalo and the coast. See the Discover Madagascar tour for an example. Ranomafana National Park is a montaine rainforest which protects the critically endangered Golden Bamboo Lemur. There are rolling hills and cloud forest with fabulous trails and birding. Isalo National Park encompasses a huge massif with a landscape of canyons and erroded rock formations. There are several populations of lemur here including the famous Ring-tails and trails take you down gorges, to waterfalls and pools. In the SOUTH EAST accessed from Fort Dauphin is Berenty Reserve where there has been lemur research going on for decades and you can see the habituated Ring-tails and the ‘dancing’ Verreaux’s Sifaka. There is gallery forest and spiny forest here,
The capital city of Antananarivo is set on tiered streets on and around the 12 hills which surround it. The summit near the centre of the ridge made it an easy place to fortify and provides a great view point. This became the site of the Rova (Royal Palace) and centre of the Merina kingdom. Enjoy panoramic views over the city with a drink in the Upper Town where there are several trendy hotels and guesthouses.
Madagascar has a tropical climate and there are two distinct sides to the island, split by the mountainous spine in terms of vegetation and rainfall. Avoid February as it’s cyclone season. There are daily connections from the UK via Nairobi with Kenya Airways or via Paris with Air France.
There are some great value group adventure tours to Madagascar if you want to travel with others or have a limited budget or if you have more time and prefer to travel on a private basis, ask me to put together a tailor made Madagascar wildlife holiday for you and go and see for yourself this amazing land of strange and beautiful creatures!