Madagascar in Depth

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and an incredible place of unique traditions and astonishing biodiversity. It is so distinctive that it is sometimes dubbed the ‘island continent’. This three-week Madagascar tour will take you to some of its recognised highlights but also delve further off the beaten track to uncover the rural life and forgotten landscapes of this charming country.

Starting in the capital Antananarivo we travel west through lands seldom visited by tourists to the town of Miandrivazo. This is the starting point for an exciting three-day journey on the Tsiribihina River, passing isolated villages, looking out for wildlife and camping on the shore overnight. When we reach Belo we journey north by 4WD through remote landscapes to reach the incredible Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. This is a land of jagged limestone pinnacles where we explore both by boat and on foot.

Travelling back to Morondava, we visit the famous ‘Avenue des Baobabs’, one of Madagascar’s most iconic sights. We then travel overland to the pretty town of Antsirabe and on to Ambositra. From here we head out into the surrounding countryside to discover traditional villages with their scenic carved dwellings. We continue to Fianarantsoa where we explore the charming old quarter, one of the best examples of Malagasy architecture.

We then meet the Betsileo people before continuing to the Tsaranoro Valley. Here we stay in a charming tented camp and use this as our base for discovering the remarkable landscapes and surrounding villages. This is an opportunity for a real insight into Madagascar away from the tourist trail.

At Isalo we explore its lunar landscapes, then fly back north and travel to the forests of Andasibe National Park and Akanin’ny Nofy. Here we walk along the forest trails and have an excellent chance to spot Madagascar’s extraordinary wildlife including the iconic indri and other lemurs.

Much more than just a highlights trip you will have real opportunities to get off the beaten track. Our Madagascar in Depth tour offers you a superb introduction to this fascinating country.

Madagascar in Depth

Highlights

  • Boat journey on the Tsiribinha river
  • The landscapes of Tsingy de Bemaraha NP
  • Look for lemurs in Andasibe
  • Explore traditional villages
  • Hike in the Tsaranoro Valley

Day 1 - Antananarivo

Arrive in Antananarivo and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Hotel Bois Vert or similar.

Antananarivo

Antananarivo, commonly known as Tana, is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. The name Antananarivo means ‘the City of the Thousands’, a reference to the thousand warriors of King Andrianjaka, who established Tana as the capital city of the Merina tribe and accorded it a sacred status. The city was largely chosen for its privileged location – being on high ground (1,370m) and surrounded by marsh made it easy to defend and thus a natural choice for the capital.

Tana, as the city is often called, has unusual French and Asian inspired architecture with winding cobblestone streets and staircases that create a medieval impression. The large open-air Zoma market has been disbanded, which means there is now plenty of room to walk around Araben ny Fahaleovantena (Avenue de l’Independence), the capital’s main street.

Other attractions include the colourful daily flower market on the edge of Lake Anosy and the botanical and zoological gardens, where you can see the egg and 3m-tall skeleton of the extinct aepyornis, or elephant bird. Sadly, the Rova (Queen’s Palace) burned to the ground in 1996. Though virtually nothing remains at the site, there are nice views of the city from the hill where the palace once stood.

Antananarivo does not have too much in the way of conventional sightseeing, but if you enjoy walking around, watching local scenes and experiencing the laid back atmosphere that is prevalent here, the city is a very pleasant place – interesting markets colonial buildings and many craft shops make it a great place to explore.

Day 2 - Miandrivazo

Leave the capital and head west to the town of Miandrivazo, on the banks of the river Mahajilo, stopping at villages along the way and arriving late afternoon. Upon arrival we make preparations for our river journey. Overnight Hotel Princesse Tsiribinha or similar. (B)


Day 3 - Tsiribihina River

Transfer to Masekampy and from here we board our boat to begin our descent of the Tsiribihina River. We pass through pretty landscapes of mango trees, tobacco plantations and Sakalava villages, then enter a large gorge where we should be able to spot lemurs on the rocks around us. In the late afternoon we set up camp on a huge sandbank that borders the forest. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 4 - Tsiribihina River

Continue our river journey west, stopping at a beautiful waterfall and passing high cliffs and small villages, with opportunities to spot birds and other wildlife along the way. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 5 - Belo sur Tsiribihina - Bekopaka

We make our way towards Belo encountering our first baobabs along the way. At Belo we leave our boat behind and travel by 4wd to Bekopaka. Our route today takes us across the Manambolo Rivers, which we cross by local ferry. Overnight Hotel Olympe du Bemaraha or similar. (BL)


Day 6 - Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

Explore the unique landscapes of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, with its unusual limestone pinnacles. We take boats on the Manambolo River through its stunning gorges to discover caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the tombs of the Vazimba people. We then walk through the Tsingy to get right into the heart of this incredible landscape. Overnight Hotel Olympe du Bemaraha or similar. (B)

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

This stunning national park was only opened to the public in 1998, and even now is far less visited than some of Madagascar’s other protected areas. The tsingy from which it takes its name are limestone pinnacles, formed by the slow sedimentation of coral and shell, worked by wind and water movements, since Madagascar separated from Africa 165 million years ago.

These strange peaks can tower several hundred metres high and the stone forests that they form contain caves, underground rivers, canyons, where bats, lemurs, birds and unusual plants can be found. The area can be explored by boat or by means of boardwalks and ladders, which allow you to penetrate into the heart of this bizarre region. The park has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and is one of the most unusual places in Madagascar that you will visit on this trip.

Please note: there are two walks that can be done within the park – the ‘Grands Tsingy’ and the ‘Petits Tsingy’. The Grands Tsingy walk can be strenuous for some, and involves walking on boardwalks and fixed ladders between the rock pinnacles – on occasion you will be harnessed for safety reasons. Should you not be comfortable with this then we would suggest the Petits Tsingy walk, which is more leisurely, although it does involve steps and some ladders.

Day 7 - Morondava

A long drive south to Morondava, stopping at the iconic ‘Avenue des Baobabs’ along the way. Overnight Kimony Resort or similar. (B)


Day 8 - Antsirabe

Return east, driving to the picturesque town of Antsirabe in the central highlands. This is one of the country’s prettiest and most elegant cities, with friendly inhabitants, tree lined avenues and locally known for its ‘pousse-pousse’, the wooden hand pulled rickshaws that you will see everywhere in the streets. Overnight Hotel Vatolahy or similar. (B)

Antsirabe

The city of Antsirabe has about 100,000 inhabitants, and was founded by Norwegian missionaries in the late 18th century, who were attracted by the pleasant climate. It lies on the slopes of the nation’s second highest peak, Tsiafajavona, in the Ankaratra Mountains, and has nearby thermal springs, locally renowned for their healing properties. The city is also known as the centre of Madagascar’s brewing industry, and indeed you will smell the brewery on the way into town.

Day 9 - Betafo - Ambositra

Spend the morning walking through the region of Betafo, exploring the village and the local market. From here head to Ambositra, a centre for the Zafimaniry people. Overnight Artisan Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 10 - Fianarantsoa

Explore Ambositra this morning then drive to Fianarantsoa. We spend the afternoon exploring the old city, situated dramatically on a hilltop and with a stunning collection of typical Malagasy architecture dating from the 19th century. Overnight Cotsoyannis Hotel or similar. (B)

Fianarantsoa

The Fianarantsoa Old City occupies a dramatic hilltop setting once topped with a palace used by the Merina royal family during state visits. While the palace is no longer there, some 500 homes built between 1870 and 1900 by those affiliated with the royal retinue still line the city’s picturesque cobblestone streets.

The Old City is the only place in Madagascar where nineteenth-century buildings form a coherent architectural ensemble. The pride of the inhabitants is evident in the pocket gardens and flower bedecked balconies. However, the aging charm of the site belies the significant threats to its future. Victim of age and neglect, many of roofs no longer protect the vulnerable adobe walled houses. Each year several houses simply melt during the heavy rains as a pillar collapses, the roof caves in, and the structure crumbles…leaving a hole in the landscape and usually several families homeless.

The World Monument Watch listed Fianarantsoa’s Old City as one of the 100 Most Threatened Historic Sites in the World on its list for 2008-9, asking us all to lend a hand to saving the site before it is too late.

Day 11 - Betsileo Villages – Tsaranoro Valley

Spend the morning hiking through the lands of the Betsileo people, in a beautiful setting near Fianarantsoa. We have plenty of opportunities to meet local farmers, and enjoy a typical Malagasy lunch at a local home. This afternoon we head to the Tsaranoro Valley where we spend the next two nights. Overnight Tsara Tented Camp or similar. (BLD)


Day 12 - Tsaranoro

We spend our time exploring this beautiful valley on foot. Dominated by high granite peaks the valley is home to a number of different villages and we are able to meet local people and learn about the complex traditions that hold sway in this part of the country. We also visit waterfalls, a sacred forest, and look out for the lemurs that live here. This is a delightful part of Madagascar, well off the beaten track, and one of the highlights of the tour. Overnight Tsara Tented Camp or similar. (BD)

Tsaranoro

Tsaranoro is situated in the highlands of Fianarantsoa Province, just outside Andringitra National Park, which is home to Madagascar’s highest mountain. The surrounding area with its imposing granite mountains is a rather magical, and extremely tranquil, place. The mountain and forest below were named in honour of two sisters, Ratsara and Ranoro, who tragically died by a cave at the mountainside during an invasion by the Merina tribe. Their death is said to have taken place sometime at around 1820, when King Sahanambo and his followers were hiding in the mountains. Even today, inhabitants of the valley remain somewhat suspicious towards Merina people, and are careful not to break a fady (taboo) in the sacred mountain or forest below.

Days 13-14 - Isalo National Park

We drive west to Isalo National Park, with its interesting rock formations and lunar style landscapes. On Day 14 we spend time exploring the park on foot with its canyons and golden plains punctuated by craggy pinnacles of rock – this is a strikingly beautiful area and we explore on foot, walking to the Canyon of Lemurs and a natural swimming situated in an idyllic location. Overnight Isalo Ranch or similar. (B)

Isalo National Park

Isalo National Park, in the south of the country, is largely made up of interestingly-shaped sandstone rocks, and is a world away from the lushness of some of Madagascar’s other parks. The park is renowned for the colours of the surrounding terrain and impressive panoramic views, as well as a sense of utter tranquillity. It is also a sacred area to the local Bara tribe, who use caves in the cliffs as burial chambers.

Day 15 - Antananarivo

Drive to Tulear and then fly back to Antananarivo. Overnight Hotel Bois Vert or similar. (B)


Day 16 - Andasibe National Park

Drive east to Andasibe National Park and visit the private reserve of Vakona. This evening we take a night walk in Andasibe to see some of its nocturnal wildlife. Overnight Andasibe Hotel or similar. (B)

Andasibe National Park

Andasibe National Park is home to some of Madagascar’s most amazing wildlife, including the endangered aye-aye, bamboo lemurs, chameleons, and the indri, which was named by mistake. When Pierre Sonnerat, a French naturalist, was exploring the island, a local guide spotted the animal and pointed at it, shouting “Indri”, which means “look at that” in Malagasy. Sonnerat assumed the guide was giving him the local name and ever since then the largest species of lemur has been known as the indri, even to Malagasy speakers. These beautiful animals have black and white markings and pale green eyes, and live in the tree canopy. The park itself contains montane forest and a wealth of plant and birdlife as well.

Day 17 - Andasibe National Park

Spend the day exploring Andasibe and its surrounds. We take morning and evening walks in the forest in search of the Indri, Madagascar’s largest species of lemur, as well as other species. Overnight Andasibe Hotel or similar. (B)

Lemurs

Lemurs are a special group of primates found only on Madagascar and the Comoros Islands. There are fifty species of lemurs, seventeen of which are on the endangered species list. Lemurs are prosimians, or primative primates. They are social animals with long limbs, flexible toes and fingers, and long noses. Habitat loss is the main threat to lemurs today, as people clear their native forests for farmland.

How and when lemurs became separated from the monkey family is unclear. Although it was once thought that lemurs were on Madagascar when the island separated from Africa, recent advances have shown that Madagascar was separated from Africa by hundreds of kilometres before lemurs evolved. Accordingly, the ancestors of Madagascar’s lemurs must have crossed over from Africa on floating vegetation early in primate evolution and become isolated from Africa.

Once on Madagascar, the lemurs evolved into about 50 different species. Then, about 2,000 years ago, the first human settlers arrived on Madagascar from the Malaysian-Indonesian area. By the time the Europeans who wrote about the natural history of the island reached Madagascar in the mid-1600s, 15 species of lemurs had become extinct.

Day 18 - Manambato - Akanin’ny Nofy

Drive to Manambato and then board a boat and cruise on the Pangalanes canal to Akanin’ny Nofy. Running parallel to the Indian Ocean, our journey takes us through a series of lakes and lagoons to Lake Ampitabe, where we stay for the next two nights. Overnight Bush House or similar. (BD)


Day 19 - Akanin’ny Nofy

In the morning we visit Palmarium Reserve, home to a dozen species of lemurs including the fascinating aye-aye. In the afternoon we travel by boat to visit a Betsimisiraka village for an insight into local life. Overnight Bush House or similar. (BD)

The Betsimisaraka People

The Betsimisaraka constitute the second largest (15%) ethnic group in Madagascar’s population and are mostly found on or near the east coast. They are divided into three subgroups: the northern Betsimisaraka, the Betanimena, and the southern Betsimisaraka. Their territory extends along the coast in a narrow band from the Bemarivo River in the north to the Mananjary River in the south, a distance of some 640 kilometres.

The Betsimisaraka, whose name means ‘numerous and inseparable’, have traditionally been traders, seafarers, and fishers, as well as cultivators of the tropical lowland areas. They trace their origins to Ratsimilaho, reputed to be the son of a British pirate and a Malagasy princess, who unified several small coastal states in the 18th century.

Day 20 - Manambato – Antananarivo

Return by boat to Manambato, then drive back to Antananarivo for your final night in Madagascar. On the way we stop at a private reptile zoo to see species endemic to the region. Overnight Hotel Bois Vert or similar. (B)


Day 21 - Antananarivo

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)


Please note that our August departures can be combined with our annual trip to the Comoros Islands – see full details of Comoros trip here.

Madagascar in Depth
Madagascar in Depth

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However for very small groups, rather than having one guide with you throughout the trip you would have the services of different guides in different destinations.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most travellers will require a visa to enter Madagascar. These can be obtained upon arrival at the airport for a payment of €25. Your passport will need to be valid for six months after your exit date from Madagascar, and you will need to show a return plane ticket / booking to obtain the visa. Visa regulations can change and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy, or us, for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Madagascar is the ariary, which is not readily obtainable outside of the country. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes.

It’s not difficult to change money in Madagascar either at banks or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in Antananarivo only) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Madagascar is now becoming a relatively popular destination and it is easy to assume that with this comes a greater understanding among local service providers – hotels, restaurants etc – as to what tourists will require. This isn’t always the case, and deeply ingrained cultural norms often mean that things here just won’t be done the same way as they would be at home. This can mean meals arriving late, simple information not being given (because it just isn’t seen as important) or a host of other things. Your tour leader will of course do their best to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible, but do bear in mind that the polished experience of more established African destinations such as Kenya won’t always be found here.

You should also be aware that in the more remote destinations, some hotels will not have mains electricity and will rely on generators for electricity. Typically these operate at fixed times in the mornings and evenings and so in the middle of the day you may not have access to power.

In addition to this, Air Madagascar sometimes changes the schedule of its flights, often at short notice. Should this happen we will do our best to manage your itinerary as efficiently as possible, with minimal disruption, but please bear in mind that this is very much beyond our control and it is usually not possible to change hotel bookings close to departure, so this may result in minor changes to your trip.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any of the parts of Madagascar that we visit.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Madagascar in Depth
Madagascar in Depth
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
01 August 2020
Price (PP) -
£2,999
Single Supplement -
£540
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
03 October 2020
Price (PP) -
£2,999
Single Supplement -
£540
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
07 August 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,999
Single Supplement -
£540
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
02 October 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,999
Single Supplement -
£540
Trip Status -
Available