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Madagascar

Reef & Rainforest is the UK's longest-established specialist for Madagascar, having operated there since 1992

Tailor-Made Holidays
To Madagascar

Reef & Rainforest is the United Kingdom’s longest-established and most experienced specialist tour operator for Madagascar. It takes a long time to truly know the island, which is bigger than France with many hidden attractions, and our knowledge leads to superlative tailor-made and group tours there.

Our director, Alan Godwin, first went to Madagascar in 1992 when it was still a rigid communist dictatorship with few visitors, awful roads and hotels, abject poverty and clapped-out Citroen 2CVs literally held together with rubber bands. He clearly saw the potential, however, and persevered: now Madagascar has improved infrastructure and a good range of high quality accommodation. And of course, its unique wildlife is as wonderful as ever.

Back then our groups were led by Hilary Bradt (Bradt Travel Guides’ founder and author of the first ever travel guide to Madagascar) but our clients endured poor accommodation and infrastructure – the wildlife made up for it, though. Things have since improved considerably: many good hotels, lodges and resorts have opened; the roads and vehicles are far better; the parks have upgraded their accommodation; the guiding has become much better; and the food is even more delicious.

Wildlife tourism has emerged as a major source of foreign income for Madagascar. By visiting Madagascar, you contribute directly to the conservation of its precious remaining forests with their unique wildlife, and the welfare of its people who are among the poorest (yet friendliest) in the world. Your presence facilitates the hiring of park rangers who guard the precious reserves from illegal logging, slash-and-burn farmers and bush-meat hunters. Fees paid to local guides and hotel staff salaries percolate down through the poor communities near the parks. Isolated lodges such as Anjajavy and Eden Lodge fund local schools and clinics. It all adds up.

Wildlife-wise, our clients are regularly seeing such rarities as wild ring-tail lemur, various sifakas, predatory fossa, giraffe-necked weevil, helmet vanga, flatid leaf bug, and perhaps the oddest of all Madagascar’s mammals, the nocturnal aye-aye. Added to that are the three main habitats: wet rainforest, dry tropical deciduous forest and the unique spiny forest, found only in Madagascar’s far southwest. Our expert English-speaking guides are all tried, tested and trusted to deliver to you a marvellously memorable journey to the Big Red Island.

Come with us to Madagascar and you will see in the best possible way what makes the Big Red Island so special.

An image caption based on something written in the destination intro. E.g. wonderful shot of an inquisitive young Gorilla in Nyungwe park

Photography by Reef & Rainforest

Best Time To Visit Madagascar

Travel between the end of April and end of November is preferable to avoid the wet season, with April/May and October/November being best for animal activity. Notwithstanding some geographical variations, June to September normally offers dry, cooler weather. From September to November, many bird species are displaying, nesting and in breeding plumage, and baby lemurs can be seen clinging to their mothers. Try to avoid late December to early April – wet season.

Madagascar Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

11 Hours

Time Zone

GMT +2

Language

Malagasy & French

Population

22.92 Million

Highlights

What To See

Analamazaotra-Mantadia

A popular rainforest region reached by an easy drive from the capital, it consists of two protected tracts of adjacent montane rainforest: Analamazaotra Special Reserve (usually known as Périnet and situated near the village of Andasibe) and Mantadia National Park. Perinet offers the best chance to view the largest lemur, the indri, which has a haunting call audible over long distances. Also, bamboo and brown lemurs, enigmatic insects such as the giraffe-necked weevil, giant millipedes and colourful birds such as vangas and couas can be seen on guided walks through the eastern rainforest. Goodman’s mouse lemur, greater dwarf lemur and woolly lemur are some of the reserve’s nocturnal species. It is particularly rich in herpetofauna, with more than 100 species of frog, leaf-tailed geckos and various chameleons.

Nearby Mantadia National Park boasts the agile diademed sifaka with its luxuriant orange, black and white fur, and the rare black and white ruffed lemur, shy and fast moving. Rare birds include mesites, ground rollers, greenbuls, asitys and more. The trails are steeper and more slippery in wet weather than at Perinet. Other nearby, lesser-known reserves provide further opportunities for wildlife viewing.

Farankaraina Forestry Station

Reached by boat via a branch of the Antainambalana River and a moderate trek from the town of Maroantsetra, this is a relatively unexplored area that perhaps offers the best chance in all of Madagascar to see the strange nocturnal lemur, the aye- aye. Other rainforest wildlife is abundant too and includes other nocturnal wildlife such as the Masoala woolly and sportive lemurs, greater dwarf lemur, mouse lemurs, lowland streaked tenrec, leaf-tailed geckos, tree boas and many endemic frogs. Dirunal species include the white-fronted brown and northern bamboo lemurs, ring-tailed mongoose and birds such as the blue and red breasted couas. The spectacular red-ruffed lemur is also due to be reintroduced back to this reserve in late 2016.

Ambola

Remote and little visited, this is about as isolated as you can get. A beautiful deserted beach and small fringing reef, with nothing but passing fishing pirogues to break the isolation, this is the place for those who want to get completely off the beaten track and a good base from which to visit Tsimanampetsotsa National Park.

Nosy Ve

Nosy Ve is an uninhabited coral island three kilometres off Anakao in the far southwest with deserted white-sand beaches and low greenery with little shade. Local fady (taboos) have left Nosy Ve unspoilt and provided a safe nesting ground for many red-tailed tropicbirds which allow close approach.

Mediocre snorkelling is available on the fringing reef but is much better at Nosy Satrana, 7km south of Anakao and also possible to visit on a day excursion from Anakao.

Ile Sainte Marie

Sixty kilometres long and only seven wide, this pretty island off the east coast of Madagascar is best known for humpback whale-watching between July and September. The whales come to the sheltered waters between the island and the mainland to engage in courtship and give birth to their young.

Ste Marie is also noted for its diversity of orchid species, including the stunning Queen of Madagascar orchid endemic to little Ile Aux Nattes just off its southern tip.

Steeped in history, the island is a former hideout for pirates in the 17th century. Remains of pirate ships lie offshore providing rewarding sites for scuba diving, and it is possible to visit the pirates’ cemetery where the once-dreaded skull and crossbones is in evidence on some tombstones.

Nosy Be

Nosy Be, a large volcanic island eight kilometres off the north coast, is the country’s most popular location for visitors, who come seeking beach relaxation and to explore the surrounding smaller islands such as Nosy Komba, Nosy Sakatia and Nosy Tanikely. It is intensively cultivated with plantations of coffee, cinnamon, cocoa, ylang ylang and vanilla, leading to its unofficial name, the Perfumed Isle. Stunning viewpoints can be accessed overlooking eleven crater lakes, the jagged coast, and the sea towards the Radama Islands to the south and Mitsio archipelago to the north.

Certain areas are lively with bars and restaurants, while at others it is possible to find privacy in secluded coves lined with palm trees. Nosy Be supports some remarkable fauna, including a miniature frog which grows to around 1cm long and the world’s smallest chameleon, roughly the length of a fingernail. Black lemurs can be found in Lokobe Reserve, a patch of protected rainforest in the southeast of the island.

Nosy Komba

Nosy Komba (Lemur Island) is a small rainforest-covered volcanic island located between mainland Madagascar at Ankify and the ‘big island’ of Nosy Be. It offers far more peace and solitude than Nosy Be, with quiet white-sand beaches and no roads. There are various hiking trails on the island where wild lemurs and other wildlife may be encountered, including a hike to the island’s peak at 622m for some lovely views.

Dolphins and whales (July-September) may be seen offshore, and various sites for snorkelling/diving can be accessed from Nosy Komba. There are traditional fishing villages on the island which may be visited by boat. A very popular day trip which brings tourists en masse from Nosy Be is to the village of Ampangorina with its lemur reserve and handicraft market with woodcarvings, embroidered tablecloths, colourful bags, lambas etc.

The black lemurs at the reserve are very habituated and the experience is not the best from a welfare point of view, but the revenue generated helps support the local people and thereby protects the forest and the lemurs of the island in general.

Anjajavy

An exceptional location for wildlife viewing and coastal relaxation, the Anjajavy peninsula in the north-west of Madagascar has thousands of acres of dry deciduous forest in which at least two species of baobab can be found as well as Coquerel’s sifaka, aye-aye, common brown lemur, Milne Edwards sportive lemur, pale fork-marked lemur, tenrecs, chameleons and fossa.

Tsingy caves harbour various bat species, and the abundant bird life includes Madagascar harrier hawk, white headed vanga, crested drongo and breeding pairs of the critically endangered Madagascar fish eagle.

Humpback whales visit the coast from mid-June to mid-November and evening visits to the mangrove forests will reveal flying foxes leaving their roosts in great numbers.

As there is only one small lodge there, visitor numbers are very low, giving a very exclusive feel.

Mitsio Archipelago

Uninhabited except by a few small fishing hamlets and one tourist resort, Mitsio is a collection of small islands 40 nautical miles north east of Nosy Be affording excellent diving and snorkelling on vibrant fringing coral reefs. Each island has a unique character; eg La Grande Mitsio is known for its huge basalt columns (the Organ Pipes).

A climb up the highest hill on Nosy Ankarea (219m), passing many interesting succulents en route, reveals spectacular views over the entire archipelago. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit Les Quatre Frères (the Four Brothers), islands of silver basalt containing huge caves with impressive overhangs and nesting seabirds such as northern gannets, white-tailed tropicbirds, and frigatebirds.

Zombitse Vohibasia National Park

Normally included as a short stop between Isalo and Tulear, the rare forests of Zombitse Vohibasia is in a transition zone between dry deciduous and spiny forest habitats.

Birders will be interested to learn it protects 47% of Madagascar’s endemic birds and appreciate seeing Appert’s greenbul (found nowhere else), giant, Coquerel’s and olive-capped couas, as well as various vanga species.

The eight species of lemur living there include the popular Verreaux’s sifaka.

Isalo National Park

Famed for its stunningly eroded, Jurassic sandstone runiforme scenery, strange plants, canyon-dwelling lemurs and pandanus, the Isalo massif rises majestically from the flat Horombe plateau. The park offers wonderful hiking through impressive gorges, canyons and forested areas of fire-resistant tapia on which the endemic Malagasy silk worm feeds (harvested for centuries to weave expensive burial shrouds). Natural oases and waterfalls are encountered for refreshing swims in stunning surroundings. Unique flora abounds, such as the ‘elephant’s foot’ or Pachypodium rosulatum , the Isalo aloe and the locally endemic feather palm.

Three species of diurnal lemur (including ring-tailed and Verreaux’s sifaka), Oustalet’s chameleon, spiny tailed Oplurus lizards and the multicoloured rainbow burrowing frog can all be seen here. Birds include the endemic Benson’s rock-thrush and the Madagascar kestrel.

Anja Park

A project initiated in 1999, Anja Park is a small (8ha) community-managed reserve 15km south of Ambalavao, visited on a 1-2 hour walk to see habituated lemurs including plenty of ring tailed lemurs (you may even get the ‘lemur on the shoulder’ experience). The surroundings are beautiful with impressive rock formations and interesting arid-adapted flora. It is a sacred area for the Betsileo people whose caves and tombs can be found high up in the cliffs.

For the energetic and nimble, a climb up the rocks yields superb views over the landscape. As much as this is not the most natural experience, it offers great photographic opportunities, your entrance fee and tips help the local community and the lemurs tend to be healthier than, for example, at Berenty.

Andringitra National Park

A spectacular and biodiverse reserve with an altitude range of 500 to 2,658 metres and mountainous outcrops of ancient Precambrian granite, waterfalls, lakes and unusual vegetation. Pic Boby, Madagascar’s second highest mountain, is a tough climb but there are other less challenging trails through some magnificent scenery and habitats, including lowland forest, high humid tropical forest, sclerophyll and bamboo forest, bush and heathland.

It has much endemic flora and over 100 species of birds, as well as over 50 mammal species including mountain-adapted ring tailed lemurs with thick coats. The climate ranges from humid tropical in the lowland rainforests to below freezing at altitude – indeed, it is the only place in Madagascar where snow has been recorded.

Kirindy Reserve

Kirindy (once known as the Swiss Forest) is a private dry deciduous forest reserve claimed to have the greatest density of primates in the world, with eight species of lemur including Verreaux’s sifaka and the world’s smallest primate, the pygmy mouse lemur, and 23 species of other mammals including fosa, the lemurs’ main predator, often seen near the accommodation area – a rare experience.

Madagascar’s largest rodent, the giant jumping rat (vositse) is only found here, mainly in the wetter months. There are many endangered birds, plentiful reptiles and amphibians including the strange spear-nosed snake, and around 90 species of butterfly. En route to Kirindy is the iconic Avenue des Baobabs featuring many examples of the giant baobab, Adansonia grandidieri, and two more species of the ‘upside down tree’ can be found in the region.

Nearby Bedo Lake holds 35 species of water bird including the endangered Madagascar teal, Madagascar plover, Madagascar heron, and migratory greater and lesser flamingos, as well as big-headed turtle.

Kirindy is accessed through Morondava and combines well with the Tsingy of Bemeraha. Charter flights are available from Bemaraha direct to Tana.

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

A World Heritage Site only accessible to the public since 1998, this tsingy offers an other-worldly experience. Visitors are surrounded by tall limestone pinnacles, some over 45m (150 feet) high, and can enter (sometimes via ropes) sunken dry deciduous forest harbouring unusual flora and fauna. Plants such as aloe, pachypodium and delonix cling to the jagged rocks.

There is 86% general endemism in the park – a remarkable tally. Eleven species of lemur exist amidst the sunken forests and dense dry forests, including the endemic Randrianasolo sportive lemur and the white Decken’s sifaka which can occassionally be seen leaping between the tsingy piannacles.

Excursions may involve walking, scrambling, climbing and caving over and under some wonderfully dramatic landscape. Peaceful exploration of the nearby Manambolo River gorges is possible by pirogue.

Sixteen species of bat live in the area, and bird life on the river is plentiful, with 103 species including three couas and the Madagascar fish eagle. As well as being a place of strong fady (taboo), the locals believe the prehistoric inhabitants of Madagascar, known as Vazimba, inhabited the region. A tomb with apparent Vazimba skeletons can be seen high up the sides of the gorge.

Bemaraha is accessed through Morondava and combines well with the iconic Avenue des Baobabs and Kirindy forest. Charter flights are available to take you direct from Bemaraha to Tana.

Ankarana National Park

A massif of sharply-eroded karst limestone pinnacles (called tsingy locally) with sunken patches of dry deciduous forest containing a high density of primates, Ankarana National Park boasts beautiful lakes, underground rivers, sinkholes (cenotes) and caves with evidence of ancient civilisations, and the world’s only cave-dwelling crocodiles.

Ankarana, accessed through Diego Suarez (Antsiranana), combines well with Montagne d’Ambre and Eden Lodge or Nosy Be. It is a park for the adventurous who are happy to accept camping or simple rustic accommodation and enjoy hiking through varied scenery encountering wildlife like crowned lemur, Sanford’s brown lemur, northern sportive lemur, big headed gecko and two species of leaf tailed gecko. At least 14 species of bat roost within Ankarana’s caves and forests including some enormous colonies of straw-coloured fruit bats. Access can be difficult in wetter months, although wildlife viewing can be rewarding at such times.

Ankaranantsika National Park

Ankarafantsika, commonly known as Ampijoroa, is a prime tract of tropical dry deciduous forest combined with a lake harbouring Nile crocodiles, and highly endangered Madagascar fish eagles. The reserve contains many other rare, endemic birds including Van Dam’s vanga, sickle-billed vanga, white-breasted mesite, Schlegel’s asity and red-capped coua.

Reptiles are plentiful in the dry forest including the impressive Madagascar ground boa, hog-nosed snake, rhinoceros chameleon, iguanids, fish-scaled gecko and the spear-nosed snake. Seven species of lemur inhabit the area which can be easily seen and include the stunningly beautiful Coquerel’s sifaka and rare localised golden-brown mouse lemur. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s exemplary Angonoka Project is also located here, protecting the ploughshare tortoise, rarest in the world. Since the reserve accommodation deteriorated it is preferable to stay in a small lodge outside the reserve and visit daily.

Ifaty

North of Tulear on an Indian Ocean beach, Ifaty enables visits to both spiny forest and offshore reefs. The spiny forest is a bizarre tangled mix of drought-resistant plants with extravagant adaptations to their environment such as baobabs and didieracae (known as octopus trees).

This is a good location for locally endemic birds including nightjar, long-tailed ground roller and sub desert mesite. Reptiles include three-eyed lizards, spiny tailed iguanas and day geckos.

In recent years the spiny forest has been cut heavily and the beach has seen more hotels. In our opinion it is preferable to visit Anakao, to the south of Tulear instead.

Berenty Reserve

Berenty is a long-established private reserve set amidst sisal plantations, with habituated ring-tailed lemurs, ‘dancing’ Verreaux’s sifakas and beguiling brown lemurs seen from wide, easy trails in the gallery (riverine) forest and patches of spiny forest near the reserve’s lodge.

Sightings of lemurs are guaranteed, giving ample scope for good photographs. Fruit bats nest in the area and bird life is exceptional with over 100 recorded species. A night walk in the eerie spiny forest should reveal mouse lemur, sportive lemur, chameleons and owls.

A must in the early days of tourism in Madagascar, Berenty is less appealing nowadays in the light of better lodges having sprung up in the vicinity. However, it suits photographers and families very well and those who have mobility problems.

Tsimanampetsotsa National Park

A RAMSAR site, it is the newest designated National Park in Madagascar and one of its most unusual reserves. It comprises a milky blue 15-km long saline lake populated by pink and dwarf flamingos and other wading birds, with an adjacent limestone escarpment covered in rare pachypodium-dominated spiny forest displaying extreme adaptation to the arid environment.

Oddities include 2000 year-old, squat baobabs and a ficus tree grove with roots extending into a sinkhole river system, used by ring tailed lemurs to access drinking water. With 90 per cent of all resident species endemic to the park, it has the highest endemicity of any reserve on the island.

One species of fish is found here in the limestone cave river system which runs under the desert and spiny bush. It is a small, pink-white blind cave fish which feeds on plankton, crustaceans, and insects. There are rare avian endemics, three species of lemur including the ring-tailed (much more wild than those at Berenty), the rare radiated tortoise and the recently discovered, locally endemic Grandidier’s mongoose, first described in 1986.

An expedition to Tsimanampetsotsa can involve hot and bumpy travel and a bone-shaking ride by zebu cart. However, it is a rewarding and unforgettable experience, easily combined with a comfortable beach hotel at Ambola or Anakao.

Kaleta-Amboasary-Sud

Another area to see the remarkable spiny forest. Also offers great birding, as well as interesting reptiles and invertebrates.

Mandrare River

The Ifotaka and Mandrare River region (near Fort Dauphin and Berenty) is an area of dry spiny forest and riverine or gallery forest with ninety-five per cent endemicity, home to the proud Antandroy tribe with its fiercely held traditions and a fascinating culture.

The forest is sacred to the Antandroy and much hunting is fady (taboo), allowing lemur species such as ring tailed and Verreaux’s sifaka to thrive along with many birds and reptiles.

Guests at the only lodge in the area, Mandrare River Camp, can gain an insight into the delicate balance between human and environmental requirements for sustainability on day and night walks, as well as by meeting local people.

Andohahela National Park

Lying between Fort Dauphin and Berenty, it protects a surprising range of habitats for its 760 sq kms. Rainfall patterns over the Anosy mountain range have led to eastern humid rainforest at one extreme, and lower rainfall in another section has given rise to dry spiny forest at the other.

The area in between is the unique transitional Ranopiso forest habitat, characterised by the locally endemic triangular palm. A wide variety of fauna exists in the park, including 129 species of birds such as red-tailed newtonia and running coua, twelve species of lemur including ring tailed, fosa, fanalouc and striped civet – all live in the reserve, where camping is currently the only accommodation.

Nosy Mangabe

Rising to 1000 feet off the luxuriant Masoala peninsula, the island is home to the shy aye-aye – subject of one of the Durrell Wildlife’s captive breeding projects – four further lemur species, reptiles such as leaf-tailed gecko and the rare tree boa, and two species of tenrec.

Hikes can be taken around the island’s coastal trail and up to the lighthouse for wide views of the mainland. Going uphill can be challenging as the paths can be steep and slippery, but there are easy level shoreline walks to enjoy.

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Madagascar: -18.766947, 46.869107

Your Very Own

Madagascar Specialist

Ian Loyd

Area Specialist

There is one main bugbear when travelling to Madagascar – Air Madagascar. It frequently changes its domestic flight schedules in a seemingly random way, playing havoc with painstakingly designed itineraries. The good news is that we are so experienced in sorting out the ensuing problems that most tours still run smoothly : if not quite the same, then as near as possible to the original. It takes years to “know” Madagascar, and you can be 100% sure that we do.

If you have any questions regarding travel to Madagascar, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965