Madagascar is legendary for its unique flora and fauna. This huge island arguably offers visitors the most distinctive wildlife holidays on the planet.
Highlights of this itinerary
We arrive at the airport of Antanarivo around noon and head directly to our first destination, Mantadia, a four hour drive away. Our first sight of Madagascar gives us a good picture of what our trip will be made of. The people around are friendly, open hearted, always smiling and the country is unexpectedly green. The landscape is rich of many different cultures and activities: we drive passed old colonial type houses, African farmers carrying bananas and hills covered with rice paddies. There’s an interesting combination of culture and various heritages which gives Madagascar quite a unique atmosphere: it is the island where Asia meats Africa. The first to come on the island were the Indonesians, around 1500, which is why the people here have such slanting eyes. It’s also probably the reason why the staple food of the Malagasy is rice – they eat an average of 120 kg each every year. We could see narrow terraces ascending the sides of steep valleys being constructed for cultivating rice. Later on people came from Mozambique and settle on the coast, bringing their own habits and food, like cassava, corn and beans.
As we continue our ride to Mantadia we could see clothes on the grass everywhere and women doing their laundry on the riverside. It’s a Sunday ritual, our driver says. Most Malagasy citizens come down to the river every week with their bag of dirty laundry, snacks, drinks and it becomes a social gathering.
The further we drive away from the coast, the less busy it gets. There is a great feeling of remoteness as the landscape becomes more and more lush and green. Passing over another river near Andasibe National Park we stop, surprised to see men and women doing what seems to be gold panning. Our driver confirms to us that there is a lot of illegal gold hunting in Madagascar.
As soon as we enter the village we feel at ease in this place. The atmosphere is warm, with wooden houses built on stilted platforms - to not get flooded by rains during the monsoon - and smiling faces all around. When we finally arrive to our lodge night has fallen. We drive over a lake, reflecting the moon in the dark: it is cold and windy outside. But as soon as we step into Vakona Lodge we get a great homey feeling. After being brought to our room by a very welcoming staff and settling down, we go back to the restaurant and saloon and snuggle up next to the fireplace and listen to tales of Madagascar.
In the morning, after a very decent breakfast with fresh baguette, butter, jam and juice we leave for our first hike in Andasibe. It’s early and the hills are covered with mist. You can hear the indri calling already from miles away: they sound like a gang of howling dogs. Our guide explains to us that they do this to set the boundaries of their territory by calling for about 5 minutes every day.
We started our walk through the dense forest, guided by the calling of invisible Indies, high up in the trees. It felt very exciting; to know they were up there but to see them only at the last moment. But it’s really the cherry on the cake when you do. During out four hour hike we also saw three types of lemurs: the indri, the Diademed Sifaka and the black and white ruffed lemur.
After a long tiring –but very rewarding - walk we go for lunch at Andasibe hotel, a beautiful hotel that serves the most amazing food: try their goats cheese flavoured with foie gras and the filet de poisson a la senteur vanilla, they’re unforgettable!
In the evening we went around 6pm for a night walk organized by Vakona Lodge. Seeing night lemurs and geckos, thanks to Maurice a very well trained guide, was nice, but simply walking among the trees and smelling the forest at dusk is a gift in itself. After a very long day we come back to Vakona for dinner, glad to finally get some rest in such a nice atmosphere and sit to a very fine dinner.
We wake up and start the journey to Analamazoatra. The advantage of this park is that it is smaller and the hike is less heavy. You also get a much bigger chance to see the indri and other lemurs. The indri is one of the largest lemurs which means they can’t go so high up in the trees and are more easily spotted. After walking for only 10 minutes we got to see some Sifaka lemurs from very close, we could practically touch them. And it’s really a treat because they’re such cute animals. They jump from trunk to trunk in such a graceful way, it’s almost like they’re flying. You could sit there watching them for hours. We even got to see a Sportive, a nocturnal lemur that we probably woke up. Keep an eye open for the anthills on the tree trunks ! They make their nests high up, to not get flooded when the rains come.
The next day we left for Antananarivo and stopped by the Parc Exotique de Madagascar on the way. It isn’t an official zoo, it isn’t very elaborate but you can see butterflies, snakes, guekos and chameleons from real close and take them in your hands. Madagascar has a rich and diverse reptile fauna including several species of chelonians that are found nowhere else. They have quite a selection but 45 min should be enough to go around.
Arriving in Antananarivo we get stuck in a traffic jam so we decide to take the route through town. It was actually a good idea because we were able to have a quick tour: passing by the never ending market of town is an interesting experience. We stop just long enough to buy some small rice cakes: you really must try them before you leave! Shacks on the roads sell them - as well as Bagia and beignes.
We arrive at our hotel, Relais des plateau. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but wait till you see the rooms! It’s definitely nice to arrive after a four hour drive. We sit down to a gourmet diner then go to sleep.
In the morning we walk around town and go to the craft market. Everything is handmade and very cheap and nice. You can find everything from bags made in reed and banana leaf objects to carved wood, tin plates, toys made with recycled cans and crocodile belts, bags and wallets. After the market we fly to Mahajanga and start with a city tour. The main attraction is a big baobab tree said to be the largest in the world by the locals. We also visit the port, a nice place for an evening promenade. Mahajanga is quite a remote area that looks a little like Mombasa 20 years back. We have lunch in an authentic small restaurant: local food is quite good and you should try one of these small restaurants. We leave for Ankarafantsika, a two and a half hour drive away. We must say that drive wasn’t really a treat – the hole way through is like a desert, they’ve chopped down all the trees and burned the forests to have hears of zebus instead. It’s a very arid and desolated drive.
The park has its own bungalows, situated around a lake with a nice view, but we suggest you stay outside the park at Blue Vanga Lodge because the bungalows aren’t very nice. As soon as we arrive we go off for a nice one hour hike. Ankarafantsika is one of the largest and last remaining sections of dense dry deciduous forest in Madagascar. Most visitors come for the birds and the Coquerel'ssifaka. We come back for dinner, with surprisingly nice food and huge portions. But once diner was over there was not much to do and the common spaces weren’t very cozy. It’s not a place we recommend you spend a lot of time.
We wake up and go for our second hike straight after breakfast. The forest is one of the driest in the country but the hike is not so difficult because the terrain is not so steep. We walk all the way to the canyon, a strange place with a moony landscape, result of massive erosion, and then get driven to the restaurant to have lunch. We didn’t taste it but the one in town looked very decent.
In the afternoon we take a tour on the Ravelobe "sacred" lake, filled with crocodiles. The people of the area believe the crocodiles are their ancesters. The lake is a true paradise for birdwatchers, as there are fantastic bird watching opportunities. Amongst the birds which can be seen are the Madagascar fish eagle, Glossy ibis, Humblot's heron, African darter, Purple Heron, Madagascan jacana, Madagascar paradise-flycatcher and White-faced whistling duck.
After lunch we drove back to Mahakanga where we stayed in the Fishing Residence. Fishing Residence is two times less expensive then the nearby Karibu Hotel but also less luxurious. However the food is exquisite.
We started our day with a breakfast in Coco Lodge situated in the center of Mahajanga. Fresh baked bread with delicious croissants, coffee, orange juice, fresh fruits and yoghurt. Enough to last until lunch. After breakfast we visited the curio market where you can buy besides handbags and jewelry a lot of small things to decorate the house such as lamp shades, jewelry boxes, all kinds of bottles with sand designs, etc
After visiting the curio market we spend some more time by the beach before catching the flight back to the Antananarivo where we stayed again in Relais Des Plateaux.
After breakfast we had another visit to curio market in Antananarivo before going to the airport. The curio market in the capital is according to us the best as there is such a large variety of beautiful handbags, wallets, toys, decorations, place mates etc. 7 days is not enough to visit Madagascar, we will definitely coma back and visit the more of this amazing island.
Vakona Forest Lodge is situated at 1 hour drive from the entrance of Andasibe National Park. They own a 'Lemur Island' where you can feed the friendly creatures as they jump on your shoulders. The main building, overlooking a small lake, has a reception area, a gift shop, a lounge and a restaurant with log fire in the centre which is very nice in the cold season. The food is plentiful and good but nothing special. The 28 bungalows, scattered in a planted garden of palm trees and bougainvilleas are basic, clean and comfortable. They also have family rooms with a mezzanine sleeping area. The lodge disposes of a small swimming pool which is probably very welcome during the hot season. Activities include kayaking, squash, trekking, horse riding, swimming, bowls, table tennis and billiards and there is a playing field for children. We recommend Vakona Forest Lodge as one of the best lodges to stay while you stay in Andasibe.
Hotel Andasibe opened its doors about 2 years ago and offers 20 spacious and comfortable bungalows. The bungalows are all ensuite and have a TV with international channels. The superior bungalows even have their own outside Jacuzzi. The restaurant serves mouthwatering dishes including typical Malagasy flavours or Oriental cuisine. In the heat of the day you can relax by the swimming pool or do some kayaking on the river. Activities include: kayaking, massage, billiards, petanque, mini golf and playing field for the children. Hotel Andasibe is without a doubt the best hotel in the area but probably a bit less authentic.