This is an island of extremes. Extremes of nature, culture and landscape. A land that is harsh yet beautiful at the same time and where some of the craziest looking creatures are found.
Madagascar sits on the same tectonic plate as Africa and is considered part of the African continent, yet it has not been physically connected to Africa for over 153 million years, in fact it seems to have more in common with India and Indonesia. This is what made this trip so special!
During our 12 day trip to Madagascar, we focused on 3 of the rainforest reserves in the east then headed to the north west for a bit of beach time. We flew into Antananarivo, (Tana), Madagascar’s capital, and were immediately swamped with a million and one taxi drivers offering us a ride. The poverty in this country is rife and at times a hard sight to swallow. Fortunately we were met by our prearranged ground handler who gave us a great welcome and an introduction to what our itinerary would entail. This also included our very own driver for our 3-night trip to the rainforest reserves.
The road trip to Andisabe in the east takes around 3 hours and is the main route that connects Tana to the main port on the east coast. It is well paved but as explained to us, “its like a snake” and that it was! It was very twisty and quite hair raising at points as Madagascar does not have, or at least it doesn’t seem to have, any road rules. It was, however, great to do some traveling by road as it gave us the chance to experience the countryside and general Malagasy life. The sad thing that one does notice is how much of the natural vegetation has been destroyed to make way for paddy fields, housing and charcoal production.
Vakona lodge, just outside of Andisabe and our home for the next 3 nights, is perfectly nestled in between the 3 reserves we were going to explore. It was very clean and really all that you need as a base camp. Just be aware of the ‘little extras’ that can get added to your bill such as imported drinks. The food is very basic but you can generally find something to suit your taste.
The area is a nature lover’s paradise and the reason why we came to Madagascar. To hike through the reserves in search of Lemurs, Indris, Sifakas, chameleons, weevils, geckos and experience the myriad of wildlife that is to be found here. We started off on the first day by making our way to Mantadia National Park. Looking back, this was our favorite park. Not only was it quiet and wild but also it was also very difficult to access, as you needed a 4x4 to get you there, which also helps in keeping the crowds away. In our 7 hours of walking we only bumped into one other couple!
We set off on foot, surrounded by heavy mist. It felt like we were in another world. It didn’t take long to immediately hear the distinctive call of the indri, possibly one of nature’s most beautiful calls, sounding a bit like a mix between a whale and a wolf. It is a feeling that one cannot put into words. The best time to experience the sounds of the rainforest is just after sunrise, particularly if you are in search of the rare Indri.
Mantadia is what I would call a ‘wild’ park. Wild in the sense that the animals are not habituated so finding them is even more rewarding. On entering the park we were lucky enough to spot a couple of Bamboo lemurs, then it took some pretty good skills from our local guide to find a family group of Black & White Ruffed Lemurs, but sadly no Indris.
An animal that was on my wish list was a Giraffe-necked Weevil. It wasn’t the season for them and they are only found on one specific bush, so the odds were definitely against us. Our guide, however, proved to be well worth the money. He found us not just one, but two perfect weevils.
The next day we headed to the more popular Perinet Reserve. Here you meet the crowds. This reserve is just off the ‘main road’, therefore a lot easier to get to for the large buses. The trick is to get there early, which is exactly what we did. Our guide met us at the entrance and we set off in search of primarily Indri’s and Sifakas. We walked for about an hour enjoying the forest and the dawn chorus of some amazing birds before hearing the unmistakable call of the Indri. It still took us about 20 minutes to find them, eventually finding them at the top of the forest canopy. This is when you need the most important attribute to watching animals – patience! We let the hurried crowds come and go until we were the only ones left. Our guide also said that there is a good chance that they will come down lower, and that is exactly what happened. They came down to within 20 meters of us and we had the most amazing view of this spectacular animal. Later that day we were also fortunate to find some Diademed Sifaka’s, Brown Lemurs and more birds for my bird list.
The small and community run Mitsinjo Reserve was the last of the three reserves we visited. Our main guide could not join us, as he was not part of this community. Here we found the difference between a good guide and an average guide. With pure luck, we managed to find a Leaf-tailed Gecko, another hit on my wish list. My camera bag bumped into a tree that it was resting on and this slight disturbance caused it to move. Even after we had seen it, it was difficult to locate again once we took our eyes off it. This little guy must have thought the paparazzi had arrived and certainly made our trip. I don’t think we have ever taken so many photographs in such a short time span!
After two full days in the forests, we headed back to Tana for our flight up to Nosè Be (Big Island) on Madagascar’s north west coastline for a bit of beach time. Now don’t think that this is where the nature ends!
We spent 7 days on Nosè Sakatia, a small island just off Nosè Be. What was loved about this island was that the only way to get around it was on foot. The lodge is fairly basic yet charming and family run. Here we snorkeled, scuba dived and kayaked off what is reported to be the second best reef after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We also birded, looked for more lemurs, chameleons, tree boa’s and, well, just relaxed. One of the days we decided on a change of scenery and took a day trip out to a tiny island called Nosè Tanekeli, which has been declared a marine reserve. There were a huge variety of birds and chameleons on the island and the amazing snorkeling made us feel like we were in an aquarium. Two highlights whist staying on Nosè Sakatia was definitely snorkeling with the green sea turtles whilst they fed on the sea grass just off the reef and watching the flying foxes erupt out of the ‘Sacred Forest’ at sunset.
adagascar is truly a nature lovers' paradise and should definitely be on everyone's bucket list. Having so much to offer and being so welcoming to tourists, it's a place that I will be returning too.