MADAGASCAR - WHAT TO DO
WHAT TO SEE/DO
I'm certain that the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Madagascar is it's Lemurs. And rightly so as Madagascar has 103 types of lemurs. From the tiny egg-cup sized mouse lemur to the teddy bear-esque Indri, Madagascar offers something truly unique for the wildlife lover. Over 200,000 species call Madagascar home – many of them endemic. Besides Lemurs, around 240 of it’s reptiles, like the Malagasy Tree Boa, are found nowhere else on earth. Madagascar is also home to 70% of the worlds chameleon species and 150 species of frogs. The wonderful mix of tropical, temperate, and arid climates around the island, make it a ideal place for a wide range of species and unique experiences.
For those wishing to see the famous dancing lemurs head to the southern reserve of Berenty or the private reserve of Anjajavy. Nothing beats the lazy ring-tailed lemurs which can be caught sunbathing in the early morning sun. Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri's has a furry coat which gives it the appearance of a tree-dwelling teddy bear. The trails inside Andasibe-Mantadia National Park offer the best chances of spotting a pack bounding through the trees.
If you want to get up close and personal – the private reserve of Vakona Lodge offers a small island of tame lemurs happy to jump on your head for a treat.
In general, the best places to see lemurs in Madagascar are:
The best time to see lemurs in Madagascar is from June to December.
Kirindy Mitea National Park is the best place to see Madagascar’s elusive fossa, the country’s largest mammalian predator.
The silky sifika lemur, known as the “angel of the forest”, for its nearly all-white coat, is one of the rarest mammals on earth. It can be found in the spiny and dry deciduous forests in northwestern Madagascar.
A guided night walk will afford you the opportunity to see nocturnal lemurs and chameleons.
Nosy Iranja is the only Indian Ocean Island that is a nesting ground for Hawksbill and green turtle. Here you can witness them nesting and hatching.
SNORKELING & DIVING
Being largely undiscovered, the coral reefs around Madagascar have not yet suffered the destruction and degradation that has befallen so many other tropical island reefs. Madagascan reefs have a seemingly infinite array of colourful fish such as clown fish, angel fish, trigger fish, surgeon fish and grouper. A special highlight is seeing mantarays, turtles, and stingrays. It also happens to be one of the only places in the world where you can dive with whale sharks.
Madagascar offers some world-class diving and snorkeling, especially on the smaller islands off Nosy Be - Nosy Komba, Nosy Sakatia, Nosy Tanikely, as well as Ile Sainte Marie on the East Coast. Some of the best diving is north of Nosy Be on the Radama or Mitsio archipelagos. These can be accessed from Nosy Be, but ideally you would charter a yacht in order to spend some time close to the best dive sites. You may also see humpback whales from the dive boats.
This may be unexpected, but if you are someone who likes to experience nature on foot and not from the confines of a vehicle, Madagascar is a perfect destination. Madagascar's fabulous landscapes invite you to explore the country on foot, and the hiking possibilities are innumerable. The hikes range from easy 1-2 hour walks to multi-day treks through a breath taking mountain scenery.
Given it’s terrain, which is often steep and dissected by many streams and rivers, it’s often not practical to build roads, so many parks are explored by means of a network of trails. In fact many parks are only accessible by foot, such as Ankarana and Isalo and Masaola National Parks. Walking and hiking are also the best way to experience nature and get up close and personal with lemurs and other wildlife.
In the Southern Highlands, several villages offer home stays. Many of these are in prime walking country and your local hosts can take you on walks in the surrounding countryside. You can visit local artisans making rope, weaving, pottery-making and farming. There are also some stunning mountainous areas in here, that provide 2-3 days of great mountain hiking, while overnighting in modest accommodations.
Ideal spots for hiking:
Mantadia National Park (part of Andasibe)
Whilst Baobab trees can be found dotted all around this tropical island, the hotspot – and the ideal location for photographers – is the fascinating avenue of ancient baobab trees, near the fisherman’s town of Morondava, on the west coast of the country. It is a striking collection of about 20-25 baobabs that line a short stretch of road, and is one of the country’s most iconic sights. These trees are all that now remains of what must once have been a majestic forest of these primeval giants. Baobabs can grow up to 98 feet tall and 36 feet wide and can live up to one thousand years. Some of the might trees making up this famous avenue are believed to be up to 800 years old and several have a diameter of up to 20ft.
This striking landscape – straight out of a postcard - draws visitors from around the globe, making it one of the most visited places in the region. It has long been the focus of local conservation efforts and in July 2007, was granted temporary protected status - the first step toward making it Madagascar’s first natural monument.
The best time to visit the Avenue for photo’s is sunrise or sunset so you can take advantage of this spectacular setting in the “sweet” light. However, this is also the worst time for crowds.
Aside from being a tourist attraction, Baobab trees are a marvel of nature and are a useful water resource as rain is trapped in their huge trunks, forming pools that wildlife and humans alike, can drink from. They are also a source of medicinal remedies, provide edible young salad-like leaves, and fruits that contain a nutritious sour pulp used in various drinks and foods throughout Africa.
Birding in Madagascar is, quite simply, unique. It’s not so much the quantity (only around 300) of species that’s impressive, but the fact that some of the worlds most fascinating and endangered birds are endemic to this island, and found nowhere else on earth. This is what attracts bird watchers and makes Madagascar one of Africa’s top birding hotspots.
Madagascar holds more endemic genera (37) than any other African country. Astonishingly 120 species are endemic (including such exotic groups as vangas, ground rollers, cuckoo roller, couas, asities, and mesites), including 5 endemic families, and 1 endemic subfamily. Another 25 or so species belong to interesting genera unique to the Western Indian Ocean islands. Special mention must be made of the giant coua, crested coua and the velvet asity. The vangas and the mesites are among the most celebrated of the endemics, and the remarkable variation of climate and terrain has led to whole species of mesites each acclimatizing to different areas.
In order to see the bulk of Madagascar’s birds, birders need to spend time in at least one of the islands 3 main habitat zones, but preferably all of them:
• Andasibe-Mantadia and Ranomafana National Parks (eastern rainforest)
• The tropical dry deciduous woods of the west coast
• Dry southern spiny bush forest around Mandrare, Berenty and Ifaty
Each of these habitats holds its own complement of endemics. In addition, a select group of rely on the island's dwindling wetlands, so be sure to include certain more accessible marshes, lakes and estuaries in your itinerary. Most birders also visit the transition forest of Zombitse National Park.
Birders tend to visit spring and early summer, from the very end of August to December. In the winter months many sought-after endemics are extremely furtive. Also, in winter some of the more spectacular endemics will not display their impressive breeding plumage.
Whale watching in Madagascar is some of the best in the world. Every year between June and November, more than 7,000 humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the sheltered waters of Madagascar. From June to the end of September, in the sea around Ile Sainte Marie, large groups of humpback whales congregate in one of the worlds most fascinating spectacles. They populate the warm waters between Baie d’Antongil and the channel separating Ile Sainte Marie from the mainland, to calve, nurse their young and engage in their amazing courtship rituals.
Even though humpbacks are up to 15m in length and weigh 30 to 45 tons, they comfortably breach the water, so are easily seen from the shore. The best way to see them, however, is out on the water with a marine specialist.
Nosy Be is less well known for whales, but they are often seen from dive boats or when visiting Nosy Tanikely.
One thing you should do during your stay is to spend a morning assisting the MEGAPETRA whale research team, with collecting data on the migration patterns of these majestic giants.
Ideal spots to see humpback whales:
Ile Sainte Marie
Antananarivo, formerly French Tananarive, is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. The Malagasy capital is one of the most vibrant cities in all of Africa, and visitors will enjoy rich historical, architectural and cultural sites all over the hillside city with palaces and churches along cobbled streets. The city is divided into 3 levels: the downtown (ancient swamp), the intermediate level (known as “Plateau du Colbert” and located in the middle of the cliffs, and the old city in upper town (“La Haute Ville”), where Palaces (Queen’s palace, ancient Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony palace, ancient Justice palace), cathedrals and the residential area of ancient noblemen families are located.
With 3,100 miles of coastline, Madagascar boast more coastline than any other African nation. With that coastline comes some truly jaw-dropping beaches. Lazing on the idyllically unspoiled beaches of its remote northern islands is a perfect way to end a active holiday. These volcanic and coral islands are truly spectacular.
Here is a helpful guide to finding the best beaches in Madagascar
As its name suggests Nosy be (“big island”) is one of the larger islands off the Madagascar coast and is possibly its most famous and popular tourist destination. With a sunny climate year-round, this island is the ideal location to enjoy a wide range of water-based activities including, snorkeling, diving and whale shark watching. Deep sea-fishing, jet-skiing, windsurfing, water-skiing, and horse-riding are also available.
Thanks to the island’s wide variety of spices, it is often referred to as Nosy Manitra, or the ‘scented island’ in English.
Nosy Be offers a variety of accommodation options and a variety of yacht charters are available in the area, to take you diving or snorkelling off the nearby islands. Turtles and dolphins can be seen year-round and humpback wales visit annually between mid-August and October.
This tiny, long, thin island, also known as Nosy Boraha, lies off the North East coast of Madagascar. Beaches on the island are idyllic and come complete with coconut palms, white sand, turquoise waters and mysterious coves, protected by vibrant coral reefs and lush vegetation. Its best known beach is called Baie del Forbans (Pirates’ Bay) and piracy thrived here in past centuries. Visit the islands “Pirate Cemetery”, where gravestones date back to the 1830’s, and are adorned with the classic skull-and-crossbones.
Ile Sainte Marie is popular with snorkelers and divers as the island lagoon is incredibly rich in underwater fauna, and protected from large predators such as sharks.
If you are more interested in seeing cetaceans, then Nosy Boraha may be the ideal beach location to extend your vacation. During the winter months from June until September, the seas around Nosy Boraha provide a haven to humpback whales. The sheltered geography of the islands provides a perfect location for migrating whales to breed, raise their young and take part in fascinating courtship rituals.
Ile aux Nattes
Ile aux Nattes (pronounced “eal oh nut”) or Nosy Nato, as it’s sometimes called, is a small 1 mile wide island at the southern end of Sante Marie. This Car- and road-free island is more peaceful than its big sister island and if you’re looking for a typical tropical paradise, this is it! There are great restaurants on the island and you can also experience authentic village life inland at Aniribe.
The island offers a wide range of activities including whale watching, fishing and snorkeling and even glass bottom boat tours.
Manafiafy is one of the smaller, lesser known beaches of Madagascar, situated on the South East coast of the island in a stunning, sheltered, forest-fringed bay, that not many tourists visit. It’s off-the-beaten-path location is ideal for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of a typical holiday resort. There’s only one small hotel in the area, the Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge. Here you can unwind in the relaxed atmosphere and enjoy a wide range of beach activities including whale watching, snorkelling and kayaking.
Roughly 15 miles from Nosy Be, Tsarabanjina is one of the smallest , but also one of the most scenic islands in the Indian Ocean. Surrounded by crystal clear water, and only accessible via boat, the island has just one lodge which is the epitome of barefoot luxury.
Situated at the edge of a National Park of the same name, Anjajavy beach is characterized by 1200 feet of white sand. The beach is surrounded by some of the most spectacular coral reefs in Madagascar, which offer superb snorkeling. For those that are fearful of swimming in the ocean, the beach lodge has a stunning infinity pool.
Nosy Komba is a small island nestled between Nosy Be and mainland Madagascar. This oval-shaped volcanic has several stunning white sand beaches and lodges. If you have a sense of adventure, this is the ideal island for you! It has many uninhabited coves to explore as well as trails leading to the islands hilly and lush rainforest covered interior. It is known for its population of black lemurs and is also home to the Macacoa lemur and an abundance of birds, chamealeons and tropical flowers.
Snorkelling, scuba diving and boating excursions offer encounters with turtles, dolphins and hump-back whales (July-November).
On the South West coast of Madagascar lies the small fishing town of Anakao, with a beach lined by colorful boats slowing bobbing the a turquoise sea. This off-the-beaten-track beach has white sand and a near perfect half-moon bay. If you time your trip right you’ll also be afforded some fantastic whale watching opportunities from mid-June to September. Resorts in the area offer a wide range of activities such as surfing, kite-surfing and jet-skiing. This spot is also perfect for diving and snorkelling or taking to the waters on a vessel for an exciting mangrove trip.
Nosy Iranja, is made up of two small islands connected by a mile-long stretch of white sand, that is only visible at low tide. It is known by the locals as the island of turtles, and is the only Indian Ocean Island that is a nesting ground for two of the eight turtle species found in our oceans, the hawksbill and green turtle. You can watch them nest and hatch here.
The Northern Island has a quaint light house designed by French architect Gustave Eiffel (of Paris’ Eiffel tower fame) and climbing to the top affords great views of the stunning island.
The Mitsio Islands are known as "the Maldives of Madagascar, thanks to their white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, abundant marine wildlife and world-class diving. Some islets are lush with vegetation, others are cloaked in dramatic cliff-sides and home to exotic nesting seabirds. One of the islands, Nosy Tsarabanjina(‘good-looking’) is made up of red, grey and black volcanic rocks with lush green vegetation clinging to them, including baobabs and pachypodium.
The islands are only accessible by boat from Nosy Be, at the northwestern tip of Madagascar.