Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world and extremely diverse in landscapes and people. Because it was separated from the African continent by tectonic activity millions of years ago, much of its flora and fauna – for example the lemurs – can only be found here. Due to limited infrastructure and most probably the world's worst roads, it is difficult to get around. There is no coastal road surrounding the whole island, so you might have to get back to the centrally-located capital Antananarivo before heading for another part of the island. Camping is allowed in many places of interest and many hostels offer spots to pitch up your tent in their backyard. Spend at least six weeks on the island to experience a bit of everything. I have travelled Madagascar for five weeks and focused on the western and eastern part.
Tip: Keep in mind that many places of interest can't be reached during the wet season between November and April!
• Cruising a river in a traditional pirogue (canoe):
Descending one of the lazy western rivers by boat offers an excellent way to access remote areas of Madagascar. Trips take around 3-5 days. See the framed text below to find out why I prefered Manambolo River over Tsiribihina River, when to go and how to organize a trip.
• Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park: These incredible limestone formations are well worth a visit from the gateway town of Bekopaka. Many routes with different levels of difficulty lead through the park of which the Andamozavaky circuit in the Grand Tsingy is the most adventurous.
• Kirindy Reserve: This dry forest area offers great wildlife viewing options (especially lemurs and fossa). Make sure to go on a night walk accompanied by a guide for an exceptional wildlife experience. Stay in a dorm room provided by the Kirindy Reserve itself.
• Avenue des Baobabs: This dirt road, surrounded by mighty Grandidier's baobab trees, is the most photographed place in Madagascar and definitely a must-see. It can easily be reached from the town of Morondava (20kms) and is often combined with a visit to Tsingy and Kirindy.
Tip: The typical postcard picture is taken from the end where the car park and souvenir shops are. The best light is just before sunset. Sunrise is almost as good but attracts much less tourists!
• Maroantsetra and its rainforests: Maroantsetra is a beautiful authentic town and the gateway to some of Madagascar's most impressive protected areas of rainforest. The reason why there are still no tourist masses around is simple: To get here you should definitely consider to take a domestic flight because the (only) road from Toamasina is in disastrous condition wherefore it takes 3-4 days by car (one way!) if you are lucky! A ferry which links Soanierana Ivongo, Ile Sainte Marie and Maroantsetra might be an option but it also takes its time and the schedule often changes due to unpredictable weather conditions. Once you got to Maroantsetra it's beautiful and easy to spend two weeks or more exploring the forests and wildlife of Masoala National Park, Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve and Makira Natural Park as well as typical village life.
To visit these protected places, you need a guide which can be hired at the National Park Offices at the south-eastern end of town. Figure out what exactly you want to do and ask for camping options and other possibilities to keep the costs low. Your guide will help you out! Especially if you are looking for a German-speaking guide I can recommend Ursula who is a certified, very knowledgeable and friendly local (ka.ursula[ät]yahoo.fr).
Tip 1: I suggest to spend at least two whole days (one night camping) on Nosy Mangabe to explore all trails and the beauty of this little pearl in the Antongil Bay.
Tip 2: If you would like to spot lemurs Makira Natural Park might be worth a visit as it is home to 13 different species including the biggest one, the so-called Indri. But if lemurs are the main reason for your rainforest visit and you are fine to be amongst other tourist groups then the national parks of Andasibe or Ranomafana might be a smarter option. They are much easier to reach which can save you a lot of time and effort!
• Ile Sainte Marie: This beautiful tropical island with endless deserted beaches overhung by palm trees is less developed and cheaper to visit than its relaxing rival Nosy Be in the north of Madagascar. Furthermore, it’s the best place in Madagascar for whale watching (humpbacks between July and October).
Tip 1: Rent a quad or motorbike to explore the island.
Tip 2: Make sure to also stay at Ile aux Nattes in the very south. Walk up to the highest point of this little island and buy a beer there while enjoying great views.
• Ankarana National Park: This beautiful lime-stone massif offers good trekking and wildlife spotting (including lemurs).
• Nosy Be and nearby islands: This well-developed tourist area is more expensive than the rest of the country but offers great beaches, diving (especially Radama and Mitsio Archipelagos) and boat trips. Nosy Be is best to be reached by air from Antananarivo as a taxi brousse takes 18 hours plus a ferry ride to get there.
• Isalo National Park: Madagascar's most popular national park consists of sandstone rocks cut by deep canyons. It offers good trekking and wildlife spotting (including lemurs) as well as rare endemic plants.
• Toliara area:
There is a lot to see and do e.g. sand dunes, beaches, mangroves, caves, diving, sailing and fishing.
24.08.2019 - Chris
To guarantee a safe and enjoyable journey with experienced guides and boatmen, you should book all river trips through a reliable tour operator. Trips usually don't come cheap as they include transport to the starting point, guide, boatmen, food, drinks and accommodation for everyone e.g. which also means quite a logistical challenge. To keep costs at a minimum and for the most authentic experience, choose to go in a traditional wooden canoe (without a roof) – a so-called pirogue – and camp along the sandy river banks. Send your requests (which can also include several activities before, during or after the cruise) to different tour operators, such as Remote River Expeditions, and compare their offers and prices. Often you already see in the way they respond whether they try to fulfil your personal demands or just sell their standard programs.
Tsiribihina River Trips starting in the town of Miandrivazo are the most popular and therefore can easily be arranged as you arrive here. Boats on this river are the most comfortable with even sun loungers on the upper deck. During the day it is common to see other tourist boats and the campsites along the river can get quite busy at night.
Manambolo River, which you enter at the town of Ankavandra, is smaller, much less travelled, leads through beautiful landscape and therefore is my favourite. Make sure to stop at the natural swimming pools before entering the stunning gorge of Manambolo on the final day! They are amazing! Best months to cruise the Manambolo are during the dry season from April to October. In September and October the water level can be very low which means you will have to leave the pirogue from time to time and wade through ankle-deep water.
24.08.2019 - Chris
For extensive impressions of Madagascar's diversity and to avoid domestic flights I would recommend to take the following route which is also shown in the map below. Representing a big loop it starts and ends in Antananarivo and connects a lot of beautiful and very unique places along the way. A big advantage is that you are very flexible during your trip as you can always skip a point of the itinerary if you are short on time.
Time: six to eight weeks between April and October.
location / area
activities / special features
2. Manambolo or Tsiribihina River
River trip, landscape, village life
3. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
Limestone rock formations
4. Kirindy Reserve
Dry forest, wildlife, lemurs
5. Avenue des Baobabs
Most popular photo motif of Madagascar
6. Morondava to Toliara
Sailing (or by road), beautiful coastline
7. Isalo National Park
Landscape, trekking, lemurs
8. Andringitra National Park
9. Ranomafana National Park
Rainforest, wildlife, lemurs
10. Fianarantsoa to Antsirabe
Highlands, rice terraces