Our sister organization, Birdquest, has been operating tours of Madagascar since 1987, mostly concentrating on Madagascar’s bird life, however, as well as its 110+ endemic bird species, Madagascar is also home to almost 160 endemic mammals, including 99 Lemurs! It also has 260 reptiles; 60 snakes (thankfully none of which are venomous!) and 290 amphibians, most of which are also endemic! Many of these wonderful creatures are also very photogenic and approachable, making Madagascar an obvious choice for our ‘Wildlife Spectacular’ series. Separated from the African continent for 160 million years and then India for around 65 million years, Madagascar is a fascinating laboratory of evolution and has featured in many TV documentaries, including David Attenborough’s recent ‘Natural Curiosities’.
You could buy a small house with the cost of photographing all of Madagascar’s wildlife so, on this ‘best of’ tour, we aim to cover a wide variety of fauna, as well as ‘cherry-picking’ some of its most spectacular endemic creatures, large and small. Amongst naturalists the island is best known for its fabulous lemurs, man’s most distant cousins, ranging in size from tiny mouse-lemurs to the great Indri, and one of our main aims is to spend time photographing some of the most spectacular members of this family. We will also target some of its other special mammals and birds as well as chameleons and other herptiles. Madagascar’s landscape is just as varied and impressive as its fauna, from the peculiar spiny forests of the west coast to the rugged sandstone canyons of the interior and the moist tropical rainforest of the eastern mountains. All of these make interesting photographic subjects on our exciting new photo journey.
Humans reached Madagascar around 2000 years ago, first from Southeast Asia in their primitive outrigger canoes and then 1000 year later from Africa as well. Sadly their catastrophic impact on Madagascar’s fauna and flora continues apace. The Madagascar megafauna, which included 15 giant lemurs, elephant birds, giant tortoises and hippos, died out soon after their arrival and the remaining lemurs are now restricted to less than 10% of the island owing to man’s slash and burn agricultural activities. However, fortunately much of Madagascar’s incredible diversity of fauna can still be found despite the massive deforestation. As in so many parts of the developing world, a visit to Madagascar sooner rather than later is a good idea.
Day 1 Our tour begins in the late evening at Antananarivo, known popularly as simply ‘Tana’, where we will stay overnight. Antananarivo is a strange mixture of traditional Malagasy, French Colonial and modern architecture. Traditional Malagasy architecture clearly has many Asian roots and the buildings look much closer to those one would see in Nepal than anything found on the African mainland, reflecting the Asiatic origins of most of the Malagasy themselves.
Day 2 From Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo, situated on the high plateau, we travel first to the southwest coast, taking a flight to Tulear from where we continue to the nearby spiny Didierea forest of Ifaty for a one night stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Day 3 In the strange and very photogenic spiny forest we should enjoy close encounters with Subdesert Mesite and Long-tailed Ground-Roller, two of Madagascar’s most sought-after bird specialities as well as an array of other endemic creatures. Other birds include: Sickle-billed and Lafresnaye's Vangas and the rare Banded Kestrel. Mammals found here include our first lemurs, which could be Grey Mouse Lemur; Grey Brown Mouse Lemur or White-footed Sportive Lemur. Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec can also be found here. Tenrecs are a hedgehog-like African mammal family, sometimes known as Otter-Shrews, which has diversified like crazy in Madagascar. They are peculiar amongst placental mammals in possessing a single rear opening like a cloaca, more commonly found in birds and reptiles! Other inhabitants of the spiny forest include the beautifully patterned and critically endangered Spider Tortoise & Dumeril's (or Madagascar Ground) Boa.
Walking along the sandy trails through the spiny forest is a fantastic experience. Tall, many-branched Didiereas with a potent armour of spines give the impression of being witches’ broomsticks planted in the ground. Amongst the many different kinds of Didiereas are strange euphorbias and many squat, bloated baobabs. The whole feel of this bizarre forest, especially as dusk approaches, is of something dreamed up by Tolkien.
After a morning of photography at Ifaty we will drive eastwards to Isalo National Park in Madagascar’s Ihorombe region for a two nights stay.
Day 4 We will spend the day exploring just a small part of the 815 square kilometres Isalo National Park. Amongst its starkly impressive eroded sandstone ‘ruiniforms’, the main attraction is its Ring-tailed Lemurs. In leafy canyons we can expect to encounter some of these iconic primates, first made famous by the BBC’s TV programme ‘Animal Magic’ featuring Johnny Morris and ‘Dotty’ a Ring-tailed Lemur at Bristol Zoo. Once hunted in this area, these beautiful creatures have only become easy to see relatively recently. They also ought to be in better condition than the rather mangy ringtails at the more famous Berenty reserve, which eat the leaves of Leucaena leucocephala, an introduced tree containing toxic mimosine that has been linked to hair loss or a ‘bald lemur syndrome’ first noticed there in the 1990s. Red-fronted Brown Lemur and the gorgeous Verreaux’s Sifaka can also be found here. The latter is well known for its ‘dancing’ bipedal means of getting from one tree to another. The quiet trails and canyons of Isalo are home to other wonderful critters including the outrageous and endangered Rainbow Burrowing Frog (although this ‘explosive breeder’ ought to be dormant during the time of our visit) and several fantastic chameleons such as Oustalet's (or Malagasy Giant), Warty (or Spiny/Crocodile) and Bright green Jeweled Chameleons. Madagascar is the world’s capital of chameleons, with over half of the species included both the largest and the smallest! The peculiar xerophytic Elephant’s Foot trees ought to be in flower now, adding splashes of yellow to the landscape.
Day 5 Today we will retrace our steps westwards back to Tulear for an overnight stay. We will stop en route at Zombitse National Park. Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park protects a relict of a once much more extensive forest, where we should see the extremely localized Appert’s Greenbul. (As with the other ‘greenbuls’ of Madagascar, this species is now placed in the recently recognized Malagasy warbler family.) Other species that we may well find in the dry deciduous forests at Zombitse-Vohibasia include Coquerel’s Coua, White-browed Hawk Owl, Madagascan Hoopoe and Rufous Vanga (with its repertoire of strange vocalizations). The forest is also a great place to see the bizarre Cuckoo Roller and it also holds several species of lemurs. We may have an encounter here with Verreaux’s Sifaka and we may even see a Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur at its daytime roost.
Day 6 Today we will return by air to Antananarivo, where we will stay overnight. If flight schedules permit, we will make an afternoon excursion to Lac Alarobia, where we will be able to photograph a selection of water birds including Madagascar Pond Heron.
Day 7 We will either take a flight to Morondava, capital of Madagascar’s Menabe region on its west coast, or drive there (flights are very infrequent and the schedule often changes). From Morondava we will drive to Kirindy Forest Reserve, around 40km away and our base for the next three nights.
Days 8-9 Kirindy is a 100 square kilometres private reserve, which was originally an experiment in sustainable timber harvesting and although it holds many of the special lowland forest creatures it is particularly well known as the best place to see the usually more shy and retiring Fosa (formerly spelt Fossa). Madagascar’s largest carnivore, it resembles a small puma and was once even thought to be a cat but it is now known to be more closely related to the mongoose family. Its classification has been debated over the years as it also shares traits of cats, civets and even hyenas! The other main carnivore here is the Northern Bokiboky (or Narrow-striped Mongoose). Kirindy is also the only place to find the nocturnal and endangered Giant Jumping (or Malagasy Giant) Rat, a rodent with a severely restricted range of only about 20 square kilometres. Like it’s rodent cousin the Southern African Spring Hare it can hop but it can also run on all fours. Lemurs are well represented by Verreaux’s Sifaka, Red-fronted Brown Lemur as well as a host of nocturnal lemurs including Madame Berthe's Mouse Lemur (the world’s smallest primate), Grey Mouse Lemur, Red-tailed Sportive Lemur, Pale Fork-marked Lemur, Coquerel's Giant Dwarf Lemur and Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur, and if we are lucky we will see one or two of these. Several tenrecs can also be found here including Common, Greater & Lesser Hedgehog and Large-eared Tenrecs. Herptiles are also abundant and include Henkel’s Leaf-tailed Gecko, Big-headed Gecko, Giant Hog-nosed Snake, Spear-nosed Snake and Kapidolo (or Flat-backed Spider Tortoise). The eggs of the threatened Labord’s Chameleon will also be here at the time of our visit, but the adults only live for four or five months between November and March, the shortest life span of any invertebrate! Birds here include White-breasted Mesite, Coquerel's and Crested Couas, Sickle-billed, White-headed, Rufous, Blue and Chabert's Vangas, Madagascar Cuckoo-Roller, Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, Henst's Goshawk, Banded Kestrel, and Lesser & Greater Vasa Parrots.
Day 10 After a final day at Kirindy we will drive back to Morondava for one night. We will visit the famous ‘Avenue of Baobabs’ this evening in time for sunset. Madagascar’s first national monument, the baobabs are relics of an ancient forest, which was cleared by man, leaving only these 30m tall isolated forest giants. Around 20-25 endemic Adansoni (or Grandidier’s) baobabs line a 250m stretch of road and have become one of the most iconic scenes in rural Madagascar. Some 7 km further to the northwest are located the famous ‘Baobab Amoureux’ - two Adansonia trees twisted together signifying the impossible love between two villagers already assigned to other partners.
Day 11 Today we will either take a flight back to Tana or drive back if we need to. We stay overnight in Tana.
Days 12-13 This morning we will drive east into the mountains to Perinet, our base for the next two nights. The Analamazaotra Special Reserve at Perinet (or Andasibe) protects some of the richest east coast forest in Madagascar. Nearby, the relatively recently created Mantadia National Park extends over a much larger area. We will spend three full days exploring the rainforest in these two reserves. The main focus of our attention in this incredibly rich forest will be the spectacular black-and-white Indri, the largest of the extant lemurs (Madagascar’s now extinct megafauna included Archaeoindris, a giant lemur the size of a male gorilla!). The Indri’s eerie wailing call echoing through the trees at dawn is almost as impressive as the lemur itself. Some Indris in this area have become accustomed to procession of eco tourists and we will be hoping for some great photo opportunities with them. However, Indri is not the only spectacular lemur, which can be found in these forests. We will also be looking for the equally striking Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur and the stunningly beautiful Diademed Sifaka, another candidate for ‘best-looking lemur’. A host of smaller and mostly nocturnal lemur cousins in this area includes Grey Bamboo Lemur, Goodman's Mouse Lemur, Eastern Woolly Lemur, Weasel Sportive Lemur, and Furry-eared Dwarf and Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemurs. With this much mammalian diversity it is no surprise that there is also a spectacular array of forest birds here and we will spend some time searching for Pitta-like, Rufous-headed, Scaly and Short-legged Ground Rollers, Madagascar Cuckoo Roller, Madagascar Long-eared Owl and Collared Nightjar. The big chameleon of the eastern forests, Parson’s, occurs here and we hope for a close, slow motion encounter with one of these fabulous creatures, which are also amongst the worst vertebrate parents going and take no care of their young whatsoever once their eggs are laid. At around half a metre long, Parson’s vies with Oustalet’s for the title of world’s largest chameleon. The forests are also rich in invertebrates and one particular attraction is the bizarre Giraffe-necked Weevil, the male of which is naturally very popular with photographers!
Day 14 After a final session at Perinet we will make our way back to Antananarivo where the tour ends this evening.
NORTHERN MADAGASCAR EXTENSION
Day 14 We will stay overnight in Antananarivo.
Day 15 This morning we will take a flight to Antsiranana (formerly, Diego Suarez) at the northern extremity of Madagascar from where we we will drive southeast to the remote community of Daraina, in ‘well-off-the-beaten-track’ Madagascar for a three nights stay. This evening, with some local help, we will make our first attempt to set eyes on the mythical and endangered Aye-Aye, the most enigmatic of all the lemurs. Certainly Madagascar’s ultimate natural curiosity, this weird creature is the world’s largest nocturnal primate. It has perpetually growing rodent-like teeth (it was initially classified as a rodent for this reason), bizarrely widely spaced eyes and a specially adapted long middle finger, which it uses to extract insect larvae from tree limbs, effectively filling the feeding niche of a woodpecker! We will be hoping to see an Aye-Aye leaving its daytime roosting nest on its way out to forage for the night, although, unlike some of the showier lemur species, we will need some good fortune to be successful in our quest. The Aye-Aye was considered to be extinct in 1933 but was rediscovered in 1957 and has since proved more widely distributed than previously thought. Sadly as well as deforestation, superstition has played a part in the misfortune of the Aye-Aye, they are thought to be evil spirits and persecuted. Some villagers even believe that if one points its narrowest finger at someone, they are cursed to die! Gerald Durrell wrote in his book ‘The Aye Aye and I’ - 'In the gloom it came along the branches towards me, its round, hypnotic eyes blazing, its spoon-like ears turning to and fro independently like radar dishes . . . it was Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky come to life . . . one of the most incredible creatures I had ever been privileged to meet.'
Days 16–17 The rolling hill forests of the Daraina area are also home to one of the most beautiful of all the lemurs, the critically endangered Golden-crowned Sifaka, one of the world’s rarest and most endangered primates, it is found nowhere else. Discovered as recently as 1974, Golden-crowned Sifakas can be found in dry deciduous and semi-evergreen forests at altitudes up to 500 m ASL although they mostly occur at lower elevations. It also has the most restricted of the Indriid lemur species. Fortunately it appears tolerant of human activity and we ought to be able to get close to some of these beautiful creatures. Other lemurs sharing these forests include Crowned and Sanford's Brown Lemurs, Daraina Sportive Lemur, Fork-marked Lemur, Dwarf and Mouse Lemurs, while other mammals present include Fosa and Greater Hedgehog Tenrec. Birds such as Van Dam's and Hook-billed Vangas, Crested Coua, Madagascar Crested Ibis and Madagascar Harrier-Hawk also occur here. The big chameleon of the northeast, the striking Panther Chameleon, occurs in these forests and we will spend some time searching for it here. Unfortunately, as well as slash and burn clearance, the area is also subject to unregulated gold mining so forest habitat here is therefore already severely threatened. Depending on our success we may need to make another attempt for Aye-Aye tonight.
Day 18 After a final morning at Daraina we will retrace our steps back towards Antsiranana to the Montagne d'Ambre area for an overnight stay. This afternoon we will explore the nearby attractive forests of the Montagne d’Ambre National Park, which became Madagascar’s first national park in 1958. Montagne d’Ambre (or Mount Amber) is an isolated, forested volcanic massif that rises to 1475m to the south of Antisiranana and is best known to ornithologists as the home of the extremely localized Amber Mountain Rock Thrush. The forest here also holds a similar range of lemurs to Daraina (including Sanford’s Brown Lemur and Crowned Lemur but minus Golden-crowned Sifaka of course). The mongoose, Ring-tailed Vontsira also occurs here as well as more widespread Madagascan endemic birds.
Day 19 This morning we will take a flight from Antsiranana back to Antananarivo Airport, where the extension ends.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good standard. The lodges at Kirindy, Perinet and Daraina are fairly simple and some room sharing may be necessary at Kirindy and Daraina as single accommodation is limited there. An appropriate refund of single room supplement will be made in this event. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and roads are variable in quality (although mostly much improved on the past). There are some fairly long drives.
Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are some moderate hikes for instance at Isalo and Daraina.
Climate: At lower altitudes it will be hot, dry and sunny. At higher altitudes the weather is similar but temperatures are cool to warm. It will be rather humid, especially in the east.
Photographic Equipment: For birds and some tree-dwelling lemurs we recommend an effective focal length of 500–600mm, however, there will also be some very approachable wildlife in range of anything from 100mm upwards. Opportunities for macro photography of herptiles for instance are particularly good but with limited light in the forests flash will often be needed for the best results. As well as having some very approachable wildlife suitable for wide-angle photography, Madagascar is also full of panoramic views and a lens in the 17-40mm range is ideal. You can also get good results with many subjects with a high quality digital compact camera with an optical zoom. If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact us.
These are confirmed prices
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike many tour operators who are still showing prices based on hugely higher and very outdated pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assurred that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is a significant recovery by the Pound you will receive the benefit by way of a price reduction.
Tour Price: £4230, €4990, $5540 Antananarivo/Antananarivo. Northern Madagascar Extension £1680, €1980, $2200 ending in Antananarivo.
Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: £494, €583, $647. Northern Madagascar Extension £190, €224, $249.
Deposit: £500, €600, $650. Northern Madagascar Extension £200, €250, $250.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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