User Reviews – Madagascar
Email lukasz36 | 35-50 years of age | Experience level: over 5 safaris
Great place for close ecounters with wildlife
We had a 8 days trip to Madagascar in November 2019. We spend the time on east cost of the island - Andasibe & Palmarium Reserve. The wildlife was very good - lemurs are close and provide excelent opportunites for photography. Birds in Andasibe were good and approachable, a bit worse in Palmarium (very few visible). We used Assiten Travel and the service was excelent - very good accomodations, great driver, food and transportation.
Mine key target was to photograph lemurs and I am very happy with the results :).
Madagascar: An island of stark contrasts, with many unique animals and birds that make it special.
Madagascar is a land of enormous contrasts. It has some of the most beautiful locations, such as Nosy Be and the surrounding islands, but it also has stark poverty and ravaged land, as we experienced when driving through the interior of the island. Our main focus was to bird watching, as there are hundreds of species, of which about 120 are endemic (only found in Madagascar). In many ways the animals are similar, with many endemic species, especially lemurs.
We hired a guide for our two week trip, which was necessary, as directions are not easy to follow, driving can be hazardous, language is a barrier and accommodation difficult to find, especially in rural areas . Our guide solved all these potential problems for us. He was also a source of amazing information about the country and people, helping to answer all the questions we had as we drove through a diversity of landscapes and habitations.
Madagascar has a lot of poverty, quite an eye-opener for someone coming from the first world. Finding good quality accommodation was a challenge when going anywhere off the beaten track, as is the case when visiting remote National Parks, as we did, to see some of the wonderful birdlife. We had to rely on the services of regional experts, who did us proud.
Even in Antananarivo, which is a huge, sprawling city with limited infrastructure, good hotels were few and far between. Once arrived at a hotel, there was little desire to go out and walk around, we used the city as a link to go from one side of the country to the other. Having said that, the hotels we stayed at in Tanna were excellent.
We spent a couple of weeks seeking out a number of widespread National Parks which had wide-ranging habitats for animals. These included Maevatanana, Akarafantsika, Anasibe and Mantadia National Parks, which were wonderful. One jewel, in Antananarivo itself, the Tsarasaotra Private Park, was quite amazing, with thousands of different birds.
After having driven around the country for two weeks, we then flew from Tanna to a different world at Nosy Be, right on the north coast of the country, where we found the most picturesque and modern holiday world. The coastline, the islands, the sea and the animals were stunning. We stayed a few nights on the island of Nosy Komba, just 30 minutes boatride from Nosy Be. We felt totally spoilt at our accommodation at 293 Nosy Komba, a small villa. I'd go back there in a heartbeat, it was so beautiful. One can snorkel from the beach, or take a boat to various other spots nearby.
I believe that some airlines have flights directly to Nosy Be from Europe, it is such a magical spot, far away from everything.
For something completely different, go to Madagascar. Our trip was arranged by regional specialists, something I would recommend.
A stunning experience, from views and wildlife to the welcome and the people
This was a big holiday, so we spent a little extra on everything. The two week holiday was a stunning experience, from views and wildlife to the welcome and the people.
One of the first things we noticed was the poverty. The country is one of the poorest in the world. Children under ten work the fields, carry bricks, and generally do what they can to earn a living. Seeing children searching a rubbish tip to find items to either recycle or sell is not uncommon. To make an income this results in the nation, arguably, leading the way in recycling and reusing items. We visited one shop where miniature replicas of bicycles, Put-puts and trucks were made from tin cans and expired medical tubing. They sold for 10,000 MGA (about US$2.50)
The lodges we stayed in were top end of the range, although they varied in quality. All were clean, and though we didn't have any issues with mosquitoes, a couple of lodges did have nets.
You do not go to Madagascar expecting five star food, although there is a French influence. The fruit and vegetables are closer to organic, as the farmers cannot afford pesticides. But the meat is a little tough, to say the least. Zebu is the principle cattle, and is a working animal. Chickens run freely across the road looking for food. Fish and seafood are fine, although menus usually just say ‘Fish’. Get used to the same food and menu options wherever you go. Rice is a staple diet item.
We had a driver for the two weeks. He has been a guide and driver for over fifteen years. He was experienced to know where to go, but ensured we decided what to do. We asked about tipping, but was told it was up to us. Took about three days to get a handle on the tipping for services. Do expect to tip, everyone expects it, and they are thankful when you hand over a couple of notes. Try not to over tip, although 2000MGA may not be much to most, whereas it is a lot to the Malagasy.
The roads are astonishing. The Route 2 main road is more like a field in places. The road is just about a two lane country road. At one point we were driving amongst three rows of various vehicles; trying to avoid pot holes; trenches; whilst over-taking. All whilst avoiding the oncoming three lanes of traffic doing the same manoeuvres. Think of the cartoon ‘Wacky Races’.
But the food, hotels and driving were not why we went. The wildlife and scenery were. Over 90% of rain forest has been cut done. Loss of forests, the introduction of Eucalyptus and Chinese pine and slash and burn (widely used by farmers), has had a devastating effect on nature and the environment. Thankfully some areas are now protected by national parks. In most cases the local villages have fought to protect their forests and wildlife. This improves the environment, and protects the wildlife. Lemurs are now preserved, not hunted.
Wildlife is not predictable, it is wild, so expect to be walking, climbing, and scrabbling through vegetation to find that elusive photographic shot. Visitors must have a guide to enter the parks and rain forests. This means you, thanks to the spotters, will generally be taken to where the wildlife can be found. The 6 hours walking through Ranomafana Rainforest can be tiring. It is up and down steep hills; uneven paths; as well as through the forest itself. Expect rain (as the name rainforest suggests), although we didn’t get any until we hit the beach. It is well worth the effort, seeing 6 or 7 types of Lemurs, including the Golden Bamboo. Listening to the cry of the Indri in a forest is spooky, but not as bad in the early hours of the morning. In all we saw about 15 types of lemurs on our travels.
This is also somewhere to go if you are a ‘Twitcher’, bird watcher. Although don’t expect to wait around in a nice cosy hide waiting for them to appear. You need to be quick as usually you only get a glimpse. If you are lucky then you may see a flycatcher’s nest right by the path at eye level. Or quietly snap a Hoopoe or a Fody, whilst just missing a Hawk. Listen for the chatter of Myna birds, introduced to kerb the rise in locusts.
Our aim was to see not just the lemurs, but also other endangered species, such as tree frogs and giraffe necked weevils. We were not disappointed, our guides knew what they were looking for. The guide in Andasibe National Park spotted a Mouse Lemur in pitch black high in a tree. The guide in Ranomafana found the Giraffe Necked Weevil just as we were leaving. I would never have seen these without their experience and vision.
To summarize: you go to Madagascar to see the wildlife, lemurs, frogs, insects etc. This is a poverty stricken country. The people are friendly and welcoming, on the whole. Lodges are clean, and the food is basic. We never felt unsafe, but then our driver ensured we didn’t stray. Crime against tourists does occur, but not often. As with anywhere in the world, be aware of your surroundings and your belongings. This was an experience of a lifetime, a very enjoyable experience I would highly recommend.
Ten days in Madagascar
I love photographing birds, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find many birds I had never seen before. The highlight was a flock of Madagascan Olive Bee-Eaters right in the centre of Antananarivo. I arrived in Antananarivo spending five nights there. Although it was the middle of winter I found myself wearing shorts and t-shirts by the middle of most days. Beautiful sunshine. Antananarivo is beautiful from several vantage points with canals running through it while being surrounded by pretty mountains. The architecture is a unique combination of old European style, complimented by countless ageing French motor vehicles, and more random Madagascan shacks. People are obviously very poor compared to first world nations, but they remain outwardly content with their way of life. It's a challenging confronting country to visit and yet, at the same time, heartwarming to see people happily going about their daily lives worlds apart from the worlds most tourists come from. I spent five nights in my brother's home in Antananarivo. Then we adventured to a small resort on the shores of Lake Mantasoa. The 65km drive was incredibly scenic and took us about two and a half hours. Road conditions were generally good, only requiring us to go very slowly in a couple of places. Traffic congestion entering and/or exiting Antananarivo is a challenge. But once you break free from the city it's easy enough. Our accomodation was right on the shore of Lake Mantasoa and was very affordable, perfectly clean, and incredibly relaxing. I couldn't have wished for better in Australia, let alone Madagascar. We had a wonderful relaxing stay. We mostly self-catered, having found everything anyone could need in a very well stocked Shoprite Supermarket in Antananarivo. However we did eat out at a Swiss-themed Restaurant (yes Switzerland in the middle of Madagascar) near Lake Mantasoa and our meal was great value and delicious. Nicely presented too.
Highlights from this visit included relaxing walks on the shores of Lake Mantasoa; beautiful birds; beautiful sunny weather in the middle of Winter. And being Winter Mosquitos were generally not a problem. I've visited previously and on previous visit highlights included amazing experiences with Lemurs at a Lemur park and also in the wilds of a rain forrest. Lemurs are gorgeous and can be quite sociable. We explored some truly beautiful rain forests (a good four hour drive from Antananarivo). Madagascar has no dangerous poisonous snakes so one can enjoy walking searching for lemurs, chameleons, and many beautiful birds without fear of being bitten. I do intend to return.
I benefited greatly from my brother's local knowledge and his ability to navigate the roads and understand the way local traffic operates. If you are used to driving on the right hand side of the road then it certainly helps. Despite that I would recommend travelling with a local tour operator or someone with local driving experience. The crazy variety of vehicles all the way from bicycles to human-propelled carts to donkey carts and large trucks and the haphazard way they navigate is amazing to see and photograph. I would recommend being a passenger with a camera (or phone) ready to take photographs than being a driver in Antananarivo. Having said that, most road users are friendly so if you must drive, just be ready to take it slow!