Madagascar is one of the most unique and diverse destinations in the Indian Ocean with amazing wildlife encounters on offer, scenery like no other and some of the most exceptional beaches to be found in this part of the world. It is incredibly important to travel to Madagascar with an open mind and realistic expectations, so that you make the most of your time here and don’t come home feeling disappointed. Here we give our rundown on how to prepare and what to expect.
Blog: Jen’s highlights of northern Madagascar
A self-professed beach lover, Jen wasn’t too sure what to expect from her trip to Madagascar. Known as the Eighth Continent due to the diversity and unique nature of this massive island off the south eastern coast of Africa – surely there would be something to pique Jen’s interest?
If you’re after luxury hotels, seamless service, flights leaving on time and flawless roads then Madagascar is certainly going to challenge you! On the other hand, if you are after a trip encountering some of the most diverse wildlife on the planet and a truly unique experience then Madagascar will deliver in spades!
Madagascar’s huge and there’s no way of getting around the fact that the roads are in a pretty bad state; this means a lot of time spent driving. I loved these slow drives, taking in the scenery, driving past village after village with dogs dozing on the hut terraces; with Angelin our private guide regaling us with tales of his country, local life, and the wildlife that Madagascar is so famous for! Highlights for me were walking through a local town on its busy market day, getting stuck in traffic jams in sprawling Antananarivo, and visiting ruined buildings, relics of the country’s French colonial past…
We started our trip in Amber Mountain one of Madagascar’s most diverse national parks with 159 species of birds, mammal and reptile residing here. The primary rainforest here is a haven for wildlife with lemurs, chameleons and lizards to be found as well as the spectacular waterfalls of Cascade d’Antomboka and Cascade Sacrée. A visit to Mama Be’s in the nearby town of Joffreville gave an incredible insight into day-to-day life for the Malagasy population. Our meal here was like no other I’ve ever had – quirky doesn’t quite cover it, not with them having a pet crocodile kept in the well!
One of the most hard-hitting aspects of Joffreville is the fact that it has no electricity. The reason it is so shocking is that it did once have electricity. We always assume progress is made as time goes on, but in Madagascar following French colonisation, the complete opposite is the case From here we continued to Ankarana, stopping en route at ‘the red tsingy’- a mini Grand Canyon with impressive sand formation columns – just one example of the dramatic scenery that characterises this area. This was our first (of many) tastes of the amazing landscape Madagascar has to offer, and well worth a visit!
We journey into the interior to Ankarana East; with its forests, canyons, the sacred lake and vast bat and crocodile caves. There is plenty to keep you busy with 11 species of lemur to track down – we were lucky enough to get up close with a sportive lemur here! The highlight for me was the landscape. After walking along the trail over the grey tsingy, we reached the famous suspension bridge – unfortunately we just missed out on one of the famous sifaka lemurs that dance over the grey tsingy. It started to rain as we were enjoying the view, but this was another highlight for me, rather than an inconvenience; there’s something special about being able to smell the rain evaporating off the rocks after a hot day!
We continued along the escarpment to the western side of the park home to yet more weird and wonderful creatures. Here we could enjoy incredible views across the impressive tsingy formations. This dramatic landscape was best explored on wildlife hikes with plenty of chameleons, snakes, geckos and the ever-entertaining lemurs. This is another wonderful spot for observing local life too. You’ll often see the local villagers around, diving in the lake for fish and grazing their zebu, a type of cattle and the local delicacy!
As I’m a massive beach lover, the islands off Nosy Be were an absolute must! Our arrival at Ankify port couldn’t have been further from the relaxing beach stay, away from it all that we were after! Chaotic doesn’t even cover it – we would have been completely lost without our wonderful guide Angelin! Having expertly navigated our way through the crowds, it was offer to the amazing private island of Tsarabanjina – a small island with powder white sand beaches, surrounded by the most unbelievably beautiful turquoise sea. Off the beach snorkelling gives you the chance to explore the colourful coral and marine life beneath, and some of Madagascar’s best diving is a short boat ride away. Tsarabanjina is the perfect private island stay, a place where you can hike or kayak around the island, play table tennis, try some sport fishing, then head out on a sundowner cruise or just relax on the hammock in front of your villa. Bliss!
Near the end of our trip we had an early morning start from Nosy Sakatia, and as we’d been told about the house reef and the giant turtles, we thought we better go see them for ourselves. After wading / swimming out about 800m we came across the reef, and spent some time snorkelling along it. The coral and fish life were fantastic; and each time the coral seemed to stop, we spotted some more a short distance away. No giant turtles, but we were impressed with what we’d seen! Jen in Northern MadagascarOne last quick snorkel back to where we started, and then we saw it – a giant turtle nonchalantly moving along the seabed. Definitely a major highlight of the trip, and one experience I won’t forget in a hurry!
With the exception of places like Tsarabanjina, Madagascar is certainly more rustic than luxurious and things don’t always run to plan with flights and the bumpy roads, but what an incredibly diverse country it is – hardly surprising then that it’s called the Eighth Continent – such a unique trip is going to be really hard to beat!