Leaving the hotel after breakfast we transfer out of the busy city to the Lemurs Park to encounter these primates which are endemic to Madagascar. Lemurs Park is a private park with a few species of lemur living freely in a forested area. After the visit to the park, we start cycling through scenic farmland with plenty of rice paddy fields.
After lunch in Arivonimamo, we will transfer through a highland region to the top of a mountain pass before continuing the ride downhill to Miarinarivo, the capital of the Itasy, a region known its volcanic activity. The road levels out and the following 32km to Ampefy offer reaching views and are a real joy to ride. In Ampefy the lakeside hotel is our base for the next two nights. Cycle approx. 72km. Stay: Hotel Kavitaha or similar Standard Hotel (B).
We start today by cycling to the geysirs of Analavory. These limestone mounds are similar to geysirs found in Utah and Nevada; volcanic activity encourages bursts of warm water to cascade down the bright yellow stone and create a series of pools, often used by the locals for swimming due to the belief of the healing powers of the water.
The ride starts on a decent road but the 16km route out and back to the geysirs is along a bumpy dirt track, linking up some fascinating small rural villages. Re-joining the new tar road we head back towards Ampefy, but before reaching the hotel we will take a small detour to the Liliha waterfalls, a dramatic series of cascades that provide a perfect way to refresh near the end of a full day of cycling. This stretch is also on dirt road. Cycle approx. 54km (26km on dirt road). Stay: Hotel Kavitaha or similar Standard Hotel (B).
Although relatively short, today's ride is fairly challenging with varied terrain. We cycle the first 20km to Soavinandriana through scenic landscape with some hilly sections, including a steady 4km climb up to the town itself. The road levels out and we continue our undulating ride through spectacular scenery before a great descent which crosses the river at the small village of Kelivody. Here we will load up the bikes to drive across a high mountain pass to the town of Faratsiho. From here the road deteriorates dramatically and we will need 4X4 vehicles to pass the 47km stretch to Sambaina.
This is an adventurous drive passing through a region that is rarely visited by tourists and provides a unique insight into the lives of those who live along the route. From Sambaina we re-join the tarmac for the final drive to Antisarabe. The entire transfer is likely to take up to 5 hours, but we will stop regularly to stretch the legs and have a look around. Antsirabe is an elegant city founded by Norwegian's in 1856. It has a temperate climate and has a very European look and feel about it, including the local beer industry that makes it famous. Cycle approx. 38km. Stay: Plumeria Hotel or similar Standard Hotel (B).
Departing Antsirabe we start with a very short transfer to Vinanikarena to avoid the hectic morning traffic within the city. This is a long day's cycling with a few undulations including a 4km climb to the ‘Col de Tapia', a type of tree resistant to bush fires that makes for some interesting scenery. The support vehicle is with us all day so a rest is available if needed. Today's destination is Ambositra, the centre of Madagascar's wood carving industry.
The highlands are characterised by its architecture; the houses are made with ornately carved wooden balconies and shutters with bright colours. Upon arrival, depending on timings, we may visit a Zafimaniry woodcarving workshop to learn all about this local art that is listed on the UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (if there isn't sufficient time today then the visit will take place the following morning). Cycle approx. 84km. Stay: Artisan Hotel or similar Standard Hotel (B).
We have a day off the saddle today to explore Ranomafana National Park (approximately 40,000ha). With its rain-forested hills and abundant wildlife this has long been considered one of Madagascar's highlights, and is one of the most heavily visited of the country's national parks. Its entrance lies about 7km from Ranomafana village. Altitudes in the park range from 800m to 1200m. In addition to its densely forested hills, Ranomafana's terrain is characterised by numerous small streams, which plummet down to the beautiful Namorona River.
Although much of the region has been logged, the easternmost part of the park retains relatively large areas of primary forest. The morning will be spent walking through the park, learning about the abundant flora and fauna and in the early evening there will be the chance to go on a night-walk in the hope of spotting some the nocturnal lemurs and chameleons. Stay: Hotel le Grenat or similar Standard Hotel (B).
We'll start today with a 2 hour transfer to Fianarantsoa, which literally translates into ‘good education' and is known locally as ‘the City where one learns good things'. It is regarded as the cultural and intellectual centre of Madagascar and is home to some of the oldest Protestant and Lutheran cathedrals on the island.
We'll start cycling here following a windy road to Ambalavao. Ambalavao is the centre of the Madagascan wine industry - the climate is said not to be ideal for grape vines but it is a tradition left by the priests and monks who lived in the area of Fianarantsoa. We climb a steady pass then enjoy a fabulous descent with great views before arriving in Ambalavao. Cycle approx. 56km. Stay: Tsienimparihy Lodge or similar Standard Hotel (B).
We'll start cycling from the hotel today and pause to visit the small Anja nature reserve where we hope to see Ring-tailed Lemurs in their natural surroundings. Continuing on a straight road flanked by mountains we'll head towards Ihosy, the capital of the Bara tribes. This nomadic tribe are shepherds to the prized Zebu cattle recognisable by their large horns. We'll pass through the mountain chain of Andringitra, which serves as a transition between the dry south and the green highlands, with its famous ‘3 hillocks' and its huge ‘archbishop's cape'.
Along the way we'll pass the ‘Bishop's Hat', a sacred place for local people as it is a place where their ancestors chose a collective suicide rather than to give in to the Merina tribes. On reaching the town of Zazafotsy we'll jump on the bus for a transfer over the mountain-pass and then through the huge dessert-like ‘Plateau de Horombe' famed for its deep red soil and sprawling savannah. Beyond the plateau we arrive in Isalo, our base for the next 2 nights. Cycle approx. 95km. Stay: Isalo Ranch or similar Standard Hotel (B).
Today we take a break again from our bikes for a hike in the stunning Isalo National Park. We spend the day exploring this vast region of wind-polished and water-scoured rock towers, deep canyons, gorges and oases often described as Eden. During our time we will go walking in the magnificent Canyon des Makis in search of cheeky Ring-tailed lemurs and the Verreaux's Sifaka. The eroded mountains also served as a place where the Bara kept their dead before they could bury them in their actual tombs.
We start our walking and reach the massif after about 20 minutes, where we will have a spectacular view of the huge sandstone mountains with its beautiful colours and its strange and battered formations creating many different images like ‘the tortoise', ‘the masks' and ‘the crocodiles'. We also visit the 'Piscine Naturelle' (natural swimming pool), a beautifully lush spot in such an arid landscape, where we mayswim and relax. Perhaps the magic is just to soak up the sheer beauty of the park, the combination of coloured eroded rock forms, strange plants and enveloping silence make this one of the most captivating places in Madagascar. Stay: Isalo Ranch or similar Standard Hotel (B).
Today is our last day cycling and we ride from the hotel through the dramatic rock formations heading out of the national park. Leaving the canyon, the ride continues to the sapphire mining town of Ilakaka and through isolated forests that constitute the most important remnant of dry deciduous forest of Madagascar.
After finishing the ride we transfer through Zombitse National Park and through areas known for flamboyantly painted ‘Mahafaly tombs' and ‘Antandroy tombs'. From Tulear we'll continue north of Ifaty to Ifaty beach, a seaside beach resort protected by coral reefs. The landscape is dominated by cactus-like plants and mangrove trees line the coast which is used by local Vezo communities that earn their livelihoods through fishing. Cycle approx. 65km. Stay: Hotel de la Plage or similar Standard Hotel (B).