Arrive in Antananarivo, built over twelve hills, Madagascar's capital is a blend of the old and new - Old wooden style houses, french colonial buildings and modern offices and apartments.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Antananarivo at any time. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive at Ivato International Airport (TNR) which is around 15 minutes' drive from the hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore independently. This once medieval capital, which is affectionately known as 'Tana', where the houses appear stacked one upon the other down the sloping hills of the highlands. Stay: Hotel Au Bois Vert (Comfortable)
It's an early start to kick off the trip, leaving the city at around 7am, we will drive to Andasibe village which is also still sometimes referred to by it's French colonial name; Perinet. Although only eight square kilometres, Analamazoatra Reserve in Andasibe boasts nine species of Lemur, including the Indri Indri. The Indri's morning calls can be heard piercing through the forest. After lunch we will trek in search for the Indri families in the area. Although the paths are often easy to follow, sometimes pushing further into the bush is required to spot these exquisite creatures in the trees. An adventurous walk to kick off these two weeks searching for lemurs!
This evening, after dinner, we will head out once again with a local national park guide in search of the smallest of the lemur species; the mouse lemurs. Although nocturnal, these creatures can often easily be spotted along the 1km roadside route followed this evening. As well as spotting tiny lemurs, it's often common to see colourful chameleons, frogs and exotic insects. Stay: Feon'ny Ala Bungalows (Comfortable) (B)
Listen out this morning, as often the Indri's calls can be heard throughout the forest and surrounding village areas, including our accommodation! We'll be up early to drive to the nearby Analamazoatra reserve. Mantadia and Analamazoatra reserve are parts of the same precious forest ecosystem but due to continuous deforestation in the area they are now separate parks. We'll spend around 4 hours searching for the black and white ruffed and Diademed Sifaka lemurs, as well as opportunity to spot some birdlife.
After a busy morning searching for wildlife, we'll return Andasibe for lunch. Then this afternoon there will be optional visit to the small sleepy village of Andasibe itself where we can walk amongst its quiet streets and drop in on its market. Stay: Feon'ny Ala Bungalows (Comfortable) (B)
An early departure this morning, heading south to reach the spa town of Antsirabe, today will be a long travel day with plenty of comfort breaks and a stop for lunch.
Antsirabe's cool climate made it a favourite spot with European missionaries and French colonialists, and their influence can still be seen everywhere in the colonial architecture and churches. Set in the Central Highlands, the town is a clash of cultures with fading, ornate colonial architecture, colourful rickshaws wandering up and down the streets and souk-like stalls selling all different goods to both local residents and visitors. Stay: Couleur Cafe (Comfortable) (B)
This morning we drive to the volcanic Lake of Tritriva. Local myths and taboos surround this mysterious lake which seems to have many guises, changing colour from one day to the next. We'll take a short walk to the crater's edge, where we can relax and take in the view. There will be a short amount of free time to walk further if you wish. From here we'll continue our journey to Ambositra in the afternoon, where we'll visit some of the local wood-carver's, who produce woodwork pieces depicting Malagasy life and detailed marquetry work which are both well known across the country for the fine standard of craftsmanship.
Tonight, we shall stay at a simple guest house. Although the accommodation we use on this night stop is modest and of a lower standard than what is provided throughout the rest of the trip, by staying here we directly support an important base for the development of health projects, agriculture, water supply and the empowerment of women within the local community. Any school supplies you may like to donate such as notebooks and pencils would be very gratefully received and passed on to the local children. The accommodation is dormitory style split by gender, simple but clean, with shared facilities. Hot water is not available. On arrival we'll head into town, purchase provisions and drinks for the evening and see the local market and wood carving shops (Ambositra is the centre of the woodcarving tradition of Madagascar). In the evening we will enjoy a wholesome feast of Madagascan locally prepared dishes, after which our family hosts will play music on drums and flutes and dance. Stay: Artisan Hotel (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
The drive to Ranomafana will take up most of the day, however the winding roads passes through rugged landscapes, rural villages and endless rice paddies, and along the way there will be comfort breaks, plus a lunch stop in Ialatsara. The end of the drive takes us down from the highlands where we'll head into the rainforest.
In 1987, a new species of lemur named the Golden Bamboo was found in Ranomafana National Park. This lush forest area is also known for it's hidden waterfalls and the Namorona river which flows through impressive gorges, flanked on either side by tropical rainforest. Stay: Centrest Sejour Hotel (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
After an early wake up call this morning, we will enter the park for a morning walk in the hope of spotting the Golden Bamboo Lemur, which are endemic to the forests in South-Eastern Madagascar. It's the only location in Madagascar where we can see all three species of Bamboo Lemur, namely the lesser Bamboo Lemur, the greater Bamboo Lemur and the Golden Bamboo Lemur which gets its golden colour from the cyanide compounds found in the bamboo it eats.
Depending on how lucky we are finding lemurs, we'll spend around three to four hours trekking along the forest trails in search of wildlife. As well as the Bamboo Lemurs, we may have the chance to see Red-Fronted Brown Lemur, Red-Bellied Lemur and Milne-Edwards Sifaka. Most lemur species are sadly now endangered, the last survivors of a once abundant family of primates, now confined to pockets of forest and bush throughout Madagascar. Deforestation has taken a heavy toll on these arboreal creatures - it's estimated only 80 species remain. With luck we may also spot the Malagasy boa constrictor, chameleons, the black parrot, cuckoo roller and many other birds.
The afternoon will be free to relax, or to go on an additional optional walk within the park with a chance to spot the species not already seen during the morning. Stay: Centrest Sejour Hotel (Comfortable) (B/D)
Returning to the main road this morning, we continue south via the regional capital of Fianarantsoa, the academic centre of Madagascar. Leaving the highland plateau and descending through superb mountain scenery to the plains we pause at Ambalavao paper workshop before arriving at Anja Community Reserve. Here we have the chance to watch troupes of ring-tailed lemur among the granite boulders.
Continuing south the pine trees thin out and the fertile soil of the highlands gives way to drier savannah, cactus, termite mounds, and the dust of the midsouth. We finally reach our destination late in the afternoon; Ranohira, situated on the edge of the Isalo National Park. Stay: Hotel Relais de la Reine (Comfortable) (B/D)
One of the highlights of our trip is Madagascar's Grand Canyon in Isalo National Park. Dervla Murphy, in her book Muddling through Madagascar describes it as follows - Landscapes that are literally incredible. You don't believe it. You think you're hallucinating. How can wind and water have done all this?
The natural erosion that has occurred here has produced fantastic canyons and bizarre outcrops of wind-blasted sandstone. We will take an approximately 90 minute walk along dry, dusty paths across slightly ascending terrain to a natural oasis pool known as Piscine Naturelle for a picnic lunch. After eating we'll continue exploring to see tombs of the Bara people and the sparse, dry forest species of dwarf-like baobab.
This afternoon you have the opportunity to take an optional walk within the park with a local guide to Namaza to see the Cascade des Nymphes, before all meeting again to enjoy sunset at La Fenetre where the perfectly natural rock window frames the setting sun. Stay: Hotel Relais de la Reine (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
This morning we continue our journey south for about four hours. The temperature rises as we lose height and head for the coast, crossing the savannah plain that are dotted with herds of Zebu cattle.
The south of Madagascar is largely desert and weird cactus-like plants unique to the island smother the land, hence the name the 'Spiny Forest'. We'll stop at Zombitse National Park, where we'll stretch our legs on a two hour walk through the remarkable dry forest which is home to many birds, including black parrots, the Madagascar buzzard and the cuckoo roller. There's also opportunity to spot the shy ring-tailed lemur here!
As we continue our drive, we'll pass by a number of fascinating Mahafaly Tombs before reaching the town of Toliara once an important port of call for Dutch and English ships plying the trade routes during the 16th and 17th centuries. Stay: Victory Hotel (Simple) (B)
After breakfast this morning we transfer by boat from Toliara to the small fishing village of Anakao, located to the south, just past the Onilahy river estuary.
The estuary has extensive mudflats which make embarking from the waters edge difficult, we therefore use zebu carts to get us from the banks of the river to our boat. The money for this service goes directly to the handlers who make their living loading and unloading goods and people from the local area, given how impoverished this part of Madagascar is, this extra income from our group is very welcome. Please note that due to limited space on the boat we kindly request that you take a smaller overnight bag to Anakao. Your main luggage will be stored in Toliara. The boat journey is around one hour.
Anakao is a truly picturesque beach paradise, with a vast unspoilt white sand beach stretching into the distance. Its relative isolation (you need to travel by boat to get here or take a long 12 hour road journey) means the village has remained relatively undeveloped. It's possible to see lines of brightly painted dugout canoes hauled out onto the sandy beach used by nomadic fishing tribe that live in the village. The rich turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean are a short walk from our beach hideaway offering great swimming opportunities. After a busy ten days travelling it's a time to relax, unwind, snorkel and take in the prolific birdlife including Rock Thrush and wading birds such as Whimbrel as well as hoopoes and bee-eaters that nest in the adjacent spiny forest gardens behind our hotel. Stay: Hotel Safari Vezo (Simple) (B/D)
Today has been left free to enjoy Anakao. Options include relaxing on the paradise beach, snorkelling in the azure waters or taking a trip out to the sacred island of Nosy Ve, located just off Anakao's western shore. Nosy Ve's reefs and colonies of Red-tailed tropicbirds (the only breeding site in Madagascar) make it the ideal place to soak up the tropical atmosphere. Stay: Hotel Safari Vezo (Simple) (B/D)
This morning we depart Anakao, returning to Toliara by boat before flying north back to Tana, where we will spend the night. Stay: Hotel Au Bois Vert (Comfortable) (B)
Today is a chance to absorb the atmosphere of the capital city but before getting amidst the chaos of the bustling streets, we'll drive out of the city to explore the oldest palace in Madagascar situated on Ambohimanga, a forested hill, north of Antananarivo. It was from this fortress that the Merina, a highland tribe, first established an effective administration and military command under the King Andrianampoinamerina. The fort still includes the original king's hut and later European buildings, and from this high point you can take in magnificent views over the fertile rice fields below, the surrounding hills and the city in the distance. We'll stop somewhere for a lunchbreak, before returning to the city later this afternoon, and if traffic allows there will be time for some last minute shopping in Tana before our final dinner of the trip. Stay: Hotel Au Bois Vert (Comfortable) (B/L)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Antananarivo.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Antananarivo at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Ivato International Airport (TNR) which is around 15 minutes' drive from the hotel. (B)