Essence of Madagascar

Essence of Madagascar

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 12 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


The island of Madagascar occupies a unique place, both culturally and geographically, within Africa. Separated from the mainland millions of years ago, its fauna has developed very differently from the rest of the continent’s wildlife, and it is home to countless species found nowhere else on earth. Its people are an intriguing mix of Malay and African ancestry, with complex patterns of beliefs and an unusual history. On this trip we take in some of best of this enigmatic and alluring land. We visit superb national parks, including the bizarre moonscape of Isalo and the lush rainforests of Ranomafana, home to countless species of lemurs including the rare golden bamboo lemur, only discovered by scientists in 1986. Also spend time at Ifaty on the beautiful Mozambique Channel. If you have longer to spare than just 12 days then contact us for many different extension options. Madagascar is unlike anywhere else on earth – join us to experience its diverse charms on a trip that will challenge what you thought you knew about Africa.

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Simple but comfortable small hotels with private bathrooms – suitable for those on a budget                      
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B)
Group Size: Maximum group size of 4 travellers
Start Point: Antananarivo
End Point: Antananarivo
Transport: 4WD - Hyundai H1 or similar
Country Visited: Madagascar

Tour itinerary notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used. Although we try to be as accurate as possible, distances and timings indicated in the itinerary are meant as guidelines only and can substantially vary from one departure to another one depending on local safety initiatives, road conditions, road traffic and other unforeseen events.

Driver and Local Guide/s
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. On this tour you will not have an accompanying tour leader. On this tour you will have a professional English-speaking driver and then enjoy the services of local guides at each of the parks/reserves.



Day 1: Arrival in Antananarivo
Arrive in Antananarivo and transfer to your hotel conveniently situated in the vicinity of the airport. You may wish to relax or start exploring the city if time permits. Overnight Gassy Country House Hotel or similar. No meals are included today.

Antananarivo, commonly known as Tana, is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. The name Antananarivo means ‘the City of the Thousands’, a reference to the thousand warriors of King Andrianjaka, who established Tana as the capital city of the Merina tribe and accorded it a sacred status. The city was largely chosen for its privileged location – being on high ground (1,370m) and surrounded by marsh made it easy to defend and thus a natural choice for the capital. Tana has unusual French and Asian inspired architecture with winding cobblestone streets and staircases that create a medieval impression. The large open-air Zoma market has been disbanded, which means there is now plenty of room to walk around Araben ny Fahaleovantena (Avenue de l'Independence), the capital's main street. Other attractions include the colourful daily flower market on the edge of Lake Anosy and the botanical and zoological gardens, where you can see the egg and 3m-tall skeleton of the extinct aepyornis, or elephant bird. Sadly, the Rova (Queen's Palace) burned to the ground in 1996. Though virtually nothing remains at the site, there are nice views of the city from the hill where the palace once stood. Antananarivo does not have too much in the way of conventional sightseeing, but if you enjoy walking around, watching local scenes and experiencing the laid-back atmosphere that is prevalent here, the city is a very pleasant place – interesting markets, colonial buildings and many craft shops make it a great place to explore.

Day 2: Antananarivo – Ambositra (Approximate driving time today is 8 hours)
After breakfast drive southward across the landscape of the highlands, mainly composed of rice fields and lavaka, or ‘big holes’ caused by erosion. Stop in Ambatolampy, the ‘city built on the flat rock’. Traditionally agricultural, the town is also famous for age-old foundries, a technique transmitted from father to son. Continue to the important town of Antsirabe where we stop for lunch and then drive to Ambositra for our overnight stay. Overnight Motel Violette or similar (B)

Ambositra, meaning 'the place of the eunuchs' (supposedly because the Merina tribe castrated all defeated warriors of the local tribe), is an excellent place to see examples of Malagasy wood carvings, and is the capital of the Zafimaniry tribe. The local houses boast intricately carved balconies, panels and shutters.

Day 3: Ambositra – Ambalavao (Approximate driving time today is 7 hours)
This morning explore Ambositra, the centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry. The architecture is beautiful; houses are made with ornately carved wooden balconies and shutters with vivid colours. Continue through the highlands to the large city of Fianarantsoa, where the landscape is still dominated by rice fields on stage, pine forest and eucalyptus. On arrival, take a city tour of Fianarantsoa before continuing to Ambalavao, where we visit the Paper Anteimoro workshop, a sign of the Arabian influence in Madagascar. Also, if time permit, we visit the colourful and popular zebu market in Ambalavao (only on Wednesdays and Thursdays). Overnight Zongo Hotel or similar (B) 

Day 4: Ambalavao – Anja Reserve – Isalo (Ranohira) (Approximate driving time today is 6 hours)
This morning continue to Anja Reserve where we start our wildlife experiences. Anja is a reserve run by the local village, and income raised serves to pay the local school teachers’ salary. During the 2 hour hike, we will get the chance to see the famous ring-tailed lemurs. Continue south passing the "3 hillocks" and the huge dome called "archbishop's cape" a sacred place for the local people, as it is a place where their ancestors made a collective suicide rather than to surrender to Merina's domination. Stop in Ihosy, the capital of the Bara tribes, nomadic cattle raisers and then drive through the spectacular "plateaux de Horombe” to finally arrive in Ranohira, the gate to the Isalo National Park. Overnight Motel de l’Isalo or similar. (B) 

Day 5: Isalo National Park
After breakfast, enjoy a walk in the National Park of Isalo. This park is very famous for its strange sandstone geological formations eroded over the passage of time by the wind and rain, this park offers some of the most spectacular scenery of the country. This is also a place where the Bara tribes bury their dead. If we are lucky, we will see the lemur Catta during our excursion in the park. With permission, visit a local school project. Later in the afternoon, we head to “La Fenêtre de l’Isalo”, a stunning rock arch to watch the sunset over this dramatic landscape. Overnight Motel de l’Isalo or similar (B) 

Isalo National Park
Isalo National Park, in the south of the country, is largely made up of interestingly-shaped sandstone rocks, and is a world away from the lushness of some of Madagascar’s other parks. The park is renowned for the colours of the surrounding terrain and impressive panoramic views, as well as a sense of utter tranquillity. It is also a sacred area to the local Bara tribe, who use caves in the cliffs as burial chambers. We will be walking for much of the day at Isalo so you should be prepared for this.

The walk to the natural swimming pool is 3km both ways and the trail is climbing steps and heading upwards for about 1km, then flat for 1km and finally descending to the natural pool. Whilst walking along the flat part of the route you can climb the rocks to the view point. There are 2 areas you can climb to depending on how comfortable you are with heights. Your guide will explain these to you so you can decide the best viewing platform.

Day 6: Isalo - Zombitse National Park – Tuléar - Ifaty (Approximate driving time today is 8 hours)
After breakfast, continue southwest to Tuléar, the terminal of Route National 7. Stop at Ilalaka, a tiny village transformed into a busy town since the discovery of sapphire 15 years ago.  From here, a new landscape presents, composed with semi-dry forest of the west and, baobab tamarin trees. Visit Zombitse National Park where we will have 1-hour hike with a special guide in a semi-dry tropical forest, home to endemic birds and up to 6 species of lemurs. As we approach Tulear, we start to see the spiny forest and the colourful tombs of the Mahafaly and Antandroy tribes. At Tulear we take the Route National 9, and head north to Ifaty along the coast passing mangroves, spiny forest and dunes. Overnight Belle Vue Hotel or similar (B)

Day 7: Ifaty at leisure
Today is at leisure. This afternoon there will be an optional walk to the village of Mangily and get a feel for the life of the Vezo fisherman. During the winter months (June – August it is possible to take a whale watching excursion at extra cost). Overnight Belle Vue Hotel or similar (B)

On the south-west coast of Madagascar, looking out over the Mozambique Channel lays Ifaty, an idyllic sun-soaked part of Madagascar. Home to the local Vezo people, Ifaty is an excellent place for snorkelling, diving, or just relaxing and watching the waves lap the shore. Pirogues manned by local fishermen move up and down the coastline, bringing their catches back to land to sell in the local markets, and you’ll soon find yourself slipping into an easy pace of life. There are also plenty of other options for the more energetic, including trips to local nature reserves, boat trips to spot whales and other marine life, and walks to local villages.

Day 8: Ifaty – Tuléar - Isalo (Ranohira) (Driving time approximately is 7 hours)
After breakfast, we head back to Tuléar and have a short city tour and visit the excellent Arboretum showcasing the best flora of Madagascar. From there, we take the Route National 7 and head northwards back to Isalo National Park. Overnight Motel de l’Isalo or similar (B)

Located in the Deep South, crossed by the Tropic of Capricorn and bathed by the Canal de Mozambique, Tulear used to be one of the main harbours of Madagascar during colonial time. Different tribes -Vezo, Sakalava, Masikoro and Antandroy- managed to intermingle in Tuléar, making it a cosmopolitan city with different cultures and traditions which are all based on the cult of ancestors.

Day 9: Isalo – Fianarantsoa - Ranomafana (Approximate driving time today is 7 hours)
After breakfast, we head north to Ihosy the capital of the Bara tribes and renowned Zebu herders. Pass back through the dramatic scenery of "plateaux de Horombe", with its wide-open savannah. Around Ihosy we look out for the Bara with their droves of zebu.  Continue through to the catholic city of Fianarantsoa and on to Ranomafana National Park.  Overnight Ihary Hotel or similar (B) 

Day 10: Ranomafana National Park
Today we enjoy a morning excursion, walking for around 4 hours with stops with a local guide where we hope to see different lemur species. Later you will have some leisure time before a night walk on the edge of the forest looking for nocturnal species. Overnight Ihary Hotel or similar (B)  

Walk in Ranomafana National Park
The walk in Ranomafana National Park can take approx. 4-5 hours. The walk is along marked trails which include many steps, and it may be necessary to leave the trails to search for the lemurs.

Ranomafana National Park
Ranomafana is considered to be one of Madagascar’s most beautiful National Parks, and was established in the early 1990s to protect the newly discovered golden bamboo lemur, as well as the very rare greater bamboo lemur. The park is covered with forest, and in higher areas moss and lichens cover the trees, giving it a prehistoric feel. Exotic plants such as orchids, as well as mountains, waterfalls and natural hot springs, make this endangered forest a charming and unusual place to discover.

Day 11: Ranomafana - Antsirabe (Approximate driving time today is 6 hours)
Depart early today and we re-enter the highlands once again enjoying the scenery of rice terraces beautifully arranged on the hills, and the valleys decorated with wide vegetable plantations. Stop at Ambositra for lunch and visit a local wood carvers’ shop. Continue to Antsirabe arriving by the middle of the afternoon. We take a tour of this important highland town which is also home to the main beer brewery of Madagascar. Overnight Royal Palace Hotel or similar (B)

The city of Antsirabe has about 100,000 inhabitants, and was founded by Norwegian missionaries in the late 18th century, who were attracted by the pleasant climate. It lies on the slopes of the nation's second highest peak, Tsiafajavona, in the Ankaratra Mountains, and has nearby thermal springs, locally renowned for their healing properties. The city is also known as the centre of Madagascar’s brewing industry, and indeed you will smell the brewery on the way into town.

Day 12: Antsirabe - Antananarivo – Departure from Madagascar (Approximate driving time today is 4 hours)
After breakfast we drive back to Tana. Upon arrival, transfer to the airport on due time for your onward flight back home. Day use available at Gassy Country House until late afternoon for clients travelling on the night Air France / Kenya Airways flights. (B) 


Tour inclusions/exclusions

Arrival and departure airport transfers
All accommodation as per mentioned in the itinerary, or similar
Transport throughout the tour with an English-speaking driver
Services of local guides in parks/reserves
Drinking water (1L per day per person)
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Travel Insurance
Visa (available on arrival – currently 35 euros per person)
Tips (at your discretion)
Items of a personal nature

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