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 rain forests 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.

Day 1 – Antananarivo

Arrive in Antananarivo and transfer to the hotel. Depending on your time of arrival, you may have time to explore the city. Overnight at Gassy Country House 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  6 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 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 4 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 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 a wine factory then the Paper Anteimoro workshop, a sign of the Arabian influence in Madagascar. Also visit the colourful market in Ambalavao Overnight Zongo Hotel or similar (B)  

Day 4 – Ambalavao – Anja Reserve – Isalo National Park – Approximate driving time today is 4 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. Drive through the spectacular " plateaux de Horombe to Isalo National Park (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 5 – Isalo National Park

After breakfast, enjoy an excursion 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 walk in the park.  With permission, visit a local school project. Later in the afternoon, drive to the “The Natural window” to enjoy the sunset. Overnight Motel Isalo or similar (B)  

Day 6 – Isalo National Park - Zombitse National Park – Tulear - Ifaty – Approximate driving time today 5 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 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 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 – Tulear - Isalo National Park - Driving time approximately 5 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 at Motel 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 National Park - Ranomafana National Park – Approximate driving time 6 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)  

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 5 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 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 – Approximate driving time today is 3.5 hours

After breakfast we drive back to Tana. Upon arrival, transfer to the airport for your onward flight back (B) 

If you wish to extend your stay in Madagascar, we can recommend many extensions to other parts of the country. 

Tour inclusions/exclusions


Arrival and departure airport transfers

All accommodation

Transport throughout the tour with an English speaking driver

Services of local guides in parks/reserves

Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)

Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary


International flights

Travel Insurance

Visa (available on arrival – 35 euros per person)



Items of a personal nature


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