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Hi to everyone.

As anticipated in my last trip report (http://safaritalk.net/topic/15973-sand-and-stars-namibia-2014/) I start to describe the Madagascar experience. It is the most "fresh" one since it is from last year.

I sow there are few disussion about the Red Island, probably because, even if it is Southern Africa, it is not a "classical" safari destination. There are no lions, no giraffes and no elephants. To be honest there are no big animals at all, BUT there is a rich endemic wildlife and flora. Sometimes really unexpected.

Beyond this, here there is the rain forest and a dense human presence, which is a big part of the trip in itself, while in Namibia (and I think also in South Africa) people is few and in general quite "separated" from the tourists. In Madagascar people is everywhere and even if you don't like, you are going to be part of them.

Other important element is the poverty: if you are used to paved roads in Namibia and good infrastructure in general, hear is not like that.

Just an example: in Namibia I always drunk tap water, in Madagascar always in bottle...

So, it is not an easy self-drive destination (also because the people speaks few french or generally the local dialect) if you are at the first-time in Africa.


How we decided about Madagascar? Well, the year we went in Namibia we checked the "best destinations" in July-August and the whole Southern Africa was at the top of the list. So also this year we choose an African destination and Madagascar had just a lot of good points: dry season, not cold but not hot either, few mosquitoes (malaria IS a problem there), and no time zone changing. So... Let's go!


We contacted an Italian/Malgasy tour operator called FreeBirds Madagascar with whom we planned the itinerary, the hotels and excursions. Beyond this, we had also a driver AND a guide. So defenetly well equipped ahahah :D. The TO helped us A LOT when we had a BIG problem with the internal flight (by AirMadagascar): the flight was cancelled the night before the departure, and we had to reach Antananarivo from Tulear to catch the international flight. Our tour operator was able to find a guy who brought us (18 hours!!! :o) on time not to miss the flight. He also refunded us for the missed internal flight. They saved our life!

Everything was perfect and I highly recommand them. The guide in particular was very important not for the description of wildlife, but for the human interaction with local people and because she arranged all the formality in the hotels/restaurant/parks.


For the itinerary we choose the "classical" one. The RN7 "highway" from Antananarivo to Tulear + the Andasibe-Mantadia NP + some days on the seaside north of Tulear. We spent 15 days (like always :D)


Whe choice was good and we had the possibility to visit the most important National Parks of the country and also the best colonial cities. A big plus is that we were in a low-malaria area and season so we didn't take any medicine. The north of the country is even less touristic and there is not an highway similar to RN7 which crosses such interesting points. So the planning is a bit harder and it is quite probable to use several internal flights (WHICH IS BAD!). Beyond this the north on the island is probably the worst malaria area in the world :wacko:


But here the details:


- 18 July 2015: Flight from Milano MXP to Paris and from Paris to Antananarivo by AirFrance. Lending in late evening and meeting with the guide.

- 19 July 2015: Antananarivo - Andasibe Mantadia NP via Pereyra reserve and Vakona reserve

- 20 July 2015: Visit of the Andasibe Mantadia NP

- 21 July 2015: Andasibe - Antsirabe via Ambatolampy. Visit of the city

- 22 July 2015: Antsirabe - Ranomafana NP via Ambositra

- 23 July 2015: Visit of the Ranomafana NP

- 24 July 2015: Ranomafana NP - Andringitra via Anja Reserve

- 25 July 2015: Morning walk in Andringitra and transfer to Isalo NP

- 26 July 2015: Visit of the Isalo NP

- 27 July 2015: Isalo NP - Tulear via Ikalaka mines and stop to Arboretum Antsokay

- 28 July 2015: Tulear - Ambatomilo (on the western seaside)

- 29/30 July 2015: Seaside life in Ambatomilo

- 31 July 2015: Ambatomilo - Tulear via Reniala Reserve

- 1 August 2015: Supposed internal flight Tulear-Antananarivo, in the reality 18 hours by car back on RN7!!!! Then flight to Paris and Milan. Night onboard

- 2 August 2015: Lending in Milan


For the accomodation we stayed in:


- Hotel Belvedere (Antananarivo)

- Eulophiella Lodge (Andasibe)

- Couleur Cafè (Antsirabe)

- Karibotel (Ranomafana)

- Camp Catta (Andringitra)

- Jardin du Roy (Isalo)

- Hotel Serena (Tulear)

- Shangri-La Lodge (Ambatomilo)


I don't remember the brand of the car, but for sure was a 4x4 with snorkel.


As camera I have an Olympus E-400 with Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6, Zuiko 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3, Zuiko 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6. Plus I have a Compact SONY Cybershot 18.2 Mp mainly used for recording.


Weather was wet and rainy in the rain forests (Andasibe and Ranomafana). Here was also pretty cold (around 10°C) in the night.
In the highlands (Antsirabe, Finaratsoa) was clear, dry and sunny but cold in the night (2-5°C). In the spiny forest and savannah (Isalo) was a kind of Namibian weather. On the coast was a bit wet but always sunny and warm ([23°C] we were able to swim in the sea)
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Can't wait to hear more detail on each area and see pics :)

Sounds wonderful already.

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- DAY 1 and 2 -


Finally the day of the departure arrived!!!

We flew with Air France and it was everything ok. The best thing is that we flew during the day and, since I cannot sleep on planes, I enjoyed watching 3 or 4 movies. From Paris we arrived in Antananarivo late in the night with no important mentions.

Temperature was quite low there and, luckly, we were set close to the exit doors. So we arrived to the immigration point in the first wave. THIS was important. In fact we immediatly discovered how malgasy system and bureucracy worked: BAD. Everything was so slow and bad organized. Was difficult to understand even the row to follow. Then we spend around 1 hour to have the visa on our passport, and don't ask me how we had it back since it was put into a little mountain of other passports... :wacko::wacko:

At the end we were able to cross the immigration area (leaving behind us a big crowd of people) and we arrived at the luggage roll. We spent another hour looking all the people taking the luggages all the time with a scream of joy. We were loosing the hope when (almost last) our luggages appeared! YEEEEE!

Another passport control to go out (they controlled it almost 4 times) and then we met a big crowd of people with names on paper.

Finally we met our Tour Operator correspondent: Fabrizio!

We jumped on the car with him and a girl who was going to be our guide. We crossed the outskirt of the city to reach our hotel and finally, quite late we went to sleep.


The day after, even if we slept only few hours, we could see the place where we were. The hotel was on a hill (Antananarivo is made by several hills) from where we could watch the life in the squares and the streets. YES, this is really the Africa we had in our mind: a big mess of people, cars and animals everywhere, with sounds and smells we are defenetly not used anymore in Europe. I liked it!


We met Fabrizio in the hall of the hotel were we had an average breakfast and we exchanged our euros with ariarys (we should take a big box to contain all those banknotes!!! :o). Then we met again our guide and the driver. So, let's the trip begin!


We left Antananarivo on the east, crossing several markets and starting to find all those people and situations which deserve thousends of pictures. In the cities of Madagascar you seriously would to take pictures of everything!

We stop to eat at Moramanga the best Zebu steak ever (and it will be the best of the whole trip) and then, going downhill we started to enter in the rain forest area. And it started to rain... <_<


Finally the first important stop: the Peyrieras Reserve.

It is not a real National Park, but it is a forest reserve with some lemurs and an area where are kept some reptiles. It is not obviously a zoo, but neither a completely free area. Anyway it is a possibility to see some animals which in nature is almost impossible to spot (since the mimetic habit). Here something we sow:


Some rainforest flowers:





Coquerel's sifaka


Coquerel's sifaka

And some chamaleons:




Other really strange reptiles. The Uroplatus:





Then we moved into another reserve: the Vakona Reserve.

Also this reserve is not a copletely free area: in fact it is a little island where some species of lemurs lives. The point is that they are scared by water, so cannot escape the island. The result is a reserve where is defenetly easy to spot them, and in some case they are very confidant to humans, so you can get extremely close!


This is how to reach the island:


And the lemurs!



Common brown lemur


Common brown lemur


Common brown lemur


Gray Bamboo lemur


Black-and-white ruffed lemur

Out of the island there is also a cage, where they keep a Fosa. But I'm not posting pictures, since we didn't spot it in nature...


Under the rain we reached our lodge. It is a really wild place, in tha middle of the forest. And in the night we were able to listen (a lot) the noises of the animals (and insects).

The main area was big and in a safari-style (it was the only lodge like that). It had also a big garden, which we explored the day after.

We had a delicious dinner (and we were only 4 persons in the whole lodge!) and then we chilled out in front of the fire (temperature went down). Going to our chalet we discovered the rain stopped, and we sow a great Milky Way upon us.

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Ahh, chaos at immigration - takes me straight back to our visit in 2013 when it look us at least 2 hours to get through! Looking forward to following the rest of your journey.

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Love those Chameleons! Wonderful report with super pics and a very entertaining writing style. Looking forward to more!

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Fantastic start and great to see another Olympus fan on the forum! :) I also visited the lost continent a few years ago. :)

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Lemurs and chameleons, oh my! What an amazing place!

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I was impressed with the delicately colored rainforest flowers proving it was indeed wet during your visit. And then you smacked mein the face with those lemurs and chameleons. Goodness gracious!


Peyrieras Reserve - can you place that geographically and how you got there on RN7? I'm trying to see if it is easy to incorporate to the start of any itinerary.


Thanks for your "fosa photo ethics."


Great start!

Edited by Atravelynn
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Fantastic (and quite funny) chameleon photos, the one in particular.

Looking forward to hearing more!

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Madagascar has always been on my list but all i've heard about it is the logistically tough process, so it had been kept on the backburner. but it sounds like you've found a wonderful solution, so i'll have to dig it back up to my list. :)


awesome chameleons. incredible you found so many in one go. and that uroplatus is amazing.


beautiful lemurs too. the sifaka is on a feeding platform - do they feed the lemurs, and was that how you could see lemurs there?


your enthusiasm is so infectious! love it.

thanks for sharing.

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@@Guidoriccio11, thank you, lovely to see different creatures, the Lemur are of course beautiful, but I'm particularly take with that little "lizard" that looks like a few folded leaves, incredible camouflage.

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Great start @@Guidoriccio11 ! Looking forward to see more of your adventure.


@@Atravelynn - the Peyrieras Reserve is on the way from Antananarivo to Andasibe - just off the main road, so it is very easy to incorporate this into an itinerary visiting Andasibe.

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@@kittykat23uk thank you! I always had Olympus. From the old not-digital to the actual e-400. But now I'm upgrading (not much) to the "new" e-620. I like reflex, and I don't feel for now to convert to mirrorless... :rolleyes:


@@Atravelynn as @@cheetah80 said it is not on RN7: we made a detour on the RN2 on the east. After the visit of Andasibe we come back to Antananarivo and then we took the road to south.


@@Kitsafari the Uruplatus were incredible. About the platform I've to say that this "reserve" was like this. Sifakas are free, but they just put that stuff to get them close for the tourists. This is not a National Park, so we can discuss a lot about the ethic of this thing... But I have also to say that this place was the only one in the whole trip with this kind of structures. All the other Reserves and Parks were defenetly wild!


I know this place is not wild. But I have also to say this was the first stop of the whole trip: obviously the feeling to spot them in nature that we had later in the other parks was different, but as first "taste" of the fauna was important for me. And I have to admit that we sow dozens of chamaleons later in the wild, but no uruplatus.


@@elefromoz just for you I post another pic of the leaf lizard, where you can see its tail (I was like this watching it: :o)



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Ah, I have an E-620 which came with me to Madagascar. So if you would like to compare then here is the set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kittykat23uk/8175050786/in/album-72157631981299830/


For night shots and some deeper jungle shots I used the FL50 R flash unit and occasionally a better beamer. If you are looking for an upgrade on the lens, the 50-200 is a good choice, and works nicely with a 1.4 converter. I don't use my E-620 much now, I upgraded to an E-5 and then the OMD E-M1. :)

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@@kittykat23uk wow. Great set of pics! I'll test my e-620 in Kgalagadi this August and let see... I will defenetly ugrade in 5-6 years :P

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- DAY 3 -

We slept quite well in our chalet. The mosquito-net around our bed was unnecessary for the mosquitos, but we felt "safe" from all the other possible guests of the room. In fact during the night we listened a lot of noises in the dark around us. I think the straw roof has some interesting visitors. But this is also what I remembered from the Amazonas in Brazil. When there is a rain forest and a wet climate, insects population just explodes...

However we woke up quite early under a British thin rain. We had a lonely breakfast and then we met our guide and the driver.

Little digression: The guide+driver "formula", as I said before, is quite popular in Madagasar. So, every lodge is adapted to host also them. The weird thing is that the tourists sleep in the lodge (obviously), while the guides in a separated compound and the drivers in another compound (and the quality follows the "social class"). To be honest we felt a bit guilty to eat sometimes in the lodge alone because for guide and driver was too expansive (or because they had a separated eating room). When we could we tried to invite them to eat together also maybe offering the dinner (it was maybe just 10€!!!!) but this worked only few times. Probably they felt guilty to see us pay for them or just they preferred to eat and chat with other people in their language. In final: I'm not Scrooge McDuck but if you have an average western salary, here you feel the real economic separation with local population. This is something you have to take into consideration visiting Madagascar.

So, after breakfast we drove towards the entrance of the Andasibe-Mantadia NP. We were assigned to a park guide (mandatory) and we choose the longest track in the forest. So, we 2 + our guide + the park guide + our driver (LOL) started the tour.

The forest is awesome (and at the end of the trip probably the best rainforest park) and the guide really important to spot reptiles, insects and endemic flora. But what is this sad scream?! It is the reason why we are here! It is the morning call of the Indri Indri: the biggest lemur of the red Island! It has a diet made of a mixture of Leaves of endemic trees, so it can survive only in this forest. All the attempts to introduce the Indri in captivity in some zoo or even in other forests in Madagascar failed... So, no other options to spot it: just come here. And this is an incredible feeling!

After listening the calls finally we spot them! They stays up on the trees, add the rain falling, the grey sky and everything in backlight it was not easy to take pictures... (last 2 are the ones I prefer)







We spent some hours there but after a while we were quite a lot of people, moving in the mud trying to follow the lemurs. Beyond them we spotted also some brown common lemurs and a group of 3 sportive lemurs. This was a great spotting because they are usually nocturnal. We analyzed also some flora, including some orchids.




Tired, we ended the tour and we ate a late lunch at a restaurant close to the forest.

Then we went back to the lodge crossing the small town of Andasibe.

Another little digression: This is pretty sad, and something we noticed also in other towns of the country. The only 2 real buildings in town are the old french train station and the old fench Post Office. We all know that colonialism was bad, but here you can see how bad was also the de-colonization. In Madagascar you really see that the old administration just said "goodbye" and left the infrastuctures but not the KNOWLEDGE on how to use them. And I don't mean only the technical knowledge, but also the organizative one. The result is that people went back as before the colony (so in Andasibe they left isolated the colonial buildings to create a separate town made mainly by wooden houses) and all the infrastuctures deteriorated until they cannot be fixed anymore and then abandoned (so the old freanch train worked until they could. After people simply had NO trains). Also this is really evident: you look around and you see ALWAYS people fixing some old stuff. And in the big towns you see the fancy "building of the past" left abandoned.

But back to the trip... We arrived in the lodge in mid afternoon, so we could rest and I explored the big garden since a lot of birds appeared. I got closer to birding only recently, but I sow there is a post about Madagascar birds, so I'm going to post there the pictures (also because I need some IDs) --> http://safaritalk.net/topic/13806-birding-madagascar/




After a shower we went early to have dinner (a nice steak with vanilla) close to the fireplace and then... night walk! Well... not a long walk, but still an opportunity to spot some nocturnal animals. And the walk was in the forest around our lodge!

We spotted some sleeping chamaleons and nocturnal lemurs! We could easy spot the eyes, like fire dots in the dark.

Few pics of this :-/



Then, satisfied we went back to the chalet...

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@@Guidoriccio11 great photos and your prose gives a really good sense of being there. I also like hearing the not-so-good along with the good to give an accurate picture. I hope to get to Madagascar some day, and you're right there are not that many reports about it so keep it coming!

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@@Guidoriccio11 the lemurs are beautiful! and so is that unusual blue orchid.


From the way you described it, did you all get down from the vehicle to spot/follow the lemurs?

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@@Kitsafari defenetly. In Madagascar there are no predators like in the rest of Africa. Even the snakes are not deadly! So basically you visit all the parks walking with the guide into the forest...

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You describe Andasibe-Mantadia NP as the “best rainforest park.”


Not trying to parse your words, but does that mean out of the rainforest-type parks this one is the best in your opinion or was it the best park of your whole Madagascar visit?


Was it best because you saw the most lemurs and other creatures?


“So, we 2 + our guide + the park guide + our driver (LOL) started the tour.” That looks like a private tour. Is that typical that your “group” which was 2 of you sets off with a local guide for just that group? Or do you think you were lucky that no other groups joined you?



And a very basic question: It is the Red Island because of red sand, right? I’ll be looking for some red sand, then in your report. I never focused on the sand because the unique creatures tend to be the focus of attention. If you did not photograph red sand, I won’t be heartbroken. Let’s just see what you did get.


On guides eating with guests: “Probably they felt guilty to see us pay for them or just they preferred to eat and chat with other people in their language.”I think your last comment is spot on. Dining with guests can be a continuation of the work day for them even though it is fascinating and fun dinner conversation in a relaxed atmosphere for us. We may like the food more than our guides also. But your offer to host your guide was surely appreciated.


If you have any info on how long it took you to get to different spots, even a rough estimate, I would be very interested.


Looking forward to more unique creatures of the Red Island.

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Hi @@Atravelynn


I try to be the most exhaustive I can...


In my itinerary I had roughly divided the visited areas in 4 parts:


- rainforest

- highlands

- savannah

- spiny forest/coast


Focusing on rainforest, I visited 2 parks: Andasibe-Mantadia and Ranomafana (+ the other 2 small reserves). When I say "best rainforest park" I mean in my experience, so actually I liked Andasibe more than Ranomafana.


Ranomafana is for sure the most famous "rainforest park" of Madagascar also because it is easly accessible along the RN7 road. But it is less fascinating I can say for several reasons: first of all it is too much popular, so it is very crowded of tourists who, even is quiet, annoy the animals and they run away. Then, the area around Ranomafana is more populated, so you feel the forest attacked by houses and fields. And last, Andasibe is the only place on earth where you can spot the Indri Indri, which is a fascinating creature. In Ranomafana you spot as well other species of interesting lemurs, but it was just a feeling I had...


If I have to speak about Madagascar overall (so including the areas of the North I didn't visit) I would say the best park is probably the Masoloa NP, which is also one of the most remote rainforest in the world. In a second trip in Madagascar I will try to include it for sure!


Regarding the local guides in the parks: in Madagascar there are A LOT of people, most of them unemployed or surviving with basic agricolture. This situation creates a bad consequence because more the population grows, more people have to eat, and they cut the forest, reducing the habitat of animals. So, the turistic field, is really important to let this people have another way to get money and also to consider the forest not an "obstacle" but an opportunity. The government hire A LOT of guides for the parks paying them quite few, but allowing them to have "big" tips (in Madagascar BIG is around 5 each). The consequence is that you can have a guide even alone.


For the sand... Yes actually Madagascar is called "Ile Rouge" (Red Island in french) because of the soil. It is defenetly more evident in the highlands and in the Savannah and coast area. The Rainforest cover it, so you have to wait for future posts :-D


Our guide was really sweet, but sure... it is a work for her. I tell you a funny episode that occurred when we sow the Indri the first time: we turned to her saying "did you see it?!" and she replied: "yes, awesome!". Then we realized she probably could almost call each Indri by name since she visited that park dozens of times ahahhaahha


Anyway the last day of tour we invited her and the driver in the best restaurant of Tulear, and finally we had a good dinner all together :-D


For the distances I can say we needed around 5 hours for the Antananarivo-Andasibe. The road was paved and also in good shape, but you have to slow down when you meet animals, trucks (really in bad shape) and people with every kind of means of transport... Excluded from the 5 hours, we stopped to eat in Moramanga and visit the 2 reserves.

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Thank you for the detailed response. I hope to make use of it some day and I am certain others will. Interesting on the guides.


I have noted you are mentioning second trip!!!

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Indeed a second northerly trip would be on my list too as there are some key species I didn't get on my trip which took a similar route to the above. Notably aye-aye, red ruffed lemurs and helmet vanga. :)

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Defenetly @@Atravelynn, @@kittykat23uk.

In future a second trip is mandatory. We discussed about it already with our TO the day we left. The point is that if the RN7 is the "classical" center-south trip, speaking about the north everything became more vague. There are a lot of points to visit which are not well connected each other.

For sure Masoloa is a must but also the Montagne d'Ambre and the Tsingy. And these 3 points are very far each other . For aye aye the Nosy Mangabe island should give more possibilities to spot...

The best should be 3 weeks to visit the north. And here malaria is a strong issue :-/

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