“Madagascar had been my dream destination since my childhood visits to ZSL London Zoo, where the cuddly lemurs made a lasting impression. My sister had the same ambition. so a year ago we started to organise the trip.
I contacted Sophie at Abbotts Travel and quickly realised it was going to be difficult to see everything on our list. We hadn't appreciated how huge the island was (1,000 miles long), with varied terrain and poor infrastructure. Unless we had lots of time and loads of dosh, compromises had to be made. Our main motivation was the wildlife. Firstly we wanted to see as many different species of lemur as possible, as well as the humpback whales (who migrate there between July and October to mate and give birth) and not forgetting the chameleons, lizards, birds and all the other wildlife unique to Madagascar. Leaving Sophie with our wish list, she organised an amazing itinerary with Intrepid Tours. We decided to go early September and chose to visit the east of the island. Over sixteen days we would be staying at four locations, enabling us to see as much wildlife as possible and all within our budget. Included in the package were flights (via Paris), transfers, breakfast and dinner, and our own guide for the first six days. Note: English is the third language, so lots of gesticulating and schoolgirl French is required. A year later it was time for our adventure to begin…
We arrived late into the capital, Antananarivo, and began our trip with an early morning tour of the 18th century Queen’s Palace, before driving to the Forest of Anjozorobe (for a two-night stay at Saha Forest Lodge).
We had a nocturnal walk and the following morning a three-hour walk into the forest, which is when we saw our first lemurs and chameleons. It was extremely exciting!
Note: local beer and food is very cheap and very tasty. We then departed for Andasibe National Park (three nights at the Mantadia Lodge) where we would explore two different reserves. It was a long journey and the roads were bumpy, but the stunning countryside and villages we passed made it bearable. The reserves were incredible and we were lucky enough to see the iconic Indri lemur. They look very much like teddy bears and are recognisable with their eerie, wailing voice. Our next destination included a boat transfer to Ankanin'ny Nofy, an isolated area by the large Lake Ampitabe (two nights at Le Palmarium Hotel). This was a beautiful and peaceful location, with white sandy beaches. The private reserve of the hotel was an excellent place to get close to several species of lemur, as well as chameleons, frogs and lizards.
The highlight was a night trip to Aye Aye island to see the famous nocturnal lemurs - they have a face that only a mother could love.
The following day we transferred by boat, crossing the Pangalanes Canal, to Toamasina (Tamatave), the biggest harbour of Madagascar. We had an overnight stay at the Calypso Hotel. It was enough time for an afternoon shop in the markets and drink on the beach with our guide. The next morning we departed as the sun rose, for another bumpy ride to the coastal town of Mahambo. We then boarded the El Condor ferry for Ile Sainte Marie, our final destination. It was very choppy and lots of passengers spent the three-hour journey with their heads inside paper bags. But those of us with our heads up were mesmerised by the acrobatic humpback whales accompanying the boat.
Ile Sainte Marie is a beautiful tropical island with numerous white sandy beaches fringed by coconut palms. It was the ideal place for us to relax after all the early morning walks and long car journeys of the past ten days. We spent five nights at the Princess Bora Lodge and went out looking for whales again… we weren't disappointed. At the end of our stay we were in for one more surprise - being transported by oxen cart to the local airport 500 metres away.
We then made the flight back to the capital and transferred to a local hotel for a rest, before our late departure back to London. Note: euros are needed for the airport as restaurants and bars do not take local currency. Then it was time to say goodbye to Madagascar. It was the most extraordinary holiday and not just for the wildlife. The local people we met, the music and dancing, the vibrant colours and sounds of the forests, all made for an unforgettable experience. Lastly, I must mention that everything on our itinerary worked perfectly - all the locations, transfers, hotels and food were amazing. And we even came home with money. A massive thank you to Sophie and Intrepid Tours.”