Having trekked through rainforests, searched for ancient tombs, cartwheeled along the Avenue of Baobabs and survived death threats (in the form of a traditional greeting) Chris continues to travel the length and breadth of this beautiful, baffling country. At first glance, Madagascar can seem overwhelming with places and parks that are as difficult to reach as they are to pronounce so please do call so we can help you plan your perfect holiday to Madagascar.
Why we like Madagascar
A wildlife holiday to Madagascar offers a natural world as magical as the people. Octopus trees, animals that change colour in front of your eyes, over 50 species of primates found nowhere else on the planet, and the warmest people, living in isolation from the rest of the world whose culture is infused with magic.
Rainforests full of lemurs in Andasibe and Ranomafana, rocky lunar landscapes in Isalo Park, wild parks and deserts in the south around Mandrare and Berenty, full of spirits and hidden tombs (not to mention more lemurs) and the remote, tropical northern parks of Amber Mountain and Ankarana. Being an island however, take your pick of stunning beaches, Tsarabanjina, Anjajavy, Princesse Bora or Tsara Komba to name a few – a great way to end your Madagascar holiday.
What to expect on your Madagascar holiday
Madagascar is a destination for the adventurous and journeys can be long and challenging with changes possible at any stage of the journey, but is still great fun. Aside from the wildlife and scenery, thousands of catholic churches hide a deep belief in sorcery and magic, so an occasional offering to the ancestors should help with delayed flights and bad roads. It is a country of crumbling 18th century, French town houses, luxury lodges and mud huts, a country of fine dining and subsistence living, from delicious steaks and the freshest seafood to cassava and zebu (local cattle) blood. It will be unlike anywhere you have been before.
Madagascar just doesn't have enough planes to go round - flights can be delayed and cancelled at a moment's notice, but you will get to know the handful of cabin crew who do the rounds. Madagascar is a confusing, fascinating and sometimes frustrating country but it is also heartfelt and incredibly genuine. You will be charmed by the people and amazed by its natural beauty. It will be quite unlike anywhere you have ever been before.
Some ideas for a MadagascaR holiday
- Explore the popular Andasibe Park in a network of trails walking through forests filled with chameleons, birds and the elusive Indri
- Leave the crowds behind and fly south or north – untouched wilderness, dancing lemurs and crazy markets (not to mention some beautiful Malagasy headwear…)
- Watch the sun (or moon) rise over the iconic Avenue of Baobabs
- Stick your toes in the sand, open a cold beer and sit down to fresh crab after a morning in, on or under the Indian Ocean at one of the luxurious beach lodges
- Join our Madagascar photography tour or our Madagascar wildlife tour
Beyond the ordinary
Catch a performance of Hira Gasy - a striking mix of music, dance & opera in the lively capital, Antananarivo and sample the local flavoured rum.
Why should I travel to Madagascar with Steppes?
Over the last 20 years, we have been arranging tours for hundreds of
adventurous clients, charities photographers and BBC film makers and have
worked closely with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust allowing our
clients exclusive behind the scenes access to some of their most pioneering
work. Most importantly, we have also travelled the length and breadth of the
country, finding the most interesting, most exclusive and most exciting places
to stay and puts us in the best position to help offer advice on a country that
requires very careful planning given the wide range of options on offer. This
allows us to discuss ideas with you to find out what kind of trip you are
looking for and then offer some suggestions, helping you to avoid many of the
challenges that present themselves when putting together a trip to somewhere as
unusual and adventurous as Madagascar. We will not always be impartial, but we
will be honest and work hard to get the right trip for you, whet here you are
looking for a honeymoon in boutique lodges, a family adventure or a unique
Madagascar safari off the beaten track. This empathetic approach is reflected in the
fact that over 70% of our business is repeat and referral so please do get in
touch to see how we can help.
How do I get to Madagascar?
The main international airport is the capital,
Antananarivo, with a few flights from mainland Europe going to the island of
Nosy Be. A trip to Madagascar takes careful planning as no airline currently
flies direct from London, but there are regular flights with Kenya Airways via
Nairobi, Air France via Paris, or South African Airlines, via Johannesburg. Not
all are daily. Kenya Airways works the best logistically as the timings are
good and allow you to make the most of your time in the country. Air France
arrives very late at night, meaning a late check in at your hotel, particularly
after collecting your luggage and immigration – better to arrive in the day
where possible. South African Airways are good, but can be very expensive. The
flights are one of the most important parts of the trip, given they are a
little more complex than other destinations, but we can offer advice on making
the most of your time away and less time travelling.
When is the best time to go to Madagascar?
The topography and geography of Madagascar makes it unique in as much
that there is always somewhere you can travel to in Madagascar at any time of the
year. It has a number of different microclimates, so
each season has different benefits. As a rule of thumb, June through to October
is the best period to travel, but as a whole, each of the months offer the
following - January through to March is the cyclone season in the North and many
parks are closed or very difficult to reach. The south is fine at this time of
year though.March to June is a good time for reptile as it is hot and the lemurs
are in great condition after enjoying the fruit and vegetation of the summer
period.July and August is very popular as this is when many South Africans,
French and Italians, visit the beaches for their summer holidays so the costs
reflect this, but the rest of the country is perfect for exploring and is well
worth a visit. September through to October / November is perhaps best for general
wildlife as the spring arrives and the lemurs are having their babies and it is
also a great time for birding as they start to nest , with reptiles also becoming more active as the temperatures
increase. June to September is also the best time of year to go for whale
What is the weather like?
The temperatures vary greatly in Madagascar. In the north and in many
of the coastal areas it is tropical with balmy evenings and lovely, warm
temperatures year round. The central highlands around Antananarivo and parts of
the east coast, can be pleasant during the day, but VERY cold at night so
jumpers and fleeces are required and many of the hotels have heaters and hot
water bottles in the rooms. The south is much drier and warmer, but chillier at
What should I consider when planning a trip to Madagascar?
Hilary Bradt, one of the leading experts on Madagascar, who has worked
with Steppes over the years sums it up when she says “ the Catch 22 of
Madagascar is that the person who can afford a trip here, is often the type of
person least suited to dealing with the changes” so if you prefer you wildlife
trips without any unexpected surprises, then I would reconsider Madagascar. At
first glance, Madagascar can seem overwhelming with places and parks that are
as difficult to reach as they are to pronounce so we are very much here to
discuss ideas and help you plan your perfect trip. The most important thing to remember when planning a trip to
Madagascar is that it is a huge country and the numerous parks are fascinating
in their own right, but are not well connected. Stick to a handful of areas and
do them well, rather than try and do it all as travel in Madagascar requires
patience and planning – it is important to know what kind of trip you want from
the start. For example, if you want to do a classic Madagascar safari, there is
a fairly well-trodden route through the centre of the country and since we
began offering these tours 20 years ago, a lot of people now do them. You will
see a little bit of everything (lemurs, chameleons, baobabs) but not necessarily
the best, but people do this as it is inexpensive and convenient. If you really
want to explore the country and leave the crowds behind, this requires more
time and more money, but the rewards are incredible. Madagascar is an expensive
country when compared to similar properties and safaris elsewhere, but it will
be an adventure you will never forget, so choose wisely and be prepared to
stretch the budget. Given the changeable
nature of domestic flights in Madagascar, a night or two in the capital,
Antananarivo somewhere in the itinerary is also usually unavoidable. If it were easy, everyone would go there and
it would lose the very essence of what makes it such an exciting place to
lots of different parks – how do I choose the best Madagascar Safari for me?
The more accessible parks are less expensive, but busy, with standard
accommodation although require less time, money and planning. The more remote,
adventurous parks are wilder with better guiding and usually more interesting lodges,
including some more luxurious but require a longer stay and a more flexible
budget. Everyone comes to see lemurs and
chameleons and they are found in all parks so don’t worry about missing out on
this. The most popular parks are below –Andasibe-MantadiaMadagascar’s premier mountain rainforest reserve, only 3-4 hours drive
east from the capital, Antananarivo so easy to reach and therefore popular.
Most famous for the Indri, the largest lemur in Madagascar. Good network of
walking trails, good choice of comfortable (not luxury) accommodation and good
value. Can get busy as a result.Ranomafana
National ParkOne of the more beautiful parks, on the classic Madagascar route, with
waterfalls, rivers and rich lemur diversity, which are easy to see. Most famous
for golden bamboo lemur, 100 bird species and 36 endemics. Good accommodation
(not luxury) accessible south from Andasibe (but would need an overnight stop
from the capital en-route). Again, can be popular. Isalo
National ParkOne of the oldest and most popular (still on the classic Madagascar
itinerary) famous for its spectacular sandstone canyons, with some of the cliff
faces filled with tombs in addition to the strange looking elephants foot and
Isalo Aloe plants. Of interest to birders for kestrels and Malagasy hoopoe.
Given the landscape, very good for photography. Good upmarket lodges and
accessible from Ranomafana. Amber
Mountain National ParkIn the tropical north, this lush park is a green oasis, full of
colour. Pretty waterfalls, good trail systems, fascinating crater lakes and
excellent for chameleons, with a very exotic feel. Interesting and boutique
style lodges. Accessed by flying from Antananarivo to Diego Suarez and then a
drive from here of a few hours. Harder to reach but worth it. Ankarana
Special ReserveAlso in the tropical north, this is the most accessible and striking
example of the Malagasy Tsingy
(limestone pinnacles) which you can climb up and over thanks to a network of
dizzying walkways, before heading underneath to explore forest filled canyons
and caves. Accessible from Amber Mt National Park, with lodges in the region
full of character. Plenty of lemurs, good birding and lots of bats. Again, more
adventurous, but great fun to explore and uniquely Malagasy. KirindyA dry deciduous forest on the west coast and considered one of the
most rewarding wildlife habitats, but little visited. The open dry forest means
the wildlife is easy to see, with plenty of lemurs and chameleons and
particularly good for nocturnal lemurs. Also the best place in the country to
see Madagascar’s only large carnivore, the cat-like Fosa. Accommodation is very basic dome tents with private flushing
loo and hot shower at the back. Usually combined with a trip to the famous
Avenue of Baobabs. Park accessible by a 2 hour drive from Morondava, which
itself is an hour’s flight from Antananarivo. Wildlife very relaxed and lack of
vegetation cover makes for some great for photography.Berenty and
the Southern regionMost famous for the “Dancing” ring-tailed lemurs, at Berenty lodge
which are a big draw for the photographers, but can feel a little fake and is
not the only option. There is an alternative upmarket safari camp a few hours
away, with plenty of wildlife, but also haunted forests, ancient tombs and
colourful, authentic markets. Both places accessible only by plane into Fort
Dauphin from the capital and then a few hours – very bumpy – drive through
stunning scenery. Higher costs due to limited access but more remote and wild. Masoala National
ParkThe Masoala peninsula in the North east has one of the greatest
biodiversity in all of Madagascar, with lush rainforests extending down to the
shore which are full of orchids, endemic lemurs and rare birds. It is hot and
humid, but stunning and access is hard, with irregular flights to the access
town of Maroantsetra, then a 2-3 hour boat journey. Very basic accommodation in
the forests, but some lovely beach properties here although slightly higher costs
due to access, but still hard to beat for those who love adventure.Isle St
MarieOne of Madagascar’s most stunning tropical islands, considered by many
to be Madagascar in miniature. Beautiful beaches, traditional villages and
markets plus tropical forests waiting to be explored on foot or by bike. Great
for whale watching during the summer months and handful of luxury boutique
beach properties. Accessible by regular flights from Antananarivo. Nosy BeMadagascar’s most popular beach destination with numerous lodges and
luxury properties to choose from taking advantage of the areas beautiful
beaches. Despite its popularity, there
are enough smaller islands and upmarket places to stay tucked away along the
coast to allow for a feeling of exclusivity and the chance to enjoy the
tropical Indian Ocean. The main island has a number of interesting wildlife
parks, which are fun for day visits along with vanilla and cocoa plantations to
explore. Daily flights to the island from Antananarivo.
What is travel like in Madagascar?
It is unlike any other country in Africa. Regardless of where you have
been before or how remote a place in Africa you have visited, Madagascar is
always full of surprises and offers a genuine adventure. Fascinating and at
times frustrating, it is never boring. Distances are vast, roads can be poor so
flying is usually required somewhere along the line, but even then, flight
timings are more of a suggestion than fact. We always use good quality 4WD with
your own private English speaking guide and driver (English is not widely
spoken so it is important to be understood!) Most flights are with the national carrier, Air Madagascar, who whilst
very safe, are notorious for changing times and schedules, so we always try and
limit the number of internal flights on a trip, but they are unavoidable for
those looking for a more unique off-the-beaten track adventure. There are
however private planes or helicopters that can be used at your leisure for those
who prefer this type of convenient, hassle free travel. The further afield you
go, the more interesting things become as the scenery is wilder and any journey
will pass through some of the countries intriguing landscapes and cultures but
you must be prepared for delays and changes at the last minute. French is the
most widely spoken language and whilst our guides all speak English, you will
gain a lot more if you practice a little French on your travels, even more so
Malagasy. The scenery is also every changing, so those who do opt for the
longer, driving itineraries will be rewarded for those long drives by weird and
What should I take on a trip to Madagascar?
A sense of humour, a flexible attitude and an open mind. We will send
through a very detailed clothing and packing list relevant to your own personal
trip, but what you pack, depends on where you are going. Good walking shoes
help, a good fleece, quick drying clothes (the rains can be unexpected) but
normal beachwear for those enjoying the sunshine. There is no need to dress up
in the camps or lodges and dress is very informal.
Is Madagascar a safe country for tourists?
Yes. We have been running tours here for nearly 20 years so have built
up a solid network of partners, contacts and partners whom we rely on to ensure
our clients are safe and well looked after from the minute they arrive. We are
in regular contact with charities, business and government officials and
receive regular updates from the UK foreign office about Madagascar. If it were
not safe, we simply would not go there. In addition to this, we travel to
Madagascar regularly ourselves to strengthen these relationships whilst also
providing all our clients with a manned 24 hour UK contact telephone number,
available 7 days a week, 365 days a year for your peace of mind.
What is the accommodation like in Madagascar?
Madagascar has every kind of lodge imaginable, from the rustic bush
camps in the wild to private island resorts where you are flown in by private
plane or helicopter. The most exclusive lodges are in the most remote parks and
in some of the more remote, wildlife rich parks, the options for accommodation
are limited, but we have visited them all, so can advise you on which is best
for your type of travel. Most of the
more intimate, remote camps run on a generator with power provided early
morning and at night when at the camp, but turned off during the day when you
are out, similar to many upmarket camps in East and southern Africa. The luxury
beach lodges rival any of these found elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, but
without the crowds. We tend to favour small, independently run lodges or boutique style
camps, with private en-suite facilities and an emphasis on quality guiding and
comfort. In the cities you will find international standard hotels, but even
here services such as wi-fi can be very slow. Some of the lodges serve
excellent food, particularly the more upmarket properties along the coast. You
very much get what you pay for in Madagascar.
Can I charge my ipad, phone laptop etc at the lodges?
Yes, nearly all lodges have facilities for charging electronic
equipment, but we recommend you bring and adaptor.
Do mobile phones work in Madagascar?
Yes, although service can be patchy. You can buy a local phone and sim
card very cheaply. Texts seem to get through, but should not be relied on. All
lodges have access to phones in emergencies.
Can I use my credit cards in Madagascar?
Yes, but only in the larger more upmarket lodges and there are ATM
cash machines throughout the country in the more popular towns. The
international hotels in the mains cities and towns accept them, but there is
usually a charge. The machines don't always work however so be patient!
How much money should I take?
This very much depends on how long you are travelling, where you are
going and the type of trip you are booked on. Once you have booked your trip,
we send through a very detailed confirmation pack, providing information on how
much money you should take for your own trip. As many of the more upmarket
lodges are all inclusive, you will only need to pay for tips and souvenirs.