Chameleon Eye, Ranomafana, Madagascar holidays

Madagascar Holidays

A holiday to Madagascar offers a natural world as magical as the people. Animals that change colour in front of your eyes, over 50 species of primates found nowhere else on the planet, surreal, ever changing landscapes and arguably the most beautiful beaches of the Indian Ocean, it is hard not to fall in love with exotic Madagascar.

 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 steaks, home to some of Africa’s warmest people, living in isolation from the rest of the world whose culture is infused with magic. 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.

What to Expect on your Madagascar Holiday? 

Given the sheer diversity of landscapes, wildlife and lodges, Madagascar is all things to all people, but for many it is all about the wildlife, with some time on the beach. Sounds simple, but Madagascar is anything but. It requires planning and patience as travelling around is challenging and flights notoriously changeable, but for those willing to spend a little more and avoid the crowds, the rewards are enormous. Yes, you can drive along the popular RN7 route, along with 90% of people who come to Madagascar, but it is a tourist trail and we choose not to offer it. You can head to Berenty Lodge to see the dancing lemurs, but picnic tables and cruise ship crowds make it seem tame. Andasibe-Mantadia is an easy 4 hour drive from the capital Antananarivo, so can get busy, (there is even a car park).

 For a true Malagasy experience you need to spend more both in terms of planning and budget. Adventurers should head to the beautiful, tropical north offering rainforest waterfalls, panther chameleons and dramatic Tsingy rock formations, complete with caves and underground rivers. The island of Ile St Marie is perfect for Madagascar family safaris, where you can explore wild mountains by 4WD, traditional villages by mountain bike or on foot, before watching whales breach off-shore. The little explored east coast gives you the iconic Avenue of Baobabs along with Madagascar’s only large cat, the fosa in the stunning dry forests at the Kirindy Reserve, great for photographers. The south is perhaps the most exciting region – virtually untouched, full of wildlife and authentic culture, with some of the best lodges in the country as is the area around the Masoala Peninsuala, where beach and rainforest meet with dramatic effect. As for the beaches, most people know Nosy Be, but this is only one of a number of picture-postcard places to relax. From the excellent Eden Lodge, where turtles come ashore to lay eggs, welcoming Tsarabanjina with kayaks and hobie cats at your disposal, Anjajavy with its own private nature reserve, to the indulgence of Tsara Komba, like the rest of Madagascar, it’s all about knowing where – and where not – to go.

ideas for your Madagascar holiday

  • Experience the wildest and most authentic regions of Madagascar and fly south to explore the areas around Mandrare and Manafiafy. The best of Madagascar.
  • Enjoy some of the worlds best 4WD adventures and wildernesss along the RN5 around the Masoala Peninsula
  • Head to the stunning island of Ile St Marie – considered Madagascar in miniature - for some superb whale watching and great beach.
  • Search for pirate graves and elusive Aye-Ayes, before making bows and arrows and going on a bug-hunt (all harmless!) on a Madagascar family adventure
  • Join our group tour and head west to visit the Avenue of Baobabs and some great birding, exploring lively markets and villages away from the crowds.
  • Explore the tropical north, where you can walk between the pinnacles of the Tsingy rock formations, hiking across Amber Mountain and swimming in emerald seas.
  • Enjoy world class diving and snorkelling at Tsarabanjina, along with the chance to explore the coast in Kayaks and hobies before a game of beach volleyball with the locals.
  • Relax on a luxury Madagascar Honeymoon, with days on Anjajavy private beach reserve, or nights spent sipping cocktails overlooking a moonlit Indian Ocean at Tsara Komba.
  • Explore Kirindy Special Reserve, one of the only places in the country you find the cat-like fosa and David Attenborough’s favourite Madagascar park
  • Watch turtles lay their eggs on the beach and lemurs jumping through the trees at the superb Eden Lodge.
  • Drift past remote communities on a cruise along the Tsiribhina River – camping on the shore near traditional villages only accessible by boat.
  • Kayak through the wild waterways and lagoons of the south between remote lodges on a fully serviced kayaking expedition.
  • Walk through forests full of lemurs and chameleons in the accessible (but busy) Andasibe-Mantadia and enjoy very close encounters with lemurs at Vakona Forest Lodge.
  • Discover Madagascar's cultural heritage (and perhaps make an offering) at the UNESCO site of Ambohimanga.
  • Witness the 2016 annular solar eclipse from one of the country's unspoilt beaches.

 

Beyond the Ordinary

  • Experience ancestor worship at its most personal, during local Famadihana ceremonies - the famous “turning of the bones”.
  • Enjoy a gourmet meal with your own chef and a night under the stars on a private island - for honeymooners and adventurers alike.

Our Madagascar Experts

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.

Madagascar FAQs

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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, whether 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 watching. 

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 night. 

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 explore. 

There are 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-Mantadia

Madagascar’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 Park

One 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 Park

One 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 Park

In 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 Reserve

Also 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.

Kirindy

A 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 region

Most 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 Park

The 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 Marie

One 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 Be

Madagascar’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 wonderful landscapes.

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.

Holidays

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Inspiration

Sea View, Tsara Komba, Nosy Be, Madagascar

NEW: Flights between Johannesburg and Nosy Be

Beginning in March 2016, SA Airlink launched weekly direct flights between Johannesburg and Nosy Be. This exciting new route has opened up a wealth of possibilities. Departing every Sunday, these flights lend themselves perfectly to a wealth of beach-and-safari combinations, such as Tsara Komba followed by Marataba Safari Lodge, or vice versa.

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Blog: What to make of Madagascar

"The natural world is as magical as the people. There are octopus trees, animals that change colour in front of your eyes, over 50 different species of primates found no-where else on the planet. There are wild deserts, mountain rain forests, rocky lunar landscapes and sacred spiny forests full of ghosts and hidden tombs."

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Client Reviews

Mandrare River Camp, Baobab sunset
"I appreciated the personal touch...
 ...Phone calls to confirm details of the trip and to answer any niggling questions!"
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Corinne Spinks

Madagascar
Lodge, Tsara Komba, Nosy Be, Madagascar

"Cannot praise the choice of accommodation highly enough…

Tsara Komba was excellent - outstanding service in a true paradise. Pallisandre was the perfect stop over."
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Joanne Gwilt

Madagascar
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(via Paris or Nairobi)

Holiday Ideas in Madagascar

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