Lemurs, birds, baobabs, rainforest, desert, trekking and diving: Madagascar is a dream destination for outdoor lovers – and half the fun is getting to all these incredible attractions. The remarkable fauna and flora is matched by epic landscapes of an incredible diversity: you can go from rainforest to desert in just 300km. Few places on Earth offer such an intense kaleidoscope of nature. Either in the end of the circuit or from Antananarivo, several extensions of 3 or more days are possible if you wish to extend your stay on themes of coastal eco-tourism, cultural, historical and in a spirit of authenticity and curiosity.
The Tsingy of Bemaraha Reserve lies in the southern region of Madagascar’s largest natural reserve, Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve. The word « Tsingy » refers to the pinnacles that do the park’s limestone plateau. The park is home to seven lemur species, including the Deckens sifaka, as well as many species of birds like theTsingy Rail, the Giant Coua,the Coquerel’s Coua, the Western Scop’s Owl, the White-browed Owl and the Sickle-billed Vanga.
The Mahavy-Kinkony Wetland Complex gained temporary protection status in 2007. It incorporates a diverse and fragile ecosystem consisting of marine bays, river, delta and 22 lakes, including Madagascar’s second-largest, Lac Kinkony. The reserve is also home to dry deciduous and gallery forest, savannah, marshland, mangrove, caves and lots of wildlife. What most people come to Lac Kinkony for, however, are the birds. There are 143 species and it is the only place where all of westernMadagascar’s waterfowl species can be seen in the same location.
The magical Masoala Peninsula is the site of a 2100-sq-km national park containing one of the best primary rainforests in Madagascar. The peninsula is famous for its vegetation, which includes primary forest, rainforest and coastal forest, as well as a variety of palm and orchid species. Ten lemur species are found here, along with several tenrec and mongoose species, 14 bat species, 60 reptile species and about 85 bird species. The marine national parks protect mangrove ecosystems, coral reefs, dolphins, dugong and turtles. There are excellent opportunities here for sea kayaking, snorkelling and swimming. The entire peninsula is exceptionally wet, however, particularly during June and July, when river levels are highest. The months between October and December are somewhat drier and best for trekking.
The Parc National de Marojejy is one of Madagascar’s great undiscovered parks, a fact all the more astonishing because it is one of the best managed and easiest to get to. You can fly from Antananarivo to Sambava or Antalaha, jump in a taxi, and within an hour or two you are off on a world-class trek. The park consists of over 550 sq km of pristine mountainous rainforest – an often thick, steep, and root-filled jungle with numerous streams and waterfalls. It is a primordial place, where the astonishing ‘angel of the forest’, the silky sifaka, inhabits misty mountains, and spectacular views of the Marojejy Massif peek through the canopy. For naturalists, the area is noted for its extraordinary biodiversity, including 2000 types of plants, 147 species of reptile and amphibian, 118 species of bird, and 11 species of lemur, about 70% of which are endemic to Madagascar. It also ascends through four levels of forest, enhancing the variety of experience. In 2007 the park was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The site where the Pochard lakes are situated, called Bemanevika, is remote and difficult to reach. Getting there requires two full days of overland travel, whether you are arriving from Tana, Mahajanga or Antsiranana. The best months to visit are september and october, when the pochard are breeding and the area is fairly accessible.
One of Madagascar's least-known yet most accessible parks, Parc National Zombitse-Vohibasia is a surprise packet; most visitors just drive on by and don't realise what they're missing. The park's dense dry forest is how all of Madagascar's arid south must once have appeared, and the park's 36,300 hectares are all that remain – a forested island in what has become a denuded semi-desert landscape. There are some real highlights here, including strangler figs and the occasional baobab. The park's relict forest shelters an astounding 85 recorded bird species. Commonly sighted here are the grand and Coquerel's coua, white-browed owl, black parrot and blue vanga. But the real prize is the Appert's greenbul – sometimes, quantifying the science of extinction is all too easy because if this forest were to disappear, so to would this species as it survives nowhere else on the planet. Lemurs are also an attraction here with eight recorded species. Most are nocturnal, but you're pretty likely to come across skittish bands of Verreaux's sifaka and the oh-so-cute (and endangered) Hubbard's sportive lemur. The latter is nocturnal but is commonly seen resting in tree hollows by day.
: This well-known private reserve contains nearly one-third of the remaining tamarind gallery forest in Madagascar, nestled between the arms of a former oxbow lake on the Mandrare River. It was one of Madagascar’s first ecotourism destinations and it has an international reputation, helped along by the friendly ring-tailed lemurs that greet you in the parking lot. Visitors can walk forest paths unguided in search of other lemurs. There is also an excellent anthropological museum that provides unique insights into local Antandroy culture.
If you visit one place in Western Madagascar, make it the Parc National des Tsingy de Bemaraha. A Unesco World Heritage–listed site, its highlights are the jagged, limestone pinnacles known as tsingy and the impressive infrastructure – via ferrata (mountain route equipped with fixed cables, stemples, ladders and bridges, and organised through your guide), rope bridges, walkways – the park has put in place to explore them. Formed over centuries by the movement of wind and water, and often towering several hundred metres into the air, the serrated peaks would definitely look at home in a Dalí painting.
Idyllically remote on Madagascar’s northwestcoast, Anjajavy is reached only by air. Wildlife is prolific and walks through the forest reveal chameleons, frogs and spore of bush-pigs and the elusive fossa. There are two diurnal lemur species, the common brown lemur and Coquerel’s sifaka, both of which are easily seen.