For Erik & Julie

July 2014.

Hiking with the lemurs

Dear Erik and Julie

Madagascar is a fascinating island. 98% of the land mammals found on this Island do not exist anywhere else! Often called “The Eighth Continent,” Madagascar is truly an evolutionary wonder, where you will learn, see, smell, touch, and taste.

Day 1: Antananrivo

As you will both be arriving in the afternoon, I have prepared a short city tour for you. Your guide, Anja, will take you for a short walk around this beautiful and beaming city. She’ll show you the restored Palace Roba, which rests, all hot-headed and proud, on Analamanga, one of the tallest of the city’s many hills. Its wooden houses and royal tombs are fascinating, and I know you will like the pink baroque Andafiavaratra Palace nearby. In the late afternoon, you will finish your short walking tour in the city center, where the heart-shaped Lake Anosy is generously adorned with Jacaranda trees.

Day 2: Tulear and Isalo

Today, Anja will take you to Zombitse National Park for a relaxing picnic lunch under big, bare skies, and a pleasant walk around the park. You will see the world’s largest chameleon, its back arched in perfect dinosaur-like generosity, as well as a variety of lemur species. From there, you will journey on through the quiet sapphire mining town of Ilakaka, to end the day in your hotel in the Isalo mountains, with some poetic views of the landscape dozing below.

Day 3: Isalo National Park

On the third day, given your preferences for hiking, I have arranged for you to explore and re-discover the park and all its furry inhabitants. The ring-tailed lemurs, or maki, are some of the most comical characters of the remnant canyon forest, and the isolation of the park is peaceful. In the afternoon, you will mellow as you watch the hot red sunset from the cool shelter of your lodge. Once night comes, you will set out on a personalized exploratory walk to gentle nocturnal lemurs.

Day 4: Waterfalls and canyons

Today, you will wander among the park’s massifs: cool, leafy canyons, with shimmering waterfalls. Tucked among the sacred cliffs are the tombs of the Bara people, and pockets of spiny forest house tomb structures of the Mahafaly people. Anja will be sure to draw your attention to the ethnobotany of the area, and in particular the ever-changing, surprising scenery. Though your focus today will be on leaves, gorges, and anthropological sites, you should still keep your eyes open for furry friends as you hike: look out for sijaka, brown lemur, and ringtails, as well as the around 50 species of birds that call Isalo home.

Day 5: Tana and Vakona

Wake up early today to begin the scenic and curly drive toward the Indian Ocean. As you progress, hillsides dominated by rice paddies, which by now will be familiar to you, will make way for massive, chilling forests. The high-altitude rainforest of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is one of Madagascar’s most important tracts of forest, and is resplendent in its eager biodiversity. You will saunter among some 300 species of orchid—surreal in their likeness to fairies—and will observe around 20 species of lemur (including the largest of them all, the extroverted Indri-indri) as well as numerous, overly-green species of reptile and amphibian. I have chosen a rustic lodge for you, overlooking a lake set deep into the forest. Here, the haunting calls of the Indri will wake you in the morning, as the mist rolls in.

Day 6: Antadia National Park and Lemur Island

Unpack your hiking shoes, as today, you will hike into the forest, looking out for strange and wonderful animals, such as the giraffe-necked weevil, leaf-tailed geckos, bamboo lemurs, and all manner of rainforest frogs. As animal lovers, I know you will both enjoy the site of the white Verreaux’s Sifaka “dancing” through the trees. In the afternoon, Anja will take you to Lemur Island—a wonderful place to interact with the lemurs. Many of them have been rescued from orphanages around the country, and are happy to be around humans–some may even to pose for your photos! At night, you will be able to look out again for nocturnal lemurs, including the elusive Mouse Lemurs, which are little bush-baby-like creatures.

Day 7: Anamalazotra

Visit the Anamalazotra and VOI Community Park today. It was established to protect the indri indri, whose haunting calls you will apprehend throughout the forest during your visit. Anja will also take you to see the local orchid garden and to search for sifaka and black and white ruffed lemurs. Then in the afternoon, I have scheduled you both to visit a local Andasibe village. The characteristic dirt roads and wooden edifices there speak of a special kind of hearty humbleness.

Day 8: Diego Suarez

Today, you will arrive in Diego Suarez, the northernmost city of Madagascar, which offers a fascinating melange of colors and culture. After a short drive, and at an altitude of 700 meters, you will explore Joffreville, the quaint former bastion of the French Foreign Legion, and check into Monsieur Joffre’s former villa. Next up will be an afternoon stroll in the dense forest at Domaine de Fontenay and then an evening around the log fire, where you will contemplate all the big forest worlds you’ve experienced so far with the help of a local storyteller.

Day 9: Ankarana

After breakfast, you will both head towards a feast in green forms, the Mountain de Ambre for a morning stroll in the highland rain forest. It’s likely you will see busy, brave, crowned lemurs and tiny Brookesia chameleons—the smallest in the world. Then, head down the mountain for a spritely lunch in Diego. The afternoon will see you at one of the most exciting places in Madagascar—the famous Tsingy de Ankarana.

These rock formations are truly ghostly, stamping deep impressions into your bones as you contemplate them. Look out for a stellar view as you cross the long, fragile hanging bridge. You will stay in the Tsingy de Ankarana for the evening, with plenty of walking route options. Mindful exploration is key, and if you’re alert, you will spot the rare ring-tailed mongoose playing stealthily among the branches, as well as other rare and glorious creatures.

Day 10: Initial explorations of Tsarabanjina

The bustling little towns of Ambilobe and Ambanja await you today. After touring through with Anja, you will have lunch at a seaside restaurant and then boat transfer to the private island of Tsarabanjina. With soft white beaches and some of the best snorkeling and diving in the western Indian Ocean, this place will provide you with some deep, refreshing relaxation after all the exploring and hiking. You will both love the fire-trapping sunsets and the gentle quietness.

Days 11-12: Deepening relaxation in Tsarabanjina

Per your request, I have scheduled a few days of pure relaxation, without even light travel to distract you from full relaxation of your mind and body. Over the next two days, you will rest and unwind on the kind beach sands and enjoy both land and water based activities. You may wish to go snorkeling, water skiing, sailing, kayaking, or play a round of tennis or volleyball. Guided walks are also on offer on the island. Take some time to appreciate the full panoramic view of Tsarabanjina and the whale-like Mitsio Archipelago from the top of the hills. You will also have the chance to take a wind-swept scenic boat trip to the towering and majestic basalt columns of Grande Mitsio island.

Days 13-14: Return to Antananarivo

I know you both desire to balance the knowledge of a guide with the thrill of independence, and so, for your last two days, I have organized some time for you both to explore the old and friendly Antananarivo on your own. Since you’ve already had a first view of this city, this is a perfect way to balance freedom and familiarity. You will have time to visit some of the bustling local craft markets with their surreal straw hats and baskets, and to try some of the special grills. Anja will be on call if you should need him, to help you negotiate in the markets or navigate the locals.

Erik and Julie, it has been a pleasure to put together this itinerary for your Madagascar trip. Your trip will surely be fulfilling, even if, in the end, fifteen days doesn’t seem like enough to enjoy all of the country’s unique wildlife—you can always come back for more! Good travel never leaves us feeling that we have seen all there is to see. Please do call if I can be of any help.