Madagascar is truly a world of its own. Separated from mainland Africa over 88 million years ago, it is dubbed the ‘eighth continent.’ It is one of the very few places on our planet where both nature and animals are allowed to evolve in isolation.
With a vast variety of flora and fauna which is endemic only to its territory, this island is recognised as a biodiversity hotspot by Conservation International. Apart from its natural treasure, the island nation is also rich in culture of charming ethnic groups.
This tour will take you to appreciate the welcoming Malagasy people, the indigenous tribes along with their proud traditions as well as allowing the traveller to venture into the local custom of the ‘Turning of the Bones’ before it is time to venture far from civilisation into the wilderness to marvel at the country’s biodiversity which cannot be matched by any other on our planet. Spot unique plants and animals within the national parks whilst exploring stunning landscapes with sharp cliffs and bizarre rock formations, resulting from volcanic activity and wind.
Note: Please keep in mind that Madagascar is a third world developing country. Outside of the National Parks, the scenery is not always spectacular and poverty is often evident and at times can be confronting for some travellers.
Welcome to Madagascar! You will be met in the arrivals hall by one of our representatives holding a signboard with your name on it where you will then be transferred to your hotel.
Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, known locally as Tana. This name come from an episode in Malgasy history in which King Andrianjaka, who had his royal palace and stronghold constructed called One Thousand Warriors, named this city Antananarivo. If you arrive early to explore the rich cultural, historical and architectural sites, be warned. There are hundreds of ancient stone steps to climb in this hillside city. (D)
Overnight Radisson Hotel Waterfront or similar
Today we transfer four hours to Antsirabe, 170km south of Antananarivo. The beginning of your drive starts on the most famous scenic route, (National Road 7) which will give you a first taste of the Malagasy highlands scenery : rice fields, mountains, typical villages. The numerous fruit and vegetable stalls will show you that this is a very fertile region and you will have the opportunity to witness locals working in their fields.
Take time to stop at your leisure to interact with villagers. We will reach about 1500 metres of altitude by the time we arrive in Antsirabe. Due to the altitude, the climate of the region is very cool and temperatures can drop to 0 degrees Celsius during the winter. The city was founded by Norwegian missionary T.G. Rosaas in 1872 as a hill station to serve as a retreat centre because of the much cooler climate and the cities thermal baths were opened in 1917. This is also the city where the Moroccan King Mohamed V was exiled in 1955 – time dependent, you may make a quick stop at his former palace which is now the “Hotel des Thermes”.
Today, Antsirabe is a major industrial centre known for its production of beer (THB) and cotton fabrics. Spend time in a beautiful village of the Merina highlands. Betafo is located about twenty kilometres
west of Antsirabe. Its arcades and delicate iron decorations make it a fine example of highland architecture. This is where the first Lutheran church was founded by Norwegian missionaries, with a beautiful brick architecture at the end of the 19th century. The village is surrounded by terraced rice fields and lush plantations.
Today, you may have the opportunity to witness something truly rare. The ritual of the turning of the bones or famadihana.
Once every two to seven years, each family holds a huge celebration at their ancestral crypt where the remains of the dead are exhumed, wrapped in fine silk, sprayed with wine or perfume, and brought out for community festivities. In the Malagasy culture, the turning of the bones is a vital element in maintaining links with revered ancestors, who still play a very real role in daily life.
Family members come from far and wide to attend the famadihana, sometimes travelling entire days on foot to attend the two-day festivities. When everyone has gathered, the corpses are delicately pulled from the tomb or crypt and wrapped in straw floor mats. Groups of people heave the corpses above their heads and carry them off, before laying them side-by-side on the ground to be cleaned and dressed. Their dried burial garments are delicately pulled from their corpses and the bodies are dressed in fresh silk garments.
The ceremony is a chance for a family reunion. It is an evocation of being together again, a transformation so that the dead can experience once more the joys of life. (B,D)
Overnight Couleur Cafe or similar
Continue your journey heading south across the highlands to reach Ambositra, the Malagasy hand crafts’ capital located 105 km from Antsirabe. In this city known for its Zafimaniry Art, you will visit different handicraft workshops, wood carvers who make beautiful statues, furniture and souvenirs.
After lunch in Ambositra, you will hit the road in the afternoon to reach the rainforest in Ranomafana. Once you get there, enjoy a night visit of the rainforest to find animals such as the Fosa (small puma), chameleons, frogs and the smallest lemur in the world: Microcebe!
At nightfall, enjoy a walk along the roadside, near the park entrance, to spot the small and shy brown lemur attracted by the smell of bananas. This is also a great time to search for frogs and chameleons using torches. If you are lucky, you can discover so many different species that are sheltered in the forest. Tread lightly to avoid disturbing the animals. (B,L,D)
Overnight Hotel Thermal Ranomafana or similar
In the the wet and dense forest of Ranomafana National Park, you can find still unknown flora and fauna. Until recently, new species of plants and animals were discovered. You will also see lemurs who have evolved here in their natural habitat.
Explore Ranomafana National Park which is located in the south eastern part of Madagascar in Haute Matsiatra and Vatovavy-Fitovinany. With more than 41,600 hectares (161 square miles) of tropical rainforest, the park is home to several rare species of flora and fauna including the golden bamboo lemur, the greater bamboo lemur, black and white ruffed lemur and Milne-Edwards sifaka, and over 120 species of frogs. Pitta like ground rollers, blue vangas, short-legged ground rollers and brown mesites can be seen. The park was established in 1991 with the purpose of conserving the unique biodiversity of the local ecosystem and reducing the human pressures on the protected area. It is part of the World Heritage Site Rainforests of the Atsinanana. The flora and fauna of Ranomafana have been subject to extensive scientific research. Adjacent to the park is the Centre ValBio research station, established in 2003 and managed by Stony Brook University with a focus on Biodiversity research, community health and education, environmental arts and reforestation. (B,D)
Overnight Hotel Thermal Ranomafana or similar
Continue your road trip with the majestic Andringitra in the background. Leave the highlands of Madagascar and enter a new microclimate: the dry bush and semi desert of southern Madagascar. The first stop of the day is in the small town of Ambalavao, one of the cultural treasures with its architectural houses with verandas. There, you will visit the entirely natural Paper Factory Antemoro, an inlaid paper made from plants and flowers which is exported nowadays everywhere to make beautiful greeting cards. Visit the traditional mills. After lunch in Ambalavao, transfer to your hotel in the rock formations of Isalo.
Leave the highlands to continue your journey towards the south with its semi-dry landscape. Arrive in Ranohira later in the afternoon to enjoy a very unique landscape. Spend sometime at the Anja Community Reserve, located 13 km south of the district capital Ambalavao. It is a unique environmental and cultural preservation site in the south of Madagascar. As both a nature reserve and a growing Malagasy town, Anja is an example of how humans and nature can co-exist and flourish.
The forest in Anja was designated as a protected area reserve by the Government of Madagascar in 1999.
Management of the forest was officially transferred to the local association Anja Miray and the reserve extends over 30 hectares. The space is enriched with an ecological wealth of flora and fauna species, most notable for its dense population of semi-tame ring-tailed lemurs. Anja has become a vital example of how community management of natural resources can both effectively protect the area and benefit the community. At the end of the day, why not enjoy a cocktail in this lunatic landscape, specially prepared for you on the small hill called “Giorgio’s window”. (B,D)
Overnight Isalo Rock Lodge or similar
Enjoy a morning visit of Isalo National Park. Accompanied by your park ranger, hike through the canyons and oases of Isalo and its lunar landscape to reach some waterfalls. This environment was formed during the Jurassic age and where the unique flora has evolved adapting to the current conditions. There are 77 species of birds which live in Isalo among which the rare and famous Benson rock-thrush (Pseudocossyphus bensoni) is one of them. During your hike, witness different species of lemurs, including the world famous ring tailed lemur.
Visit the village of the Bara tribe, a semi-nomadic, zebu-herding clan. The chief of the village will welcome you and share with you detailed information on their daily life and challenges. Feel free to answer any questions you may have about this unique lifestyle. Your guide will act as translator.
Drive from Ifaty. Ranohira – Toliara – Ifaty 293 km – (aprox 4h30 drive). This is a beautiful and smooth drive along a nicely paved road with large open spaces. On your way, you will cross one the numerous villages formed by the sapphire rush. You will also cross a dry deciduous forest and see the first baobabs on the National Road 7. Driving for 3.5 hours, you will cover the 240km separating Isalo from the Mozambique channel. Once you arrive in Toliara, continue 30 km further north following a sand track towards the small villages of Ifaty and Mangily. (B,D)
Overnight Dunes d’Ifaty-Villa or similar
Reniala Private Reserve is a small protected area of only 60 ha, managed by an environmental association called Reniala (which means baobab in Malagasy). It shelters an amazing, bizarre and unique ecosystem which only occurs in the south-eastern part of Madagascar: the spiny forest. The towering spiny bushes are home to more than 2000 plants species (many of them endemic), some spectacular and very old baobabs (there is a giant baobab of 12,5 m diameter) and a complete endemic plant family, the Didieraceae. Enjoy walking along the botanical trail and visiting the bird sanctuary. This reserve is a paradise for birders, who can easily observe some very rare endemic species, such as the long-tailed ground roller, the subdesert mesite, the red-capped coua or the blue vanga. There are 65 bird species in total within the reserve.
This coastline is a 90km long (approx 3 hours) sand track from Ifaty to Salary and is probably one of the best scenic drives you will ever take in Madagascar. Drive across spiny forests and along the shores with beautiful white sand beaches and the turquoise sea to reach the area of the Mikea tribes.
They are called “people of the forest”, a hunter-gatherer tribe still preserved from “civilization”. Come and discover an exceptional biodiversity and immerse yourself in their primitive lifestyle. For many years, they were spoken about as if they were a myth rather than a reality. Among their neighbours, some oral traditions depict them as strange and supernatural beings. Known for their mystical powers and a primitive way of life, they are associated with the legends of spirits of the forest (hako, lampihazo, kotoke, kalanoro). (B,D)
Overnight Mikea Lodge-Luxury Tent or similar
Your guide will take you on a walk in the Mikea forest, a mix of spiny forest, dry deciduous forest and baobabs to find the encampment of a family from the most elusive tribe of Madagascar – the Mikea. The Mikea people’s adherence to an ancestral way of life has contributed to a mystique and various myths and legends about them, and many Malagasy believe they are the descendants of Vazimba, the original inhabitants of the island. You will sit down with an elder from the tribe who will explain to you about their culture, the forest-dwelling, hunter-gatherer lifestyle and social organisation. (B,D)
Overnight Mikea Lodge-Luxury Tent or similar
In this very authentic and wild place, positioned outside major tourist routes, swimming and sunbathing on the beach are the only things to do. For those who dive, you can explore the reef or simply swim in the clear waters. Time stops, only the sound of waves can disturb your peace of mind. Relax, go walk, canoe, visit fishermen villages or introduce yourself to diving. (B,D)
Overnight Mikea Lodge-Luxury Tent or similar
Transfer from Mikea to Toliara (approx. 3h30 drive) and transfer to the airport. You will be transferred by air to the capital. You will visit the Old city and upper town of Antananarivo. The majestic Rova (The Queen’s Palace) overlooks the capital from the highest point of the city. The Rova of Antananarivo is a royal palace complex that served as the home of the sovereigns of the Kingdom of Imerina in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as of the rulers of the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 19th century.
The historic boroughs around the Rova (The Queen’s Palace) have nice panoramic views of downtown. You will drive or walk the neighbourhood with your guide to enjoy the picturesque ambience of the noblemen residence area, with both well-kept traditional houses, the colonial houses, palaces, cathedrals, the charm of the narrow, curved, upslope cobblestoned streets and ensemble of cute traditional Malagasy houses built entirely of wood. Enjoy a beautiful sundowner with a spectacular vista over the city of Antanananarivo. Enjoy some local delicacies. (B,D)
Overnight Radisson Hotel Waterfront or similar
Your tour ends today after breakfast where you will be transferred to the airport for your onward departure. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of 25% AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.