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Sample Itinerary: Madagascar

Day 1: Arrival in Antananarivo. After arrival in Antananarivo, colloquially known as “Tana”, we drive through a landscape of rice paddies replete with dilapidated multi-story homes with balconies, spires and oval roof tiles surrounded by Canna lily gardens into the heart of this intriguing city. This afternoon we might visit Alarrobia Lake, a safe heaven for thousands of waterfowl who have shifted their daily activity patterns, now feeding at night in the surrounding crop fields and sleeping by day…away from the hungry hordes that throng the suburbs of Tana. Here we expect to see Whitefaced whistling and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Comb Duck, Redbilled Teal and Moorhen. Above our heads a frantic colony of Black-crowned Night Herons will be deep in the throws of raising chicks, adding to the cacophony, other herons we will encounter around the lake include Great White, Dimorphic and Black Egret. A target to look out for is the Madagascar endemic Pond Heron, whom with its spotless white plumage and blue bill is always a divine subject to photograph. A lonely Openbill Stork marauds this locality from time to time fishing the edges. You will be able to walk around the shore and a small patch of forest, enjoying Madagascar Kingfishers and the loquacious Madagascar Bulbul. Later, and once Tana´s traffic jam hour has died down we will return to our hotel and indulge in our first Malagasy dinner.

Day 2-4: Antananarivo to Ampijoroa. Today we fly to Mahajunga on the north-west coast of Madagascar, a very short flight (50 mines) its painless and very scenic on arrival. After arriving in this sleepy town, we will drive to Ampijoroa through a parched grassland environment, home to some of the most amazing Dinosaur exposures in the island. Ampijoroa however….is a forest station situated in the extensive deciduous forests of the Ankarafantsika Reserve. En route to the reserve we will scan roadside water bodies for Purple, Striated, Common Squacco and Malagasy Pond herons, and flocks of Black Egret, which we will watch as they perform their bizarre “umbrella-feeding” routine. Striking Madagascar Jacanas strut through lily-covered wetlands and we will stop off at Lac Amboromalandy to search for other waterbirds including African Pygmy Goose Hottentot teals and the ever present White-faced Duck.
At the forestry station we should encounter numerous “campsite residents” such as Broad-billed Roller, screeching Lesser Vasa Parrots, Crested Drongo, Madagascar Magpie Robin, breeding colonies of Sakalava Weaver, Madagascar Hoopoe, Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, Madagascar Green Pigeon and Madagascar Turtle Dove. We will spend the next few days pacing these grounds, walking the trails and rambling along the edge of the adjacent Lac Ravelobe, where we hope to find the threatened Madagascar Fish Eagle, a pair of which is resident here. White-throated Rails favor the waterside vegetation and we may find noisy groups of Sickle-billed and Madagascar Blue Vangas moving along the forest fringe.
The trails through the dry forest around Ampijoroa, will be explored in search of the fascinating fauna of this region. Foremost amongst the star fauna of Ampijoroa are the secretive White-breasted Mesite, a great looking member of this endemic family, and the jewel-like Schlegel’s Asity, which gives one the impression of a miniature Bird-of-Paradise. We will also concentrate on finding the highly two species of Coua that traipse this forest Red-capped and Coquerel’s. Other birds we hope to see whilst on our walks include Madagascar Crested Ibis, Madagascar Buttonquail, France’s and Madagascar Sparrowhawk, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, and Hook-billed, Rufous, White-headed, Chabert’s and Red-tailed Vangas. Furthermore, no less than eight species of lemur occur in the near vicinity of the camp and we will search for the comical Coquerel’s Sifaka, Rufous Brown Lemur and the rare Mongoose Lemur during the day, and Western Woolly Lemur (or Avahi), Milne-Edward’s Sportive, Fat-tailed Dwarf and Grey Mouse lemurs after dark. If we are lucky, we may also find the recently described Golden Mouse Lemur, one of the world’s smallest primates. Reptiles are also plentiful along the trails and we hope to see the impressive Giant Hog-nosed Snake, as well as several smaller species of snake (all harmless – amazingly, there are no venomous snakes in Madagascar), Oustaledt´s Chameleon (the world’s largest species) and the aptly named Rhinoceros Chameleon, with its enlarged nasal protuberance. Ampijoroa is slowly being revamped to handle growing levels of eco-tourism, so in order to experience the unique birdlife of this remote area we will be accommodated in a comfortable hut style camp and have our meals prepared by camp staff at the local “restaurant”. A definite advantage of this arrangement is our proximity to the wildlife: previous groups have encountered Coquerel’s Sifaka and even the scarce White-breasted Mesite right in the shady campsite. Meals taken around the open fire, with the background sounds of nocturnal lemurs and Madagascar Scops Owls, are sure to be some of the most memorable of our trip.

Day 5: Ampijoroa to Tana. After an early awakening we will set off for Tana. A drive that will occupy us for most of the day but will take us through a myriad of awesome landscapes like the Betsiboka River, the Ambohitantely Hills and foremost deep through and across a heartland of subsistence living, rural lifestyle and fascinating homesteads. We will be bale to stop at any stage and indulge further on the raw simplicity of Malagasy life and their open hearted welcomes. Some of the more remarkable fauna we will see today include Flying Foxes at the Betsiboka River, Madagascar Pratincole as they may have recently arrived from their wintering quarters in Kenya and the superb looking Madagascar Harrier quartering rice paddies or some of the many grassy slopes en route. We will arrive in Tana in the late afternoon, where we will indulge in a deserved dinner before retiring to sleep.

Day 6: Tana: Today we will explore in depth the historical past, architectural prowess and present lifestyle of this fascinating, French influenced city. Aided by a local guide we will learn about the Imerina struggles to power, of kings and queens, slayings and wise rulings. Their ostentatious and remodeled Palaces etc.. A smattering of other attractions in Tana are guaranteed to keep us happy triggering for the whole day. Perhaps a visit to Tsimbazaza Zoo where we can see the skeletons of the once great Elephant Bird and giant lemurs. The birding around Tsimbazaza is good and we may get lucky with Madagascar Pond-Heron, Malagasy Kingfisher, Red Fody and Madagascar White-eye. The ponds often support a pair of the rapidly declining Madagascar Little Grebe which might be the day’s star attraction. An interesting array of Lemurs from far and beyond the Island is possible to be viewed as are a several well kept bird species. But perhaps a star attraction for its uniqueness and scarcity is the Aye-aye, This extremely rare creature is a nocturnal Lemur that has replaced woodpeckers in Madagascar by exploiting borer grubs with its acute sense of hearing and a tapping technique that has been perfected by the evolution of the most bizarre deformed middle finger.
Overnight and meals in Tana.

Day 7: Tana to Perinet. We hit the road to Perinet early. En route we will cap the open landscape of the Horombe Plateau, crossing a myriad of villages and getting a feel for the traditional lifestyle of the Malagasy people. Incomprehensibly abundant rice paddies, chimney-less long clay red houses and millions of roadside markets displaying a variety of handicrafts, fruit and meat markets. All this against a pretty backdrop of golden grasslands and granite inselbergs. En route we will stop at a Butterfly and Chameleon farm that specializes on breeding rare breeds to replace collecting in the wild by a more eco-friendly method of dealing with the illegal collector’s frenzy that Madagascar has been and still is subjected. You will have a unique chance not only to meet at close quarters species of chameleon and frogs you would otherwise not see, but also to get outstanding close up shots of some of the most bizarre life forms in the islands. Species like Leaf-tailed Geckos, Tomato frogs, Golden Mantellas, Parsons Chameleons, Comet Moths, Tenrecs, Pill bugs, Stick Insects, Praying Mantis…all of them guaranteed to surprise you with their shape, size and cunning crypsis.
We will arrive at our lodge in time for lunch, and venture into the forest for the afternoon.

Day 8: Mantadia NP or Perinet Special Reserve. These two parks offer the finest of Madagascar’s fauna. Mantadia is the finest Ground-Roller reserve in Madagascar, and we might see Pitta-like and Scaly here. Other gems include Red-breasted Coua, Madagascar Little Grebe, Madagascar Flufftail, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Greater and Lesser Vasa parrots, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, and Nelicourvi Weaver. In the forested hills around Perinet, we will try locate the localized Red-fronted and Blue Couas, Velvet Asity and Vangas such as Madagascar Blue, Red-tailed, and with some luck the bizarre Nuthatch Vanga. The experience of rambling in Perinet would not be complete without being serenaded by the planet’s largest Lemur, the Indri. The spine chilling howls of this creature will, guaranteed, stick in your memory for the rest of your life. Night walks will yield other lemurs and perhaps a few owls. We will search for and should find Eastern Woolly, Greater Dwarf and the diminutive Rufous Mouse lemurs, and may also encounter some of Madagascar’s other evolutionary masterpieces such as the bizarre Lowland Streaked Tenrec. The reserve’s reptile and amphibian fauna is no less shabby, with myriads of colorful and bizarre frogs, chameleons and geckos, including the giant Parson’s Chameleon and two species of eccentric leaf-tailed geckos: the huge Uroplatus fimbriatus and the aptly named Uroplatus phantasticus. Overnight and meals at Vakona Lodge.

Day 9: Perinet-Tana- Antsirabe. After an early breakfast we will make our way back to Tana in the morning, possibly having lunch in the capital en route to the artisan town of Antsirabe. On arrival depending on time we will visit some of the famed craft shops and curious outlets in this colonial town. Overnight and supper in Antsirabe.

Day 10: A morning visit to a number of local outlets. We will have lunch en route aiming to be in Tana in the early afternoon before paying a visit to a local Lemur Park which provides endless photographic opportunities.

Day 11: Tana to Berenty Private Reserve : Today we leave the capital and fly to Tolagnaro (Fort Dauphin), in the south-eastern corner of the country. We will have lunch at the Miramar Hotel, and shortly after we will drive through the rugged south, en route to Berenty Private Reserve ( 3-4 hours). We will perhaps arrive in time for a short afternoon walk in the adjacent Tamarind Forest, or we may opt to refresh ourselves after the long drive, grab some supper and indulge in a short night walk in search of nocturnal lemurs such as Brown Mouse Lemur or White-footed Sportive Lemur before heading for bed.
Overnight in Berenty Private Reserve

Day 12 & 13: Berenty Reserve. These days are the days you don’t want to run out of film, or memory card space…. for we start in the early morning exploring the well-known lemur reserve of Berenty. Berenty is world wide known for hosting no least than five lemur species but also for the ease with which they may be seen and appreciated in the wild. Collared Brown Lemurs occur in small numbers during the day and both White-footed Sportive and Grey Mouse lemurs are regularly encountered on night walks through the reserve, though the undoubted favorites are the Ring-tailed Lemurs and Verreaux’s Sifakas. Whilst the bands of cat-like, quizzical Ringtails are often the first to steal visitors’ hearts (as well as any spare fruit they may have on them) their appeal is well matched by the strikingly patterned Sifakas, with their soulful expressions and bizarre, bipedal locomotion. Spending time with groups of these gentle creatures will certainly make you a better person for life.
If by now we are still missing good pictures of birds such as Giant Couas, Berenty is a good spot to see them strolling along well-cleared paths through the woodland. Night in Berenty and nearby environs is a good spot to immortalize Madagascar Scops Owl and the impressive White-browed Owl, and chances are also good to find Madagascar Flying Fox, the strange Greater Hedgehog Tenrec and numerous species of attractive geckos (including the remarkable Big-headed Gecko and unique Fish-scaled Gecko). A small patch of spiny desert belonging to the De Heaulmes ( same owners of Berenty PGR) is a fascinating alternative which in the late afternoon or early morning procures a photogenic environment of curved spiny fingers, shapes and colors unique to the south. The fauna and fauna is very similar to what you will encounter in Berenty, but perhaps the chances of encountering several species of endangered Tortoises such as the spider tortoise should be enough allure. A fascinating visit is also a brief stop at the sisal factory where the cut bundles of leaves you will notice lying next to the roads are all processed, dried and packed for export.
Overnight in Berenty Reserve.

Day 14: Fort Dauphin to Antananarivo. This morning we leave the reserve and have a last chance to photograph or enjoy some relaxed rambling, birding and mammal watching. We will drive slowly and enjoying our return to Fort Dauphin, stopping en route to exploit any photographic opportunity. In the afternoon we will visit some of the local private gardens in town, searching for botanical gems like Angraecum sesquipedale (The orchid Darwin predicted its pollinator by just noticing the flowers shape) and the beautiful Nepenthes…better known as pitcher plants. A visit to the wetlands, the harbor or a stroll along the beach will bring this day to an end.
Overnight in Fort Dauphin.

Day 15: Today shortly after breakfast we will Nahampoana Reserve, this reserve has been manicured for centuries by locals and the De Heaulmes and know provides a majestic site where strolling and photographing some wildlife is fairly easy, plus well trained and documented guides that will identify every tree species along the walks and their local uses. A new addition of Lemur, the will be added to our burgeoning list of Lemurs seen, as well as Ring-tailed Lemurs and Verreaux’s Sifakas void of the effects of Leucaena and hence donning thick and luscious coats, making them incredibly photogenic. An optional boat slither through the channels and waterways that feed the reserve, or a visit to the clove and cinnamon oil distillery is also fascinating.
Later in the day we board our transport and shift over to the timeless town of Lokaro, perched at the end of a Hollywood paradise beach, untouched and preserving the essence of a true fishing village. Here opportunities to film grab faces, men at work and children playing with whatever they can muster will not be limiting. We return later in the day to Fort Dauphin for a well deserved supper and overnight. Overnight in Fort Dauphin.

Day 16 : Fort Dauphin-Tana-Intnl Flights. After breakfast we board our flight back To Tana where we reach by lunch time. Free time to do last minute shopping at the Rova Market or revisit the Zoo or the Lake may be optional. But its particularly recommended that you pay a visit to the Robert Chocolaterie to purchase some of the exquisite creations and world rated Malagasy chocolate fineries, as well as one of the Bongou stores if you are into fine duck or goose pates or Foie Gras, Vanilla by the bundles may also be purchased at a myriad of outlets but we have found the Carambole T-shirteries to have the best and freshest. If all you need is a little aromatic something for a friend or a cheap and great massage for yourself Bio Aroma provides an unbeatable service and array of magnificent soaps, essential oils, scented creams and some crafts at laughing prices. Finally, if you are into gems or ammonites…the streets of the old casque near the Hotel Colbert are replete with gem shops that will sell you freshly cut sapphires, rubies and emeralds dug out from the south at virgin prices before export. In the afternoon you will be transferred to the airport to catch your return flight home.