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Madagascar for wimps!

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I'm thinking about a trip to Madagascar next year and have come up with an itinerary outline that I'd like to run by you guys. Let me preface this by saying that I do like my creature comforts and am not particularly fond of leeches ;) so it's with some trepidation that I've chosen this destination. I've heard traveling in Madagascar described as "challenging", air schedules as "flexible" and accommodations as "basic", so I was thinking of doing a short trip (7-10 days) as sort of a way to dip my toes in and get a taste of Madagascar because to be honest, it may be more adventure than I'd want for any longer than that! I'd combine it with another country for a total 2-3 week trip. Logistically, Kenya would work best as I'm using Skyteam miles and would probably have to fly through Kenya anyway (yes, I'm one of those people who decides based on miles). I'm having a hard time finding anything on Air France to/from TNR but there's plenty of availability on KQ (more on that later). I was also thinking of keeping the itinerary relatively simple transportation wise by not straying too far from Tana. Since it's our first trip, I think we'll be pretty happy with whatever we see or don't see. I don't have anything on a checklist like the elusive freckle-faced-fuzzy-spotted-tailed lemur that lives in a remote corner of the island which requires a 14 hour hike followed by a 500 ft rappel into a canyon to find ;)

On to the itinerary:

Arrive TNR around noon and drive (with car and driver) 2 hours to Anjozorobe, stay 2 nights at Mananara Lodge www.mananaralodge-madagascar.com, day and night walks

Drive 5 hours from Anjozorobe to Andasibe, stay 2-3 nights at Vakona Lodge www.hotel-vakona.com/home.htm, hike in the NP, see the resident lemurs, night walk at Mitsinjo, canoe, horseback ride (depending on time)

Drive 3 hours from Andasibe to Manambato, 1 hour boat ride to Lake Ampitabe, stay 2-3 nights at Bushhouse Lodge www.bushhouse-madagascar.com or Le Palmarium www.palmarium.biz/en, walk around, relax, soak up the surroundings in an area slightly off the tourist trail (if there's such a thing as the tourist trail in Madagascar).

Questions -

Do the travel times seem realistic?

Is Vakona Lodge the best option in Andasibe in terms of setting, comfort, things to do? I can eat elsewhere if the food's bad. I prefer to do that once in a while anyway unless there's no other option nearby. Would 3 nights be too long? It seems like there's plenty to do and we do have a moderately long drive to get there.

Getting back to Tana, it seems we have to following options from Lake Ampitabe:

1) Backtrack the way we came which would be about a 1 hour boat ride + 6 hour drive. Is it a fairly interesting drive that we wouldn't mind doing again? We could also break up the drive by overnighting somewhere but I'm not sure where since we'll have already been to Andasibe. Any suggestions?

2) 3 hour boat ride to Toamasina and fly back to Tana. I also read that train service may restart between Toamasina and Tana. Does anyone know anything about this?

3) 3 hour boat ride to Toamasina, fly to Ile Sainte Marie, spend a few nights, fly back to Tana. I had this idea early on but am leaning against it right now as I'm not sure we need any more beach/relax time unless there's something else compelling about it and I can see humpback whales fairly close to home.

Time of year - we can travel anytime after August so I was thinking September or October. I want to stay within the dry season (those leeches) and go when it's cooler. I don't mind cold but don't like hot particularly when it's combined with humidity (I certainly don't want to find myself in Selous in December again!). How hot does it get in those months in the low lying areas? I know Anjozorobe and Andasibe are in the highlands so that's not so much a concern as Lake Ampitabe or Ile Sainte Marie, if we go there. Should I go as early as possible in Sep or does it not vary that much in terms of temp and likelihood of rain in those 2 months? Getting back to the FF thing, I can find a few seats on AF to return from TNR in late Oct which would mean an easier time getting home (TNR-CDG-LAX instead of TNR-NBO-XXX-LAX) but I don't want to sacrifice the chance of better weather for quicker flights home if that's what it means.

Any comments are welcome, thanks!

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