Madagascar Trip--Summer 09--in need of advice

Oct 31st, 2008, 03:44 PM
  #1  
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Madagascar Trip--Summer 09--in need of advice

Hello everyone,

We are planning a trip to Madagascar for next summer and need some help from the experts on Fodors.

We will be going for two weeks as part of a southern africa trip during the month of August. What will the weather be like then?

We are mostly interested in seeing wildlife. Everyone seems to include berenty and perinet so we will likely do those. How many days do we need at each?

We are also interested in going to Nosy Mangabe for the Aye Ayes and Panther Chameleons. Where else would all of you recommend for a variety of chameleon and lemur viewing? Which resorts/hotels do you recommend in each place for the best wildlife viewing? We do not need luxury accommodation, but want to to be comfortable. We would also prefer areas where the wildlife is habituated to people for better photos and viewings.

Any help would be much appreciated!

Thanks!
Besser is offline  
Oct 31st, 2008, 05:07 PM
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I am leaving for Madagascar tomorrow (Nov. 1) and I will try to answer some of your questions when I return near the end of November. Meantime, consider seriously purchasing either---or better, both---the Bradt or the Lonely Planet guide to the country. Check out my review of Lonely Planet (under a different name) on Amazon. ZZ
Zambezi is offline  
Oct 31st, 2008, 09:06 PM
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I was in Mad earlier this year. Be aware that very few people see aye-ayes, even on Nosy Mangabe. Our guide has been taking people there for 13 years and had only seen them a handful of times. Chameleons are a much easier quarry!

My itinerary was Tana -> Morondava by plane, then by 4x4 to Kirindy and up to the Tsingy de Bemaraha and back (all ground arrangements by Chez Maggie in Morondava). Then back to Tana and a flight into Maroantsetra, with 2 nights on Nosy Mangabe and 3 nights on the Masoala Peninsula in Arol Lodge. Back in Tana, we then hired a taxi to take us to Andasibe (Perinet) for 2 nights. 16 days in total.

Air Mad flights are magnificent - new airplanes, on time, great staff, easy airport logistics. Highly recommended over the horrific roads!

HTH

Kurt
kurt_a is offline  
Nov 1st, 2008, 04:24 AM
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Hi all,

Thank you for your helpful info thus far.

Zambezi--Thanks for the tips. We already have the Bradt book and Lonely Planet on their way. Any info you can give us after you get back would be great!

Kurt--Thanks for all the info. Is it still worth going to Nosy Mangabe even if we likely won't see the aye ayes? My husband really wants to see as many different kinds of chameleons as possible so is it worth going just for them? What did you see on the penninsula there? Is that worth adding?

What did you see when you were in the Mornodova are? Is it worth a visit? We don't know much about around there.

Glad to hear the internal flights are easy, its always makes things easier when that happens.

Again thanks for your help!
Besser is offline  
Nov 1st, 2008, 07:11 AM
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Morondava is really a staging area for travels on the west coast but has some appeal of its own. It depends what you like in travel - the market was exceptional and the beach was lovely to look at but used as a public toilet as is the case in so many island cultures. The food at Chez Maggie was outstanding, better than Villa Vanille in Tana.

We enjoyed Kirindy (2 hours north) and had excellent day and night guides and saw many lemurs (dry, deciduous forest) and chameleons as well as the fosa. The road is decent up to the Tshribihina River, at which point you ferry across to Belo and wait for your vehicle to arrive while you lunch at the Mad Zebu. North of Belo, the road is a nightmare, but if you want to see the tsingys, then there is no choice. We enjoyed this region very much, but the drive from Kirindy all the way to Bekopaka (the village near the tsingys) is 10 - 12 hours. Consider spending a night in Belo each way. The food at the Mad Zebu is excellent, and nearly reason enough to stay.

Our Mad itinerary was not for the luxury travel set. There were indeed rough patches comfort-wise on the road, but both Bekopaka and Morondava cater for the full range of travellers, from backpackers to upscale.

Maroantsetra, Nosy Mangabe and the Masoala Peninsula were also challenging. I wrote a blog post about it at http://afrikatourism.blogspot.com/20...oantsetra.html with some photos and hyperlinks, but here's the text:

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My recent trip to Madagascar included 7 days in the northeastern region of the Masoala Peninsula, including the island of Nosy Mangabe.

The town of Maroantsetra is the gateway and staging point for any excursion, and I highly recommend flights on Air Madagascar as opposed to braving the notoriously lousy road from Tana. All of our arrangements were made via Olivier Forneaux of Arol Lodge in advance, who we chose because of his hands-on involvement in responsible tourism. Olivier started in Madagascar as an eco-tourist, fell in love with Masoala, returned, fell in love with a Malagasy woman as well, and he's a lifer. Good thing for the region, I must say. (I'll do a separate posting on Arol Lodge in coming days).

While we booked ahead, I do think that it would be possible to show up at the airport in Maroantsetra, catch a taxi into town (to the harbour, such as it is, adjacent to the collapsed bridge over the river...) and organise nearly everything from there, assuming there was availability. You'd need to allow for an extra day to allow for the provisions to be gathered, staff to be secured, fuel to be purchased, and so on. Some recommend going to the ANGAP offices in town, but that will get you a guide who then has to run around making all the arrangements. Unless you're looking to camp in the park facilities (which requires you have your own gear, food, etc.), I'd suggest you go directly to one of the 3 lodges that operate on the peninsula and work through them. All have offices on the other side of the river: Tampo Lodge, Arol Lodge and Masoala Forest Lodge.

Getting to Nosy Mangabe in good sea conditions is a half-hour affair. In bad sea conditions...well, first you find a brave enough captain with a good motor and watertight hull, convince him to head out in a squall, then turn back at the river mouth because the waves are too high for the shallow water and you're sure to bottom out and snap your propeller, head back to the harbour and wait 3 hours for the tide to come in, try again in another squall, get nailed by a succession of nasty waves and limp into the island cove soaked to the core. (guess which experience we had?) Even the snazzy 'Blue Fin' boat that takes tourists to the high-end Masoala Forest Lodge had to turn back and put their guests up in the rather tired Coco-Beach Hotel -- with the trip from Maroantsetra to Masoala (Tampo village) being 2.5 hours under good conditions, there wasn't enough time for them to make a second attempt into the teeth of a churlish sea. Such are the contingencies you have to be ready for in parts of Madagascar.

During our wait in Maroantsetra it poured buckets but then cleared enough for us to have a stroll through the harbour area and buy our lunch from a handful of street vendors and roadside stalls. This was cheap and good, if a bit fried (as one travelling companion was fond of saying "cauterized", which he meant as an indicator of food safety). Crevette cakes, fried manioc and coconut, bread rolls, rambutans (fruit like litchis), banana and rice steamed in a banana leaf, peanut brittle and sesame brittle. Lunch for 4 ran to 2000 ariary, or about $2 per person.

There's a bit of a market in town, about 1km from the river. It's for the locals, which makes it an interesting stroll. Worth looking for are the woven rattan baskets, which come in different sizes/shapes/colours and are of a style not found elsewhere. They're also cheaper (without haggling, around $3 for a typical 'tote' size).

Overall, Maroantsetra is a non-touristy staging point for excursions elsewhere, and it feels caught in a 1950's time warp, lending it an atmosphere of sad if friendly nostalgia. Anything more than a day here while arriving and departing would be a day wasted. There's only so much time one can spend watching the foot traffic across (and pirogue traffic under) the makeshift bridge from the terrace of the Coco-Beach Hotel or strolling the streets to an unending chorus of 'bonjour vazaha!'

-------

I've posted photos from the trip (including all the chameleons and lemurs we saw) at http://picasaweb.google.com/stonesou...Madagascar2008

HTH

Kurt
kurt_a is offline  
Nov 1st, 2008, 07:35 AM
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I visited Madagascar a few years ago (May 2005). This is the link to my trip report and photos

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34629725

But, as best as I recall, my basic itinerary was Tana -> Perinet -> Morondova (for Kirindy) -> Berenty, with time in Tana between flights.

You will see plenty of habituated lemurs at Berenty, including ring-tailed lemurs, sifakas and brown lemurs (I think the browns have been introduced), and a lot of nocturnal species in the spiny forest.

I also really liked Morondova, and also stayed at Chez Maggie. Gary is a gracious host, and he accompanied on my visit to Avenue du Baobob and Kirindy -- I saw a lot of different lemurs there, plus a fossa (Mad's largest carnivore).

Chameleons are very tough to find -- I saw a few in Perinet. But, I think the very bright, differently colored chameleons are very difficult to spot in the wild. My best chameleon photos were taken at the breeding station/minizoo between Tana and Perinet.

I was also advised against trying to see aye-ayes in the wild, even on the little island that houses them. Viewings are not guaranteed. In the last year, I have seen aye-ayes at two different zoos (in the Channel Island of Guernsey, and last month in Frankfurt).
thit_cho is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 05:01 AM
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Thanks again for all the help everyone--the trip reports, blogs, and photos were really helpful. We are starting to feel like we have a better sense of where we want to go and stay during our two weeks there.

Does anyone know anything about seeing the aye ayes on Aye Aye Island near Mananara? They are apparently on a plantation there and we didn't know if it would be worth a visit if we were more likely to see them there then on Nosy Mangabe.

It seems it was quite rainy in the north when you were there Kurt, is that typical for the northern part of the country during our summer/spring months? I thought it was supposed to be the dry season then. Were the western and southern areas less rainy?

Where does everyone recommend staying in Berenty? We need a little feedback on the best place to stay there.

Thanks again for all the great info!


Besser is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 05:24 AM
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The Masoala Peninsula is a rainforest and it rains all year round, nearly every day, 100mm on average. LOTS of rain. It isn't raining every moment - usually - but it rains every day with gaps of a few minutes to a few hours. We had a stunning sunny patch and took that opportunity to go snorkeling - no problems with light or colours. (The rain is not quite so bad on Nosy Mangabe - but close to it!). Be advised that you'll need to pack differently for a rainforest, both clothing and luggage. You can't avoid the rain or getting wet. The only thing you can avoid is the cyclone season...

In the west we were there in Winter when it was dry. The trade-offs are better lemur viewing but no tenrecs (hibernating) and the birds tend not to be in breeding plumage. Also, fewer herps generally speaking. But 'rainy' in the west is nothing like a rainforest -- again, it's a dry, deciduous forest, not a tropical rainforest.

HTH

Kurt
kurt_a is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 06:43 AM
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I used a company called Rainbow Tours for my Madagascar trip, going on a wildlife tour led by Marius Burger, a well-known herpetologist who really knows Madagascar. You had to be fit for this trip, but we had close-up views of a variety of lemurs, chameleons and frogs. Rainbow is London based - see their website for ideas:

http://www.rainbowtours.co.uk/
Londonres is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2008, 07:55 AM
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I visited Madagascar in August of '07 and was repeatedly reminded that August is their wintertime and reptiles would be less prevalent and when found, less colorful. I did see quite a few big fat chameleons around Ampijiroa (northwest) where it was sunny and warm, but elsewhere as well. Big and fat and shades of brown is about as specific as I can get.
The Aye Aye and I, by Gerald Durrell would be fun to read while there.
Pula is offline  
Nov 28th, 2008, 09:11 AM
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This response is as much for Patty the Wimp as for Besser, to whom I earlier promised a report. I returned from Madagascar several days ago after visiting Isalo, Ranomafana, and Andasibe National Parks. I capped my trip by flying from Tana to Momondava to stay at Chez Maggie, which I recommend (I suggest, too, that you look carefully at the exchange rate Gary is giving you for US$). I have very mixed feelings about Madagascar and question whether the results are worth the effort and expense. Guide books and tourism promoters don't tell prospective visitors that seeing lemurs, rare chameleons, and exotic plants doesn't happen just by walking in the woods. Speaking just of lemurs, they live up in canyons among the mountains (Isalo), deep in the mountaineous rainforests (Ranomafana), or in not-so-steep forest reserves (Andasibe). Trails (or circuits, as they're called) are laid out for hikers and, at each of the three locations I visited, they are identified according to length and perceived difficulty. I traveled with a physically fit primatologist companion who always took four - five hour routes while I did the two hour "easy" ones. These were my experiences: 1) at Isalo, I quit one path before I got very far because I had difficulty walking across the dikes separating paddy fields enroute to the canyon and I quit the walk down into a canyon when the exhausted hikers came back saying that they had not seen any lemurs. My friend did walk into the first canyon and she saw several lemurs. She didn't see any lemurs either on the second hike. 2) at Ranomafana, I took the two hour hike that was up one mountain and down the next (and so on). I saw two brown lemurs at a distance high in the trees. My friend took the long hike, saw the same brown lemurs as well as several other species, altogether about six lemurs. She said that the terrain was difficult. Later, she went out with some students from Pat Wright's research station (she's a friend of PW) and saw several lemurs. 3) at Andasibe, the hike was not very difficult and I saw four kinds of lemurs, including the Indri that the area is famous for, but the morning I went out there were busloads of tour groups. The noise, camera shutters, and movement of all these people sent the lemurs right to the top canopy of trees 60 - 70 feet tall and there they were framed against a white sky so that all that could be seen was movement. My friend had better luck. She went out with a guide in the afternoon immediately after we arrived and she saw several species of lemurs up close. She did not see any mouse lemurs on the night walk, though.

The best place for me to see lemurs was Anja Park on RN 7 south of Fianarantsoa, where a community decided to save the ring-tailed lemurs in its canyon. The terrain is rugged, so the paths are challenging, but there are lots of ring-tails flying about the trees. It's wonderful.

Maybe I'm a wimp, too, but given the scarcity of lemurs (they are an endangered species and I really wonder how transparent the Government of Madagascar is being about their numbers), the difficulty of locating and seeing even the outline of two or three of these primates, the modest accommodations, limited food selection in restaurants, the cost of getting to Madagascar (not to mention a $95 visa fee, which I had to pay twice because I flew over to La Reunion for three days and airport officials wouldn't honor the information given on their own visa forms about multiple entries), and other factors, why go to Madagascar? Most of the places I saw were not even particularly notable in geographic beauty, although the high plateau and mountains around Isalo are spectacular.

Having now used both the Bradt and the Lonely Planet guide books, I can say, "Don't go to Madagascar without Bradt," if you want to take only one. LP may have a advantage if it gets out a new edition before Bradt.
Zambezi is offline  
Nov 29th, 2008, 03:17 AM
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We took a birding tour in Nov 2005 and had a very different experience than Zambezi. But we didn't go to 2 of the 3 places in Zambezi's trip report. In addition to Mantadia/Perinet, we went to Berenty, Ampijoroa and several more birding spots.

In all, we saw 21 species of lemur. We had closeup views of indri, but we were also the first people to get to the park. We were alone with the indri for about half an hour with only the indri and their calls...really wonderful experience. Our local guides knew that bus loads of tourists who arrive later would scare the indri off.

Lemurs were fairly easy to see, chameleons were not. But on the road from Tana to Perinet, we stopped at the Madraka Reptile Farm. This is where we got our chameleon and gecko fix.

Like Pula said, time of year also plays a role in what you see. Fortunately for us, Oct/Nov was good for seeing lemurs with babies.

Pictures from our trip are at:
http://www.pbase.com/deseml/madagascar_2005
ovenbird is offline  
Dec 1st, 2008, 04:45 PM
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Dear Readers: I'm embarrassed to see that an earlier rough draft of my comments got posted accidentally. Several days of pondering caused me to temper my remarks. To Ovenbird: Your good photographs show that you had a fine trip and I am happy for you. ZZ
Zambezi is offline  
Dec 1st, 2008, 05:35 PM
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Zambezi, the curse of no editing here.
atravelynn is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 08:34 AM
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Zambezi, I appreciate your post anyway

Thanks to everyone else for posting, this will be quite useful for making future plans.
Femi is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 01:45 PM
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Thanks to everyone for your recent replies and all the helpful info! We have officially booked our flights so we are going so any other helpful hints would be great. As of right now we think we are going to do Perinet, Berenty, and Kirindy. any new advice on those spots would be great! Thanks again!
Besser is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 02:11 PM
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I can report on the logistics of getting to Kirindy, having stayed at Chez Maggie, the beginning point for some people going there. On November 19, 2008, the journey there would have taken two hours each way from Momondava over horrific roads. The cost for me, going alone, would have been US $170. People who did the day-trip on Nov. 18 reported seeing a good deal of wildlife. From what I gathered, the better option to a day-trip is to spend a night or more. ZZ
Zambezi is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2008, 02:28 PM
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<<we are going to do Perinet, Berenty, and Kirindy>>

That's the same trip that I did, and I saw a wide variety of wildlife, including many different species of lemurs. You likely will need to overnight a couple of times in Tana, and there are some inexpensive, OK places near the airport -- no need to drive back into town.

I also visited Kirindy with Gary from Chez Maggie -- he is terrific company and was as enthusiastic and excited about the visit to Kirindy as I was (he took as many photos as me). In addition, he brought along a cook and a driver, and the cook made a deliscious lunch. It was a highly memorable day.
thit_cho is offline  
Dec 12th, 2008, 01:30 PM
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Thanks Zambezi and overbird for your comments! I'm still planning to go and this helps with expectations.

Patty the Wimp
Patty is offline  
Dec 28th, 2008, 01:51 PM
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For Zambezi, overbird and anyone else who has traveled in November,

How was the weather? I currently have plans for September but due to a recent schedule change, have had to alter our itinerary to something that's less than ideal and our journey home has become a looooong drawn out affair.

I'm starting to look at dates where we can fly Air France both directions (using FF miles) and dropping Kenya altogether and the earliest available dates (we can't travel before September) are in November. Would we be taking a much greater risk with the weather by traveling in November? I'm concerned about rain and heat. Did you find it hot for hiking at that time of year? We would be going to Andasibe, a park near Tana and the east coast. Here's my original planning thread http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35166026

I'm pretty sure I don't want to keep what I have now but I'm at a loss for what to do.
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