Madagascar! Our world’s fourth-largest island is, quite simply, unique. Five bird families and five mammal families (including the lemurs) are endemic to this massive island, and half the world’s chameleons, weird and wonderful endemic plant families, and tons of other wildlife can be found here. An astonishing 120 bird species are endemic – including such exotic groups as vangas, ground rollers, Cuckoo Roller, couas, asities, and mesites. Lemurs vie for attention, from the tiny mouse-lemurs to the marvelous sifakas and the amazing Indri with its calls that resound through the forest. Our tour visits a range of habitats: grasslands, dry deciduous woodland, the bizarre spiny forest with its odd octopus trees (Didiera madagascariensis) and elephant’s foot trees (Pachypodium rosulatum), lush eastern rainforest, as well as lagoons and mudflats. The birds that we’ll look for include the roadrunner-like Long-tailed Ground Roller and the stunning Pitta-like, Scaly, and Rufous- headed Ground Rollers as well as the highly prized Subdesert Mesite, the unforgettable Giant Coua, the astounding Velvet Asity, and Madagascan Ibis, to name just a handful. We invite you to join us on a special tour to an amazing island!
We offer the following pre-tours and extension to this tour, which all can also be booked as a stand-alone tour:
One hundred and twenty-nine species of birds have been recorded in the north-western Ankarafantsika National Park, more than half of them endemic to Madagascar. They include Van Dam’s Vanga, Rufous Vanga, the elusive Banded Kestrel, and the more easily observed Madagascan Fish Eagle, which can often be seen at Ravelobe Lake. The endangered Humblot’s Heron can also be seen at Lake Ravelobe.
The Masoala Peninsula pre-tour can generate the unbelievable Helmet Vanga, Brown Mesite, and Short-legged Ground Roller, as well as the largest – and most bizarre – nocturnal lemur, the Aye-aye, and a stack more.
Although most famous for its dense lemur population, with hundreds of individuals per square kilometer (research on lemurs has been continuing here for more than three decades), Berenty Reserve is also a haven for birdwatchers, boasting a high number of endemic species. With luck we might be able to find Madagascan Sandgrouse, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Torotoroka Scops Owl, and perhaps even Madagascan Cuckoo-Hawk here.
This tour can also be combined with our Namibia, Okavango, and Victoria Falls tour.
Itinerary (14 days/13 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Antananarivo
Your international flight, or domestic flight if you have joined our Masoala extension, arrives in Antananarivo (shortened to “Tana” by most people). After arrival you will be transferred to your hotel.
Overnight: Relais des Plateaux, Antananarivo
Day 2. Drive to Andasibe, afternoon birding Analamazoatra Special Reserve
Early today we embark on a three-to-four-hour drive to Andasibe, one of Madagascar’s premier rainforest sites. Here the unforgettable call of the Indri resounds through the beautiful Andasibe-
Mantadia National Park. In the afternoon we will visit its Analamazoatra section. We’ll find the Indri with ease, along with other spectacularly beautiful species such as Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur. Birding is unbelievable, with four different ground rollers possible, along with two nightjars, including the bizarre Collared Nightjar at its daytime roosts. Madagascan Owl, Rainforest Scops Owl, and a suite of nocturnal lemurs and chameleons await us on a night walk in the area.
Overnight: Andasibe Hotel, Andasibe
Days 3 – 4. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
We spend two more nights in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, birding the beautiful primary and secondary forests of the area. We spend the whole day on day 2 and the morning of day 3 in the Mantadia National Park section, while returning to the Analamazoatra section in the afternoon of day 3. We should find Velvet Asity, Common Sunbird-Asity, Benson’s Rock Thrush (Forest Rock Thrush), Madagascan Flufftail, many vangas including Blue Vanga and Nuthatch Vanga, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Madagascan Cuckooshrike, several endemic warblers such as Rand’s Warbler, and more. We have stakeouts for Madagascan Grebe, the rare Meller’s Duck, and Madagascan Rail. We expect our first couas, Red-fronted Coua being a likely candidate. We should also see a few lemurs such as Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur. We certainly don’t ignore other non-avian wildlife and often see Giraffe Weevil, Madagascar Tree Boa, and many chameleons.
Overnight: Andasibe Hotel, Andasibe
Day 5. Drive to Antsirabe, birding on the way
We embark on a long and scenic road trip, breaking the journey to amazing Ranomafana National Park in the south-east of the island with one night in Madagascar’s second largest city, Antsirabe.
Overnight: Couleur Café, Antsirabe
Day 6. Transfer to Ranomafana National Park
We hope to see many of Madagascar and its neighboring islands’ common endemics en route to the national park, including species such as Madagascan Wagtail, Malagasy Kingfisher, Mascarene Martin, Malagasy Kestrel, Malagasy Bulbul, and many others. Overnight: Setam Lodge, Ranomafana
Days 7 – 8. Birding Ranomafana National Park
At the magnificent Ranomafana National Park we are in for a real treat. The rainforest here is similar to that at Andasibe, but it is a better place for several species we won’t yet have seen, such as the rare Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity, the recently described Cryptic Warbler, Madagascan Yellowbrow, Grey-crowned Tetraka, Pollen’s Vanga, Grey Emutail, Wedge-tailed Jery, Madagascan Snipe, and numerous others. As always in a new part of the island we expect new lemurs, such as Golden Bamboo Lemur. The reptiles here include Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko.
Overnight: Setam Lodge, Ranomafana
Day 9. Isalo National Park
After some final birding at Ranomafana while hoping to clean up there, we begin another scenic road trip across the island, with the possibility to stop shortly at Anja Community Reserve. Today we start heading westward, to much drier parts. We’ll spend one night in the beautifully picturesque Isalo National Park. Here we’ll search for some more star birds, such as Benson’s Rock Thrush (Forest Rock Thrush) and the attractively patterned Madagascan Partridge.
Overnight: Relais de la Reine, Isalo
Day 10. Transfer westwards to Ifaty, birding en route
We head towards the spiny forests of the southwest. This will be like entering a completely new world, and there is nothing else like this weird landscape anywhere in the world – Africa, although geographically close by, is nothing like Madagascar in landscape or wildlife. However, before reaching these spiny forests we first have another fascinating drive that should generate some of Madagascar’s most localized birds. On our drive westwards towards the spiny forests we stop at a unique dry deciduous forest at Zombitse National Park, inhabited by the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Appert’s Tetraka, Coquerel’s Coua, the incomparable Cuckoo Roller, which we often see displaying, and various other goodies. Then we bird a coastal site further west for two incredibly localized species endemic to “coral rag scrub”, Verreaux’s Coua and Red-shouldered Vanga. We should also start finding our first of more widespread dry-area birds, including Subdesert Brush Warbler and others.
Overnight: Les Dunes d’Ifaty, Ifaty
Day 11. Birding the spiny forests near Ifaty
A world away from the eastern rainforests, after much anticipation, we now bird the spiny forests near Ifaty, where baobabs and Didiera trees provide an absolutely unique habitat for a host of sought-after Madagascar endemics, among them such incredible birds as Long-tailed Ground Roller, Subdesert Mesite, Sickle-billed Vanga, Archbold’s Newtonia, Banded Kestrel, Thamnornis, Lafresnaye’s Vanga, Red-capped Coua (the local olivaceus subspecies, “Green-capped Coua”), Running Coua, and others. We also visit a site for Madagascan Plover.
Overnight: Les Dunes d’Ifaty, Ifaty
Day 12. Drive from Ifaty to La Table near Toliara
Today we will explore, on our drive to Toliara, a small hill reminiscent of Table Mountain in Cape Town, here called La Table. Behind it is a small area of scrubby forest, where we will search for the now famous Red-shouldered Vanga, the last lifer Phoebe Snetsinger saw before she was killed in a car accident (while birding!), and the localized Verreaux’s Coua. We hope to locate both, as well as possibly Lafresnaye’s Vanga.
Overnight: Hotel Victory, Toliara
Day 13. Flight to Tana, birding the city
We fly back to Tana and bird sites around this fascinating capital city for Sooty Falcon, Eleonora’s Falcon, Malagasy Pond Heron, and many other birds.
Overnight: Relais des Plateaux, Tana
Day 14. Departure
After some final birding in the city either your international flight leaves Tana for home, or we will fly to Fort Dauphin for the Berenty extension.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
This is a sample trip report. Please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more trip reports from this destination.
Preparing for Madagascar: what to expect
(in spring/early summer, i.e. the September-December period)
Despite the fact that Madagascar is only 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the African mainland, it is absolutely nothing like Africa. Some of its birds have more affinity to Asia than to Africa, but the most striking thing about Madagascar is how different its bird, animal, and plant life is from ANYWHERE else in the world. With five endemic bird families, and about half the bird species endemic, and with every single native mammal species being endemic (!), including endemic families such as lemurs and the hedgehog-like tenrecs, Madagascar is the ideal place to see unique wildlife!
It’s a fabulous wildlife country, but there are also a few items that you need to mentally prepare for, so that you can gain maximum enjoyment from your trip. Here are some points to help you prepare for your tour:
1) Madagascar is about quality and not about quantity. Some birders are disappointed by the small numbers of individuals and species seen – it’s one of the countries with the fewest number of species relative to its size, but birders need to realize that the relatively few birds that one does see are incredibly special. Don’t expect lots of species or big numbers of any one species. Also, much of the country is covered in rice paddies, and most of the natural habitat has been destroyed, so be prepared to drive through a lot of relatively sterile (from a wildlife point of view) monoculture. In no ways does this make Madagascar any less amazing. It has all the endemic bird, mammal, and plant families and contains some of the planet’s most unique wildlife!
2) If Africa is the third world, then Madagascar is the fourth world. You’ll see extreme poverty.
3) Please visit your doctor or a travel clinic before your trip to get precautions against possible “hotely belly”, as this is horribly common in Madagascar, even when eating at good restaurants, staying at comfortable accommodations and even when being careful about drinking only bottled water and avoiding unpeeled/uncooked vegetables/salads. Imodium, Valoid, and an antibiotic such as Cipro in bad cases should be carried (but please consult your doctor for proper advice before the trip). Please visit your travel clinic or doctor for antimalarial medications and possible vaccinations, and please also take a close look at the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/madagascar for comprehensive health information about Madagascar. Some people also opt for leech socks, since leeches do occur in Madagascar, although we don’t usually encounter many of them.
4) It’s good to have an idea of what the climate in Madagascar is like. Rain is possible but usually not a big problem in the “dry” season when we run our tours. It can be very hot and humid, but it can also be surprisingly cold in the highlands, where we spend a fair amount of time. So bring layers expecting cold to very hot weather and possibly rain. The desert areas such as Ifaty can be extremely hot and dry, and in fact we are sometimes forced to cram birding activity into the first hour or so of daylight because of the sweltering heat there in Ifaty.
5) There are some reasonably strenuous walks in Madagascar, so please bring hiking boots as well as comfortable shoes to change into during the evenings if your boots get wet or you get blisters. There might be opportunities for swimming and snorkeling (especially when it is too hot for birding). Sun protection such as sunblock, sunglasses, etc., is advised.
6) On days in which we’re doing forest birding please kindly be considerate of the other tour participants, since it can get frustrating when only the front people see the birds. Please do not be offended when the tour leaders enforce the “rules for group tours”, such as not spending all your time at the front with the tour leader on the trails but staying only five minutes at the front before dropping to the back again to give everyone a fair chance. The tour leaders work hard to get everyone onto every bird species, and with patience everyone should see everything. The practice of rotating seats on the vehicle(s) is also something that the tour leaders will oversee.
7) Accommodation is in general fair and quite comfortable but not luxurious. Generally there is warm to hot water for baths or showers and there is electricity for charging camera gear. But not everything works 100 percent of the time here in the “fourth world”, so expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised if it’s better than expected. Sometimes there is power for charging only in the lodge restaurants and not in the rooms, or only when the generator is on. Electrical sockets are the same as in Europe (except the UK) – 2-prong and 220 Volts ITA Type C (please note that a lot of South African equipment can be plugged directly into these – it’s the same socket as the common 2-prong adapters South Africans use in their homes).
8) Air Madagascar has the monopoly as far as domestic flights within the country go (and, since it’s a massive island with bad roads, one has to fly between some of the sites). Air Madagascar flights are, unfortunately, completely unreliable, and scheduled flight times can change on the day of the flight until even one hour before the scheduled departure. On our usual two-week circuit (“The Best of Madagascar”) we only have one flight at the end of the trip, back to Tana (the commonly-used abbreviation for the capital Antananarivo), but on comprehensive trips (when you do all the extensions/pre-trips shown on our website, basically) we can have six to eight local flights, and one has to be philosophical about the fact that, because of Air Madagascar, the itinerary is never set in stone and changes invariably happen!
9) We often do night walks in Madagascar to see nocturnal lemurs, reptiles, and birds – so bring a flashlight/torch/headlamp!
10) As of January 2018 visitors to Madagascar have been using the e-visa system, either getting an e-visa in advance online or on arrival in Tana. Please carefully check the latest visa requirements for your nationality, though. Madagascar does give free visas to certain nationalities from time to time (e.g. for South Africans); otherwise they usually cost around 30-60 euros. Visas are payable in major currencies or the local currency (ariary, MGA) and usually also by card if the system is working. But even if you arrange your visa in advance expect some chaos when you arrive in Tana.
11) You may wish to draw local currency (ariary) for tips, souvenirs, etc. at the airport ATM just after arrival, and you can also speak to your guide when your money starts running short, so you can stop in the next few days when you drive through the next town with an ATM. You can also change most major currencies, but in general euros will give you the best rate in Madagascar. When you do change money ask for more small bills that you think you will need; these will come in handy for tips. (You can also use one-euro coins and one-dollar bills for tips if you have these.)
12) In Madagascar it’s a legal requirement to employ park guides, a local guide and driver. These highly competent people are, of course, extremely useful, e.g. the park guides keep track almost daily of the whereabouts of some of the more difficult species, thus minimizing the chance we’ll dip on anything important. But some people are thus understandably surprised that these trips seem a bit “over-staffed” (including also our full-time international tour leader) with so many people to potentially tip. Tipping is not compulsory, but most trip participants do like to tip staff who have worked hard to provide them with a great experience on their tour – our tipping guidelines and advice are shown at https://www.birdingecotours.com/tipping-guidelines/.
Please don’t let any of these concerns dissuade you from visiting Madagascar; it’s an essential destination for any serious world birder and a “must-visit” place for those wanting to see the world’s most bizarre wildlife.
Useful books for Madagascar:
Bird guide – please see our recommended field guides to the seven continents and islands web resource – https://www.birdingecotours.com/field-guides-to-africa-and-madagascar-what-to-take-into-the-field/.
Mammal guide – Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide by Nick Garbutt.
We suggest you look for plant, chameleon (Madagascar has over half the world’s chameleons!), and other guides, too! Wildlife of Madagascar (Wildlife Explorer Guides) is a guide to all of Madagascan wildlife, including birds and even some plants, with excellent text and pictures.