If you think you've seen it all and done it all in Southern Africa, think again. We've now teamed up with a company we met at WTM this week to offer journeys to Madagascar.
Whilst being an island, few people appreciate just how big it is. Madagascar is enormous. It’s as long as the distance from the Limpopo River (the border with Zimbabwe) all the way down to Port Elizabeth. So it’s literally as long as South Africa is tall, but with much worse infrastructure (in fact outside of ‘Tana’ (Antananarivo, the capital) as the locals call it, it’s strictly 4x4 only).
For this reason, we really don’t recommend attempting self-drive options through the country and rather recommend that you take a guided, private trip.
There is such an incredible amount to see and do that it's easier to look at the country in terms of what you can realistically see in a week. One option is the east coast (Indian Ocean). You’d start with travelling to the rainforest just east of the capital. You’ll arrive at the luxurious vegetation and evergreen rain forest of Anjozorobe and then will be personally guided through it encountering the massive diversity of endemic species of plants and animals. Madagascar is particularly famous for its lemurs, of which there are over 100 different species as well as its baobab trees (of which 6 of the 9 species in the world are only found on Madagascar). The island is like an enormous Galapagos in that 90% of anything the grows and lives there is found nowhere else on earth.
After a day in the rain forest and an overnight, you’ll arrive at Sainte Marie island (which is an island off Madagascar with beautiful clear waters and those elusive white sand tropical beaches with coconut and palm trees. You’ll stay here for four nights. Whilst there, you’ll see humpback whales as they visit from June to September and there are boat trips that take you out to see them. The diving here is really amazing too.
Further on, you’ll have time to explore the Pangalanes Channel, which is a series of freshwater lakes and rivers connected by a canal built during colonial times to ease transportation of spices from north to south along the eastern coast of Madagascar. It’s over 600km long and all along its banks are nature reserves where you can see even more of the lemurs and endemic flora for which Madagascar is famous.
Finally for another two nights you’ll visit another highlight of this coast, the Masoala National Park which is the largest rain forest of Madagascar and merits at least two days of hiking (slackpacking). The biodiversity and high endemism level are so impressive there that a full part of it was replicated for Zurich’s zoo. In addition, coral reefs along Cape Masoala allows you to scuba dive in crystal-clear waters. On the landside, you can visit small villages nested in the vegetation, learn about the fascinating history of piracy in the area (there is even a pirates’ cemetery and ship wrecks from the 17th century), as well as meet with the local people: Madagascans are most interesting culturally in that they are nearly all descendants of immigrants from south Asia who came there by boat over 400 years ago: so they have a fascinating cuisine, a mixture of local ingredients but based on rice and highly spiced. There are over 80 languages in Madagascar, of which only one is French.
To give you an idea of cost, this trip would be US$3,000 per person sharing for 9 days and 8 nights (and that’s fully inclusive of all transfers, transport, guiding, meals and accommodation). Diving equipment/activities would be additional. Flights from Cape Town to Antananarivo are in the order of US$1,300 per person roundtrip, flying via Joburg.