Eastern Highlands and Ile Sainte Marie

The pint-sized ‘continent’ of Madagascar split from Godwanaland some 165 million years ago. A Noah’s ark of sorts sailing away to the east. This isolation led to a separate evolution of flora and fauna. Creating a paradise for nature-lovers with over 20,000 species of flora and fauna. 80% of which are not found anywhere else on this planet! This strangest of islands is an incredibly exciting destination. Known for its lemurs, orchids (1000 species), chameleons (over 70% of the world’s population) and frogs (a mere 150 species).

The Tour:

This 10 night tour is an attractive option! It allows you to see both the Eastern Rainforests, the canal de Pangalanes and also the lovely Ile Sainte Marie. It also has only one domestic flight so you don’t have to keep returning to Antananarivo.

You begin with the lush Eastern rainforest area of the Andasibe-Mantadia Natural Park. Famed for its rainforest animals, including the indri indri as well as birds, insect life and frogs. You enjoy morning walks in the forest and night walks in season.

Next you head to the Eastern coast of Madagascar to the unique canal and lake system called the Canal de Pangalanes. This scenic wetlands area is also home to the Palmarium Reserve. This private reserve makes for a good adjunct to the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Because they have introduced lemurs from various parts of Madagascar so that you see a broader range in close quarters.

This is perfect for keen photographers as you see first lemurs in the natural primary forest and then in this secondary forest area. There is also an opportunity to see the extremely rare Aye Aye nocturnal lemur on a night walk in a specially created island reserve.

Next you take a scenic drive up the coastal road staying overnight in the sleepy village of Mahambo. The following morning you enjoy a scenic drive up the coast to the ferry for the boat cruise to Ile Sainte Marie for 3 nights. We offer accommodation at two different price points on Ile Sainte Marie. Plus it is very easy to add extra nights in Ile Sainte Marie, if you have the time.

Eastern Highlands & Ile Sainte Marie at a Glance

1 night in Tana – Maison Gallieni (Luxury) or Palissandre, Dinner, Bed & Breakfast

2 nights Andasibe – Mantadia Lodge (Luxury) or Vakona Forest Lodge (Premier – Dinner, Bed & Breakfast

2 nights Palmarium Lodge, Pangalanes Canal, Dinner, Bed & Breakfast

1 nights La Pirogue, Coast, Dinner, Bed & Breakfast

3 nights Princesse Bora Lodge (Luxury) or Masoandro Lodge (Premier), Ile Sainte Marie, Dinner, Bed & Breakfast

See Day by Day
Day 1

Transfer to your Tana hotel, Royal Palissandre or similar, Dinner, Bed & Breakfast

On arrival you are met and transferred to your hotel in Antananarivo for an overnight stay.  ‘Tana’, (as the capital city is conveniently nicknamed) is a brightly coloured mélange of French colonial architecture, multi-storied houses and narrow alleys.

On your way you will see rice paddies, and a colourful patch-work of houses. Plus all the daily life in this city of about 2 million inhabitants. Tananarivians mostly live from day to day jobs. This is called “Ady Gasy”: tires repairing, selling Chinese-made products in the streets, selling scrap.

Tana must have been a beautiful city at one time. Today, the city is quite often a shock to first-time visitors. Throngs of people, buildings in a state of decay, street urchins, hooting and belching old French cars and the lively hustle and bustle of the street markets. This all combines to make Antananarivo (Tana) a bit overwhelming at first. Once this realization sets in, Tana becomes quite a fascinating city to explore. The city sprawls over several hills with lots of narrow houses, cobblestone streets and stone staircases linking one street to another. Each street seems lined with traders and the array of merchandise on offer in the stalls. Malagasy embroidery, semi-precious stones and local crafts all  are jumbled together & sold.

Antananarivo panorama

Royal Palissandre Hotel
The attractive 4 star Royal Palissandre Hotel is one of the more modern of the Tana hotels. It has a pleasant hillside setting overlooking the ‘City of Thousands’. There are 46 are simply furnished but well-appointed rooms. All have air conditioning, polished wooden floors, safe, minibar, TV, Wi-Fi, telephone and full bathroom with bath and shower.

Or Maison Gallieni as an alternative…


Accommodation: Royal Palissandre Hotel
Located in: Antananarivo - Madagascar

Day 2 - Andasibe Mantadia National Park

Transfer to Andasibe, 2 nights Vakona Forest Lodge, DB&B

You are collected by your guide and transfer to the Eastern Rainforests and Andasibe. This scenic transfer takes approx 3½ to 4 hours on a good but winding road with picturesque scenery en route. You have the rest of the afternoon at your leisure.

Optional Night Walk

If you travel in spring or summer (late August to March), pack a headtorch as you can join a night stroll to see nocturnal wildlife such as tenrecs (spiny hedgehog like creatures) with the Perinet guides. At night another world emerges in the forest, making night walks especially interesting. Nocturnal lemurs include the Eastern woolly lemur, Goodman’s mouse lemur and the furry-eared dwarf lemur.

Andasibe National Park

The eastern rainforests of Madagascar are a must-see on any Madagascar lemur safari. The tropical montane rainforest of Madagascar is one of the densest in the world and its floral diversity is particularly rich. A big part of that attraction is the appeal of the Indri Indri lemurs which have their own special protected part of the Andasibe park.

Vakona Forest Lodge

The lovely Vakona Forest Lodge lies 8 kilometres from Andasibe (Périnet), between Andasibe and the Mantadia National Park. The building has been designed around an octagonal reception area (common in Malagasy architecture) with a lounge, bar and restaurant with a huge fireplace in the middle to keep the airy space warm in winter. There’s also a small library. Outside you can relax on the veranda overlooking the forest and lake or around the large central swimming pool.

Accommodation: Vakona Forest Lodge
Located in: Andasibe National Park - Madagascar

Day 3

Today you have the whole day to explore the rainforest with the Park’s specialist guides. You set off early for a walking tour of the Mantadia National Park. Typically this is usually a morning tour of 4-5 hours but there are both longer & shorter trails on offer.

Mantadia Reserve

This is much wilder than the Indri Special Reserve and has a mix of terrain, with some steeper trails, so it’s best if you are reasonably fit. (However there are also some shorter and easier trails on offer if you prefer.)

The forest is much thicker and more pristine but you are rewarded with varied wildlife sightings such as the diademed sifaka (the so-called dancing lemur), the black-and-white ruffed lemur, common brown lemur, red-bellied lemur and the grey bamboo lemur.

Birding in Mantadia is especially good with the likes of the rare Brown mesite, Pitta-like ground-roller, Brown emutail and the velvet asity all to be seen. (Your chances of good birding increases on the longer trails.)

Visit Betsimisaraka

In the afternoon you visit a Betsimisaraka (the many inseparable village), the second largest local group in the area.

Accommodation: Vakona Forest Lodge
Located in: Andasibe National Park - Madagascar

Day 4 - Tour in Special Reserve section of the Park

Transfer to the Canal de Pangalanes, 2 nights Palmarium Lodge, DB&B

We recommend taking the very early morning walk into the most accessible part of Andasibe National Park, the Indri Special Reserve to see the lemurs whilst they are most active. The 810 ha “reserve within a reserve” has several well-maintained forest paths, which are mostly gentle in terrain. (This is an optional extra.)

The Indri or Perinet Special Reserve protects the largest of all the lemurs, the Indri. Standing about a metre high, with a stump for a tail, black-and-white markings and a beguilingly startled expression, the Indri looks more like a bizarre panda than a lemur. You will see them relatively easily, even if you stay on the marked trails, but for longer sightings you must scramble after them through the forest. Their long back legs are immensely powerful, and an indri can propel itself 10 metres (30 ft), executing a turn in mid-air, to grab a new tree and then gaze down benevolently at you!

Typically you visit Indri Special Reserve at dawn to see the Indri lemurs when they are most active. Walking through the rainforest, as its distinctive siren-like calls emanate from the mist-covered canopy is one of the most memorable experiences of your Madagascar lemur safari.

Drive & Transfer to Palmarium

After an early lunch, you continue east to the coastal area to the town of Manabato. This is a scenic drive down the highlands of about 2½ to 3 hours. En route we’ll pass through Brickaville, a small city famous for its sugar cane plantations.

From Manabato you then enjoy a scenic one hour boat transfer across the Rasoabe Lake to the Pangalanes Canal and onto Palmarium Lodge.

On the largest of the canal’s lakes is the Palmarium Reserve, a large private reserve which aims to protect both many species of indigenous palms (hence the name) as well as showcasing some of the indigenous lemurs of Madagascar from the north and eastern sides. The Palmarium Lodge is only accessible by boat along the Pangalanes Canal.

The Pangalanes Canal began under the Merina Monarchy but was considerably extended by the French in the 19th century . It enabled boats transporting goods up and down the coast to travel in calm waters and not brave the Indian Ocean storms. The canal linked a series of beautiful wetland lakes and was, at its height, the third longest canal in the world.

Palmarium Lodge now consists of two separate camps which are identical in standard and very similar views, both with a beach for swimming. The newer camp, Palmarium Beach has a setting on a long white sandy beach so ideal for people who like to soak up some rays. The original camp has the Palm garden so perhaps better for keen botanists. The traditional thatched bungalows, made from local wood such as bamboo, are all spacious and comfortable. Bungalows all have private wooden decked terraces with bamboo and fabric chairs, a table and a hammock – a great place to relax in the afternoons.



Accommodation: Palmarium Lodge
Located in: Madagascar

Day 5 - Palmarium

Ankanin’ny Nofy means “nest of the dreams”. Surrounded by a huge and blue lake, this is the ideal place for rest and commune with nature.

In the morning, you visit of the Palmarium reserve, a private natural reserve situated on a peninsula of 46 ha. Here we can admire many species of lemurs in their natural habitat as well as some which are typically found elsewhere. So it is not for the purists but it does allow you to see a great variety of lemurs which you may not see otherwise.

This is perfect for keen photographers as you see first lemurs in the natural primary forest and then in this secondary forest area where they are more habituated to human contact.

Optional Night Walk to see the Aye Aye (extra cost)
There is also an opportunity to see the extremely rare Aye Aye nocturnal lemur on a night walk in a specially created island reserve.

Accommodation: Palmarium Lodge
Located in: Madagascar

Day 6 - Mahambo

Today you take a longer 2 hour scenic boat transfer north along the Pangalanes canal to Tamatave (also known as Tomasina) where you meet up with your private driver again.

This part of the canal has more activity. It is used by locals transporting their goods. Now you can enjoy seeing pristine wetlands vegetation, authentic fishing villages, fishermen working on their fish traps and local people travelling the canal up to Tamatave.

You continue north for approx. 1½ hours to the charming little coastal village of Mahambo. Mahambo is well shaded by coconut trees. It is famous for surfing and resort holidays, even if it remains very traditional and old fashioned.

La Pirogue is a charming, simple beach lodge with a choice of standard and deluxe chalets in the gardens behind the beach. Each are simply decorated with Malagasy wooden furniture and artefacts. All are en suite with a small terrace outside and mosquito nets.

You usually arrive in the early afternoon so that there is time to relax on their golden sandy beach, or enjoy a walk through the nearby village.
Dinner, Bed & Breakfast


Days 7 to 9 - Ile Sainte Marie

This morning you set off early to drive northwards on the scenic coastal road to the ferry point for Ile Sainte Marie. The ferry takes between 1¼ and 1¾ hours depending on the sea conditions. On arrival you are met and transferred to your hotel.

Ile Sainte Marie

Ile Sainte Marie, off the east coast of Madagascar is the ideal spot for some time on the beach after you’ve explored some of its wildlife reserves. It is also well-known for its diving and whale-watching in season (July to October).

Ile Sainte Marie boasts scenery to rival the Seychelles: lovely bays protected by soft coral reefs, quiet white sandy beaches, and verdant green vegetation created by its tropical climate. Add in a mysterious pirate history and it has romance written all over it. The island, which is also known as Nosy Boraha, is only 60 km long and just 5 km at its widest point. It’s an idyllic spot with a cute little airport at its southern tip (with direct 50 minute flights from Madagascar’s capital Tana), and generally low-key tourism development. Most people live in tiny fishing villages.

Ile aux nattes

Premier: Hotel Masoandro (B&B)

Masoandro lodge is a stylish mid-range hotel on a hillside overlooking a charming creek offering fantastic views over the ocean. It has 12 superior bungalows and 6 luxury bungalows. These are all simple wooden chalets with traditional palm thatched roofs. All have air-conditioning and mosquito nets as well as colourful art work. Both room types have lovely views over the cove but the luxury rooms are much larger with a sitting area, TV and private terrace. And also slightly better sea views.

The lodge itself as an open plan restaurant in wood with an option of indoor or outdoor dining on the terrace. Plus there’s a beach bar with barbecues as an option. Right off the beach there is a small coral reef offering excellent snorkeling with equipment available to hire. Plus two of the best dive sites are close by. Masoandro Lodge is only a short walk from the Ikalalao Forest with a range of forest walks on offer.

Other facilities include swimming in the stylish rim flow swimming pool, motorbike or bicycle rental, beach volleyball, boules or table tennis. Plus you can treat yourself to a massage. From July through September Ile Sainte Marie offers some of the best whale watching in the world as humpback whales make their annual journey here. Masoandro arranges boat-based whale watching trips in season as well as deep sea fishing and other boat trips to explore the island.

Luxury Option: Princesse Bora Lodge (DBB)

Princesse Bora Lodge lies on the south-western part of the island close to the airport and Ile aux Nattes. It is protected by a bank of coral which creates a quiet lagoon of water, perfect for snorkeling and diving.

The main buildings of the hotel are a series of unpretentious interconnecting circular rooms. One is a bar, another a library, two make up the restaurant, one houses reception and the newest is an underground cellar in stone with watered gravel to keep the wines cool. A Zen infinity pool is set into a beautiful timber deck and palm trees line the white sandy beach. Sun loungers are set out on the beach each day and the perfect view is enhanced by the fetching jetty and the misty hills of the mainland in the distance.

The 20 villas at Princesse Bora Lodge are all integrated into the lush vegetation and built in natural materials such as cut stone and rosewood with traditional thatched roofs of dried leaves.

There’s plenty to do at Princesse Bora. You can snorkel right from the beach or enjoy the spa. There are mountain bikes for exploring the island. 4×4 or Quad bike excursions (with a guide) take you to spots such as Coco Bay. There’s a Dive Centre with diving trips around the island. . From July through September, you can take one of the whale-watching boat trips to observe the whales in the company of an eco-guide.

Accommodation: Princesse Bora Lodge & Spa
Located in: Ile Sainte Marie - Madagascar

Day 10 - Fly back to Tana

Today you are transferred to the airport in time for your flight to Tana.

Note: Nearly always you have to have a final night in Tana as the flight from Ile Sainte Marie is in the early afternoon. But this can change to the late afternoon if the schedule changes (which it often does!)

We recommend the Lokanga Boutique Hotel for the final night as it lies above the hubbub of the city and gives panoramic views and an almost rural ambience. But you can opt for the Royal Palissandre again if you like to be in walking distance of everything.

Note: if this night is NOT needed, we will deduct it from the cost.

 Lokanga Boutique Hotel

Lokanga Boutique Hotel is a small boutique hotel in the old part of Tana high on the sacred Royal Hill near to the old Queen’s Palace.  Its name comes from the Malagasy word for violin because the house lies on the site which was the home of the Queen’s musicians. The hotel building dates from the 1930’s and has a long varangue (terrace) which faces west to enjoy the sunset views over the rice fields of the plains below.

The hotel aims to combine the charm of a bygone era – with much use of antiques, family artefacts, old prints and photos – and modern amenities. It is has only six individually styled rooms all with a different theme but all sharing the stunning views over the city below. Decorated with family antiques, each also has wifi, minibar, television, heating and ensuite bathroom.  Lots of charm and style if you enjoy the period ambience.

Accommodation: Lokanga Boutique Hotel
Located in: Antananarivo - Madagascar

Day 10

This morning you have some time at leisure. Later you are transferred to the airport in time for your flight to Tana.

Optional city tour if you wish (at extra cost).


View Interactive Itinerary
See Route on Map
Accommodation, meals as specified, meals as mentioned, English-speaking driver (though this will be fairly rudimentary English), English-speaking Reserve guides in the National parks (only reserve guides are allowed to guide visitors) and all Park Fees, all entrances as mentioned in the itinerary
International flights into Madagascar, domestic flights – typical prices are shown but a confirmed price is given on the quote, optional tours, all services & meals not specified, drinks, visa costs and items of a personal nature eg. tips, curios
Best time to go:
April to mid December
Minimum number:
2 people
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