Adventurous Western Madagascar tour
This adventurous Western Madagascar tour is for those who love to explore remote off the beaten track places. To includes all the highlights of Western Madagascar: The Tsingy de Bemaraha, Baobab Alley, Kirindy and Morondava. And it includes a charming, if rustic river cruise down one of the most scenic rivers in the western part of Madagascar.
To see a reasonable spectrum of Madagascar’s endemic mammals, birds, reptiles and trees, you ideally need to visit a variety of climatic and floral zones. So we love this combination of Western Madagascar with the addition of the Eastern Rainforests of Andasibe. Or you can combine it with our Southern itinerary: Rainforests, Mountains and Beaches of Southern Madagascar.
Accommodation at a glance (From 9 nights up to 12 nights with Kirindy & 2 nights Andasibe)
Overnight Royal Palissande Hotel, Antananarivo, DBB
1 night Antsirabe, Couleur Bleu Guesthouse, DBB
1 night Princesse du Tsiribinhina, Miandrivazo, DBB
2 nights Tsiribinhina River Cruise, DBB
2 nights Orchidees de Bemaraha, DBB
Optional extra night at Relais de Kirindy
1 night, Morondava, Chez Maggie, DBB
1 night, Antananarivo at Palissandre or Lokanga Boutique Hotel
Tailormake this tour
This tour works best with 10 nights with an extra night at Kirindy. But there are all sorts of ways to customize it.
- Add a night in Kirindy (approx Euro 155 more per person)
- Take out the night in Antsirabe if you need to save time
- Add a 2 night extension to visit Andasibe National Park – see 12 night price below
- Add on a few nights on the wonderful tropical island of Nosy Be
- If the boat cruise sounds too rustic, you can travel north from Morondava and back again (But this is lots of driving!)
- Or you can just visit the Avenue of Baobabs & the Kirindy Forest and not head all the way to the Tsingy of Bemaraha (3 nights plus Tana)
- This latter itinerary can be combined with our 11 night Rainforests tour to make a 14 night itinerary
Contact us for your Adventurous Western Madagascar tour!
Tana Airport to Royal Palissandre Hotel (DBB)
On arrival at Ivato (Antananarivo) Airport, you are met and transferred to your hotel. On your way you will see rice paddies, and a colourful patch-work of houses, and 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.
City Tour – Time Permitting
Depending on your flight time, you will start with a tour of the city. We begin in the hills above the city with a visit to Ambohimangat, one of the 12 sacred hills of Tana. This is a World heritage site as classified Unesco. This historical place was where the King Andrianampoinimerina started to unify the different kingdoms into one Madagascar. It still holds a strong spiritual significance. People go there with offerings and ask the blessing from the holy king spirit. From the palace you have a panoramic view over Tana. We return to the city where we tour for high, low and middle parts of the city – both in elevation and in wealth.
Tana, (as the capital city of Madagascar is conveniently called), is a brightly coloured mélange of French colonial architecture, multistoried houses and narrow alleys. Antananarivo sprawls over the rolling central highlands of Madagascar surrounded by fields of rice paddies. A city with unique architecture, oodles of charm and bustling streets, 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, houses packed one upon the other, street urchins, hooting and belching old French cars and the lively hustle and bustle of the street markets, all combine to make Antananarivo (Tana) a bit overwhelming at first.
But Tana is quite a fascinating city to explore. The city sprawls over several hills with lots of narrow houses, narrow 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 and markets is in a class of its own – with Malagasy embroidery, semi-precious stones and local crafts all jumbled up together.
Royal Palissandre Hotel
The attractive 4 star Royal Palissandre Hotel is one of the more modern of the Tana hotels and is one of our favourites. It has a pleasant hillside setting overlooking the ‘City of Thousands’. It is an attractive building with rose-coloured brickwork, Mantasoa stonework, and much use of rosewood and marble in the interior. 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.
Accommodation: Royal Palissandre Hotel
Located in: Antananarivo - Madagascar
Drive to Antsirabe (3 hours, 170km), Overnight Couleur Cafe, DBB
After breakfast, you set off with your private guide and car for a 3 hour drive southward to Antsirabe across the highland landscape with its terraced rice-fields and its spectacular eroded hills called ‘lavaka’. You see the typical Madagascar highland houses which are all orientated west according to Malagasy tradition and superstition.
You arrive to Antsirabe in the mid afternoon. Founded by Norwegians in 1856, it is an elegant city, which really feels and looks like a European city. With its temperate climate, thermal springs and wide avenues, it is one of the most attractive towns in Madagascar.
Couleur Cafe is a small guesthouse in Antsirabe, a convenient overnight stop en route. There are eight bungalows including a family chalet in a charming garden. The rooms are light and airy each with a bathroom with shower and a fireplace as it can get very chilly in the evenings on the high plateau! The main lodge has a sitting room and a communal dining table as well as a small curio shop selling local wares.
Scenic drive to Miandrivazo (4 hours, 225km), Overnight at Princesse du Tsiribinhina, DBB
After breakfast you head on to Miandrivazo for 3 to 4 hours’ drive. The landscape is changing step by step, from green highland to dry savanna. En route you have a short visit to Betafo, some 20km from Antsirabe which is also a thermal city. Here we visit the small market place and see Lake Tatamarina. Arrival in Miandrivazo in the afternoon. Miandrivazo or “waiting for her love” is known as the hottest city of Madagascar.
Start of the Tsiribinhina River Cruise, 2 nights, Full Board
After the breakfast, you are transferred by boat to Masiakampy where the boat is waiting. You now have a 2 day/2 night cruise down the scenic Tsiribinhina River. This is both interesting as a relaxing experience after all the driving but also because of the landscape. The Tsiribinhina River is very important for the people for fishing activities and for flood irrigating the rice plantations and other farming alongside it.
The cruise on Tsiribinhina River starts with the landscape of Menabe Region – full of mango trees, tobacco plantations and villages of the local tribe (Sakalava). We stop en route to visit some village and experience the life of the local people living on the river banks.
The River Barge
The boat is a wooden motor barge which started life carrying tobacco before being turned into a river cruise. At the rear of the barge is the skipper and the kitchen. You can seat on comfortable benches on the lower deck where the meals are served. Upstairs is an open upper deck where you can enjoy the weather on deckchairs.
The boat stops around 4 pm. The team will set up camp on a huge sandbank bordering a forest for a spectacular dormitory.
Important Note: This is where the ”Adventure” part of the tour description starts. This is in no way a luxurious experience. It is a simple river barge. All meals are provided. Sleeping is in the form of camping on the river banks by the boat. Please check out reviews online to check whether it is for you. Or whether it is too rustic. Only you will know.
(We like it for the scenery and the village life. Plus the visit to the Tsingy of Bemaraha is quite time consuming and a linear drive north and back from Morondava which is quite limiting.)
Gorge de Bemaraha
Today you set off at 8am enjoying breakfast on board the boat. The day becomes more and more interesting. You’ll see birds, crocodiles, lemurs, bats and primary rain forest along the river. You will pass motor barges carrying local products for the villages and herds of zebu crossing the river.
Today, you also have a trek to a natural swimming pool for bathing under the waterfalls. Lunch is back on board in the boat. In the afternoon, you again can visit a village.
The crew stops the boat on a sandbank. After dinner, you will enjoy traditional entertainment with Sakalava songs and dances near the campfire.
Drive to Belopaka (4 hours), 2 nights at Orchidees de Bemaraha, DBB
The morning is spent on the boat and then you arrive in Belo around noon. You’ll start to see your first baobab trees!
After lunch in Belo (for your own account), you take a by 4×4 vehicle to Bekopaka. This drive brings us to the real Madagascar. You can experience the real life of Malagasy people in the driest part of the country. On your way, you will enjoy crossing the Manambolo River where your driver will load the car on a barge. You arrive in Belopaka in the late afternoon.
Hiking in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
After breakfast, you enjoy a hike in the limestone reserve of ‘Tsingy de Bemaraha’. This is classified as a World Heritage site as well. This massif is spectacularly eroded into a chaos of karsts pinnacles which gives it a unique form – wild and sharp limestone pinnacles. The scenery rivals anything in Madagascar and it’s a treasure house for botanists.
These limestone pinnacles were built by the slow sedimentation of coral and shells. When Madagascar separated from Africa 165 million years ago, the ocean withdrew and the tsingy remained. This strange stone forest of serrated ‘tsingy’ is a 100 meters tall in places. Under the tsingy, there are undiscovered caves, rivers, and canyons. Bats, lemurs, birds and endemic flora have adapted to this unique ecosystem.
The flora consists of a dry western deciduous forest as well as the typical plants of these dry limestone areas, such as aloes, baobabs and the red-flowered flamboyant tree which is so widely planted in the tropics. We can also see plants which grow between the stone such as different species of pachypodium and orchids.
As far as wildlife goes, we can see the stump-tailed chameleon Brookesia perarmata known from only a handful of specimens. The bird list contains 53 species. The 7 species of lemurs include Decken’s sifaka or Propithecus verreaux. These are also known as the dancing lemurs.
Note: You can choose how much you want to hike. There is the “grand tsingy” hike of approx 4 to 5 hours. Or the “petit tsingy” visit which is a shorter 2 hour visit starting close to the village with less walking.
In the afternoon, you can take a guided pirogue tour (wooden canoe) along the Manambolo River to visit the Vazimba tombs.
Drive to Kirindy & onto Morondava (6-7 hours, 220km), Overnight Chez Maggie, DBB
Morning after breakfast, you drive down the coast to Morondava. The Western part of Madagascar is the driest, known for both its magnificent baobab trees and its dry western forest. So along the way, we’ll do some baobabs’ excursions to visit the sacred baobabs, and the famous baobabs alley.
Alley of Baobabs – Just before Morondava, we stop at the Alley of Baobabs for sunset photos. These huge trees, several hundred years old, will reveal their beauty and size with the red colours of dusk. This is one of the most popular spots in Madagascar. These baobabs can be up to 800 years old and be 98 feet high (30 m). The diameter of the largest trees can reach up to 36 feet (11 m).
After getting that classic ‘baobabs in the sunset’ photo, the drive continues after dark down the coast to Morondava. Arrival time depends on time of year – and when the sun sets – but could be as late as 7pm.
Note: You can break this journey by spending an extra day and staying overnight at the Kirindy Forest at the Relaid du Kirindy. We recommend this if you have time.
Optional Extra Night at Kirindy Forest (Day 7)
If you have time, I recommend staying an extra night in Kirindy. This shortens the travelling time and allows you to visit the Kirindy Reserve for both a night expedition and the following morning.
This reserve protects the dry deciduous forests, home of the famous giant jumping rat. In the following morning, you have a morning walk with a specialist guide. Kirindy is one of the most rewarding wildlife site where visitors can spot 7 species of lemurs: the most common one are: Verreaux’s sifaka, fulvus rufus, red-fronted brown lemurs.
Flight to Tana & Overnight Royal Palissandre, DBB
Morning at leisure to discover Morondava.
Morondava is actually a seaside resort on the beach facing the Mozambique Channel. The Morondava area was the centre of the Sakalava kingdom, a prosperous rice-growing area. It has a resort atmosphere – a laid-back vibe where many different cultures and religions manage to intermingle which makes it very special. And somewhat unusual in Madagascar. You can easily walk around the town and, visit the colorful market and the naval carpentry workshop.
You are transferred to the airport for your flight back to Tana for a second overnight stay.
Note: Flight schedules change regularly in Madagascar. Plus the Morondava to Tana flight is usually in the early afternoon hence the need for another overnight stay.
You can also change to Lokanga Lodge for a change of scene:
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. The hotel building dates from the 1930’s and has a long terrace which faces west to enjoy the sunset views over the rice fields of the plains below.
The hotel combine the charm of a bygone era – with much use of antiques, family artefacts, old prints and photos – with 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 Wi-Fi, minibar, television and en suite bathroom. Lots of charm and style if you enjoy the period ambience.
Accommodation: Royal Palissandre Hotel
Located in: Antananarivo - Madagascar
Accommodation: Lokanga Boutique Hotel
Located in: Antananarivo - Madagascar
Transfer back to Airport
Morning at leisure and then transfer back to Ivato Airport in time for your flight.
Optional Extension: 2 nights in Andasibe (shown here)
After breakfast, you head east to Andasibe. This brings us to the humid part of the country with many primary forest and lakes. After some stops along the way we arrive in time for lunch (own account). This evening you may enjoy an optional night expedition.
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 lemurs which have their own special protected part of the Andasibe Park.
Optional Night Walk
If you travel in spring or summer (late August to March), pack a head torch 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.
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
Guided walk in the park
Today you have a morning expedition 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 longer trails on offer. If you don’t wish to walk so far or long, there are easier trails of two hours or so.
This is much wilder than the Indri Special Reserve (seen tomorrow) 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 810ha forest reserve 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.)
In the afternoon you may like to visit the private reserve of Vakona where you can play with the (extremely) with habituated black & white lemurs and brown lemurs which are very relaxed, jumping onto your shoulders without the slightest hesitation.. This is mainly a photographic opportunity but most people enjoy getting a photo with a lemur!
Tour in Special Perinet Reserve & return to Tana
This morning you take an 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 810ha ‘reserve within a reserve’ has several well-maintained forest paths, which are mostly gentle in terrain.
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, craning up to exclaim as they execute balletic leaps from tree to tree. Their long back legs are immensely powerful, and an indri can propel itself 10 metres (30ft), 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. As well as the amazing Indri you may also see the Eastern grey bamboo lemur, red-fronted brown lemur as well as impressive reptiles like Malagasy tree boa and two foot long Parson’s chameleon. You might even be fortunate to see the giraffe-necked Weevil or the golden Mantilla frog.
Afterwards you return to Tana in time for your international flight.
Note: Depending on your flight time, you may need to have a final overnight stay in Tana (or Andasibe)
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’. It has a good restaurant, on a terrace with views over the city and a lovely Spa with a swimming pool, Hammam and gym – just what you need in the middle of a busy Madagascar holiday!
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.
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 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 .
Andasibe National Park
Follow the eerie call of the Indri, Madagascar's largest lemur...Read More