A Madagascar tour or safari is a unique experience – even within the contact of a myriad of memorable experiences in Africa. Over the years we’ve noticed that there are some common misconceptions about Madagascar which I’ll address in this article.
Madagascar is not for everyone. If you really like good quality accommodation, expect a holiday to unfold exactly as the brochure says and have difficulty coping with change, then perhaps a Madagascar tour is not for you.
However if you have a spirit of adventure. Welcome the unexpected, and are willing to accept some irritations and rustic conditions. Then Madagascar with its pristine flora and extra-ordinary wildlife, could be the perfect safari holiday for you. We recommend that you visit at least two to three of its distinct climatic & floral zones to get the most from a Madagascar tour.
Type of accommodation in Madagascar
Unlike many countries in Southern Africa, there really isn’t that much choice in terms of accommodation in Madagascar. Except in the beach resorts of Nosy Be and Ile Sainte Marie. The accommodation is reasonable but usually not of a very high standard. Even a so-called five star resort is not to be compared with a five star hotel elsewhere in Africa. Or the Indian Ocean Islands. We try to tell it as it is in our proposals. So that there are no surprises when you are on your Madagscar safari. So read our comments thoroughly!
Having said that, Nosy Be and Ile Sainte Marie do offer a higher standard of hotel. So this is where you can upgrade your accommodation to offset the more modest lodges elsewhere.
Cost of a Madagascar Tour
Some clients are under the impression that because the hotel standard is not high, the cost of a Madagascar safari or holiday will be moderate. Unfortunately this is not really the case. Though it is not one of the most expensive safari destinations in Africa. (Botswana takes that prize). It is not cheap either.
There are a variety of reasons for this:
- The international flight to Madagascar is expensive (due to lack of competition). Basically its almost as much as flying to London. Be warned!
- Madagascar is a huge country. And so domestic flights between Tana and other towns are relatively expensive. Given that most people want to experience the diversity of Madagascar’s flora and fauna, you’ll usually visit 3 or 4 different regions. So this adds to the transport cost.
- The hotels and lodges are priced in Euros.
English-speaking guide or not?
One factor which has a big influence on the cost is whether you take a private English-speaking guide. Our prices DO include an English-speaking guide.
If you choose a more basic tour, your hotel and regional transfers are with a local driver who will not speak much, if any, English. This is fine if you speak a little French (which is a common language in Madagascar). Or if you are looking for a good price. But it could be frustrating if you want to ask your driver about something that you’ve seen en route. However when you get to the National Park such as Andasibe, you always join up with the English-speaking park rangers. As they are the ONLY ones who are allowed to guide in the National Parks.
Naturally we recommend an English-speaking private guide. It’s more than the basic tour but in exchange you have much more flexibility. And you will learn so much more about the wildlife and sights of Madagascar.
When to visit Madagascar?
The west and northwest are year-round destinations but mid January to March is cyclone season on the east coast. The eastern rainforests have a high rainfall. So the best times for a Madagascar tour are the drier months of May onwards or September to December.
Another thing to bear in mind is that ideally you should be reasonably fit. You experience Madagascar’s flora and fauna mainly by walking the forest trails, sometimes for a few hours. And sometimes in hilly terrain (optional). If this is a problem for you, you need to let us know when planning your Madagascar safari.
Can you include the beach on a Madagascar tour?
Some clients want to combine Mauritius with Madagascar. Though this is perfectly possible, we recommend enjoying the Malagasy beaches instead. Many visitors tack on some days of relaxation at the end, at Nosy Be or Ile Sainte Marie with their gorgeous tropical beaches.
Nosy Be is the largest of several beautiful islands off the northwest coast. This ‘Perfumed Isle’ is alive with the smells of vanilla, ylang-ylang and coffee. The bustling island markets are full of embroidered white lace, colourful sarongs and wooden carvings. The more active can enjoy diving and snorkelling off the coral reefs. Or perhaps an excursion to Nosy Komba and Nosy Tanikely.
Alternatively the Isle of Tsarabanjina matches the Seychelles for stunning island beauty. A palm-fringed desert island with lapping azure blue waters.
Ile Sainte Marie
Ile Sainte Marie is 50km long and 7km at its widest point. The only real town is Ambodifotatra – other small villages comprise bamboo and palm huts. The island is almost universally known as Sainte Marie. And it’s almost a cliché of a tropical island with endless deserted beaches overhung by coconut palms. Its bays area protected from sharks by coral reefs, its hills covered with luxuriant vegetation. Plus there is a relative absence of unsightly tourist development. But Sainte Marie has a far less settled weather pattern that its island rival, Nosy Be. Cyclones strike regularly and you may have rain and wind at any time. But this is interspersed with calm sunny weather. The best months for a visit are from June to November.
And finally a couple of smaller points to remember:
How to get to Madagascar?
Visitors fly to the capital city of Tana from Johannesburg or Paris (and also from the island of Mauritius). Once a week, you can also fly direct from Johannesburg to the resort area of Nosy Be. (But this is a return flight only so ideal for a beach holiday).
Place Names in Madagascar
Madagascar is quite confusing in terms of place names, as the guide books swop between the English names, for example, Tulear, to the Madagascan name eg Toliara fairly indiscriminately.
In our proposals we tend to use the English/French names with the Madagasy names in brackets. But there is a trend towards using the Malagasy names more and more, even though they are quite difficult to pronounce in some cases.
Unlike its northern neighbour, Mauritius, Madagascar is in a high risk malaria-area and so anti-malaria precautions should be taken
“Tips to consider when planning a Madagascar Tour” was written by Cedarberg Africa
Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa. We focus on upmarket tailormade safaris for discerning and inquiring people. We have visited Madagascar more than once. And so we can chat to you about a possible trip from personal experience, weighing up the different options, to plan a trip that is just right for you.