Madagascar: Enigmatic Wildlife

We are proud to be offering this Enigmatic Wildlife Tour in collaboration with our partners Rainbow Tours, to a fine selection of Madagascar’s awe-inspiring wild places. As is the case with other Enigmatic Wildlife Tours, the objective of the tour is to reveal to a small group of participants more than just the usual flagship species, which the majority of tour groups come to see. In this regard, the tour leader is very important, and we are delighted to be working with respected author and herpetologist, wildlife photographer, and conservation biologist, Marius Burger, who has been to Madagascar some 30 times, mostly to lead tours but also to do research. Marius even has a Malagasy tree frog named after him: Boophis burgeri! This trip visits mainly places that are off the normal birding circuit, including Kirindy Forest and a variety of lemur and reptile-rich sites in the far north.


This is an Enigmatic Wildlife Tour (EWT). While most birding and wildlife tours focus on seeing as much as possible, very few focus on quality encounters with the least known and most charismatic wildlife the planet has. Tropical Birding’s new EWTs focus on encounters with Earth’s most desirable and poorly-known wildlife, and we shall use our time to make sure we maximize our chances of encounters with the unforgettable. While we do so we shall certainly enjoy all the other wildlife around us, and so while we are focused, we are not neglecting all the other surrounding beauty. It’s important to mention that while we will do everything we can to find these rare animals, nothing is guaranteed.

Day 1: Antananarivo. After arrival into Antananarivo, you will be welcomed and transferred to a comfortable hotel about 15 minutes drive from the airport, where the group will meet up.

Day 2: Antananarivo to Morondava to Kirindy Forest. We transfer to the airport to check in for the late morning flight to Morondava on the central-west coast. Then we drive to Kirindy, making a photo stop at the famed Avenue of Baobabs. Our targets at Kirindy include the likes of Fosa (Madagascar’s biggest carnivore), Narrow-striped Mongoose, and a plethora of lemurs such as Verreaux’s sifakas and Red-fronted brown lemurs by day, and at night, Pale Fork-marked Lemur, Coquerels Giant Mouse Lemur, Red-tailed Sportive Lemur, and the diminutive Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemurs. We will also seek the endangered Giant Jumping Rat and Western Big-footed Mouse. In terms of herps we should locate Oustalets Chameleon and Fish-scaled gecko.

Day 3: Kirindy Forest. We will make a morning and late afternoon/ night walk in Kirindy Forest in search of its wildlife. Trails are flat and the terrain is easy.

Kirindy Forest is the best place in the world to see Fosa
Kirindy Forest is the best place in the world to see Fosa (Ken Behrens)

Day 4: Kirindy Forest to Morondava. After an early breakfast, we spend a final morning in Kirindy Forest to catch up on species previously missed. Afterwards, we travel back to Morondava to stay overnight in a relaxed and comfortable beach hotel.

Day 5: Morondava to Antananarivo (flight). We visit a private forest site near Morondava before we transfer to the airport for the flight to Antananarivo, which acts as a centrally located hub.

Day 6: Antananarivo to Diego Suarez (flight) to Amber Mountain. We transfer to Ivato Airport to check in for the flight up to Diego Suarez in the far north of Madagascar. On arrival, we travel in 4-wheel drive vehicles to the nearby Montagne des Francais Reserve where we do the easy Baobab Trail walk. Then we head an hour’s drive south to the rainforest-clad Amber Mountain for a two-night stay. Like Kirindy, the private reserve at Domain de Fontenay, can be exceptionally rewarding for nocturnal wildlife viewing. This is a great place for herps, which include a few species of the remarkable Leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus). There is also a wide variety of chameleons and frogs, as well as nocturnal lemurs (Arnhold’s Mouse Lemur and Amber Mountain Dwarf Lemur are both common here). Amber Mountain National Park also holds mammals such as Sanford’s Lemur, Ring-tailed Vontsira, and Red Forest Rat.

Day 7: Amber Mountain. After breakfast, we’ll visit Amber Mountain National Park, which has some of the most beautiful rainforest anywhere on the “8th Continent”. This isolated rainforest is not part of the eastern rainforest band. As such, there’s a high level of endemism, with many new species having been described from here during surveys over the last couple of decades.

Calumna amber is sometimes known as Elephant-ear Chameleon, for good reason!
Calumna amber is sometimes known as Elephant-ear Chameleon, for good reason! (Ken Behrens)

Day 8: Amber Mountain to Andrafiamena Andavakoera Protected Area. We drive along some rugged roads to this new protected area, where we stay for two nights in the well set up Black Lemur Camp, a community-managed property on a forested hillside.

Day 9: Andrafiamena-Andavakoera Protected Area. After breakfast we walk into the forest starting directly behind the camp. The main attraction here is a population of one of the world’s 25 rarest primates, Perrier’s Sifaka, whose population may number as few as 150 individuals. Day and night walks in the deciduous forest are delightful. Mammals resident in addition to the sifaka include Daraina Sportive Lemur, Ankarana Sportive Lemur, and Crowned lemur. We will also look for Northern Rufous Mouse Lemur and ‘herps’ like the robust Madagascar Velvet Gecko, Henkel’s Leaf-tailed Gecko, Madagascar Giant Day Gecko, and chameleons such as the unusual Petter’s Chameleon.

Perrier's Sifaka is our main reason for visiting Andrafiamena
Perrier's Sifaka is our main reason for visiting Andrafiamena (Ken Behrens)

Day 10: Andrafiamena-Andavakoera to Ankarana National Park. We travel along more rugged roads to Ankarana west, where we stay for two nights in the uniquely stylish Iharana Bush Camp, set on the shore of a shallow wetland, which mirrors its own “private” patch of Tsingy. In the late afternoon/early evening we will go up to a viewpoint in the Tsingy, where we enjoy sundowners. A night walk will take us to the lakeshore near the lodge, where we will look for snakes that congregate to prey on amphibians at night.

Day 11: Ankarana NP (eastern side). The next area on our program is the otherworldly Ankarana National Park, which has world-class “WOW” factor when it comes to incredible landscapes. Here we’re talking ‘Tsingy’ limestone pinnacle-fields, caves, and wildlife-rich dry deciduous forests. We’ll look for Crowned and Sanford’s lemurs, Ankarana Sportive Lemur ,and a variety of birds including Crested Coua, Sickle-billed, Blue and Rufous Vangas and a variety of herps, such as the localized endemic Tsingy Plated Lizard. Many of the island’s endemic bat species frequent Ankarana’s caves.

Crowned Lemur is the most common diurnal lemur in Ankarana
Crowned Lemur is the most common diurnal lemur in Ankarana (Ken Behrens)

Day 12: Ankarana to Ankify (drive) to Nosy Be (speedboat). We next travel through Sambirano countryside to the village of Ankify, then cross by speedboat to Nosy Be island. Here, an excursion to Lokobe National Park should reveal Black Lemur, the critically endangered Hawk’s Sportive Lemur, and the locally endemic Claire’s Mouse Lemur. Herps are prolific in this small tract of Sambirano rainforest, with key species including Minute Leaf Chameleon, Red-legged Plated Lizard, Henkel’s Leaf-tailed Gecko, and Northern Big-eyed Snake. In the late afternoon, we take an excursion for sundowners to Mont Passot, where the sunsets are magical.

Day 13: Nosy Be to Antananarivo (flight). As long as our flight time allows, we will spend the morning at Lokobe. Then we transfer to Nosy Be airport to check in for the flight back to Antananarivo.

Day 14: Antananarivo to Palmarium. After breakfast, we head eastwards in 4-wheel drive vehicles. We cross the eastern escarpment, then drop down to Manambato, where we are met and transferred by motorboat to the relaxed Palmarium, for a two-night stay.

Our main reason to visit Palmarium is the incredible Aye-aye, a bizarre lemur that makes up its own family
Our main reason to visit Palmarium is the incredible Aye-aye, a bizarre lemur that makes up its own family (Ken Behrens)

Day 15: Palmarium Private Reserve. The main attraction here is habituated Aye ayes that live on a wooded islet in a lake. These bizarre lemurs epitomize all that is weird and wonderful about Madagascar’s wildlife. Wildlife is prolific in this small tract of east coast littoral forest, with notable species present including the Critically Endangered Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur.

Day 16: Palmarium Private Reserve to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. We transfer back to Manambato, from where we travel inland to the country’s most popular rainforest, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. If time allows we’ll do a night walk.

Day 17: Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. This is Madagascar’s number one protected eastern rainforest area. Here we’ll explore the wildlife-rich rainforest by day and by night, to seek its diverse inhabitants. Iconic mammals here include Indri, Diademed Sifaka, and at night, Eastern Woolly Lemur, Weasel Sportive Lemur, and Goodman’s Mouse Lemur. Birding is superb, with specials such as Blue Coua and Nuthatch Vanga. The area’s herpetofauna is rich, with chameleons including the gigantic Parson’s Chameleon and the far smaller Nose-horned Chameleon and Brown Leaf Chameleon.

Day 18: Andasibe-Mantadia National Park to Antananarivo. After a final morning walk in Andasibe, we drive back up to Antananarivo, where we have the use of day/evening rooms for those departing on Air France early next morning, or stay overnight.

Day 19: Departure from Antananarivo. You will be transferred to Ivato Airport to check in for your flight home.

Black-and-white Ruffed-Lemur can be quite tame at the Palmarium
Black-and-white Ruffed-Lemur can be quite tame at the Palmarium (Ken Behrens)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. The sun comes up just after 5am, and early morning is the prime birding time, making for many early mornings. The sun sets about 6pm, but on many days we will head out for long night walks after sunset. There will be some down time at mid-day on many days of the tour, except for days with all-day drives. Most of the tour is spent on national roads which are mostly in decent condition, though often winding. Some sites are accessed via short drives (two hours maximum) on sandy or muddy tracks.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Some sites require long sessions in the forest, away from the vehicle. On one or two days, these sessions may run from early morning until the late afternoon. Although we try to find as many species as possible from the trails, bush-whacking is often necessary to seek out special species, but these diversions from the trail can be skipped by those who are physically unable to make them. The rainforest trails don’t generally have deep mud, but can be slippery on the surface after recent rain. Some trails are broad and flat while others are narrow and uneven, with rocks and roots underfoot. Walking sticks are strongly recommended. The terrain in the western sites is completely flat, but often sandy, which can be fatiguing. You can expect to walk around 4 miles (6.4 km) per day on average.

CLIMATE: The rainforest sites have moderate temperatures (mostly 70°-80°F, 21°-27°C), though they are humid, with rain possible. The climate in Kirindy and most of the north is very hot (up to 95°F, 35°C) .

ACCOMMODATION: Very good throughout most of the tour. The nights at Kirindy will be spent at a basic to moderate eco-lodge. All the rooms have ensuite bathrooms. Some of the lodges have wifi.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Madagascar offers excellent chances for nature photography. Many Malagasy creatures are approachable and photogenic. Many sightings, of lemurs and herps in particular, are extended, allowing abundant chances for photography. Birds are generally quite approachable, though rainforest bird photography can be difficult here as anywhere in the world. Reptiles and amphibians offer wonderful chances for macro photography. Serious nature photographers may wish to check out our Madagascar Photo Tour.

WHEN TO GO: We run the set-departure tour in November, at the beginning of the warm and rainy season, when many birds begin breeding, hibernating mammals have started to emerge, and frogs and reptiles become conspicuous. Although it is somewhat less diverse, the austral winter is also a good time to visit Madagascar, as the parks are less crowded and the weather is very comfortable. Custom tours can be tweaked to make the most of any season.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. A visa is required. Currently, 30-day tourist visas can be obtained upon arrival for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all European countries. The visa costs approximately $30. A visa can also be obtained beforehand through a Malagasy embassy or consulate. Advance visas are currently only required of a few nationalities, mostly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change, and it is a good idea to double-check your entry requirements at least six weeks before you travel; contact the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to local guides, drivers, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 18; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 19; safe drinking water and/or juice during meals; Tropical Birding tour leader from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 18; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); domestic flights; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from in a suitable vehicle with a local driver; entrance fees and local guide fees for all the birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour, though electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for luggage porters (if you require their services); snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

SPECIAL NOTES ABOUT MADAGASCAR TOURS: It is possible that the final itinerary for this tour will be somewhat different from the one given above. Flight schedules in Madagascar are complicated and ever-changing. Most flights operate only on certain days of the week, and the itinerary above is based entirely on those schedules. We will monitor the situation, and adapt our itinerary as necessary. Flights can even change on a moment’s notice based on weather conditions (or the whims of the airline!), so last-minute modifications are also a distinct possibility.

Madagascar is an underdeveloped country. While we endeavor to use the best providers possible, sub-par service (e.g. uncomfortable or poorly-maintained vehicles, simple hotels, cancelled or redirected flights) can sometimes cause inconveniences to travelers. Every tour company running trips here has to deal with this, and we feel it is best to inform you beforehand, as it can be quite disconcerting considering the costs involved in visiting this country.

The flights within Madagascar are included in the tour price, but any additional costs incurred due to internal flight delays or cancellations will not be covered by Tropical Birding. Ensure that your travel insurance covers you in such cases.