Of all of the photo tours that we offer, this is one of the least bird-oriented. This isn’t because there aren’t abundant opportunities to photograph birds… we will go after the bounty of endemic species on offer, and you are sure to end up with magnificent photos of vangas, ground-rollers, mesites, and many others. What makes this a less bird-oriented tour is not the lack of birds, but the astounding variety of other subjects also on offer… you will fill many cards with striking lemurs, predators like Fosa and Narrow-striped Mongoose, colorful chameleons, peculiar geckos, and bizarre insects. Night walks are a major part of this tour, so flashes are recommended.
Day 1: Arrival in Tana
Day 2: Tana to Fort Dauphin to Berenty
Days 3-4: Berenty Our time in Berenty offers incredible photographic opportunities for two of Madagascar’s most photogenic and famous lemurs: the cute Ring-tailed Lemur and the famous ‘dancing’ Verreaux’s Sifakas. The gallery forest here also supports Giant Coua and day-time roosting White-browed Owl and White-footed Sportive Lemur. This open dry forest is also a wonderful place to start enjoying and photographing a range of other Malagasy birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Day 5: Berenty to Fort Dauphin. After a final morning of photography, we drive about three hours to the charming coastal town of Fort Dauphin, where we’ll spend the night.
Day 6: Fort Dauphin to Tana. A domestic flight brings us back to Tana.
Days 7-10: Andasibe-Mantadia NP (Perinet). The most diverse biome on the island are the lush rainforests of eastern Madagascar. Two twin parks here, Mantadia and Perinet, offer the best of Madagascar’s fauna. Many of the island’s most spectacular endemic birds are restricted to this rainforest, where we seek out photo opportunities with species including Pitta-like and Scaly Ground-Rollers, Red-breasted Coua, Madagascar Flufftail, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, and Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher. The experience of rambling in Perinet would not be complete without being serenaded by the planet’s largest lemur, the Indri. The spine-chilling howls of this creature will stick in your memory for the rest of your life, and these large prosimians also make for wonderful photo subjects. With luck, we might encounter one of Madagascar’s evolutionary masterpieces, the bizarre Lowland Streaked Tenrec. After dark we will search for some of the creatures of the night, and should find Eastern Woolly, Crossley’s Dwarf, and Rufous Mouse-Lemurs. The area’s reptile and amphibian fauna are equally dramatic; among the myriad of colorful and photogenic frogs, chameleons, and geckos we may encounter are the giant Parson’s Chameleon, dapper frogs, glowing green day-geckos, and two species of incredibly camoflauged leaf-tailed gecko.
Day 11: Andasibe-Mantadia NP to Tana. After a final morning in the rainforest, possibly spent in a reptile park that is superb for macro photography, we will head back up the eastern escarpment to the capital of Tana, where we’ll enjoy our final dinner together.
Day 12: Tana to Ankarafantsika. A long day’s drive brings us out off of the High Plateau and into the western lowlands, where we spend the new two nights at a simple eco-lodge.
Day 13: Ankarafantsika. We have a full day in the dry forest and wetlands of Ankarafantsika National Park. The abundance of lemurs and birds, and the open nature of the forest here makes this one of the island’s premier sites for wildlife photography. Troops of handsome Cockerel’s Sifakas often hang around the park headquarters, along with birds like Madagascar Hoopoe, Sickle-billed Vanga, and Crested Drongo. A nearby lake is teaming with herons, egrets, and other waterbirds, and we may take a short boat trip there if conditions allow. Night walks here are especially productive. We’ll seek out the Golden-brown Mouse Lemur, which is endemic to this park, plus Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur, Mongoose Lemur, and several species of geckos and chameleons.
Day 14: Ankarafantsika to Mahanjunga. After a final morning in the park, we drive a couple of hours to the regional center of Mahajunga, where we’ll enjoy fine food, air conditioning, and wifi!
Day 15: Mahanjunga to Tana. A short domestic flight brings us back to Tana.
Day 16: Departure from Tana.
Kirindy Extension (5 days)
Day 1: Tana to Kirindy (this is the departure day of the main tour). A short domestic flight brings us out of the highlands and to the coastal town or Morandava, the gateway to Kirindy, which is a couple hours’ drive away.
Days 2-4: Kirindy. The first leg of the trip heads to the far west, where the western deciduous forest hold a diverse and easily photographable suite of lemurs, birds, and reptiles, plus Madagascar’s largest predator: the fosa. On the way to and from Kirindy, we pass through Madagascar’s most photogenic landscape, the iconic “Alee des Baobabs”. This is the best place in Madagascar to photograph the island’s most impressive species of baobab: the immense Grandidier’s Baobab. Kirindy is a lemur paradise and we ought to catch up with lanky Verreaux’s Sifaka and big-eyed Red-tailed Sportive Lemurs amongst eight possible species. This is also a good area for snakes, and there is no nervous tension as none of Madagascar’s snakes are venomous. We will also seek out the giant Oustalet’s Chameleon and the spiky Cuvier’s Iguanid. We’ll consider ourselves lucky if we manage photos of the shy White-breasted Mesite. Kirindy holds good numbers of many widespread Malagasy species, including a diverse range of couas and vangas. The open nature of the forests here mean that these species are easier to photograph here than elsewhere, making Kirindy an excellent way to start a phototour of the island.
Day 5: Kirindy to Tana. If the domestic flight time allows, we’ll have a final morning of photography in Kirindy, then catch our flight back to Tana, where we’ll spend the night in a comfortable hotel, resting up for our first taste of the Malagasy rainforest on the next day.
PACE: Moderate. The sun comes up just after 5am, and early morning is the prime birding time, making for many early mornings. On the other hand, the sun sets about 6pm, meaning that days are not extremely long. There will be some down time at mid-day on most days of the tour, except for days with all-day drives. In the very hot northwest and south, we often have many hours of down-time due to high heat and lack of bird activity in the middle of the day. There is one long drive (8-10 hours) on this tour, on day 12. 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. The eastern rainforest 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 afternoon. Although we try to find as many species as possible from the trails, bush-whacking is sometimes necessary to seek out special birds and lemurs, 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. Most of the trails are broad and flat. 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 maximum.
CLIMATE: The eastern rainforest sites have moderate temperatures (mostly 70°-80°F, 21°-27°C), though they are humid, with rain possible. The climate in the coastal lowlands is hot (up to 95°F, 35°C). The weather at Ampijoroa very hot and humid.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good throughout most of the main tour. Two nights will be spent at a simple eco-lodge near Ankarafantsika NP. All hotels have ensuite bathrooms, and some have wifi.
WHEN TO GO: We run the set-departure tour in October or 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.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: There will be a lot of walking, but subjects are abundant right around our lodges, especially at Kirindy. We will seek out birds, plus lemurs, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, and landscapes. This is one of our most diverse photo tours.
GEAR: A macro lens and flash are essential. Birds and lemurs are often very approachable, so it’s good to have both a big lens and a smaller zoom OR an intermediate lens like a 300mm. There is lots of light in the western forest at Kirindy, but it is fairly dark inside the eastern rainforest.
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 15 if taking only the main tour, or through the night of Day 4 with the extension; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 16 if taking only the main tour, and to lunch on day 5 of the Kirindy extension; safe drinking water and/or juice during meals; Tropical Birding tour leader with audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 15 if taking only the main tour, and to the afternoon of day 5 of the Kirindy extension; 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.
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.