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  • Day154

    Another day’s drive brought us to a park famous for not only lemurs, but also their main predator, the fossa (a nocturnal cat/weasel-like creature that climbs trees). The roads have been relatively good with a few potholes, fewer police stops than we found in many places on the mainland (though the police here might be even more corrupt as our drivers have had to pay bribes twice already), and good signage. The landscape has been very interesting varying from rice paddies, to farmland to cattle grazing areas. Unfortunately, the poverty here is really visible and worse than most of the places we’ve visited so far.
    As we got further west, the landscape became very dry and hot (38 C) and we learned the A/C on our van was broken. We were none too happy about this and quickly let the tour organizer know. They are going to attempt to fix it while we take another car on the dirt roads heading further southwest. Luckily, the new car has working A/C. The odd thing, which we don’t totally understand, is that not only did we pick up a second car (stronger 4x4 for the bad roads), but also a 2nd driver. So now we have 2 drivers for 4- 5 days - Tom and Joclyn.
    Our accommodation was a spotlessly clean safari-style tent with mattresses on the floor and an open-air toilet/shower outside. Very pleasant.
    While here we did both a night and day walk and were able to see a few more kinds of lemurs and some adorable babies learning to leap and climb (the mothers bring them low to the ground to do this in case they fall, which makes for great viewing). Also saw a fossa – in the parking lot!! One of our guides, every time we saw a lemur would exclaim loudly “WOW” as though he had never seen one before – very cute, but we were trying not to laugh every time it happened.
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  • Day150

    After buying a local SIM card, water and getting some cash, we drove ~4 hours up to the Analamazaotra-Mantadia National Parks (another world heritage site).
    The people in this part of Madagascar look far more Asian than we expected. You could easily believe you were in Indonesia or Malaysia. We’ve learned that the first people to settle here were originally from SE Asia, and they were followed by Portuguese, Arabs, African slaves, Indians, French, etc. You can definitely see the French influence in the farmhouse–style architecture complete with wooden shutters. And happily, you can taste it in the food – including some delicious patisseries and boulangeries.
    We learned a few days before arriving that several of the hotels we’d planned to stay at were fully booked so we ended up in a very basic “eco-lodge”. Essentially, it was a straw hut with a bed inside and attached toilet block (where the toilet hardly worked and the hand-spray shower water was cold). Not a good introduction to accommodation here, and especially disappointing because this is where we spent our 20th wedding anniversary.
    Nevermind. We had each other. And the lemurs and chameleons (almost) made up for it!
    We first visited Mantadia park and were lucky to see 3 species of lemurs there, including a lemur baby. Ridiculously cute creatures that are so odd – almost a cross between a gibbon, NZ possum, sloth (not the movement, just the look) and meercat. On several nocturnal walks we were able to see 3 more species of lemurs as well as 3 kinds of chameleons. Amazing. And, on our last day here, we saw 2 more lemur species and several more babies.
    For our anniversary, we went to lunch at a fancy lodge (where we’d wanted to stay) and enjoyed a bottle of wine and some seafood. Very nice, though the animals here have been the absolute highlight.
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  • Day153

    Many of the names here sound similar. Antsirabe is, in fact, a different town and was a stopover point on our way towards the west coast.
    We drove most of the day with a stop at Madagscar Exotic, a fantastic “zoo” housing many species of chameleon, gecko and butterflies in very large outdoor enclosures. Let us tell you…we LOVE chameleons. They are so incredibly beautiful and have an endearing way of moving slowly, looking around, and adapting to their environment. It was such a treat to watch them being fed and getting a chance to hold several of them. Such cool creatures.
    The hotel where we stayed was very charming – a French colonial café that had been converted to a hotel. Our room was enormous with a sitting room, separate bedroom, and ceilings 15+ feet high. It was such a treat to stay here after such a crappy place before. Unfortunately, we were out the door at 6am for our long drive west.
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  • Day155

    Another day’s drive reminded us how happy we are not to be self-driving. This became even truer as we had several very interesting ferry crossings. On the first ferry, which was ~45 minutes long, we had to drive up onto a pontoon with 6 other cars via 2 thin metal ‘planks’. Absolutely no room for error. Yikes! The second ferry was very short (~5 minutes) and involved driving into a river up to thigh-level, then driving up 2 very steep narrow planks onto a ferry which dropped you on the other side of the river and again required traversing the narrow metal tracks.
    While here, we took a river trip down the Manambolo River to see the beautiful gorge and did some hikes in the small and grand Tsingy Bemahara (another world heritage site). The scenery and landscapes have been incredible. The walks have been challenging, not only because of the insane heat (it’s >95F), but the walks require scaling ladders, using ropes and harnesses on some of the steepest bits, squeezing through narrow canyons and caves, and trying not to cut your hands on the incredibly sharp limestone edges. The Tsingy are limestone outcrops that have been eroded over millions of years into unique formations of razor sharp serrated pinnacles, canyons and caves. The local guide we had for two days, Narcis, was great and taught us not only about the flora and fauna, but also educated us about Madagascar history and culture. We also had some good lemur sightings, adding a new species to our count (9 total now).
    Did we say it’s hot! This is the hottest weather we have had in Africa with temps reaching 38C (100F), which usually means starting activities early with a siesta during the hottest part of the day. We’ve also encountered the worst mosquitos since being in Africa. Christy has not resorted to wearing her mosquito suit yet, but we promise a picture of her wearing it at some stage in our time here.
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  • Day158

    A full day’s drive through many villages and different landscapes took us to Morondava where we’d picked up our second car and driver a few days back.
    Slash and burn agriculture - chopping down trees to make charcoal (which is the main cooking fuel source for most), burning off the remaining grass and bush so new grass will grow that livestock can eat and, eventually, planting crops - is a common practice here. It’s most devastatingly obvious when in and around some of the national parks where we’ve seen dense forest on one side of the road, and barren, charred land on the other. Sadly, the poverty is so extreme in many areas that it seems people have no other option to survive. The hardest to see is many young kids working (in fields, carrying bricks, breaking rocks, etc.), not going to school, and begging on the side of the road.
    We arrived at our odd, but comfortable hotel on the beach looking out over the Mozambique Channel.
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  • Day159

    On the way to our stopover point, we were pulled over once again by the police and our driver had to pay another ‘fine’. Apparently, the tinted windows are too dark and need to be changed. This was a law just introduced last week and obviously being exploited by the traffic police.
    We enjoyed a quiet night while it poured with rain and John was able to watch the exciting SA-NZ rugby game at last since we had decent internet.
    On our way out of town, we stopped at an interesting artist’s colony where locals were making miniature toys out of recycled materials. Very clever and original toys reflecting items from everyday Madagascar life.
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  • Day160

    This small town on a hill is famous for woodcarving and was only a few hours drive from Antisirabe. We ended up having a great experience with our accommodation after a bad start.
    We’d been taken to a room at our originally booked hotel that was simply not happening. It was essentially a wooden box in the garden with daylight showing through the walls, one small ‘window’ with a shutter (no net or glass) and no mosquito net for the bed even though the room was already swarming when we arrived. The hotel was fully booked so they couldn’t put us into one of their decent rooms in the main building.
    We called the tour organizer and learned that the hotel had an annex. Not expecting much, we drove down a very rough road through a small village, past an abattoir and over a collapsing bridge before pulling up to large, new-looking house. The caretaker, a cute older lady, let us in and proceeded to show us 4 rooms. The place was empty, and the rooms were large, clean, and did not need nets because the doors and windows were new. We settled into the room and after realizing we were the only guests, and seeing how organized the new kitchen was and knowing the caretaker was also the cook, decided to eat dinner there. What a great meal! We ordered early for a later dinner and after she knew what we wanted, she headed into the village to buy ingredients. Simple food, but fresh and wonderfully prepared.
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  • Day100

    Nosy Be means “big island” in the Malagasy language. That gives you a taste of the overwhelming things we have been experiencing! Nosy Be is best known for it’s ylang-ylang trees which are the basis for a perfume. The main town that we tendered into is named “Hellville”. Now, that brings many images to mind, but the name really refers to the town being named for Admiral Hell. It is a busy little city that is a bit more civilized than our recent ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar. Jeff and I took a tuk-tuk (I love tuk-tuks - they are a small covered seat that is driven by a motorcycle that has a front on it). I know, bad description, but they are everywhere and a cheap way to get around. We paid $5 for about a 20 minute tour of the town and it’s outskirts. I could ride a tuk-tuk every day!
    We took 2 boats to the island of Nosy Komba to visit a local village and a lemur reserve.
    It was interesting to see the local village which was quite poor, but have a profitable source of income from the lemur reserve. We had a taste of the homes, cooking facilities and crafts of the people who live here. They have many opportunities of natural resources, but no real way to capitalize on them.
    The lemurs are about as sweet as you can imagine. All you have to do is hold a banana and smile at them and they are on your shoulder. They are incredibly soft, fairly heavy and have velvety hands. As I gave one of them a tiny piece of banana, the gentleness of their demeanor was remarkable. They have no real predators and have lived protected in this area for thousands of years.
    This was another surprising port that yielded wonders that we’d never imagined. We approach these unusual ports with very low expectations and are always amazed at the offerings, if one is prepared to look beyond our standards.
    The first photo is a wild lemur on Jeff's shoulder enjoying a banana from his hand.
    The second photo is an unbelievably colored chameleon.
    The third photo is a beach where the locals are displaying their wares, in this case, beautiful embroidered cutwork tablecloths and runners.
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  • Day101

    There is no record of a cruise ship ever having stopped at Mahajanga before, so this piqued our interest as we dropped anchor just off of Mahajanga. Initially, this posed a problem because the tender couldn’t locate a safe place to drop people off. Once resolved, however, we found it refreshing to go into a town with people that were just living their daily lives. They were only mildly interested to see us and didn’t feel compelled to sell us anything!
    All in all, it was a short, sweet stop that left the impression of smiling faces and pleasant interactions with it’s inhabitants.
    The first photo is the Mahajanga library.
    The second photo are the local version of rickshaws - mainly used by local people for transportation and hauling.
    The third photo is a took-tuk rounding a large baubob tree.
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  • Day104

    Nosy means island and Be means big so this is the biggest of the little islands off the coast of Madagascar. We left the not so appropriately named Hell-Ville and traveled over to one of the smaller islands Nosy Komba to see an animal distinct to the island of Madagascar, the lemur. It is a cool little animal that is very much like the monkey but with soft little hands. The little village on the island has about 2000 people and a few turtles that Nancy managed to find.
    Other then the boat almost breaking down on the way over it was an uneventful day and pretty enjoyable. We are getting where we are enjoying the nature rather then the cities in this part of the world. There is a depressing amount of poverty in some of these countries that is hard to think of an answer to. While tourism is a start it is difficult to see how that is going to sustain the population growth that is going on in these countries/islands.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Madagascar, Madagaskar, Madagascar, Madagaska, ማዳጋስካር, مدغشقر, Madaqaskar, Мадагаскар, Madagasikari, মাদাগাস্কার, མ་དཱ་གྷསྐཱར།, Madagaska nutome, Μαδαγασκάρη, Madagaskaro, ماداگاسکار, Madagaskaar, મેડાગાસ્કર, מדגסקר, मेडागास्कर, Madagaszkár, Մադագասկար, マダガスカル共和国, მადაგასკარი, Bukini, ម៉ាដាហ្កាស្ការ, ಮಡಗಾಸ್ಕರ್, 마다카스카르, मडगास्कर, Maddajaßka, Madagascaria, Madagasika, ມາຄາກັສກາ, Madagaskaras, Madagaskara, Repoblikan’i Madagasikara, മഡഗാസ്കര്‍, मादागास्कर, မဒဂတ်စကာ, मडागास्कर, ମାଡାଗାସ୍କର୍, مادغاسکر, Madagaskära, மடகாஸ்கர், మాడ్గాస్కార్, ประเทศมาดากัสการ์, Matakasika, ماداگاسكار, مڈغاسکر, Ma-đa-gát-xca (Madagascar), Orílẹ́ède Madasika, 马达加斯加, i-Madagascar

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