I just got back from an 11 day discovery of Madagascar. I’m not really sure how to summarize this trip but it had nothing to do with the local ‘mora mora’ which is Malagasy for ‘relax, no hurry’. It was a fam trip. For those not working in the tourism industry, fam trip is short for Familiarisation trip. The idea is to see and experience as much as possible in a short amount of time to get to know the destination in order to advice clients and travellers afterwards (and obviously sell the destination). After 45 hotel inspections, 1000 km through hairpin curved roads, 3 domestic flights and visits of 5 parks, I think I can honoustly say that I got a good introduction to Madagascar. The trip started in Tana which is short for Tananarivo which is the capital of the country. People and cities have VERY long names. The name of the very energetic lady that took us around is Rakotomanantsoa. Never mind, I also gave up pronouncing.
The first remarkable thing was that the country has a very Asian feel. Did you know that Malagasy people eat more rice than the Chinese? Especially south of Tana we drove through areas of beautiful rice paddies and villages with lively markets. Another important image that I will always remember is the humpbacked Zebu. The Zebu is the local cow and is worth a LOT. A traditional way of getting around is de Zebu kart.Young men that would like to get married have to show their courage by stealing a Zebu to convince their future wives.
The first national park we visited was Antasibe where we saw the first Lemurs. Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar so for many people this is the reason to visit the country. Going south we drove through beautiful highlands and visited the tropical rainforest of Ranomafana where we also saw Lemurs. En route we often stopped at local markets and our guide would show us the local version of pancakes, an aluminium factory, wood carvers, beautifully handmade embroidered linens. We even found a place where they make Foie Gras. I would have never imagined finding this in Madagascar. The French influence can be noted in many ways: Baguettes, Pain au Chocolat, most of the population speak Malagasy and French and a LOT of old French cars like Renault 5 and 2CV which I thought was funny to see. The Renault 5 was often used as taxis and on Nosy Be we rented a 2cv. Great fun!
All the parks are fantastic for birdwatching. Since we were on a fam trip we only went for short (2 hour) walks but you can go deeper into the parks when you go for 6 or 8 hours. A local guide with plenty of knowledge will guide you. You need to wear good shoes.
Anja Park is a park run by the local villages. The money that is collected from the entrance fees is financing schools and projects around the villages. The guides have learned a bit of English and take you on a walk into the park. We didn’t need to go far before we were surrounded by Lemurs. Anja Park is great for seeing the Ringtailed lemurs. We ended up in the middle of a fight between 2 different groups of Lemurs. But the fight didn’t take long. From what I’ve seen during this trip Lemurs are very gentle animals and are very curious about us humans who come and visit them .They were really observing us with our strange cameras. I just hope that no tourists will start feeding them and turn them into agressive little creatures.
Isalo was another National Park we visited. It reminded me of the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Great for hiking. Our guide, Nono, can also organize a visit to his village and have lunch there. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for that but I will def. remember that for future clients. It sounded like a really nice, authentic experience.
Reniala park is a kind of botanical garden I would call it. Here you can see the beautiful Baobabs of the south and many medicinal plants. The reserve protects also 45ha of spiny forest. The guide was excellent and we LOVED the massive 1.500 year old Baobab. My fellow traveller said: Aren’t the Baobabs just like wise old men? And I have to agree with her.
Accommodation in Mada is on offer in a wide variety. From very basic (backpacker type) to boutique, hotel de charme. I believe there are only 2 five star properties in the entire country. We stayed mostly in 3 star properties and I would recommend that as well. There are some lovely 6 – 10 room properties with Malagasy or French owners and this is always the best way to experience the true hospitality of a country. For honeymooners, there are some really FANTASTIC resorts and lodges that exceed all you expectations and where you can be sure to have the perfect hideaway
Food wise I was amazed. I was warned: don’t forget the Imodium! Hope you have a strong stomac (I do!) and I had NO expectations whatsoever. Boy, did I get a really nice surprise!! As you know I’m quite crazy about delicious food, it just makes me happy to eat nice things. In Madagascar you don’t need to live on a cracker or a baguette for that matter. We enjoyed curries, great Zebu steak, really nice fresh fruit juices and coctails, fantastic lobster and yes also the Foie gras (sorry if I offend anyone). I don’t think we had one bad meal at all!
From South Africa there are direct flights with Air Madagascar as well as with SA Airlink. From Holland, fly with Kenya Airways via Nairobi and then to Tana although you might get a better deal flying via Jo’burg.
If you fly Air Madagscar from Jo’burg, they offer 50% discount on domestic flights in Madagascar…
At the moment Air Madascar and some accommodations in Nosy Be are offering a 7 day special through tour operators from about ZAR 7.500 per person so contact me if you would be interested. Why not book a nice trip for the next school holidays for the entire family? Madagascar is very family and childfriendly. A lot of rooms have an extra bed for children.
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