Approximately 1000 miles long and 350 miles wide, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Sometimes referred to as the eighth continent because of its extraordinary biodiversity, Madagascar is home to a truly amazing number of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects that exist nowhere else on earth. Nearly 90% of all plant and animal species found there are endemic. We traveled from south to north and east to west, explored spiny and deciduous forests, hiked rainforest trails, slogged through mangroves, and scrambled along rocky desert paths. We shared water with Red-fronted Brown Lemurs, watched Sifakas leap and dance, heard the eerie song of the Indri, greeted the dawn … and watched the sun set among the baobabs.
Madagascar is renowned for its wildlife riches but the people and landscapes are equally diverse and endlessly fascinating. Go slowly (mora mora), look closely, and discover the unexpected in marvelous Madagascar.
The Southern Loop
From the capital of Antananarivo we journeyed south through rice fields and sisal plantations to Berenty, a private reserve comprised of spiny and dry deciduous forest, and a haven for Ring-tailed and White-footed Sportive lemurs, Verreaux’s Sifaka, and a host of reptiles, birds, and insects.
Birds, baobabs, and other unique plants were the highlights of Ifaty’s mangroves and arboretum and of the Reniala spiny forest. Specific highlights were roosting mouse lemurs, the locally-endemic birds the Subdesert Mesite and the Long-tailed Ground-roller.
A brief hike in Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park yielded encounters with weird flower-like insects and the endemic Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur. Isalo’s rugged landscape made hiking torturous, but the scenery was stunning.
One of our most memorable wildlife encounters took place in the bone-dry Kirindy Forest where a troop of Red-fronted Brown Lemurs shared our water. Most visitors to the Alley of the Baobabs near Morondava time their arrival for sunset. We found it much more interesting during the afternoon when the road was full of locals going about their business.
Along our way we stopped at a number of markets which were endlessly interesting; fruits, vegetables, cattle and goats, baskets and clothing, charcoal and plumbing supplies, bicycle repairs, tiny refreshment stands, hats, people shopping, visiting, flirting, children…
The Northern Loop
The mid-level rainforest of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park was a welcome respite from the hot, dry regions of the south. The park is home to the largest of the lemurs, the Indri. Listening to their haunting chorus is one of the memorable experiences of the trip. Other notable residents include the striking Diademed Sifaka and playful Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur, the Scaly Ground-roller and Collared Nightjar, and the peculiar Giraffe-necked Weevil and Elephant-eared Chameleon.
A leisurely boat ride through the Pangalanes Canal, which links a chain of lakes along the east coast of Madagascar, transported us to the private Palmarium Reserve. A number of endangered lemur species have been introduced and are now thriving in this protected habitat. Many are quite habituated to visitors, and we enjoyed close encounters with Coquerel’s Sifaka, Black, Crowned, Black-and-white Ruffed, and Common Brown lemurs, as well as the very bizarre Aye-aye.
We broke up the long return trip to Tana with a stop in the roadside market of Antsampanana where the usual assortment of provisions was enhanced by a remarkable selection of colorful hand-woven baskets and hats and very photogenic shoppers.
Ankarafantsika National Park protects the northernmost of the dry deciduous forests we visited. The park is home to several species of lemur including Milne-Edwards Sportive Lemur, as well as the stunning Madagascar and Pygmy kingfishers, Madagascar Fish Eagle, Schlegel’s Asity, White-breasted Mesite, and Madagascar Scops Owl.
The capital, Antananarivo, is the transportation hub of Madagascar, and we overnighted there several times. Our only full day in Tana was spent at Lake Alarobia, a walled oasis surrounded by the chaos of the city, and a lush refuge for ducks, egrets, herons, and other birds.