[PHOTOS] A memorable 7-day sojourn in Madagascar

Most know Madagascar from the famous DreamWorks movie, but the popular children’s animation gives just a tiny hint of the beauty of Madagascar. This natural paradise is full of ancient forests, famous lemurs and crystal clear waters home to sea turtles and whales.
The country's capital, Antananarivo, is a bustling hub with a strong French influence. A main feature is Lac Anosy, an artificial lake near the centre of town. (Heinonlein/Wikimedia)
The country's capital, Antananarivo, is a bustling hub with a strong French influence. A main feature is Lac Anosy, an artificial lake near the centre of town. (Heinonlein/Wikimedia)

Most know Madagascar from the famous DreamWorks movie, but the popular children’s animation gives just a tiny hint of the beauty of Madagascar. This natural paradise is full of ancient forests, famous lemurs and crystal clear waters home to sea turtles and whales.

If you’re planning to propose to your loved one today (Valentine’s Day), Madagascar is the perfect place to take them on a romantic holiday or for your honeymoon.

Located off the south-east coast of the continent, this country is one of Earth’s true natural wonders with more than 90% of the island’s wildlife is not found anywhere else. Being such a vast land, it’s hard to see all the country has to offer with just one trip, but seven days will give you a taste of life on this island nation.

Day 1 – Arrival in Madagascar

The easiest way to get to Madagascar is by first flying to Johannesburg. RwandAir has daily flights to the South African capital. From there, it’s a quick three-hour flight across the Mozambique Channel to Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar (or Tana as the locals call it).

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Relax poolside at your hotel or go for a swim in the ocean just metres away. (David Toovey)

When you arrive, the first thing you notice is the old style Citroën cars used as taxis. They add a sense of charm to this busting and sprawling city. You’ll quickly find that the road is not only shared between cars and motorbikes, but also Zebu (a humped cow from south Asia) pulling carts loaded with fruit and vegetables.

Located close to the city centre, Hotel Pallisandre is a great place to spend the night. The friendly staff will greet you with a refreshing mint drink, which is best enjoyed on the hotel balcony. There’s no better place to watch the sun set over Tana.

Day 2 – Explore Antananarivo

After breakfast, it’s time to explore Antananarivo. The hotel is located close to one of the city’s main markets – Analakely. Almost everything is on sale, from salad and freshly caught seafood to backpacks and kitchen utensils. Stroll around to get a sense of everyday life in the capital.

Two kilometres south of the city centre is Lac Anosy, an artificial lake built by Scottish missionary James Cameron. In the shape of a heart, the lake is lined with jacaranda trees that bloom purple in October and November.

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Take a cruise around the many islands of north eastern Madagascar and keep an eye out for humpback whales. (David Toovey)

Not far from the lake is the Rova of Antananarivo. Known as Manjakamiadana (a fine place to rule), the castle sits atop the city’s highest peak. Former Kings and Queens of Madagascar are buried here and you can see their coloured tombs inside the compound – grey for the Kings and red for the Queens.

After a long day of touring, return to the hotel for a well earned night’s rest.

Day 3 – Meet Charming Chameleons

Next stop is the rainforests of the Perinet on the eastern coast of Madagascar. The drive takes about three hours, passing through captivating scenery, winding rivers and roadside towns. On the way, visit the Peyrieras Reptile Reserve.

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The crystal clear waters of Nosy Tanikely are perfect for snorkelling. (David Toovey)

Located about 75km east of the capital, the reserve is home to many of Madagascar’s reptile species, from the charming chameleon and the leaf-tailed gecko to frogs, snakes and crocodiles. A highlight is the chance to meet multi-coloured chameleons and watch them feed on grasshoppers. You can also see bats, tenrecs (a local variety of the hedgehog) and one of the largest moths in the world.

Afterwards, the drive continues on steep rainforest roads and along raging rivers before arriving at Andasibe Hotel – one of the nicest on the east coast of Madagascar.

Day 4 – Large Lemurs

Dawn is the best time to see the largest of all lemurs, the ape like Indris. Venture into the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park with your guide to see what looks like a child in a panda suit jump from tree to tree in the canopy high above.

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Get up close with Madagascar's famous lemurs - the country's calm, friendly and unique animals. (Mauro De Lorenzo)

Ten other species of lemur live in the forest including the black and white ruffed lemur, common brown lemur, grey bamboo lemur and the red-bellied lemur. Each seems to have their own unique personality and it’s a joy to watch them bound through the canopy. Take binoculars and a large camera lens with you to catch all the action and wear sturdy walking shoes and a rain jacket as the weather can be unpredictable.

Day 5 – Travel to Nosy Be

After breakfast it’s time to head back to Antananarivo for the flight to Nosy Be, the largest in an archipelago of islands off the northwest coast of Madagascar. The journey to this piece of paradise, by road and air, takes the whole day. But it’s worth it – thanks to a near perfect climate and resort vibe, Nosy Be is the most popular holiday destination in the country.

Day 6 – Relax in Paradise

With the sun high in the sky you can truly appreciate the true beauty of Nosy Be and the accommodation of choice – the Ravinstara Wellness Hotel. Located right on the beach, there are million dollar views in every direction.

Spend the day horse riding, quad biking, sightseeing in a helicopter or playing golf or tennis. A horse riding tour will take you into the hills of Nosy Be. You’ll trot past herds of Zebu, canter along inland lakes and through farmlands before coming back down to the beach where you can spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Day 7 – Snorkel with Turtles and Whales

There’s no better way to finish your trip to Madagascar than with a snorkelling adventure around the northern islands. The most popular spot is Nosy Tanikely, a marine reserve of coral reefs teeming with life. Keep an eye out for ancient sea turtles, reef sharks and brightly coloured octopus.

If you’re visiting between June and the end of September, you might be lucky enough to encounter humpback whales on your cruise. These gigantic and elegant animals are truly a sight to behold and a highlight of any trip to Madagascar.

David Toovey is the Executive Editor of RwandAir’s Inzozi Magazine

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