an in-depth expedition

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Why Madagascar?

Much like Galápagos, this is a place that conjures up images of amazing wildlife - wildlife that is among the best in the world in terms of diversity and abundance, and in some cases is as approachable as the wildlife of Galápagos.  Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island, having broken away from Africa well over 150 million years ago. This isolation makes it a living laboratory of evolution, with plants and animals found nowhere else on earth - lemurs, chameleons, geckos, frogs, tortoises, and myriad birds. ...Ringtail Lemurs gathering in groups on the ground to warm up in the morning sun... The haunting calls of Indris high in the forest canopy... A glimpse of a Sifaka as it skips across the trail ahead... Radiated Tortoises, well, just sitting there... At the same time the forests and valleys are filled with wonderful birds - the iridescent Madagascar Kingfishers flitting along the waterways, paradise flycatchers, Madagascar White eyes, Giant Coua, Madagascar Scops Owl, Madagascar Fish-Eagle... The flora too is astounding, from the surreal Boabab trees, to the spiny forests of the west and south, or rainforests of the east. 

The landscapes are equally as spectacular - the bright red soil of the highlands; the emerald green forest canopy festooned with orchids and other epiphytes; shades of grey in the limestone karst of the Tsingy; green rushing rivers and cascading waterfalls; white sand beaches, and all of it surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Madagascar truly is a land of rich colors and superlatives!

Neither solely a birding or wildlife tour, nor just a cultural tour, this is a general Natural History tour - a mix of amazing wildlife, spectacular scenery and rich cultural discoveries. The people of Madagascar are amazingly welcoming. They are gracious, friendly and nearly always smiling (and quite often singing). Madagascar is an explorer and photographer's dream in all ways!

We invite you to join us in Madagascar, on one of life's truly great expeditions!

EXPEDITION OVERVIEW & LENGTH:
Our expedition is 27 days in total, including travel days, timed for the season where birds are mating and wildlife is active, including a good possiblity to see lemur babies, and likely sightings of Malagasy rarities such as the fosa. With nearly 4 weeks in Madagascar this is truly an in-depth exploration, taking in 6 distinct reserve areas, including the best wildlife, plus the capital city of Antananarivo, and special cultural experiences dotted frequently throughout the trip.

DATES:
October 21-November 15, 2018

GROUP SIZE:
Group size is limited to just 12 participants, plus the Tour Leader and in-country guides.

ITINERARY:

October 21 • PARIS DEPARTURE
Early this afternoon meet at the Air Madagascar ticket counter in the Charles De Gaulle (Paris) International airport for our afternoon departure on Air Madagascar.

October 22 ∙ ANTANANARIVO
Our flight will arrive in Madagascar early this morning.  Visas may be secured on arrival.  

After clearing customs and immigration we will head to our cosy hotel, Pavillon de l Émyrne, inhistorical Isoraka in the Old Town of the nation´s capital , Antananarivo (Tana).

After a morning of rest after the long flight,  we will begin our explorations of this fascinating and bustling city by taking the first part of the Malagasy Royal Tour as we visit the Palais de la Reine/Queen’s Palace, and learn about the colourful history of the Malagasy Queens and Kings! Further explorations will take us through the old town with its European-style churches and markets selling everything you have thought of and never thought of.  Overnight Tana: Pavillon de l Émyrne

October 23 ∙  TANA to FORT DAUPHIN

A flight takes us to Fort Dauphin (Taolagnaro), on the southern coast of Madagascar.  Here we will have a chance to explore this beautiful port city.  Overnight Fort Dauphin: Hotel la Croix du Sud.

October 24 ∙ ANDOHAHELA and BERENTY
This morning we will set out by private mini-bus for the inland Berenty Reserve, where large troops of curious Ring-tailed Lemurs await us!  En route we anticipate visiting a local marketplace plus the Andohahela National Park with its spiny and transitional forests.  Overnight: Berenty Private Reserve.

October 25 ∙  BERENTY
At Berenty we will explore the riverine gallery forest, where, as well asthe Ring-tailed Lemurs, we will find the “dancing” Verreaux Sifaka, Madagascar Flying Fox, Giant Coua, Hook-billed Vanga and so much more.  Exploration also take us into the dry spiny forst, right at Berenty.  Of all the endemic forest ecosystems of Madagascar, this is perhaps the most other-worldly!  Sifaka can climb around the Dideraceae trees with their menacing spines, as if it were an afternoon stroll!  Our local guides usually locate Madagascar Scops-Owl and Madagascar Nightjar in this natural maze.  We will plan a night hike here, when White-browed Owl often is seen. Overnight: Berenty Private Reserve.

October 26 ∙ FORT DAUPHIN to TANA
Following continued explorations at Berenty this morning we return to Fort Dauphin, arriving in time for our flight back to Tana.   Depending on the flight times we hope to visit Lake Alarobia, a private wetland reserve which is a haven of peace in the middle ofthe city.  Common Squacco Heron, Dimorphic Egret, White-faced Whistling Ducks, and more,  in large numbers!  Overnight Tana: Pavillon de l Émyrne

October 27 ∙ TANA

The second part of the Malagasy Royal Tour of Tana today takes us out to the country palace of Adrianaponimerina (18th century King of the Merina) at Ambohimanga. This place is a haven of peace away from the city, and a place of great devotion and tradition for today’s Merina people.  Back in Tana we visit artisan market area of the Route des Digues; crafts goods galore, of generally very high quality and great ingenuity.  Overnight Tana: Pavillon de l Émyrne


October 28 ∙ TANA to MORONDAVA to KIRINDY
Today we fly to the commerce-rich city of Morondava on the west coast. 4-wheel drive vehicles will take us beyond thecity and out on the road for the Kirindy deciduous dry forest reserve, via the famous Avenue des Baobabs. These amazing trees look as if they have put their heads in the ground, and roots in the air! The accommodation at Kirindy is simple, but just for one night. On the other hand, wildlife is spectacular: Verreaux Sifaka, Red-fronted Lemur, Grey Mouse-Lemur, Leaf-tailed Gecko and chameleons. Also, if we are lucky, Madagascar Ground Boa, the rare and strange Giant Jumping Rat, and the Fosa – Madagascar’s top predator. Birds include Crested Coua, Madagascar Green Pigeon, and Madagascar Nightjar. Overnight: Kirindy Preserve.

October 29 ∙ KIRINDY to BEKOPAKA
Today we continue inland and north towards the village of Bekopaka. Our journey involves two traditional river crossings by simple ferry, and gives a good glimpse into the lives of the Sakalava people, with their herds of cattle and scattered homes. Arriving at Bekopaka early evening, we’ll have time to settle in before dinner at the lovely hilltop Hotel L ´Orchidee Bemaraha (complete with a swimming pool). Overnight Bekopaka: Hotel L ‘Orchidee Bemaraha.

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October 30& 31 ∙ TSINGY de BEMARAHA
We will have two full days to explore this area of amazing limestone karst landscape (a UNESCO World Heritage site); the Petit Tsingy and the Grand Tsingy – utterly indescribable landscape, plus unique wildlife surprises such as the delightful Decken´s Sifaka, Red-fronted Brown Lemur, Sickle-billed Vanga, Tsingy Wood-rail,  and maybe the rare Madagascar Fish-Eagle on the Manambolo River. The Tsingy itself has been made accessible via hanging bridges, sturdy ladders and ingenious footholds – a labyrinth of  fantastic explorations and vast views! A pirogue trip on the Manambolo River brings us to some amazing limestone caves,  and ancient tombs high on the cliffs of the original inhabitants of the Tsingy. Overnights Bekopaka:  Hotel L ´Orchidee Bemaraha.

November 1 ∙ BEKOPAKA to MORONDAVA
Today we return to Morondava. Our goal is to return to the Avenue of the Boababs at sunset - one of the world-famous Madagascar photo stops... Overnight Morondava: Hotel Chez Maggie.

November 2 ∙ MORONDAVA to TANA
A morning excursion will take us into the mangroves and to a village where, among other things Breton-style longboards (or boutres”) are built.  This afternoon we fly back to Tana. Overnight Tana: Pavillon de l Émyrne

November 3 ∙  TANA
Further explorations of this fascinating city will take us to the interesting natural history museum and other sites of cultural interest.  Saturday evening in Tana may offer an opportunity to attend a concert of Madagascar´s haunting, off-beat music! Overnight Tana: Pavillon de l Émyrne

November 4 ∙ TANA & MASOALA
Morning charter flight to Maroansetra, a busy but also very Malagasy port town on the east coast. Looking down from the flight, as we near the coast the tropical greens and red earth of the highlands will give way to the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. From the airport we will transfer to the port, then continue by boat to the remote Masoala Peninsula and the Masoala Forest Lodge (roughly 90 minutes by speedboat). The Masoala Peninsula is largely National Park, and is a fascinating area where the rain forest comes practically down to the ocean edge, with coastal vegetation different from inland rain forest. The lodge is a luxury tented camp, with 7 twin rooms, so we anticipate taking the entire camp. This afternoon we make our first exploratory hike into the forest near the beautiful coastline. And on our night hike, we will be on the look out for nocturnal lemurs, frogs, reptiles... Overnight: Masoala Forest Lodge.

November 5 & 6 ∙ MASOALA PENINSULA
Two full days of exploration in the park, from forest waterfalls, winding streams and extensive boulder strewn empty sandy beaches. White-fronted Brown Lemurs, Red-ruffed Lemurs, Tenrecs (similar to a hedgehog, but cuter), Madagascar White-Eye, Hook-billed Vanga, Long-billed Green Sunbird, Madagascar Green Pigeon, Helmet Vanga and more all might be possible. In addition to hiking to find the endemic and very range-restricted Red-ruffed Lemur, and exploringthe fascinating forests and coastline, there are canoe excursions and options for kayaking and snorkeling along the shoreline (kayak & snorkeling equipment included). At night we will look for Eastern Avahi Lemur, and Small-toothed Sportive Lemurs, as well as weird reptiles! Overnights: Masoala Forest Lodge.

November 7 ∙ MAROANSETRA to TANA and Antsirabe
Early this morning we travel to Nosy Mangabe Island, a delightful nature reserve where we have the best opportunity for Leaf-tailed Gecko and rare endemic frogs (Mantella laevigata). We carry on by boat back to Maroansetra, and then we fly back to Tana.  On arrival we turn towards the south …a road trip that takes us through the heart of the Imerina highlands, through historic towns, past acres of rice fields, as far as Antsirabe, home of Three Horses Beer! En route we will visit the aluminium smelters of Ambatolampy,  who transport us to a time of home-based artesan industry. Also, we will make stops en route to admire the amazing stone “cold houses” where the Merina bury their dead, always better built than the houses for the living since the deceased will live there for eternity. Antsirabe is the capital of pousse-pousse rickshaws, so a ride in one will be offered!  Overnight Antsirabe: Hotel des Thermes (or similar).  

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November8 ∙ ANTSIRABE to RANOMAFANA
Beyond Antsirabe, we travel deeper into the Malagasy highland heartland, on to Ambositra. This town is well-known for its wood carvings, and we expect to have the chance to see the craftsmen at work, and maybe purchase some of their beautiful work.

The mountain scenery becomes ever more spectacular as we continue south before we turn off the main Route Nationale towards Ranomafana. We descend from the highlands intosteep rainforest-clad hills , and to the Ranomafana National Park itself, a park set up in 1991 to protect the montane forest and the wildlife, which includes two species of lemur then only recently discovered by science ...the Greater Bamboo Lemur and the Golden Bamboo Lemur. We will settle into our comfortable hotel for four nights.  Overnight Ranomafana: Hotel Thermal

November9 ∙ RANOMAFANA

The morning takes us to the national park, where we will make our first hike to discover some of the amazing lemurs here. Greater Bamboo Lemur and Golden Bamboo Lemur are always the targets, but Ranomafana is also home to the delightful Milne-Edward´s Sifaka, Red-fronted Brown Lemurs and more. Lunch nearby, and thenan afternoon visit to the Valbio Research Station, where we expect to be hosted by Dr. Patricia Wright of Duke University, who was the main person responsible for the creation ofthe national park in 1991. We will learn about the ongoing research on the fascinating wildlife of the park, and at the same time hope to visit some of the projects created with local people to integrate them into the park and its reason for being.. reforestation plots, medicinal plant gardens run by traditional healers,  and the women´sweaving group and basketry group. A chance to try your hand at this fine work?? Anight hike should reveal chameleons and lemurs, some of which may still at this point in the trip be new to us,  including the Greater Dwarf Lemur.  Overnight Ranomafana: Hotel Thermal

November10 ∙ RANOMAFANA
Today we take the Vohiparara trails at the park´s boundary, and look for some of the speciality birdsfor which Ranomafana is famous: Brown Emutail, Rufous-headed Ground-Roller, Pitta-like Ground-Roller, and more. In the afternoon, various activities will be offered, in coordination with Valbio research centre. Overnight Ranomafana: Hotel Thermal

November11 ∙ RANOMAFANA  
Today we expect to take a short bus ride to a private reserve near Ranomafana,   where apart from more of the endemic wildlife of this amazing region, we will stay into the evening to look for the weirdest of all Madagascar lemurs, the Aye-Aye. This creature, with its long, skeletal middle finger used to prise insects out of hidden tunnels in wood, is often feared (and hence killed) by the Malagasy, so it is very much a threatened species. To get to see this in the wild is a rare treat (not quite guaranteed of course!!). Overnight Ranomafana: Hotel Thermal

November12 ∙ RANOMAFANA  to TANA
This morning we pack our bags and head out on  the road back to Tana. On the drive back, we will make some different short stops … an unexpected local market maybe, view points …. Madagascar always has something else to offer! Overnight Tana: Pavillon de l Émyrne

November 13  ∙   TANA to ANDASIBE
Heading east by private bus we descend from the dry highlands around the capital city to the farm and rainforest dominated landscape of the Eastern slopes surrounding Andasibe National Park (Perinet). In theafternoon we explore these rich environs, looking for Diademed Sifaka (endemic to thisregion) Common Brown Lemurs, a diversity of Malagasy birds such as the jewel-like Madagascar Kingfisher, Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Common Newtonia, Madagascar Hoopee and more. Rare birds such as the elusive Red-breasted and Red-fronted Couas, and Madagascar Rail might be seen. In the evening we take a night hike in the private Mitsinjo Reserve,  where we may discover Eastern Avahi lemur, Mouse Lemurs,  tiny chameleons, a variety of endemic frogs and more. Overnight Andasibe: Eulophiella Lodge.

November 14  ∙ PERINET to TANA
The Perinet/ Andasibe area is home to the largest of the lemurs, the Indri - its call through the forests is haunting, and close up, indescribable! This morning a hike will take us to an area where we have excellent chances of seeing this fascinating creature close up. After lunch, and an optional visit to Lemur Island – a small island preserve where you might have closer-than-wild encounters with several species of lemur – we depart for Tana. As we get back to this now familiar city, we have so many experiences to reflect upon.. a country like no other, experiences like nowhere else!

Our Pavillon hotel awaits us to freshen up on our return. A farewell dinner will be celebrated before we depart for the airport and our international flight back to Paris.

November 15 ∙  INTERNATIONAL ARRIVAL IN PARIS
Paris arrival is scheduled for mid-morning. 

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EXPEDITION COSTS:
$9,290 per person (double occupancy) / $9,590 single but willing to share / $10,590 guaranteed single

For single travelers we are happy to try and schedule a roommate for you. If we fail to find a roommate you will be invoiced at the "willing to share" rate. Alternately we have a limited number of guaranteed singles available if you prefer. 

INCLUDED IN EXPEDITION COST:
All lodging in Madagascar; all meals with group within Madagascar; tea, coffee & bottled water with meals; bottled water whilst traveling; baggage handling at airports; all tours foreseen as part of our trip; private road transport, where possible with English-speaking driver, always with French-speaking driver; maritime transfers to and from Masoala Forest Lodge, and Domaine d ´Ambola; national park and preserve entrance fees; an expert tour leader accompanying the group within Madagascar; local guides within the national parks & preserves (English speaking when possible, although some will likely be French speaking); tips to local guides, hotel staff, and baggage handlers at airports; pre-departure materials, guide book & map.

NOT INCLUDED IN EXPEDITION COST:
International airfare to and from Madagascar; internal airfares; passport or visa fees; travel insurance (evacuation insurance required); travel inoculations or medications; drinks (except as noted); tips to the Tour Leader; items of a personal nature, including laundry and communications charges.

DEPOSITS & PAYMENTS:
A deposit of $1,000 per person is required to reserve space. The balance of the Land Cost is due 90 days prior to departure. We accept personal checks, Visa & MasterCard for deposits and payments.

CANCELLATIONS & INSURANCE:
Any cancellations shall be in writing. All deposits and payments are non-refundable. In this respect, participants are strongly encouraged to purchase Travel Protection Insurance. At a minimum all participants are required to carry Emergency Medical Evacuation coverage.

FLIGHTS:
We will arrange all flights from Paris, within Madagascar, and return to Paris, with Air Madagascar (AirMad). By utilizing the Air Madagascar group desk and all flying on the same route/dates we are able to have priority reservations (critical in Madagascar), plus beat the regular fares. The total flights in past years were roughly $2,900, with something similar anticipated for 2018. 

ACCOMMODATIONS:
Accommodations will vary with the locations, typically being the best available in any area. They will range from beautiful forest lodges, to deluxe rainforest tented camps, to wonderful beachside accommodations, to boutique city hotels. All accommodations are on a shared double basis. The various hotels and lodges include private baths (except at Kirindy, which is rather rustic) plus mosquito nets over the beds. 

MEALS:
All meals within Madagascar are included. Breakfasts will likely be at the hotels, and typically include a choice of eggs, French bread or rolls, juice or fruit, etc. Lunches and dinners tend to be large, and might be at a village restaurant or hotel. We will probably have at least one or two countryside picnics during our travels as well. While it might be possible to keep to a vegetarian diet, it is unfortunately impossible to accommodate vegan diets or some food allergies – if concerned about this please talk to us prior to joining the expedition.

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TOUR LEADER:
The Tour Leader for these expeditions is Richard Parsons. Originally from England, Richard is a former resident of Madagascar, and now 20-plus year resident of Ecuador. He not only speaks some Malagasy plus fluent French, but can culturally interact with the locals on many levels. In addition to creating the Semester Abroad programs in Madagascar, his resume includes teaching English in the Dominican Republic, guiding in Galápagos, and founder/owner of the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve in Ecuador. Richard created this Madagascar itinerary specifically for our groups, to share the best of the diverse wildlife, scenery and cultural experiences with our travelers. His passion for Madagascar and her peoples is unmatched.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
An amazing adventure... Incredible flora and fauna... Smiling people... White sand beaches... Beautiful music... Sweeping panoramas... Dancing lemurs... 

You might expect to be traveling by jet, turbo prop, speed boat, dugout canoe, 4-wheel drive, mini-bus, deluxe bus, omby cart, river ferry, or pousse-pousse (rickshaw), but first and foremost you will be walking. And, walking a lot. We travel slowly to really see and experience where we are. Our itinerary is longer, taking in most of the major areas. We will fly between many distant parks and preserves to save time on the roads, and give us more time on the trails.

The photographic opportunities are boundless. You will encounter much of the wildlife at close range, including some lemurs and birds, plus reptiles, bugs and amphibians. Many lemur species spend their days high in the forest canopy however, so some views will be more distant. Likewise of course for many of the birds. We will take both day and evening hikes to maximize what we see as some species are only found after dark. The sweeping landscapes always compete for our photographic attention as well. Plus, the people of Madagascar are always happy to interact with us, and usually happy to have their photo taken as well (young and old, everyone loves seeing the results on the digital camera backs!).

Travel to Madagascar is definitely not for everyone. Madagascar is a third world country, and a very poor and remote one at that. A previous group joked that it was like traveling in a different dimension - nothing would be quite as you expected it to be. One must travel with a sense of humor, and be able to roll with any changes. Flight schedules change almost daily. The roads are famously bad and some of the drives quite long. The hikes can be on very uneven trails with rocks, roots, and other hidden obstacles. There are few public toilets, so you will likely find yourself behind a bush or tree in the countryside on occasion. The electricity is erratic. The water unsafe (although bottled water is readily available). The food was tasty, and very plentiful, but service slow and the choices limited. It can be cold and wet in the rainforest, and exceedingly hot and dry in the spiny forests. You might be caked with dust and dirt following a day in the 4-wheel drives. We plan to visit some very remote areas, and medical care can be sparse even in the towns. This is undoubtedly the most physically challenging destination we offer.  And yet, it is wonderful, magical, captivating and so worth the effort! In fact, nearly everyone has expressed interest in returning to see more!

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ITINERARY CHANGES:
This itinerary, plan, and even trip dates should be viewed a “fluid.” Changes are to be expected, between Air Madagascar and Madagascar in general, and we will have to ask for your understanding on this. Each year we have seen the airline change international schedules several months prior to departure, sometimes causing the expedition to be shortened or lengthened slightly. Our plan is to visit all areas in the itinerary, although the order that we visit them is always subject to change! We will be following this itinerary as closely as Madagascar permits!