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Three week Madagascar itinerary advice

Three week Madagascar itinerary advice

Old Jun 14, 17, 2:13 pm
  #1  
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Three week Madagascar itinerary advice

Hi all,

This may be a long shot, but if there are any Madagascar veterans out there, I'm looking for feedback on a general three week itinerary.

We're guessing that we're trying to cover too much ground, but would love for the experts to weigh in. The highlights we've decided we'd love to see are Ile Sainte Marie, Maroansetra and surrounds, Baobab Alley and down the southwest coast along the reef. Trying to balance between not spending on more than ~3 internal flights, but saving time where possible.

Day 1: Arrive Tana

Day 2: Fly Tana to Maroansetra

(7 or 8 days): Explore Maroansetra, Nosy Mangabe, Masoala; boat down the coast ending up on Ile Ste Marie

Day 11ish: Fly Ste Marie to Tana

Day 12ish: Drive Tana to Morondava

(9 or 10 days): See Baobab Alley, head down the coast ending up in Anakao or another reef town maybe for some diving

Day 23ish: Fly Toliara to Tana

Day 24ish: Depart Tana/Madagascar

I think our biggest point of contention is the Maroansetra area. It seems like a big commitment for not enough time, but we're really drawn to it. Given the boats from there down to Soanierana/Ste Marie are unpredictable, we would be okay not having much/any time on Ste Marie if things go wrong, as long as we could make it to the island and get our flight back down to Tana from there. Two alternatives would be to skip Ste Marie altogether and just fly back to Tana from Maroansetra, or skip Maroansetra area and just do Ste Marie.

Any and all advice is very much appreciated! Thank you all very much!
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Old Jun 21, 17, 1:11 am
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Madagascar info

Hello,

Read your post and thought I might have some input that may be of value to you.

I have travelled in Madagascar twice, for 3 weeks in 2011 and for 2 months in 2015 (and we are going back again in September).

Our itinerary in 2011 was as follows:

Day 1 arr Tana
Day 2 Tana
Day 3-4 Fly to Fort Dauphin, transfer to Berenty
Day 5 Transfer Fort Dauphin, fly to Tana
Day 6-10 Fly to Maroansetra, transfer to Masoala (boat)
Day 11 Transfer (boat) to Nosy Mangabe; camp overnight
Day 12 Transfer (boat) to Maroansetra; overnight
Day 13-15 Fly to Ile St. Marie via Tana, transfer to Ile Aux Nattes
Day 16-20 Fly to Tana, transfer to Andasibe (car)
Day 21 Drive to Tana
Day 22 Depart Tana


In 2015 (Feb/Mar/Apr) we didn't plan much in advance and travelled by road from Tana to Toliara stopping in cities/towns/parks on the way.
We then flew from Toliara to Morondava (via Tana) and travelled back to Tana by road.


A few points:

-Travelling by road in Madagascar is a time consuming affair. Public transport (taxi-brousse) is cheap but not especially comfortable. Renting a car
with a driver (a 4x4 is often required) is expensive but shortens your time on the road.

-We rented a car/van for the drive from Morondava to Tana - it took 14 hours (with a short break for lunch). Not something we would happily do again. We try to take public transport as much
as possible and attempt to break up long journeys with overnight stays but it isn't always possible (especially with time limitations)

-The road from Morondava to Kirindy (with Allée des Baobabs on the way) required a 4x4 in March - at times the road became a lake.

-Allée des Baobabs is beautiful - we were lucky to be there on a clear moon-lit evening returning from Kirindy.

-In the rainy season roads are often impassable, e.g. it was not possible to drive from Toliara to Anakao in March (but the speedboats have regular service on this route)

-By road from Morondava to Toliara: we looked into this at one point but scrapped it pretty quick. However, this was in March and there might be better possibilities in the dry season.

-South of Morondava we enjoyed staying at Belo-sur-Mer (again, no road possibility but app. 3 hours in a pirogue with motor)

-We are not divers so cannot give you tips on that but we snorkelled at Ile Aux Nattes, Anakao and Belo-sur-Mer. Not the best in the world but quite enjoyable.

-We loved Masoala and if you have the time it is well worth the effort getting there. Personally I wouldn't rely on a boat to get back down the coast, even if it probably requires a flight via Tana to
get to Ile St.Marie. We are budget travellers but have not regretted spending €€ on domestic flights in Madagascar. (If I had to choose between Masoala and Ile St.Marie however, I would definitely choose Masoala)

-We chose Ile Aux Nattes instead of Ile St.Marie (smaller, a bit less crowded) and enjoyed it immensely

-As I'm sure you know, Air Madagascar flights can be rather erratic. We tried to be within driving distance to airports the day before travelling. We called to re-confirm all flights some days prior to travel. (the agents always spoke English as well as French). One of our flights was changed resulting in a missed connection in Tana but AirMad put us up in a hotel overnight.

-In case you're not aware - if you fly AirMad internationally you get a 40-50% discount on domestic flights. We flew AirMad (CDG-TNR-CDG) in 2011 for this reason. The aircraft on this route was banned from flying in the EU so they had leased another aircraft from a Portuguese company but as far as I know this issue has been resolved.

Just let me know (pm is fine) if you need any more information - happy to help!

Karin.
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Old Jun 23, 17, 3:04 am
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Thank you so much for the detailed response, Karin! Really helpful. I will definitely follow up with a PM on some of the specifics once we've gathered our thoughts.
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Old Jun 26, 17, 10:36 am
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Originally Posted by WingnutSYD View Post
Thank you so much for the detailed response, Karin! Really helpful. I will definitely follow up with a PM on some of the specifics once we've gathered our thoughts.
Feel free to follow up publicly if you don't mind. Following this thread for a future trip...
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Old Jun 26, 17, 3:52 pm
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Ah for sure! These are the followup questions I sent Karin's way:

- Did you do Allee de Baobabs/Kirindy with an organised tour? If so, would you recommend it?

- Same question re: Masoala. It sounds like organised stuff is even more necessary there.

- How was the snorkelling at Anakao versus Belo-sur-Mer versus Ile Aux Nattes? Any major differences, particularly East coast compared to West coast?

- We were planning on focusing on Aux Nattes instead of Ste Marie when we're in that area, like you suggest. Getting between the two is pretty trivial though, right?

- If you had to choose only two from the three general areas we're considering (Maroansetra/Masoala area, Ste Marie/Aux Nattes, Southwest coast), which would you go with and why?

Also solicited specific recommendations for tour operators, drivers, hotels, etc.
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Old Jun 26, 17, 4:49 pm
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Here is a trip report I did for a similar trip years ago:
http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...adagascar.html
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Old Jun 27, 17, 5:06 am
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Follow-up Madagascar info

Hi,

A few responses to the follow-up questions (a bit wordy – sorry!)

- Did you do Allee de Baobabs/Kirindy with an organised tour? If so, would you recommend it?

We found a car (4x4) and driver in Morondava on our own. Sorry – I don’t have the number for the driver – we just walked around town and bargained a bit until we found a price we could live with. I think we paid about 350.000 MGA but not 100% - it’s a while ago now. The car almost died on the way back to Morondava. We ended up with a good story to tell but if you are short on time you might want to arrange transport through an agency – this way you can do some advance planning and you will probably get a better maintained vehicle.

A bit more about Kirindy: The accommodation is quite spartan and the food just so-so but the wildlife and the forest are super. We didn’t see the Fossa (not the right season) or Madame Berthe's mouse lemur (smallest lemur) but thoroughly enjoyed our stay nonetheless. We stayed at the Parks facilities (as mentioned, quite simple – and watch out for caterpillar “hairs” on your pillow – they can be itchy). There is another place to stay not far away, Camp Amoureux. http://www.friendlycamp.org/en/camp-amoureux/ We stopped by there on the way back to see the “Lover’s Baobab” and it seemed fine – a bit more upmarket than the park’s accommodation. You could feasibly stay here and take day trips to Kirindy Reserve (probably best to inquire about this first). Night walks in the forest are a big attraction and I’m not sure if that would be doable from here. (They do have their own bit of protected forest here where they do walks but I’m not sure how that compares to Kirindy)

- Same question re: Masoala. It sounds like organised stuff is even more necessary there.

We stayed at Tampo Lodge (http://www.tampolodge-masoala.com/). Included in the booking was pick up at the airport, boat transfer to the lodge, full board, boat transfer and overnight camp at Nosy Mangabe then the boat and road transfer to our hotel in Maroansetra. (Hotel Relais du Maroantsetra). We arranged our own flights and the hotel in Maroansetra.
(Our guide, Claret, met us at the hotel in Maroansetra and took us on a Tomato-frog-finding-trip in town. The frogs seem to like to hang out close to the sewer canals so not the most pleasant outing, but you do get to see the frog (big and very red) and a bit of the town - we ended up having lunch with Claret and a friend of his at a local restaurant.)

- How was the snorkelling at Anakao versus Belo-sur-Mer versus Ile Aux Nattes? Any major differences, particularly East coast compared to West coast?

First – it you’ve seen great coral/marine life other places in the world Madagascar probably won’t blow you away. That said, I would say the snorkelling at Ile Aux Nattes was definitely better than both Anakao and Belo-sur-Mer (but there was a 4 year gap between the two and that can change things). At Anakao and Belo you need to take a boat/pirogue out a ways. There was also a bit of current. On Ile Aux Nattes we walked from our hotel (on the eastern side – with very shallow water) across to the western coast and waded/swam out to the reef where you can snorkel on the outside of the reef. There may be possibilities of other sites too but we didn’t try any.

- We were planning on focusing on Aux Nattes instead of Ste Marie when we're in that area, like you suggest. Getting between the two is pretty trivial though, right?

It takes just a few minutes to cross over in a pirogue – not a problem. Our hotel arranged pick-up at the airport and the boat transfer to the hotel. Ile Aux Nattes is very small but not “desert island style” - you won’t be on your own, tourist wise. But if you should get bored, or are looking for a change of scenery, you could easily cross over for a few hours or the day.

- If you had to choose only two from the three general areas we're considering (Maroansetra/Masoala area, Ste Marie/Aux Nattes, Southwest coast), which would you go with and why?

That’s why we keep going back – it’s just too difficult to choose!
I think I would choose Masoala and the Southwest coast area. Masoala is a bit more adventurous – the rainforest is beautiful. There is plenty of wildlife but it’s a bit “wilder” than many other parks and, in our experience, the animals tend to keep their distance (i.e. – you need a bit of luck for those great photo opportunities if that is important to you).
Morondava mostly because of Alleé des Baobabs and Kirindy. Anakao is fine for some beach time (and surfing if you are into that) but also a bit busy - and we were there in the low season. While we were in Belo we stayed at Hotel Entremer – a bit of a ways away from most of the lodges/hotels. This suited us very well. Ile Aux Nattes was wonderful but more of a laid-back island place – lovely, but less of an adventure than other regions.

(You did mention diving and as mentioned I have no info about that – that might have an impact on which coast you would want to be on)

Just wanted to add that if wildlife sightings are on your list then we found two of the best parks to be Ranomafana and Andasibe-Mantadia. Ranomafana is very popular but very large so we didn’t find it crowded. Andasibe is busy but the northern part (I think that is Mantadia) less so. Berenty Reserve is also great but a long way to go. You do get to share your meals with Ring Tailed Lemurs and see the dancing Sifakas though.

I’ll be back later with some info on the hotels we stayed at.

Karin.

ps – pictures (2011: http://bruceandkarin.com/Madagascar.htm) (2015: http://bruceandkarin.com/images3/Animals.htm) and a travel journal (http://bruceandkarin.com/Pdf/Madagascar2.pdf) from our 2015 trip (2015 is from Mauritius and Reunion also – Madagascar starts on page 10 of pdf)
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Old Jun 28, 17, 3:56 am
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Thank you so much once again! All the detail is really helpful (keep it coming, if you have more!), and your pictures and journal are great!

Regarding Tampo Lodge, do you remember the approximate cost?
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Old Jun 28, 17, 9:16 am
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Here is what we paid in October 2011 at Tampo Lodge, Masoala

855 € for 02 persons sharing, including:

-return airport transfers (or to hotel Maroansetra)
-boat transfer Maroantsetra-Tampolodge-Nosy Mangabe-Maroantsetra
-Tampolodge on fullboard from Oct 22nd
-camping on fullboard in Nosy Mangabe on Oct 27th (camping fees & equipments included)
-Masoala and Nosy Mangabe tickets
-local guide (day & night walks)

Excluding:
-insurance
-drinks
-accommodation in Maroantsetra

The price above is less than on our website. We gave you discount as you will stay 5 nights in Tampolo.

Regards, Karin.
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Old Jun 28, 17, 9:32 am
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Hotels we have stayed in - Madagascar

Hello,

Here is a list of some hotels we stayed during our 2011 and 2015 trips. I am including hotels in other areas of Madagascar as well just in case someone else is interested.

Tour operators:
We haven’t used any tour operators on our trips but a few of the hotels arranged transport for us which we were quite happy with.

(* = hotels I would happily go back to)

City/town hotels:
Tana:
*Maison d’Hôtes Mandrosoa - http://www.mandrosoa.com/en - our first choice for Tana. In the city centre, a family house with beautiful guestrooms and a small small pool. The family is lovely – you have your breakfast together and you can also order lunch/dinner at the house. It is often full (long-term residents) so best to book in advance.

*Au Bois Vert - http://auboisvert.com/; This hotel is close to the airport, practical for lay-overs. The hotel is in a garden with a pool and a good restaurant. We like the bungalows with their whimsical decor. Great staff.

Toliara:
Hotel Serena - http://www.serenatulear.com/en/index.html - modern, clean and practical hotel.

Fianarantsoa:
*Tsara Guest House - http://www.tsaraguest.com/ - Nice hotel in a restored building. Good restaurant and great staff. (we got excellent rates here in the low season)

Ambositra:
*Hotel Artisan - https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Re..._Province.html. – A surprising find in Ambositra , nice décor and clean with a good restaurant. Very reasonable.

Antsirabe:
Hotel Green Park - http://www.mada-voyage-nature.com/he...antsirabe.html. Reasonable hotel – ok.

Morondava:
Baobab Café & Hotel - http://www.baobabcafe-hotel.net/en/. Nice hotel with a good restaurant. Helpful staff.

Other hotels:
Belo-sur-Mer: *Hotel Entremer - http://en.beloentremer.com/. The best place ever! This is a small hotel, on the beach, away from other hotels. The bungalows are simple but beautifully decorated. The food is amazing. The best thing about Entremer: the hosts, Laurence and Alain. We spent a lot of time talking and enjoying Laurence’s cuisine (and Alain makes great Mojitos and rum Caipirinhas).

Anakao: Safari Vezo - http://safarivezo.com/en/ Low season rates were the reason we stayed here. It has nice bungalows and, a good, if a bit pricey, restaurant. The owner is very present and so are her opinions. If we went back to Anakao we would choose a different place. (but we would miss the Hoopoe couple cavorting outside our bungalow window every day!)

Andasibe: *Vakona Forest Lodge - http://hotelvakona.com/ This is a big lodge with comfortable bungalows, a pool and a big restaurant. There are often large groups here so it can be a bit busy (need to book ahead in the high season). You need your own transport as the lodge is not within walking distance of the Park.
We also stayed at the Eulophiella Lodge 1 night (because Vakona was full) - http://www.eulophiella.com/. This is a good but rather odd hotel – the chalets seem a bit out of place for Madagascar but the grounds are lovely. It is quite far away from the main road on a very bad track – I wouldn’t choose to stay there again.

Ile Aux Nattes: *Le Petit Traversee - http://www.madxperience.com/mad-xperience_004.htm . We loved this place and would highly recommend it. However, it will probably not suit everyone. Meals are eaten together with other guests and Ockie, the owner. Ockie loves to chat and discuss all sorts of issues. He also likes to show old Dr.Hook videos on his projector. I wouldn’t want this everyday of my holiday but for the 3 nights we stayed we had a blast. The bungalows are simple but tastefully decorated and comfortable.

Masoala: *Tampo Lodge - (http://www.tampolodge-masoala.com We had a great time at Tampo Lodge. Our bungalow was right on the beach with an outdoor shower – perfect for us even though it was quite simple. The food is good and there is a small upstairs seating area in bar (don’t fall down the stairs!) This was the cheaper of the lodges in Masoala at the time and you can probably find more upmarket bungalows other places.

Maroansetra: Relais du Masoala – I cannot find a current web site – perhaps it has closed. This is the email address we used in 2011: [email protected]. Beautiful setting with many palm trees. Would go back there if it still exists.

Berenty: *Berenty Private Reserve - http://www.madagascar-resorts.com/berenty-lodge/ This is a research station but also has facilities for tourists. A lot of big groups come here. Looking at the pictures online it seems they have refurbished the rooms since we visited in 2011. We were housed in the “owners bungalow” for some reason which was fine for us. There are Ring Tails everywhere (October is baby season) and we saw many other lemurs and wildlife on walks in the forest.

Kirindy: *Ecolodge Kirindy - http://www.kirindyforest.com/index.p...dge-de-kirindy Simple, rustic bungalows. We didn’t enjoy the meals much but were told that the cook was away so that may have been the reason. Mind caterpillars dropping “hairs” on your bed! Great walks (day and night) and good guides. Lemurs come by the lodge every day.

Ialatsara: Ialatsara Lemur Forest Camp; Tel: 75 614 42 / 033 11 671 69; the website in the Bradt guide (madagascar-lemuriens.com) is no longer active. Not sure if the email is either ([email protected]).
A small private reserve, very rustic. We enjoyed our stay here. There was only 1 other couple whom we got along well with and the walks were, quite literally, “off the beaten track”. You can go for short walks on your own (on paths) and the nightwalks are great. You have all your meals together and the owner can be a bit eccentric depending on how many empty bottles there are on the table. We found him very interesting to talk to – he is very knowledgeable about Madagascar and keen on environmental protection. But if you are short on time I would visit Ranomafana Park instead.

Ambalavao: Varangue Betsileo. We stayed there to visit the nearby Anja Park - very small community-run park with ring-tails lemur (which was nice). This is the only place we have stayed at in Madagascar that I would not recommend – if the owner is present. The place itself is beautiful but the owner has views that we vehemently disagree with and she is not hesitant about sharing them with you. Also, the food was highly over-rated and expensive.

Isalo: *Le Relais de la Reine - http://www.lerelaisdelareine.com/en/. Spectacularly beautiful hotel with wonderful staff and great restaurant. We managed to swing a very good rate here due to the low season, otherwise it would be beyond our budget. But we are budget travellers so others may well be happy with their rates (posted on their website). If this hotel were located in any other country I would guess the rate would be at least double. I.e. excellent value for money. Behind the hotel you can walk among the fabulous rock formations. They also have a via ferrata and horse-riding. The pool was being cleaned while we were there but we were given free access to their sister hotel’s pool next door: http://www.lejardinduroy.com/ - also a very beautiful hotel.

Ranomfana: *Chez Gaspard - https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Re..._Province.html. Very nice, clean, comfortable bungalows at a good rate in a green setting. Walking distance to the village where you can easily pick up a ride to the park entrance if you don’t have your own transport. (and local eateries).


Drivers:
We had a few drivers along the way but they were all locally organized and we don’t have names or contact info.
In Tana we have been driven by Harvet several times. He owns an orange, not very new, mini-bus (not a 4x4, no a/c) not super comfortable, but we enjoy his company. Our French is not very good and he is working at learning English so communication is fun. He is an excellent driver - a former taxi-brousse driver.
Harvet (Rakaotoarilala Harvet) tel: 032 04 052 05 / email: [email protected]

Restaurants:
There are many excellent French-style restaurants in the cities and towns - great value for money.

Being budget travelers we didn't frequent these often but we did have one memorable dinner at the Corto Maltese restaurant in Toliara.

Local “Hotely” restaurants can be great. The chicken or zebu is often a bit tough and I tend to stick to the vegetarian menu – Haricots Blancs with rice and veg is usually very tasty.


Happy to answer any further questions.

Regards,
Karin.
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Old Jun 28, 17, 10:16 pm
  #11  
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Food in Madagascar.

Yes to vegetarian meals. When you visit a butcher store you will soon see why.

P.S.
It is also not a matter of IF you will get sick. It is rather a matter of WHEN will you get sick. Hygiene is not a concept in Madagascar even at lovely hotels. We were in Ft Dauphine once again last winter. The only place we ate was my American friend's home.

I adore Madagascar. Please do travel with a guide and driver so you can truly enjoy the country. There is no AAA and very few gas stations out in the country. Most drivers do repairs right in the middle of the road. Do buy a sim card or disposable phone to call ahead to hotels you are visiting to confirm en route.
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Old Nov 1, 17, 4:29 am
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Hey again everyone! Just got back from the trip and thought I'd follow up and share our experience, in case future travelers stumble across this thread. Having traveled extensively and independently all over the world, we found Madagascar was one of the toughest destinations to research and wrap our heads around in advance, so we hope this account can be of some assistance to others who are planning similar trips!

We built the trip around a skeleton of pre-booked internal flights: Tana to Maroantsetra at the beginning, Ile Sainte Marie to Tana in the middle, and Tulear to Tana at the end. Amazingly, in contrast to what sounds like most other peoples' experiences, none of the three flights was cancelled or significantly changed/delayed. Our one flight with Madagasikara Airways from Sainte Marie to Tana had a schedule change (afternoon to morning departure) and this was communicated to us via email around a week in advance, so no worries.

We figured out the rest of the transport as we went and would definitely recommend that approach wherever possible, for flexibility; there was only one case where an advanced reservation could have helped us secure a preferable option.

A note about guidebooks: we carried the latest (8th) edition of the Lonely Planet guide and found it useful for getting a general sense of things, and for some accommodation/food recommendations, but otherwise it was poorly organised and not very helpful. In speaking to other travelers it seemed that the Bradt guide was an improvement, but I wouldn’t rely too heavily on any of the books.

Masoala

The first part of the trip was spent in Masoala National Park. We booked an organised trip with a local guide who was recommended to us by a friend, although he ended up sending us with a different and quite mediocre guide, so no specific recommendations there. If you're flying up from Tana, your guide will generally pick you up at the airport and you'll spend the night in Maroantsetra before departing to the park early the next morning. There are a few accommodation options in Maroantsetra and you can book through your guide, although we booked ad hoc. We stayed at the Coco Beach Hotel which is nicely situated on the river but otherwise nondescript, with average food.

We spent three nights in a small fishing village inside the park and one night on Nosy Mangabe on the way back. The village experience was interesting and remote, but we weren't overly impressed by the rainforest walks we did. We much preferred our night on Mangabe, as it lacks any permanent human presence (you must camp there) and still offers nice walks and beaches. If we were to do it again, we would perhaps add another night on Mangabe.

If you can, definitely come here during Humpback season - we had a number of amazing whale encounters during our boat rides out to and back from the park! Also note that it is super wet out here, even in the drier season, so bring good wet weather gear!

Masoala to Ile Sainte Marie

This was one of our trickier transfers, with no straightforward options. Flights from Maroantsetra are irregular and there's no direct option, so you would have to fly to Tamatave and take one of the land/sea options from there, or fly back to Tana and connect to another flight to Sainte Marie (likely with an overnight layover). Alternatively, there are a few boats that go from Maroantsetra to Soanierana-Ivongo (the coastal town from which the majority of boats to Sainte Marie depart). However, the schedules for all of these are also very irregular/sparse and apparently weather can often wreak havok. We pursued the boat options extensively but came across very little definitive information and when it seemed that no boats would be leaving for at least a few days, we abandoned that approach. Nonetheless, if your dates are flexible, the boats seemed like the best combo of shortest and cheapest trip. The two main operators to look into are Melissa Express and Savannah IV, but there may be others.

With air and sea out of the question for us, that left road. Maroantsetra and Soanierana-Ivongo are connected by the infamous RN5. Hilariously designated a national highway, it's an absurd multi-day journey along sandy, rocky, muddy "road" punctuated by many rickety "bridge" and "boat" crossings (quotation marks used very emphatically). There are some taxi brousses that ply the route, but you'd definitely need to be flexible with timing if you choose that option. Or, you can hire a 4WD, but even then I would go into the experience expecting things to go wrong: of the only 10 or so cars we saw along the whole way, nearly half were broken down, and the rest were stuck waiting behind them because the route is mostly too narrow for passing!

We opted to rent motorbikes with drivers. This is definitely the best terrestrial option in terms of cost/time balance, although it is still by no means comfortable and we would only recommend it to hardier travellers! You’ll spend at least two very long days bouncing along, squeezed between driver and your bags tied on the back (we had relatively large backpacks and were able to fit them, so you shouldn’t need any extra bikes unless you want more space). It’s also not really the safest option, by developed-world standards at least, as we didn’t have helmets and cruised through some of the flatter/better sections (most of which are sandy) at quite some speed.

But despite all of that, the journey really turned into one of the highlights of our trip! It’s such a cool way to experience this part of the country - which we found to be more remote, untravelled and friendlier than elsewhere - and we really enjoyed the company of our drivers, Claude and Fabrice. They spoke little English or French but we managed to have fun with them along the way. We also felt that they were genuinely on our side and were looking out for us, which was a feeling notably absent from other interactions throughout the rest of our trip. We found them through a Maroantsetra-based guide named Lauriot, who speaks great English and was very helpful (https://visitmasoalablog.wordpress.com/).

We paid 850,000 Ariary per bike/driver for the full trip, which we thought was totally worth it given the length and difficulty of the route and the fact that we were paying for an awesome experience, not just transport. Depending on your agreement with the drivers you may pay for some or all of the crossings, and there are random tolls levied by villagers holding sticks across the road (Claude and Fabrice managed to talk our way out of many of these), so plan for some additional expenses along the way. It took two full days, with an overnight stop in Mananara. Accommodation is not included in the trip cost of course, but you are not responsible for the drivers’ accommodation. We stayed at Chez Roger which had large, simple rooms, friendly owners and decent food.

You arrive in Soanierana-Ivongo in the evening on the second day (if all goes well) and given that the boats across to Ile Sainte Marie all leave in the morning, an overnight stay is required. The town is a bit rough with a seemingly poor selection of accommodation. We opted for Les Escales, which is conveniently located right by the docks and serves decent food but is otherwise a bit dingy and smelly (the neighbours own pigs…). We passed by the Concorde Hotel, in the middle of town but a bit away from the water, which seemed like it could have been another reasonable option but we can’t confirm.

It’s worth booking tickets for the boat across to Sainte Marie as they can fill up; stop by one of the companies’ offices down by the docks, or try giving them a call. There are a number of operators and no big differences between them, it seemed.

Ile Sainte Marie

I probably don’t need to elaborate too much on Sainte Marie. It’s one of the “easier” spots in Madagascar, with lots of nice accommodation options and straightforward intra-island transportation. We decided to rent bikes (i.e. human-powered bicycles) and used them to explore the full length of the island. It’s a really nice way to get around, but the distances and hills can be deceiving - only recommended if you’re reasonably fit and would enjoy the workout!

Obviously, come here during whale season if possible and if you do, go whale watching. We also really enjoyed a day trip over to Ampanihy on the east side of the island: head to Le Mangrove Gourmand and take a pirogue from there through the mangroves and out to the beach while Nono cooks you an amazing meal (fresh crab and whatever other seafood is available that day; definitely call ahead!). For food, we also enjoyed Hotel Idylle Beach, and the breakfast buffet at Princess Bora was a nice European-ish interlude.

Tana to Morondava (via Antsirabe)

We returned to Tana from Sainte Marie via an uneventful flight with Madagasikara Airways. Our task now was to get ourselves to Morondava, which would serve as the starting point for our journey down the southwest coast. There are easy direct flights from Tana to Morondava but it’s also one of the less imposing overland routes, so we decided on the terrestrial option.

You can make the entire trip in a day (Cotisse Transport is one of a few “premium” daytime choices) or a night (normal taxibrousses), but we thought it might be nice to break up the journey with a stop in Antsirabe, which lies along the route.

It seems that taxi brousses depart Tana for Antsirabe from a few different stations, because our taxi driver from the airport took us to some alternative to the main southern station. It was a bit closer to the outskirts of the city so a more efficient departure point, in theory, but it also seemed even sketchier than necessary. As soon as we approached, touts started banging on the car, trying to open the doors, and shouting at us. This continued as we gingerly got out, ignored everyone and headed for the fullest taxi brousse in the lineup (as a general rule, there’s really no difference between taxi brousses - just choose the fullest one because it will likely depart soonest!). In the middle of the scrum that followed us, we somehow paid the correct person (in retrospect, we had no idea who we were paying) and got our bags loaded onto the roof. Other guys kept insisting, quite aggressively and physically, that we needed to pay them more for our bags. We realized that this was a total scam and managed to fend them all off. Sadly, not a single bystander on our taxi brousse said a word or helped us out, an apathy we’ve not experienced before. Moral of the story: keep your wits about you at Tana taxi brousse stations, make sure you pay the right person, and refuse everyone else.

We were mostly underwhelmed by our stop in Antsirabe. It was dirty and plain - and not in the charming way you often find in the developing world - and if you look like a foreigner, you’ll be solicited rather relentlessly by bike-taxi drivers and guides. To be fair, though, we didn’t spend much time there and we heard there are some very nice excursions outside of the city. The two brights spots for us, though, were accommodation and food. We stayed at Chez Billy, a local institution, and really liked our simple room on the top floor, facing the terrace (I would avoid the interior rooms, which seemed quite dark); we got breakfast at Mirana (remarkably good croissants, nice outdoor upstairs) and had a few meals at L’Insolite (a bizarre mix of dishes from around the world which are executed surprisingly well, salads with real leafy greens, and some delicious local cheeses).

We received very mixed advice for the trip from Antsirabe to Morondava. Some warned us against taking regular taxi brousses, which make the trip overnight, due to security concerns (bandits and/or driver ineptness, though we never really got anyone to be specific). Others said it was totally fine. As always, use your own discretion. The daytime option is with Cotisse or one of the “premium” operators, who can pick you up on their way from Tana to Morondava. We tried this but they didn’t have available seats (definitely call and reserve many days in advance!) so we opted for an overnight, regular taxi brousse. Apparently they always travel in convoy, and with an armed guard or two; we travelled with two other vehicles for only some of the way, and sans armed guards. Regardless, we survived and the trip wasn’t too arduous, thanks in part to our having gone to the station earlier in the day to reserve the two front seats next to the driver (highly recommended!).

Morondava to Tulear (via Belo sur Mer, Morombe, Salary, Ambolimailaka)

After arriving early morning in Morondava, we made a quick round trip out to see the Baobab Alley (should be easy to get an immediate ride from town) and then set about finding a 4WD and driver who could take us down the coast. There are taxi brousse options but they are very irregular and hard to rely on, especially if you want to make stops along the way; our schedule precluded us from this approach, but it seemed like an awesome adventure which we definitely would have gone for otherwise! With the private option, you generally have a choice between an all-inclusive daily rate, or a daily rate for car and driver only, with fuel paid for separately by you. If you want to stop for non-driving days along the way, you’re likely better off with the latter. In either case, you’ll be responsible for paying for the driver’s return to Morondava, usually set at two days. Also in either case, it won’t be cheap. We really didn’t enjoy our driver so no recommendation there. Just ask around in town, call some tour operators, etc, and ideally meet your driver beforehand (we organised through someone who we thought would be driving, only for him to end up sending us with someone else).

You may hear people complaining about the road being terrible. Obviously this varies depending on the season, and there are reports of it actually being impassable some of the year, but we didn’t find it bad at all, especially not compared to the RN5 (okay, maybe an unfair comparison). There are some sections of very bumpy sand, mostly between Morombe and Salary, and one (rather straightforward) boat crossing on the segment between Belo and Morombe, but the rest of the drive was pretty simple.

One thing that surprised us along the way was the magnitude of the tides. Although it was exacerbated by the particular phase of the moon when we travelled, you should expect long periods of the day when the water stays shallow and not-so-swimmable far offshore. If you can get out far enough, though, there’s some wonderful swimming - kayak recommended!

We generally enjoyed our stops and their respective accommodation/food, although our recommendations all come with caveats. A brief overview:

Belo sur Mer: it’s cool to see the large boats they build by hand there, but mind all the trash and debris at low tide. We stayed at Ecolodge du Menabe and really appreciated the location, by the water and on the edge of town, but we found the food a bit unvaried and overpriced.

Morombe: seemed like the most pleasant and low key spot, and in passing people seemed markedly friendlier, although that may have had something to do with our staying a bit out of the center. We really enjoyed a sunset stroll along the beach, watching the few evening fisherman depart. The food at Chez Laurette was delicious (perhaps one of our favourite meals!), the room large and simple, but they somehow decided to charge us nearly three times the advertised price for the room, so that left a bad taste in our mouths. Perhaps just stop by there for food and stay at Hotel Katia instead, which was recommended but full when we were there.

Salary: the ocean views were most stunning here - impossibly blue turquoise with beautiful patterns of big wavy streaks out towards the horizon, probably formed by currents - but as with everywhere else, access for swimming was tricky with the tides. We stayed at the Salary Bay Resort, which boasts a perfect panoramic view from its position on top of a large dune. The food was also some of the best we had on the trip - it was very fresh and a little more inventive than what we’d encountered at other spots, without being over-the-top. Otherwise, our room was pleasant but the place had a bit of a “past its prime” feel to it.

Ambolimailaka: we decided to spend our final three nights here so that we’d be within reasonably short driving distance from Tulear for our flight out, but further away than Ifaty/Mangily which are more crowded. Many people didn’t seem to know this place by name, but it’s pretty easy to find, situated between two large fishing villages at the start of the paved road south to Tulear. We stayed at Hotel La Plage because they offer Scuba diving onsite (our dives out by the reef were enjoyable but paled in comparison to dives we’ve done elsewhere in the world). The staff were all really friendly and helpful and we had a very comfortable stay in a bungalow situated just meters (literally) from the water. Food quality varied but was good on average.

From Ambolimailaka it was an easy hour-ish drive on paved road to Tulear airport, and from there we flew back up to Tana. Apparently the drive from Tulear to Tana isn’t too bad either.

And thus concludes our trip! Please do reach out with any specific questions as we’d love to help out!

(Some images here if anyone is interested!)

Last edited by WingnutSYD; Nov 1, 17 at 4:44 am
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