1. We’ll thrill to the call of “all aboard” as we enjoy a relaxed train journey to Andasibe aboard Madagascar’s famous Micheline, a charming vintage railcar designed to run on rubber Michelin tires! Riding the “Viko-Viko,” as locals call it, is an incredible ‘only in Madagascar’ experience—as well as a trip back in time to the early 20th century!

2. Perhaps the most famous residents of Madagascar are the lemurs. From tiny mouse lemurs to comical ring-tailed lemurs and bouncy sifakas, they are without a doubt a highlight of any visit to the island. We’ll visit Ivoilona Zoological Park to see its endangered lemur breeding program, run by the “Save The Lemur Foundation,” and learn about the threats to native wildlife as well as what’s being done to save Madagascar’s natural heritage!

3. The extraordinary, nocturnal aye-aye is Madagascar’s most unusual resident. Though numbers of this diminutive primate are higher than once believed, most visitors to Madagascar leave without ever catching a glimpse of one. We’ll increase our odds to about 80% by taking an evening visit to (where else?) Aye-Aye Island. Our night walk will be a real highlight of the trip, as we hear the wild world of a Madagascan night come alive and enjoy one of the rarest animal sights in the world!

4. We’ll feel like we have Madasgascar all to ourselves at Mandrare River Camp, a small, exclusive tented camp in a secluded area on the southern tip of the island. In this natural paradise we’ll have unparalleled opportunities to see lemurs, enjoy truly great birdwatching, and go on evening walks to look for the region’s nocturnal residents. Mandrare is also near traditional burial tombs nestled in the Sacred Forests of Ifotaka, as well as the homeland of Madagascar’s “warrior tribe,” the Antondroy. We’ll visit with the Antondroy and learn about their culture and traditions.

5. Spend two days exploring Madagascar’s ultimate rainforest in Masoala National Park, a World Heritage Site and the largest of the island’s protected areas. The wettest rainforest in the Indian Ocean basin, Masaola is home to ten lemur species, including the showy red-ruffed lemur and the nocturnal aye-aye, numerous exotic chameleons, geckos, and other reptiles, and spectacular birds like the helmet vanga and the rare red owl. Plus great marine life on the coral reefs of Tampolo Marine Reserve.

6. Photographers take note! We’ll have great lemur photo ops at Lemur Island, in addition to tracking several species of wild lemurs in Mantadia National Park.

7. The indri, or babakoto, is the largest of the lemurs. They are revered by traditional Malagasy and protected by fady, or cultural taboo. Well known for their distinctive (and loud!) calls, we’ll have the opportunity to hear them at a private reserve near Andasibe.

8. Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, has a much different story than many capital cities in Africa, as it was already a long-established capital before colonization. It was established as a fortress by King Andrianjaka in the early 17th century, and went on to become the main village of Hova kings and, in the late 1700s, the capital city under the reign of the Merina dynasty. It continued as the capital of Madagascar under the colonial rule of the French, who renamed it Tananarive. During this period most of the city’s original timber structures were razed and replaced by European-style architecture. We’ll see evidence of the city’s past and learn about its varied history as we tour the city, including its zoological gardens and the Queen’s Palace.

9. A unique mix of thriving spice agriculture, great fresh seafood, and French colonization left Madagascar with something we can all appreciate: great food! Talented cooks use the best of their local bounty and a mélange of traditional and French cooking techniques to concoct some out-of-this-world creations. Imagine barbecued Zebu-cattle steaks in cream sauce infused with Madgascan green peppercorns, chicken baked in a sauce made with local vanilla, and don’t forget chocolate! Cocoa plantations thrive on the northern end of the island, and the chocolate here is superb. You can even enjoy your sumptuous Malagasy meal with a local wine!

10. Madagascar is truly a living museum. The island’s longtime isolation from the mainland has led to a unique evolutionary track, making it home to a wide variety of endemic species of flora and fauna. But Madagascar is also home to some of the world’s poorest people, and with few opportunities to improve their lot, many turn to exploitation of natural resources to earn a living. The resulting destruction of the natural habitat endangers the same species that make Madagascar such a great tourism destination. But in recent years, the government has made development of responsible tourism a priority, including the expansion of the national park system, enhancement of the country’s tourism infrastructure, and making tourism a viable alternative source of income for its people. So now is one of the best times to visit Madagascar, when tourism dollars really can make an immediate, tangible difference in this very special land’s struggle to preserve its treasures.

 

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