Counting the ‘sleeps’ had finally hit zero – here we were… at the Air Madagascar check-in counter, O.R.Tambo International, eagerly anticipating the hot, sunny skies and sparkling, blue ocean that was waiting for us! We had all just met at the Mugg & Bean and already felt as though we knew each other after all the excited emails. Ken and Jan (from SA), Alicia (from Aus), Marco (from Germany), Leslie (from SA), Suzy (from USA), Louise (from Nam), Liz (from Zim) and yours truly, Debz of Jenman African Safaris, were the intrepid travellers about to experience a destination that was completely new to us.
Everything went smoothly and perhaps the only surprise we had, was when the sweet air hostess smiled and said “Duck or Fish?” I can vouch for the fish – but those who had the duck said it was great too…! This was just the first of many pleasant surprises.
After following our passports on a rather strange route through Customs, we collected our bags from a carousel close by and then headed for the door. Our smiling Jenman guide, Rija (pronounced Reeza) was there waiting for us and competently took care of our luggage being loaded on the bus, whilst we all changed our Euros and US$ to the local currency, Malagasy ariary (1Euro was about 2770 AR…). We then piled on the bus driven by Jao (pronounced Zayo) and headed through the capital city of Antananarivo to our overnight stop at Chalet des Roses. Here we met up with Kelli (also from Aus), the last of our group, who had flown in via Reunion, before heading around the corner to a great little restaurant belonging to the same guesthouse. The accommodation was mid-range and comfortable – very clean and neat, but with few frills.
To our delight, we discovered that food prices are generally the same as in South Africa, so needless to say – we certainly ate well!
TIP #1: – Always make sure that you have a generous amount of AR1000 and AR200 notes!
(For tips & change etc)
We set off directly after breakfast, which consisted of standard Malagasy fare of French loaf, butter and a selection of jams and either tea or coffee. The trip to Andasibe is fairly slow going as the roads are narrow and winding – but this was great, because it gave us a chance to enjoy the city views and then the surrounding countryside. Leslie made the comment that he thought if you planted a broom handle here, it would sprout …which certainly summed up the lushness of the vegetation and in fact, Madagascar has struck me as very ‘Narnia-esque’ ever since! What amazed me was the cleanliness of the city – NO LITTER- and everyone was busy doing something, whether working in the rice paddies or pushing carts or selling their wares…
We stopped at Marovezo Reptile Park en route, which was absolutely worth the visit! The chameleons and other animals were amazing and although the park is quite basic in infrastructure, it is truly a great experience.
After about 4 hours, with stops in between for the park and lunch, we reached Andasibe. Here we viewed the different accommodation options of Grace Lodge, Andasibe Hotel and Feon’ny Ala (the latter was where we stayed). Before dinner though, Rija and Maurice (a well-known Andasibe guide) took us on a night walk to look for nocturnal lemurs and chameleons (of which we found plenty – even the tiny ‘mouse lemur’). This was great fun and we were amazed at how Maurice could spot chameleons which were only about 2cm long, at night in the bush!
The following morning, after breakfast, Maurice again accompanied us on our Forest Walk to search for the famous Indri Indri, the largest lemur, which is endangered due to the destruction of its forest habitat. (No one in the world has been able to keep them in captivity as they die when they are caged). Their strange whale-like song echoed through the forest and it wasn’t very long before our guide brought us right to their spot, high up in the canopy above us.
We left the forest, with great regret that we couldn’t stay longer and set off for Vakona Forest Lodge to visit Lemur Island and do a site inspection, as well as have some lunch. Lemur Island was started a few years back when lemurs which had been kept as pets, were re-introduced to the wild, but in a protected environment as they won’t leap across the water surrounding their habitat. More lemurs have been introduced over the years, but they are hand fed as there is not food throughout the year to sustain them. It was great to see them up close and interact with the different species that are kept there. The lodge was also very nice in a beautiful setting – and the food was superb!
After lunch we set off back to Antananarivo where we needed to see the Relais des Plateau hotel, before heading to our accommodation Au Bois Vert (meaning “At the green wood), where we were to stay for the next two nights. The drive back was as interesting as the first and the narrow roads certainly provided a challenge – especially when the oncoming traffic was a large truck. But I must say, the drivers are very aware and our driver Jao, was excellent!
We hit quite bad traffic upon entering Antananarivo and this slowed us down, combined with the fact that it started raining… The site inspection at Relais des Plateau was quite late and it was dark (and storming) by the time we reached there. It is a nice mid-range hotel, but I definitely preferred Au Bois Vert, as the creativity in the décor just blew me away!
Day 4After a great nights’ sleep, we set off for the Lemur Park, which is just on the outskirts of “Tana”. This is a really great option for an activity, especially for kids! The lemurs are not tame enough to jump onto your shoulders as before, but you can see them very close and they have also created a garden of unusual plants, full of different baobabs and other species of flora. My favorite was seeing “King Julian” of “Madagascar” (The Movie) fame. Ring-tailed lemurs really have the same character as portrayed in the movie – they definitely fancy themselves ‘a cut above’ …and such a poser!
The remainder of the day was spent looking at different hotel options – and believe me, there are some great places to stay in Antananarivo. We did site inspections at The Carlton, Hotel Gallieni, La Varangue, The Colbert, Palissandre, Le Pavillon de l’Emyrne and finally Residence Lapasoa. By this time we were all exhausted and very ready to enjoy the amazing showers at Au Bois Vert again! After another fantastic meal, we hit the sack, ready to leave for the airport straight after breakfast.
After an early breakfast, Jao and Rija took us to the airport for the second leg of our journey…Nosy Be. Being a keen scuba diver, I must admit to being incredibly excited at the thought of those lovely tropical waters – I could hardly wait! The flight went smoothly, although slightly delayed and we soon arrived at the tiny airport in Nosy Be. Moran and Fidel met us with big, beaming smiles and deftly loaded us into their 4×4’s for our “Forest Lunch”. The ride into the forest was great fun and we were met under a big tree by the manager of “Domaine des Florets” with a table full of ice cold, freshly squeezed fruit juices. They then showed us through to the table which had been laid out for our lunch and gave us a super meal of traditional food, followed by the usual “rhum arrange” aperitif 🙂 which was DELICIOUS (It is rum with litchis etc. placed in it for up to a year…). Leaving Domaine des Florets, we stopped past the Sacred Tree, where Moran explained the beliefs associated with it and the various customs.
We then proceeded to venture in to Hellville to see the marketplace on our way to the Vanila Hotel.
The market is fascinating, although the ‘mud crabs’ proved too much for some… We explored a bit and then headed on to Vanila, where we were greeted by the French F&B Manager, Marc. His English is excellent and he was an unbelievable host – we even had Rhum cocktails at the pool as a welcome drink on the house. The stay there was really fantastic, the Ocean Rooms, the food, the gardens and staff all served to make it a perfect place to have a holiday and I sincerely believe this place is great value for money!
We had a superb buffet dinner and the weather was amazing – so we spent hours in the pool sipping our drinks after we had sampled just about everything the buffet had to offer…
We left after a wonderful breakfast the next morning (we were all stuffed because it was the first time we had had a huge buffet to choose from at breakfast time)! We were transported to a little area of beach not far from the Hellville Market, where we boarded a boat for our visit to Nosy Komba and snorkelling trip to Tanikely Marine Reserve. The sea was amazing and I admit to spending time photographing the clouds reflected on the sea, because it was sooo calm and glassy! A number of small islands dotted the horizon as we headed out to our first stop – Nosy Komba. We jumped off the boat to venture through the village on Nosy Komba following our local guide who took us to the habituated lemurs living on the island. Next we walked through the village to admire and buy some of the amazing local crafts and carvings.
After a soda at the local village beach restaurant we boarded for our next port of call – Nosy Tanikely Marine Reserve. This stunning island was our lunch stop – a picnic provided by a local lady who was exceptionally talented – we all ate for taste way past the point of being full! We had snorkeled just prior to lunch which I think was an brilliant idea or we all would have sunk!!
I don’t think a trip to Nosy Be is complete without this experience…! Tired after a wonderful day, we made our way back to Hellville where we were transferred to Chanty Beach for our short boat ride to Sakatia Towers on Nosy Sakatia. The guesthouse is very typical of a South African “Beach house” and the friendly staff were most welcoming. I was sorry not to be able to meet John though as he was away in SA. Great place for groups that know each other/ or families. We all relaxed on the deck overlooking the little bay with its mangroves and took in the end of another stunning day. I left the group and headed for bed early that evening as I had a very early pick-up arranged for the next morning…for my long-awaited scuba dive!
I was collected just after sun up, by the boat from Sakatia Lodge and taken to their very nice Dive Centre to prepare for the dive. After meeting Jacques, who runs the dive centre (He is Jose’s son – Jose manages Sakatia Lodge) and ‘kitting’ up for the dive, we headed off to the dive boat. Jacques led the dive and we had a French couple and their son join us. The scuba diving is absolutely wonderful and the warm water meant that I didn’t feel cold at all, even after staying down for an hour and ten minutes…I just wish that I had had my underwater camera and a few more dives to do it justice!
The group in the mean time had packed up and gone across to Sakatia Lodge for their site inspection and I met up with them a little while later. We had a superb lunch there before heading over to Nosy Be for more site inspections. This was to be our last day before flying back to SA and I think everyone was quite subdued at the thought of leaving…
We were met at Chanty Beach again and made our way to the Loranho Hotel, which was very nice but not on the beach. However, Sambatra which is a bit more budget, is owned by the same people and right next door, on the beach – so access to the beach from Loranho is thru a little gate between the two.
From here, we made our way to a few others…Domaine de Mange Be, which wasn’t so popular on account that it is pretty basic – and Nosy Lodge which we all really liked!
We then took a drive to Crater Bay where Madavoille has the yacht charters…Rudy the owner is really helpful and friendly and was a great host while we waited for the transfer from Amarina to arrive. He has a steam engine which he has converted into a really novel pizza oven!!
We then took a final drive from the east side of Nosy Be over to the west where we spent a night at the wonderful Ora Amarina Resort. Amarina was stunning and the food was amazing, but deep down I was very sad that this was it…no more Madagascar………
We were up bright and early to pack, have the lovely breakfast that they had provided and then take our transfer to the tiny Nosy Be airport for our trip home. Everyone agreed that this would definitely not be their last visit to Madagascar – I know I certainly had made up my mind that I would be back as soon as possible, as a piece of my heart stayed behind when we left…!
If you would like to find out more about Madagascar then please visit our Travel2Madagascar website where we have a variety of Madagascar Holiday that you might be interested in! Jenman Island Safaris introduces you to Madagascar, set 400 kilometres off the east coast of Africa, entirely surrounded by the invitingly warm tropical Indian Ocean. This beautiful island offers you unique and exciting Madagascar holidays and vacations ranging from lemur tours & dhow trips to relaxing beach packages… Adventure mixed with leisure – the perfect vacation combination!
Our 8-day Madagascar lemur and beach vacation package includes Vanila Hotel, Vakona Forest Lodge and Les Relais des Plateaux – giving you the perfect Madagascar vacation with a mix of lemurs and beaches. Your Madagascar vacation activities include a night walk at Andasibe as well as visiting and exploring the Andasibe Reserve… Visit Orchird Garden, Lemur Island and relax on the warm tropical beaches on your Madagascar Lemur & Beach Holiday! Click here for more information