Madagascar! A long held dream of both of ours, and we were determined to see as much of this beguiling country as possible. Having salivated over the David Attenborough series, read every guidebook we could find and spent months and months planning, our excitement was brimming over as we disembarked at Antananarivo airport at 3am and took our first steps on Madagascan soil.
225 million years ago, Madagascar started life squashed between the continents which were to become Africa and India. With continental drift, the island moved, first breaking apart from Africa and then from India. For nearly ninety million years, the flora and fauna on the island has evolved in luxurious isolation – hence the amazing statistic that 80% of Madagascar’s wildlife is endemic to the island. And it was that wildlife that we were here to see!
Our first highlight came in Andasibe National Park. After The Shortest Boat Trip In The World – across six yards of water, in a canoe, and we landed on Lemur Island, where the lemurs are relatively tame and can be encouraged to scramble all over guests with tempting titbits of banana. The island is run by Vakona Forest Lodge.
We were transfixed by these fluffy little teddy bears, who clambered all over us with impunity, balancing on their cool, smooth little hands and mashing banana into our hair.
We stood like statues, with sometimes two or even three lemurs balanced precariously – I even had one turn upside down and look straight into the lens of my camera (what a shot that would have been!). The shyer bamboo lemurs didn’t use us as a climbing frame, preferring to stay in the branches and watch with their large, dark amber eyes. We were even lucky enough to see one of the island’s resident diademed sifakas, which hung upside down to stretch for a bit of banana.
We were both delighted to be able to stay at Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge down on Madagascar’s southern coast. This lodge, the brainchild of Edd Tucker-Brown, is a little piece of paradise.
Situated yards from the beach, and in lush forest, the lodge offers guests an opportunity to canoe or boat through the mangroves, whale-watch from their speedboat, swim or snorkel in the bay, and take day or night walks in the nearby rainforest to spot lemurs and birds. We took two walks while we were there, lit by torchlight, and found a number of nocturnal lemurs; their eyes lit ghostly red by our torches.
We also took a walk at the end of our boat trip – and met one of Madagascar’s most comical residents. Halfway through the walk, at a signal from our guide, we all stopped and crouched down. There was a rustling in the thick undergrowth, and suddenly, a tiny baby tenrec (spiny hedgehog) appeared from the lush carpet of green. He looked up at all of us with his beetle-black eyes, gave a little start, turned tail and disappeared back into the undergrowth. Minutes later, he appeared again, this time in a line of tenrecs all following their mother, who was purposefully making her way across the path. An amazing sight!
As well as incredible wildlife, Madagascar can boast some of the most stunning beaches in the Indian Ocean. A two-hour boat ride on a catamaran took us to a Robinson Crusoe paradise with idyllic white beaches – the tiny island of Nosy Tsarabanjina, just off Madagascar’s north west coast, where we stayed at Constance Lodge Tsarabanjina.
From here the diving is absolutely spectacular. The entire dive led us through a carpet of yellow snapper – so numerous that we had to part them with our hands – and with some of the most brightly colored, pristine coral we had ever seen. Giant clams dotted the seabed below us and the visibility was incredible. The entire island is circled by a coral reef, giving us the choice of some amazing dive sites.
Madagascar surpassed all our expectations – from brightly colored swallowtail butterflies, as wide as our hand, to the largest lemur, the indri-indri with its haunting cry, we were dazzled at every turn.