More than just lemurs... Madagascar

| June 8, 2012

Jake Cook drives along Madagascar’s well known Route Nationale 7 (RN7) and discovers that there are far more than just lemurs on this magical island.

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Madagascar equals lemurs. This simple equation features in the minds of most people considering a trip to this Indian Ocean Island and is usually top of their list of reasons for wanting to visit. Like nearly every other tourist, I arrived in Madagascar ravenous with excitement about seeing these wide-eyed, furry primates. However, what struck me as I made my way through the east, south and south-west of the country, was how my excitement of lemur viewing was met, and arguably surpassed, with awe of the endless variation of landscape. I can firmly say that there is far more to Madagascar than just lemurs, in particular the landscapes.

The beauty of a land-based tour is the seamless transition between regions. Cruising south from the capital of Antananarivo along the tarmacked RN7 (one of the most comfortable I have experienced in all my travels), I immediately notice what would be my flagship memory of Madagascar - rice paddies being worked by the local villagers and their Zebu (sacred cows) – back breaking work that provides the staple food to a nation that eats more rice per head than any other.

These patch-worked fields are intertwined with rolling hills, which run along the spine of the country and are a sight that never ceased to intrigue me. Aryl, my driver/guide and I head southwards along the RN7. We wind through the lush mid-altitude rainforest of Ranomafana National Park, pass through panoramas of dry grassy savannahs and rocky outcrops in Isalo National Park and shuffle past the sandy forests in Ifaty. Aryl smiles as I keep asking: “Are we still in the same country?” and he replies in typical smiling fashion: “This is Madagascar.”

The weather played a starring role. Sitting with a cocktail watching the warm orange sun set over the Isalo massif, only to be succeeded by a spectacular lightning storm, provided a show to remember. This is typical of a November visit, which is classed as a shoulder season between the cooler dry season and the hot wet season where glorious sunny skies can quickly turn to tropical thunderstorms.

A fitting finale was to fly back to Antananarivo and head due east to the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, passing through lush tropical highland scenery. The Mantadia forest in particular was an absolute highlight. 10,000 hectares of untouched primary rainforest packed with ferns, vines, orchids and the endemic vakona plant, all of which criss-cross with the trickling Mantadia river. The flora here is taller and greener, the air is more humid and the ground more moist than the secondary forests of Andasibe and Ranomafana.

Fewer tourists make their way to Mantadia compared with the more popular Andasibe section of the park. This is due to the slightly more strenuous nature of the trails and the lower chance of seeing lemurs, due to the thicker vegetation and it being a much larger area. I would recommend a full day trip to anyone visiting the area. Mantadia oozed a sense of wilderness and beauty I did not consistently find in the other rainforests I visited and for this reason the forest remains a firm favourite with the majority of local guides too.

Cox & Kings organises group tours to Madagascar.

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