Monday 25 September 2017

Madagascar 1 - Antananarivo, Andasibe, Antsirabe

I had wanted to go to Madagascar ever since David Attenborough mentioned that 80% of all the wildlife there is endemic. i.e. you can't see it anywhere else!

We went there in August 2017 on a generally wildlife themed holiday run by Exodus. In addition, I was hoping to see some birds, but I didn't really have much idea of what I would see. If the holiday had been specifically for birds, then Lynne, my wife, would not have gone!

The worst part about the trip to Madagascar was getting there. We had an overnight flight from Heathrow to Nairobi on Kenya Airways, arriving at about 0500.  Our onward flight was six hours later, although the plane was slightly delayed, so it was nearer 7 hours!  Nairobi airport is not the most comfortable to spend a long stopover, especially as I had not slept during the overnight flight.

The flight from Nairobi to Antananarivo had a woman pilot and co-pilot! How cool is that! We arrived in the capital, Antananarivo, mid afternoon, and were met by the Exodus rep, and our guide for the trip, Rija. She advised us to change money at the airport.  As there were two of us, I changed £500, and was instantly almost a double millionaire! The banknotes are not as bad as the Gambian ones but you do get a lot of them.

After 20 hours travelling we were glad to get to the hotel; the Belvedere in midtown Antananarivo. We had a beer on the terrace overlooking the capital as the light faded, and met up with most of the rest of the group for dinner.

The following morning the entire group of nine were united - Me (Phil) and Lynne, Chris and Al, Mike and Sian, Nic, Steph and Norma.  I have to say that it turned out to be a very friendly group. The ages ranged from 35 to 89! Yes, you read that correctly: 89! Norma, an active Australian woman, was indeed 89, but did everything that everybody else did, and more. Amazing!

After breakfast, we headed off by bus to Andasibe, to the East. It's near Moramanga, but isn't shown on this map. The arrow indicates approximately where it is. For reference, here is a map of our whole trip:

Madagascar - part. Showing our journey.
Now, I ought to tell you a few general things about Madagascar. The first is that 70% of the country is Highlands.  Antananarivo is at nearly 1300 metres above sea level and Andasibe is nearly 1000 metres above sea level.  It was fairly cool when we arrived at the charming hotel where we stayed for two nights: the Feonny Ala hotel.  It was dusk on the balcony overlooking the small river. Nic had noticed a striated heron in the gloom:

Striated heron at dusk
The communal areas of the Feonny Ala hotel were very pleasant, and our room was too. The only problem was that the running water, apparently from tanks, had a very unpleasant smell to it. Our bed had mosquito nets, but we probably werent at any great risk at this time of year, as it was still the end of winter and not the rainy season. Nevertheless, we used them!
Typical hut at the Feonny Ala hotel 
The tour was for bed and breakfast accommodation only.  We had to buy our own lunches and dinners.  The price of meals in Madagascar was very reasonable, even in the tourist hotels where we stayed.  A bottle of beer of 650 ml was about £1.50.  A main course was £5 or £6 and a dessert might be £1 or £1.50. Coffee or tea was perhaps 50 or 70 pence.

Our first activity was a night walk on the road outside the nearby Perinet National Park to find nocturnal lemurs, chameleons and geckos. Guide was Saholy. We had all brought our head torches and our guide skilfully found mouse lemurs, geckos and chameleons of various sizes. Here are some of them:
Goodman's mouse lemur


A chameleon roosting

Short-nosed chameleon

Frog - Heterixalus?

Frog - Boophis?
29 August 2017  -  Andasibe/Perinet National Park - Guides Saholy and Flore

The following day, after an early breakfast, we made our way to the Perinet National Park. We had a quick look around the entrance area while the guide was buying our tickets, and found a few birds.

Crested drongo

Red-tailed vanga

Madagascar wagtail
 We set off in search of lemurs and other wildlife.  Our guides were very knowledgeable, not only about the mammals, but also the plants.  We learnt about the Travellers tree which is widely used to make houses and thatch the roofs, the palm tree that was used to make blow pipes, and the toilet paper plant!

We saw Eastern grey bamboo lemurs, common brown lemur, a sleeping weasel sportive lemur as well as Eastern woolly lemurs.

Eastern Woolly Lemur
Weasel sportive lemur
Finally, we met the most impressive lemur, the Indri.  Indri are the largest of the lemurs and the ones with the loudest and most impressive song.  Here is the Indri:

Indri - largest of the 100 odd species in Madagascar

Indri singing
And here is 20sec of the song:

This recording was made quite close to the Indri.  Heard from further away, the song tends to echo through the forest, and takes on an eerie quality.  It reminds me of whale song, or an out of tune oboe!

During our wandering through the rain-forest, we discovered two groups of Indri. Finally, our guide led us to a group of diademed sifaka lemurs, which many believe are the most attractive.  See what you think.

Diademed Sifaka

Diademed Sifaka
We saw several other species of bird in the rainforest. Photos of some of them appear below.
Madagascar Blue pigeon
We returned to the hotel for lunch.  From the terrace overlooking the river, we saw several other birds.

Mascarene Martin

Madagascar Buzzard

Madagascar Coucal

Madagascar Green Sunbird
Here is a green day gecko on the nearby travellers tree:
Green Day Gecko
Up to now, we had only seen lemurs in the wild.  After lunch we visited Lemur Island, where some species of lemur are held. They are free to roam without being in cages, but they are restricted to the island. They were quite used to visitors and eagerly came forward.  They were not troublesome as some monkeys are in some countries.  They could, with banana, be coaxed to sit on your shoulder.  Only the common brown lemur and the black and white ruffed lemur would sit on your shoulder. Other species kept their distance.

Phil with Black and White Ruffed lemur

Lynne with Common brown lemur (and Nic over her shoulder)

Norma with Common brown lemur

Steph with Black and White Ruffed lemur
I also saw a Madagascar swamp warbler on the island:
Madagascar swamp warbler
This visit was quite fun, in the sense that we got close to one or two species.  When they sat on your shoulder and touched your skin they had no claws.  Their fingers were actually very soft.

We had a very long canoe ride to get to the island, in boats like this!
Chris and Rija in canoe
On our way back to the hotel, we went through the village of Andasibe.  It had a railway station, but the limited railway no longer functions much in Madagascar. There are only two unconnected networks, originally built by the French.  The track has not been maintained. There are some goods trains that run infrequently.  A passenger service runs from Fianarantsoa to the East Coast.  This is all quite surprising in a country that is so big (over 1500 km long and nearly 600 km wide).  

Getting around takes time as there are only a few major roads.  There are no motorways or dual carriageways.  The main roads through the hills are winding. Journeys take a long time.

That evening we enjoyed some drinks and dinner in the hotel before getting an early night.  We had quite a long drive ahead of us in the morning – to Antsirabe.


  1. Never tire of the variety of plumage, colors, etc.

  2. Really nice to see all those pictures! High quality! My favourite was "Goodman's mouse lemur".


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