Classic Madagascar

Madagascar

Activity | Wildlife | Tribal | Culture

Discover incredible nature and endemic wildlife

14 days £2,395 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

For those with less time, this tour is the perfect introduction to Madagascar. Arriving into Antananarivo (Tana) you will do a heritage walking tour and visit the cultural UNESCO site of Ambohimanga. Travel south to Madagascar's second city, Antsirabe, and take an optional bike ride around the lake and nearby paddy fields and villages. In Ambositra you will see how silk is produced and enjoy lunch with a local Malagasy family. Come face to face with lemurs and other wildlife in Ranomafana National Park, and witness the island's largest zebu market in Ambalavao (only Wed and Thu). Take a walking tour in the Anja Community Reserve before arriving into Isalo National Park. Spot more intriguing wildlife and birds on a trek through magnificent canyon scenery and take a dip in some of its natural pools. Drive to Tulear on the west coast stopping off at the impressive arboretum, home to many endemic species of flora and endangered tortoises. Finally unwind in Ifaty before your flight back to Tana.

Contact us for pre- or post-tour extensions.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Heritage walking tour in Antananarivo
  • Visit UNESCO-listed Ambohimanga
  • Exquisite Zafimaniry wood carvings
  • Visit the rainforest in Ranomafana National Park
  • Religious traditions of the Betsileo Tribe
  • Trek through canyon territory in Isalo National Park
  • Witness Madagascar's largest zebu market in Ambalavao
  • Ecotourism at Anja Community Reserve
  • Relax on beaches in Ifaty

Places Visited

Antananarivo - Ambohimanga - Antsirabe - Ambositra - Ranomafana National Park - Fianarantsoa - Isalo National Park - Ambalavao - Ranohira - Anja Community Reserve - Ilakaka - Ifaty - Tuléar - Reniala Nature Reserve

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Domestic flight
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary
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Day 1 : Arrival into Antananarivo

Arrive into Antananarivo where you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. Overnight in Antananarivo. 

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Antananarivo

In the morning, visit the Old City before proceeding on a guided tour of the Ambohimanga Rova. En route, stop by the boutique market of Galerie Lisy and browse the large variety of handcrafted goods available. The evening is free at your leisure. Overnight in Antananarivo.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Antananarivo, often referred to as "Tana", is the nation's capital. With a population of around 1.3 million, the city represents all of Madagascar's 18 ethnic groups. Despite being a region acclaimed for its shopping, there is a significant amount of wildlife to see, with lemur parks and farms as well as a range of wildlife tours nearby. Boasting a much cooler climate than the rest of the country, Tana is a great city to roam around. One can experience the culture the capital has to offer through the local cuisine in the city's open-air markets (such as Analakey Market and Andravoahangy) and the history of Madagascar through its colourful landmarks (such as Le Palais de la Reine and Ambohimanga).

The former capital of Madagascar, Ambohimanga was once ruled by King Andrianampoinimerina, notorious for his unsuccessful attempt to unify the Malagasy people in the 18th century. Today, the city sits in close proximity to the current capital, situated only 25 km from one another. It is considered both a symbol of cultural identity for the Merina people (the largest ethnic group in the nation) and a sacred place, acting as a holy land for the people of Madagascar who travel here to worship their ancestors. It consists of preserved buildings, a royal burial ground, and a sacred forest, as well as boasting of the only UNESCO-listed site in Madagascar. 

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Day 3 : Antananarivo - Antsirabe

Following an early start, drive to Antsirabe on a tarred road and check in to your hotel on arrival. In the afternoon (around 14:00), enjoy a walking tour of the city including a ride in one of Antsirabe's famous colourful rickshaws, known as "pousse-pousse". The evening is free to relax. Overnight in Antsirabe.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Antsirabe is one of the largest cities in Madagascar. The name directly translates to 'the place of much salt', an ode to the city's significant number of thermal springs, popular for their spa-like qualities. Aside from the hot springs, Antsirabe is famous for its pousse-pousse (rickshaws), used by a majority of its residents. The city contains different styles of colonial architecture, including French cottages and Scandinavian-style manors. As a result, its appearance is often compared to that of a typical French city.

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Day 4 : Antsirabe - Ambositra

In the early morning, drive to Ambositra. Visit the Malagasy Silk Road, travelling from one village to another. First drive to Ivato Centre before taking a dirt road for about 10km to Soatanana. Home to the largest remaining forest of Tapia (the staple diet of silkworms), learn about how villagers are involved in the production of silk cloths and fabric used by Malagasy people on special occasions. You will have the opportunity to see each stage of the silk productions, from cocoon to weaving and dying. Lunch will be taken at people's place in one of the visited villages. Afters lunch, continue the drive to Ambositra. Overnight in Ambositra. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

The centre of Madagascar's carving industry and capital of the Amoron'i Mania province is, Ambositra, a name that translates to 'where there are many cattle'. Known for its scenic views of rice paddies and access to the Zafimaniry villages, it is a great location for the most picturesque views. This is where one can get their hands on beautifully crafted wooden souvenirs and pieces of furniture, that are arguably the best on the island.

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Day 5 : Ambositra – Ranomafana National Park

After breakfast, drive to Ranomafana National Park. In the afternoon, visit the thermal bath before enjoying a night walk on the outskirts of the national park. Overnight in Ranomafana.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Ranomafana National Park, Ranomafana, meaning "hot water" in Malagasy, is situated in southeastern Madagascar. A ten hour drive from the capital, Ranomafana is known for its immense natural diversity. Native to this national park are 115 bird species, 62 types of reptile, 90 species of butterfly, and 12 types of lemur. The park experiences 260 days of annual rainfall, which supports its thick vegetation and wildlife. Tours are available in the daytime as well as at nighttime, to accommodate for both the nocturnal and diurnal residents of the park.

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Day 6 : Ranomafana National Park

Enjoy a full day exploring Ranomafana National Park. The classic routes inside the park will take you on walks ranging from 4 to 6 hours. Keep an eye for the various lemur species (including the greater and golden bamboo lemur, red-bellied lemur, red-fronted brown lemur and Milne Edward’s sifaka) as well as the different types of birds, including the ground rollers (pitta-like and rufous headed mainly) and velvet and common sunbirds asities. Please note, birdwatching walks must be done very early in the day. In the afternoon, return to the hotel. Overnight in Ranomafana National Park.

Note: While the park's path network has improved in recent years, paths still vary from moderate to steep and are often slippery. Therefore, reasonable fitness is required.

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 7 : Ranomafana National Park - Fianarantsoa

In the early morning, drive south to Fianarantsoa, where you will arrive at around 9:00 after a 1.5-hour drive on a tarred road. On arrival, visit the Betsileo tribe and observe their daily life. Begin your walk at the Saint-Francois seminary before heading down the valley, noting the traditional architecture along the way. Enjoy lunch in a local house and learn about the authentic Betsileo culture and traditions. In the afternoon, return to the hotel where the rest of the day is free to relax. Overnight in Fianarantsoa.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Founded in 1830, Fianarantsoa is positioned in the southern part of the country with a population of 160,000 people. Meaning "good education" in Malagasy, Fianarantsoa houses a major university and is described as the intellectual centre of Madagascar. It is split into three sections: the Lower Town, New Town and Upper Town. The Upper Town is the most historic of the three, with Lutheran and Protestant cathedrals, and hosts a more traditional feel.

Living in the central highlands of south-central Madagascar, the Betsileo tribe (meaning "the invincible one") is the island's third largest ethnic group, with a population of around one million. They can be distinguished by their colourful handmade straw hats and the elaborate hairstyles of the women and girls. The Betsileo are considered some of the best farmers in Madagascar, efficiently cultivating rice in neatly manicured mountain-side rice paddies, as well as growing cassava, corn (maize), yams, bananas and sugarcane. They are also skilled carpenters, bricklayers and craftsmen. The tribe holds many religious beliefs and practices, with the most important being the traditional burial ceremony of "famadihana", during which corpses are removed from tombs, rewrapped and reburied, following the belief that their spirits can only join the ancestral world after complete corrosion of the body. 

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Day 8 : Fianarantsoa

After breakfast, proceed on a walk to the old city of Fianarantsoa, reachable only by foot. Walk up to the water tank and enjoy panoramic views over Fianarantsoa. Continue to the eastern part of the city and the Fianarantsoa University area, where you will visit a workshop which specialises in handmaking portable ovens from argile. After, proceed along the dirt road to the Mahatsiatra River and board a canoe for a relaxing river tour. Packed lunch will be taken on the river bank. End the canoe tour in the Sahambavy area, where Madagascar's only tea estate is located. Unfortunately it is not possible to visit, but you’ll be able to see views over the tea fields. In the mid afternoon, return to your hotel, stopping at the workshop of the famous Malagasy photographer Piero Men along the way. Overnight in Fianarantsoa.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

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Day 9 : Fianarantsoa - Ambalavao - Isalo National Park

In the morning, drive to Ambalavao and visit the biggest zebu market in Madagascar (held every Wednesday and Thursday). Continue south of the city and enjoy a 2 hour visit to the Anjà Community Reserve. On arrival in Isalo National Park, the rest of the day is at your leisure. Overnight in Isalo National Park. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Madagascar is famous for its Zebu markets, the most celebrated one is located in Ambalavao, in the southest region of the island. The town has a French feel with its gothic style architecture but is surrounded by landscape that is characteristic of Madagascar. Ambalavao happens to house the largest Zebu market in the nation. Zebu, refers to a species of domestic cattle unique to Madagascar. Some walk as far as 642 km to sell their cattle at this well-known market which takes place every Wednesday and Thursday.

Located amongst woodlands, Anja Community Reserve is a spectacular preservation site and a prime destination for ecotourism, known and celebrated for its focus on the coexistence of humans and wildlife. Home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, hikes are available that aim to educate visitors on the importance of environment conservation. It is a great place to see ring-tailed lemurs.

A subspecies of domestic cows, zebu cattle can be found all over Madagascar. Characterised by their humped back, they are well adapted for dairy herding in tropical zones, not only tolerating the heat but also being relatively resistant to disease. Introduced to Madagascar by the end of the first millennium, zebu have come to symbolise power and strength, with larger herds representing high reputation and prosperity. As a result, zebu play a key role in the Malagasy economy and culture, still being widely used to draw carts, prepare rice fields for planting, and provide milk. While they are rarely killed for meat, they are used as Madagascar's typical sacrificial animal, with many believing that the sacrifice of a valuable zebu will be rewarded by good fate from ancestors

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Day 10 : Isalo National Park

Enjoy a full day exploring Isalo National Park. The recommended walk (from 5 to 6 hours walk) today takes you from the dry and hot crest trail to the green and lush canyons. Return to the hotel in the middle afternoon. In the early evening, enjoy a short walk (about 10min) on the property to reach a scenic viewpoint for the sunset. A selection of snacks, wines, soft drinks and local beers will be available while you enjoy a performance from a Bara dancing and singing group. Overnight in Isalo.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Established in 1962, Isalo National Park protects 815 km square of sandstone massif rising sharply from the surrounding grassy plains. Eroded by wind and rain, the sandstone contains impressive gorges, canyons and tiny stalagmite pinnacles, while beautiful streams, tropical pools and waterfalls make it one of the most important fresh water reservoirs in the area. It is a sacred place for the Bara tribe, who use the mountain caves as burial sites, marked by mounds of tiny stones placed in the crevices of the rock face. There are around 500 species of flora within Isalo, several of which are endemic, and 14 types of nocturnal lemur within the woodland, including the brown lemur, acrobatic Verreaux's sifaka and ring-tailed lemur. There are also 35 types of reptiles and over 80 bird species, including the Madagascar coucal and Madagascar kestrel.

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Day 11 : Isalo - Ilakaka - Tuléar - Ifaty

Following an early departure, drive to Ilakaka and visit the open sky sapphire mines, watching the workers as they sift in the rivers for sapphires. This visit is organized by Colorline, a Swiss owned company which buy, polish and export sapphire to the international market. End the tour with a visit of the showroom. Continue to Tuléar, visiting Antsokay Arboretum along the way (visit approx. 1.5 hours). On arrival in Ifaty, transfer to the hotel where the rest of the day is free to relax. Overnight in Ifaty.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Ilakaka is situated in south-west Madagascar close to Isalo National Park. In recent years there has been a mass population influx as in 1998 an immense amount of sapphire was found in the valley. This town supplies more than 50% of the world's sapphires. The population has skyrocketed from 40 residents to over 60,000 in the last 20 years. It is nicknamed as Madagascar's 'boom-town'.

Ifaty consists of two small-scaled fishing villages (Madio Rano and Mangily). It is located on the southeastern coast of the country, and lies on the Mozambique Channel. Ifaty celebrates its traditional lifestyle, and beautiful beaches, where snorkeling is recommended in a nearby lagoon or just off of the shoreline. More relaxing experiences include watching the fisherman in their pirogues (traditional fishing boats) or whale watching in the months of July and August in the nearby calm waters.

Tuléar (or 'Toliara') is situated on the west coast of Madagascar with a population just over 150,000. It is known for its endemic tortoises, picturesque beaches on the Mozambique Channel, tombs and the arboretum (botanical garden) with over 900 plant species (90% are endemic to Madagascar and 80% have medicinal uses). The arboretum is celebrated for its baobabs and pachypodium (elephant's foot plant). La Table is a small table mountain located in Tuléar, it is a short climb to the top with rewarding views. Tuléar is one of Madagascar's main export hubs with major exports including: soap, hemp, rice and cotton.

The Antsokay Arboretum is a botanical garden in Tuléar. Established in 1980, it has flourished over the years, now housing over 900 plant species in 400,000 square metres. It is a fabulous location to see the endemic flora of Madagascar.

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Day 12 : Ifaty - Reniala Nature Reserve - Ifaty

In the early morning, take an optional nature walk to spot birds in the surrounding spiny forest. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore at your leisure, with a wide choice of excursions and activities available, including snorkeling on the Massif des Roses or exploring the lagoon with local fishermen. In the evening (at around 17:00), drive to Reniala Nature Reserve and explore the botanical garden and spiny forest, keeping an eye open for Subdesert Mesites and long-tailed ground rollers. After, enjoy dinner in the middle of the reserve, served at the bottom of the baobabs  (only possible if group size is larger than 4). Overnight in Ifaty. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The national tree of Madagascar, often referred to as the ''upside-down tree' or 'roots of the sky', is the Baobab Tree. There are eight known species of the Baobab tree, found in Australia and the African continent, however six species are endemic to Madagascar. The Avenue of the Baobabs is one of the most popular sights for those who make it to the west of the island. The 'avenue' itself is quite short and is best visited during sunrise and sunset. Conservation efforts are in place to ensure these trees remain a part of Madagascar, as some are said to be over 1000 years old. These iconic trees hold a great importance as they have several uses, including using the tree bark to create rope and cloth as its bark and stem are fire resistant.

Reniala Nature Reserve is a small protected area near Ifaty, situated less than 1,000 metres from the Mozambique Channel. It is a magnificent region for bird watching, with many of the island’s endemic birds living amongst the 2,000 plant species found within the reserve, including the long-tailed ground roller and the subdesert mesite. It houses a unique ecosystem found only in the south-eastern part of the island, resulting in plants having unique xerophytic adaptations (able to survive with little water). Amongst the birds and the plants there are snakes, turtles, lizards and much more. 

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Day 13 : Ifaty – Tuléar – Antananarivo

Transfer to Tuléar airport for your flight back to Antananarivo. On arrival, transfer to the hotel. Depending on your flight arrival time, explore the local market or have a short walk in your hotel area to visit the city. Overnight in Antananarivo.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

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Day 14 : Depart from Antananarivo

The morning is free to rest or explore at your leisure. At the appropriate time, transfer to the airport for your international flight home. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Le Pavillon de l'Emyrne

Located in the Old City of Antananarivo, Le Pavillion de l'Emryne is set in a restored colonial house built in 1930. Each room is individually decorated with beautiful antique furniture, as well as equipped with all modern amenities including air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs and free WiFi. The hotel restaurant prides itself on its traditional Malagasy dishes. 

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Couleur Café

Situated 500 metres from the city centre, the Couleur Cafe houses an on-site bar, restaurant and private bathrooms in each room. Free WiFi and parking are available. 

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Artisan Hotel

The Artisan Hotel is praised for its attention to detail and spacious bungalows, which feature traditional woodcarvings and construction methods. Guests are welcome to enjoy the range of authentic Malagasy cuisine or international dishes served in the onsite restaurant.

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Centrest Séjour

Located on the edge of Ranomafana National Park, Centrest Séjour is the area's closest lodge to the park and boasts panoramic views over the nearby village. Rooms are simply but comfortably furnished with tiled floors, whitewash walls and pine covered ceilings, and equipped with modern essentials including en-suite bathrooms, fans and mosquito nets. A spacious onsite restaurant serves a variety of both Malagasy and French cuisine.

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Ecole Hôtelière La Rizière

Ecole Hôtelière La Rizière is highly unique as it combines an educational centre with the hotel, allowing the youth of Madagascar in precarious financial situations to learn skills in hospitality. The onsite restaurant, Vary Mena, offers a range of refined cuisine, while the pavilion offers beautiful views over the city and rice fields.

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Le Relais de la Reine

A luxurious destination, Hotel Le Relais de la Reine hosts a range of comforts, including a pool, tennis courts and equestrian centre. Built from natural materials, the lodge blends seamlessly into its dramatic surroundings. Rooms are stylishly decorated with wooden floors and equipped with en-suite facilities and verandas. while guests are welcome to enjoy dinner in the attractive dining room, complete with an open fire for cooler days.

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Le Paradisier

Le Paradisier Hotel houses an infinity pool overlooking the spectacular southern beaches of Ifaty. It is located just 10 minutes from the village and is nearby mangroves and a Baobab forest. All rooms are stylishly set within stone rondavels, constructed from stone walls, polished wooden floors and thatched roofs. Guests are welcome to enjoy the hotel restaurant and its range of French, Italian and Malagasy cuisine. 

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Hôtel & Spa Palissandre

Hôtel & Spa Palissandre is a comfortable hotel located on a hillside in the centre of Antananarivo, overlooking the famous Avenue of Independence. The hotel offers a wide range of services, including a spa, a cocktail bar with a welcoming atmosphere and a restaurant that blends local specialties and traditional French cuisine. The hotel terrace, where you can dine, is a perfect place to observe and admire sunset over the capital. 

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Extensions

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Discover Madagascar's treasure trove of exotic flora and fauna

Classic Madagascar (14 days)

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Endemic Wildlife of Madagascar (13 days)

Discover bizarre and unique animals of the world's '8th continent'