Madagascar Meander

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14670B, International


  • Marvel at the dancing sifaka and the haunting call of the indri indri
  • Explore diverse habitats on naturalist hikes in Analamazaotra, Mantadia, Zombitse Vohibasia national parks, and Berenty Reserve
  • Engage in the Malagasay cultural heritage


  • Comfortable lodging and all meals of delicious French-influenced cuisine
  • All admissions, transportation in a private coach, two in-country flights and all gratuities
  • Naturalist guides fluent in English, French, and Malagasy


DatesSep 24–Oct 9, 2014
StaffLynne Simpson

Trip Overview

The Trip

Anchored in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is an amazing wonder of biodiversity. As the fourth-largest island in the world that is nearly the size of Texas and was formerly a part of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar has developed an incredible plethora of unique and exotic flora and fauna. Madagascar is sometimes called the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.” Splitting from India nearly 90 million years ago, the isolation of this island continent led to the evolution of unique plant and animal species; about 90 percent of the flora and fauna is endemic to Madagascar, including over 50 species of primates known as lemurs and sifakas. Madagascar is truly one of the last remaining wild places in the world.

Madagascar is inhabited by the Malagasy, a unique blend of Pacific and African peoples. Although diverse in ethnic origins and local folklore, the people are united by the Malagasy language. This language originated in the ancient Malay-Polynesian, and includes many words from Bantu, Swahili, English, and French. A hold-over from colonial days, French is commonly spoken in business transactions as well as in tourist facilities. As we travel through the country, we will meet these friendly people as they go about their daily routines and we will have the chance to talk with them about life in Madagascar.

This trip is designed for active people with a sense of adventure. We travel comfortably by private air-conditioned tourist bus, with our own driver and naturalist, enjoying spectacular scenery along the way and feasting on tropical fruits and healthy, fresh, local cuisine with a French influence. We will explore many parts of this extraordinary island, from the colonial capital of Antananarivo to the rainforest home of the indri indri and diademed sifaka in Analamazaotra and Mantadia National Parks, to the spiny forests of the Berenty reserve, which is inhabited by dancing sifakas and mouse lemurs. We visit a small fishing village and take a dip in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean before taking an in-country flight to experience the local culture on the west coast. We’ll see unique birds with names such as fody, bulbul, vanga, bee-eater, and sunbird. We trek inland to the sculpted beauty of Isalo National Park and through charming and quirky villages and cities. Along the way we stay at several outstanding ecolodges -- one in the verdant rainforest, one in the dry spiny forest, and one in the arid inland desert. We explore the trails of Ranomafana National Park, dedicated to the protection of the golden bamboo and greater bamboo lemur. And finally, we experience some of the colonial charm of days past in the cities and markets of the cities near to Antananarivo. This is a comprehensive tour and truly an adventure of a lifetime -- join us!


Day 1: We arrive in the capital city of Antananarivo, with its long, narrow ridges covered with brightly painted homes, and transfer to our hotel. In the evening we enjoy a welcome dinner to meet our travel companions and learn more about our adventure.

Day 2: Today we begin our travel, moving west of Antananarivo. Along the way we will stop at a private reserve, where colorful chameleons and snakes are the main attractions. We continue to Andasibe and a lovely forest lodge with small bungalows, where we settle in before dinner.

Day 3: Today starts with an optional early morning bird walk. After breakfast we will embark on a guided visit to the Analamazaotra and Mantadia national parks, where the word "endemic" will be heard often as we hike and search for wildlife. There is a good chance that we will hear -- if not see -- the indri indri, one of the largest lemurs, high up in the trees, with its haunting call and unique coloring.  When you hear this call, you will understand the origin of the word lemur, derived from a word in Roman mythology for “ghost." We should also see the didemed sifaka. We will return to the lodge for a late lunch and spend the afternoon visiting the lodge's private island park, home to various species of lemurs, including the bamboo and black and white ruffed lemurs. Because they have no predators on the island, they are very curious and unafraid. We enjoy another dinner at the lodge.

Day 4: Today we will hike in the reserve next to the lodge, where we should see crested drongos, the brilliant Madagascar green sunbird, and maybe the Madagascar kingfisher. We will see many large crocodilles and also several fossa, a sleek, low-slung carnivore and the largest terrestrial mammal in the country. In the afternoon we head back to Antananarivo for photos of local markets and daily Malagasy life along the way. We rest in our same city hotel.

Day 5: In the morning, we depart for Antsirabe, a Malagasy Vichy town, founded by Norwegians and known for its small craft factories -- one of which makes products from recycled aluminum. We will also see carefully embroidered products of Malagasy scenes. The main transport in Antsirabe is the pousse-pousse, which is a colorful rickshaw, often pulled by bare-footed men.

Day 6: We continue moving south to the city of Fianarantsoa, Madagascar’s second-largest city, passing the historic old quarter of town and the vibrant market.

Day 7: Today we head east toward the thermal town of Ranomafana in the eastern rainforest. We will see the vegetation change to luxuriant green forest as we travel into the heart of the Park and reach our nearby accommodations. We will make a stop at Centre ValBio, an international training center for the study of biodiversity, initially founded by Dr. Patricia Wright to protect the golden bamboo lemur.  It is now a thriving center with many scientists, researchers, and students, and we will have a tour of the property and learn about some of the studies in progress. We will then settle into our hotel nearby and, if there is time, take a thermal bath.

Day 8: A fantastic day begins with an exploration of Ranomafana National Park with our local guide. This Park has the richest biodiversity of any national park in Madagascar, and is particularly known for orchids. We hope to be lucky to see the indri indri again and also the golden bamboo lemur, red-bellied lemurs, diademed sifakas, and red-fronted lemurs as we hike on and off trail. We trek under giant tree ferns, palms, orchids, and giant bamboo forests. We see various species of birds, such as vangas and the outrageously blue cuoa. Butterflies and dragonflies will accompany us as we explore. In the afternoon, we return to our lodge for a well-deserved rest.

Day 9: Today we leave Ranomafana and the wet luxuriant rain forest for Isalo National Park. This area is reminiscent of the American southwest, with a sandstone and desert quality. After arriving to a welcome drink and cold towel at our luxurious stone lodge in Isalo, we will have the remainder of the afternoon to hike amongst the rocks, swim in the refreshing pool, or just laze in the sun.

Day 10: We spend today in Isalo National Park, where your camera will be busy capturing the sandstone that has been eroded into deep canyons and strange formations, the deep pools in the canyons, and the rugged vistas. With our guide, we walk to see endemic plants, palm trees, verdant creeks, lemurs, and birds. We have time to dip our feet in a pool of cool water. We return to our hotel in the late afternoon and then, just before sunset, we drive to a natural formation called "The Window," renowned for its spectacular setting at the end of the day.

Day 11: After breakfast, we board our bus and drive toward Tulear, located on the western edge of southern Madagascar. After passing the mining town of Ilakaka, we visit Zombitse Vohibasia National Park, a transitional pocket forest between the dry and rainforest areas. If we are lucky, we will see lemurs and sifakas as well as the crimson Madagascar fody, butterflies and perhaps a few geckos. Just before Tulear is the famous Arboretum d’Antsokay, which has a collection of 900 species from the spiny forest and is a model for park development and interpretive centers in Madagascar. In the evening we hope to have a dinner guest from Blue Ventures to tell us about some of the environmental issues and sustainable community practices that are in practice locally.

Day 12: Today we fly from Tulear to Ft. Dauphin, a flight of about 45 minutes. We transfer directly to Berenty Reserve, a small private tamarind forest reserve set in the semi-arid forest near the Mandrake River. Our rooms here are two-person bungalows crafted from local wood in a lovely well-maintained setting. Around the property, we will see ringtail lemurs, possibly including mothers and their clinging babies, and also watch the flight of the bee-eaters in the tall trees. In the evening we’ll enjoy a nocturnal visit to the Spiny Forestor, a night walk around the hotel grounds, to look for the white-footed sportive lemur and the gray mouse lemur, both of which are active at night.

Day 13: Today is our full day to savor and visit the larger Berenty Reserve trails with guided walks. This reserve has flora and fauna characteristic of the spiny forest of Androy and many types of lemurs. Early in the morning, we may come across tribes of 'dancing' Verreaux’s sifakas side-stepping down the forest pathways. This is a delightful experience. We also visit the informative Museum of Androy on the reserve grounds, perhaps seeing the bizarre-looking hoopoe bird nearby. In the afternoon, we travel to a dry spiny forest and look for the mouse lemur, a tiny lemur that sleeps deep within the spiny Euphorbias during the day. We may also see the Scops Owl burrowed in the spiny Euphorbias as well.

Day 14: We leave Berenty after breakfast, driving through the landscape of zebu ranching interspersed with rice fields. We see small villages and communities eking a living out of this harsh landscape, stopping in a local market for photos and perhaps a banana. We visit Andohahela Park, a transitional area between dry and humid zones, to observe the adaptations of plants and animals for their habitat. In the afternoon, we continue to Fort Dauphin for the evening and settle into our comfortable hotel.

Day 15: Today we navigate a series of waterways and the ocean to reach a village and scenic hike. After breakfast, we take a short bus ride to Lac Lanirano. After crossing the lake on small boats and going through a small passage to Lac Ambavarano, we press on to the tiny fishing village of Lokaro. We have a picnic lunch along the lake. Walking through the village of Lokaro, we experience daily Malagasy life and perhaps watch fishermen bringing in a catch of fish or shellfish. We hike to an isolated beach, taking in views of the cliffs and sea, and swim in the azure waters. Retracing our steps, we return, tired and happy from our excursion, to a lovely meal in a local restaurant before falling into our beds.

Day 16: Today we depart from Ft. Dauphin, flying directly north to Antananarivo. In the evening we will share a final celebratory dinner.

While every effort will be made to follow this itinerary, our plans may change due to weather, changes in flight schedules, or other circumstances beyond our control.



Getting There

This trip starts on September 24 in Antananarivo and ends in Antananarivo on October 9. There are several gateway flight cities to Antananarivo, including Paris, Frankfurt, Nairobi, and Johannesburg, to name a few. Due to the distances involved and the relative isolation of Madagascar, it is recommended that you plan your flights well so that a missed connection does not mean a missed trip! The leader can assist you with suggestions for travel and also recommend any possible trip extensions in Madagascar or South Africa.

Accommodations and Food

We will stay in charming ecolodges and modern hotels. All of our accommodations have air conditioning or room fans and screened windows. Rooms are double-occupancy; if you come alone, we'll give you a roommate. A single supplement may be available, but is rather expensive; please contact the leader if interested. The food will be delicious -- a mix of local and typical Malagasy dishes with French-influenced cuisine that includes a variety of local seasonal fruits and vegetables. Vegetarians can be accommodated. We'll travel by comfortable, private air-conditioned bus. There will be a few long drives, but the scenery along the way is spectacular.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is suitable for individuals who are in good health, get regular exercise, enjoy nature, and have a good-humored approach to traveling in the third world -- where things might not go as predictably as they do at home. Our trip is not strenuous and can be considered leisurely-to-moderate most days. Elevation gains and losses on most hikes are minimal. Although September is considered the end of the dry season, rain can fall at any time, especially in the rainforest. Rain will not restrict our movements or our enjoyment of the forests or coast. We can expect sometimes hot and humid conditions when we are hiking or wildlife viewing, but dressing properly and hydrating well will increase your comfort level.

Equipment and Clothing

We will be traveling through a diverse range of habitats and ecological zones. The leader will provide a clothing and equipment list once you have signed up. Generally, clothing should be loose and lightweight to protect from the sun as well as insects. Hiking boots with a Vibram sole are required as the terrain can be rocky or muddy. Hiking poles are strongly recommended as we are often off-trail looking for lemurs and birds.



  • Brady, Hilary, Madagascar 10th, The Bradt Travel Guide. 2011, Bradt Travel Guides.
  • Garbutt, Nick, Hilary Bradt, and Derek Schuurman, Madagascar Wildlife 3rd (Bradt Travel Guide, Madagascar Wildlife). 2008, Bradt Travel Guides. (Leader will bring a copy.)
  • Garbutt, Nick, Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide. 2007, AC Black Publishers. (Leader will bring a copy.)
  • Sinclair, Ian, and Oliver Langrand, Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion, Rodrigues, Seychelles, and the Comoros. 2003, Struik Nature. (Leader will bring a copy.)


  • Madagascar Travel Map; Schuurman, David; Globetrotter Travel Map; 2008
  • A simple map with our trip itinerary will be sent to all participants



  • "Madagascar," David Attenborough, 2011; BBC (can also be found in segments on YouTube)
  • "The Marvels of Madagascar," Greg Grainger, 2008; Goldhill Home Media (Australian DVD with a focus on lemurs)
  • Dan Rather produced a two-part television documentary on Madagascar and the leader will be sending this to all participants.


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings hope to guide participants toward understanding the environmental parallels between home and abroad.

Madagascar faces serious decisions regarding the future of their unique and fragile island biodiversity. The pressure of over 17 million people has had significant impact on the natural habitat. Poverty and lack of work contribute to foraging and illegal practices, all of which are detrimental to the forest and fauna of Madagascar. The Malagasy practice of having one or several zebu instead of a bank account has also affected land use as slash and burn is used to create more rangeland. The intensive grazing and compacting of the soil inhibits vegetation, and much of the landscape is becoming bare.

Additionally, over 80 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been burned or logged, and the economic pressures in this third-world country continue to support illegal logging, particularly of rosewood, which is exported to Asia for furniture-making. Currently, less than 10 percent of the original tree cover remains. The government and many conservation groups are working to stop this practice, to increase the number of national parks and reserves, and to encourage tourism as a viable means of income for Malagasy citizens. Recent successes have been seen in protecting natural land areas in order to recreate biological corridors for animals to navigate in their habitats. We plan to meet with researchers at ValBio Centre who will help us understand how conservation is slowly being implemented in parts of the country primarily to protect lemur populations.

Water is also a conservation issue. With the degradation of the forests, entire species of insects, birds, animals, and plants are eradicated and watersheds are destroyed. In the southern part of the country, where water is less available, we will see poverty and people living in more difficult conditions. In some communities, it is not unusual for the women to walk several hours each way to collect water from a well. NGOs are working with communities to develop wells and assist with water issues, and we will learn about these on our trip.

In Tulear we will learn about the work of Blue Ventures, an environmental group that is working to identify ways in which coastal communities can live sustainably within their environment. Offshore, this part of Madagascar has one of largest coral reefs in the world. Through a combination of conservation and livelihood programs, from marine reserves to sea cucumber farming to English teaching, Blue Ventures is working to find ways in which the environment, biodiversity, and life of the coastal communities in Madagascar can be safeguarded for the future.

Madagascar truly has serious conservation issues, and it is encouraging that the government and other agencies are recognizing the importance of protection and conservation. Conservation organizations are working to protect the lemurs and Madagascar's other biological treasures. Madagascar and the islands off its coast are considered one of the world's 25 biodiversity "hotspots." Species new to science are still being found in little-known areas of this island nation. The increase in ecotourism, including this Sierra Club group, dedicated to wildlife and natural history, helps to emphasize the need for treasuring this unique island.



Lynne Simpson both leads and cooks on Sierra Club national outings. Her interest in Madagascar began with her work with the Sierra Club International Committee and the influence of the club's Population and the Environment program. She is also fascinated with lemurs! And was happy to see many different species on the 2012 Outing to Madagascar. Her college education included a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, developing skill with the French language. Other interests include print-making (she exhibits regularly), French poodles, cooking, and almost any activity out-of-doors.

Associate Leader:

Jenny Roberts

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