I wanted to write one post on all of Madagascar but realistically that’s just too much to write; and I only did the East and West coast. I then thought about breaking it down to each stop, but that’s not necessary. So instead I decided to break it down by coasts. This guide is dedicated to the East coast of Madagascar. During my holiday in Madagascar I visited a few places on the East coast. From the Masoala National Park to Mantadia National Park to the green channel of the Pangalanes. I was able to stay in some pretty incredible places and have quite the experiences. Thanks to Cactus Tours, who I booked through, in order to make sure I could do as much as I could in the 16 days we had on the island.
Masoala National Park
Where to Stay
When we visited Masoala National Park, we stayed at the Arol Lodge. It is an eco-lodge made up of bungalows right in the rainforest. The only way to get to it is from an hour and a half boat ride through the Masoala Peninsula. It is a beautiful boat ride, and we lucked out that there was no rain there or back. The hotel sends your guide to take to you the lodge.
The lodge itself is basic, but everything you could need; though electricity in the bungalow was only available for a few hours a night (no wifi at all). There is no AC, but we left the windows open all day and had them closed at night, and used the mosquito net to keep them out during our sleep. The bathroom had a working shower and toilet, and one night a lovely spider the size of my partner’s hand crawling around as well. This lodge is in the rainforest, and as such be prepared to see and hear some creepy crawlies, but it’s all a part of the experience.
The food at Arol Lodge was done perfectly. Simple yet tasty meals prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All included in the price of our tour. My favourite was the pineapple and shrimp salad served in a half of a pineapple used as a bowl. But every meal was absolutely scrumptious. Considering how secluded we were, it was amazing what they were able to do.
What to See
We were able to go on amazing hikes through the rainforest with our guide, provided by the lodge. This was our first stop on our tour and it was amazing to be able to spot lemurs in the wild within the first few days of even being in Madagascar. There is something so incredible about seeing animals in the wild, especially ones you have never seen in real life before. Our guide was so knowledgable about everything we came across, whether it was a bird, insect, lemur or plant. It was fascinating to see him spot the littlest of things like the tree frogs on leaves or make a sound like a lemur to attract them.
The rainforest was definitely the highlight, but there was also a beach, that we happened to be the only people on it. It was nice to enjoy a refreshing dip, take a stroll on the sand and climb big rocks, without a soul around. These are the kinds of moments people kill to experience, and it was only the beginning of our trip.
Andisabe – Mantadia National Park
Where to Stay
Our tour company (Cactus Tours) chose the most perfect spot for us to spend a couple nights in, to enjoy Mantadia National Park. Vakona Forest Lodge was the perfect mix of being surrounded by rainforest and feeling like you are truly in the wild, with a mix of luxury to it as well. Beautiful bungalows up a small hill, from the dining and reception area. The dining area had a small terrace to sit on that overlooked a pond with many fish inside. It was lovely to eat a meal and look out of the pond at the rainforest. It didn’t hurt that the food was delicious too. The food was not included in our tour, aside from breakfast, but lucky for us they took credit card (you’ll read why that was a problem in the next place). So we were able to enjoy lunch and dinner at the restaurant. My favourite meal was the curry chickpea dumplings, though the salad was pretty phenomenal as well. They also had a pool, but it was windy and a bit rainy the day we wanted to jump in and it was too cold for our liking.
What to See & Do
A hike through the Andasibe Reserve and Mantadia National Park is a must. Both offer the ability to see incredible species that you will not have seen anywhere else. We were able to see the giraffe-necked weevil, the leaf-tailed gecko and the infamous Indri Indri lemur, from the David Attenborough specials. Honestly, it felt like walking through his 3 part show, just during these hikes alone. It’s incredible being able to see things you’ve seen on screen, up close and personal. And the local guides are so incredibly knowledgable in all the different species, and being able to find even the smallest of creatures, or the ones camouflaged, is probably the best part. The night walk along the road through Mantadia Park is probably the coolest. Though it may not be the best for photo taking, it is incredible for seeing how easily the guides are able to spot chameleons asleep on branches, or nocturnal lemurs in the trees.
There is also Lemur Island, just outside of the Vakona Forest Lodge. I had tried to find information on this place before going, as it seemed suspect to me, but there wasn’t much to go on. So I decided we could check it out ourselves. There are a few species of lemurs living on this ‘island’ and you are able to walk around and feed them. Sometimes this kind of thing can be extremely unethical, as owners can exploit the animals by only giving them food when tourists are feeding them and so on. But the island had it’s own food so it wasn’t as if the lemurs needed the food we had (which was all of the earth as well). It was interesting to have lemurs crawling on our heads and chilling while they ate their food. I never witnessed any mistreatment of the lemurs, no abuse or reason to suspect that anything bad was happening. It was really fun to get that up close and personal with them. My favourite was the bamboo lemur; it was just so cute!
Where to Stay
The Palmarium Hotel and Reserve was definitely one of the coolest hotels I have ever stayed at. You must take a boat to get there, which the hotel sends to pick you up. At least that’s how it worked for us. I would equate the place to the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, but like the lemur version. We had our own bungalow, with our own beautiful terrace (with hammock and seating) overlooking the trees and the water. And the best part is that lemurs would swing by on trees, and even hang out on the railing of the terrace. How much cooler does it get? It’s situated on a reserve where there are a few different types of lemurs living in the forest. A great place to get up close and personal with the lemurs, but just watch your breakfast. A lemur stole my banana off my table and I was not impressed. Especially since we didn’t have much cash, and the hotel didn’t take credit, meaning we only had enough to pay for dinner (with appetizer) for both nights, and couldn’t afford lunch. Thankfully breakfast was included, and we were only there two nights. All I remember is the one day we spent morning to night there, without lunch, we spent some time counting down the minutes to dinner because we were so hungry. Thankfully dinner was delicious and plentiful, but man I wish we thought to take out cash before getting there.
What to Do & See
A must see is the Aye-Aye lemurs, during a night hike. They are nocturnal and are only able to see them at night. So if you have the opportunity you should definitely take the night walk. It’s probably the creepiest animal I have ever seen in real life. They reminded me of the movie gremlins. It was a unique experience, as many people don’t get the chance to see these lemurs. And the story behind their name, according to our guides, is that people thought they were so scary and bad luck that when they saw them they ran away screaming ‘aye aye’. Love that backstory.
Everything else you could want to see and do is right there on the reserve.
The east coast of Madagascar is absolutely breathtaking. The drive from Antananarivo is jaw-dropping. Though the winding roads are no joke at times, getting to the rainforests on the east coast is worth it. Whether you have to take a boat, or a car, or go by foot, all the amazing flora and fauna you see along the way is going to leave you speechless.