Visit Ambohimanga on the outskirts of 'Tana
About 15miles, north-east of 'Tana lies the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Royal 'Summer' Palace in the small town of Ambohimanga. Located on a hill you go through a gateway which leads up to a small parking area from where you can access the Palace. There is a small entry charge which helps to maintain this important site.
Not only does it have significant historical connections to the sequence of kings and Queens from the time of King Andrianampoinimerina onwards but it also holds a sacred significance for many Malagasy and in particular for the Merina people.
We went round the site with our guide who was, as usual, excellent. He gave a fascinating insight into the history of the buildings and contents but also to the importance of it as a place to come and make connections with beliefs that could impart special powers and favours at times of stress, ill-health, and personal and financial development. For example he showed the place next to a tomb where it seemed an animal (most likely a chicken) had been recently sacrificed. He also relayed the story of a time he visited to find a well-to -do business man and woman who were bathing in the Kings pool or bath place in the expectation that this would bring them good fortune. In many ways these stories are what drives home the importance of the place as a spiritual centre and a place of pilgrimage for many Malagasy.
If you have the chance to follow a guide round the site then do take that opportunity because their insight will bring home how spiritually important the place is, even in the 21st century.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
Visit the Cattle market in Ambalavao
Each Wednesday the town of Ambalavao, which is about 60km south of Fianarantsoa, holds its markets. The central market in town is probably rather similar to hundreds of others held regularly across the country but what marks Ambalavao out as somewhere rather special is its Zebu cattle market.
We'd been told that it would be good to arrive in the early morning, which in Madagascar would mean 06.00hours or earlier. We didn't want to be there so early and aimed for 10.00 which, as it turned out, was perfect because the cattle were starting to arrive and be assembled into areas before they could be assessed by the purchasers.
We watched from the market as the cattle groups emerged from the countryside. They were being walked up the slope by their drovers all of whom were young men. In fact the only women we saw in the market were those selling snacks by the admin office. These men may have been herding their cattle for several weeks before arriving at the market. They wielded their sticks with great accuracy and force which made the cattle generally position themselves placidly on the market place. Occasionally some of the Zebu would break ranks and their drovers would quickly slap them with the sticks in order to keep them in place.
Once the stock assembled the buyers would tour the cattle groups, assessing the animals before negotiating a price per head. There is no auctioning, the beasts get sold to the buyer offering the best deal. Each sale would have to be logged in the office and taxes paid. Finally the cattle get loaded onto huge trucks, bound usually for the slaughterhouses of the bigger cities to the north.
It was a fascinating opportunity to see how this practice worked, practices which had been going on for decades. Next we were off to explore the general market in town.Related to:
FIZAM: for Ecotourism opportunities
In the large village of Ambohimahamasina, which is located about 50km west of Ambalavao, is a small organisation called FIZAM (Fizahantany Ambohimahamasina). It seeks to provide the adventurous tourist with an opportunity to see aspects of Madagascar life that would not normally be experienced by most visitors to the country. We only undertook a short half day activity of climbing up to the top of the hill called Angavoa but it did mean we saw a slice of life and tradition that was somewhat different from the usual touristic experience.
Our two guides, George and Paul, led us up the very steep path for a 4km hike ( it seemed much more than this) to the top of the hill which was the site of a now flattened Chief or King's palace that dated from the 16th century. Our guides insisted that we should also purchase some of the local rum before we set out because this was necessary as an offering to the ancestral spirits that still had an influence over the hill and its surroundings.
I must say I had hoped to see more wildlife as we trekked through the diminished Eucalyptus and Pine forest - all of which was secondary. Sadly we only came across one small Chamaeleon and just a few of the common birds. However the views, particularly from the top of Angavoa were very impressive. It faces the sacred mountain of Ambondrombe which still holds much Primary forest. This mountain also serves as a forested corridor between the National Parks of Ranomafana and Andringitra.
We passed the defences of the Palace on our way up to the top of the hill. There was a succession of moats and apparently there would have been a drawbridge when the hilltop was inhabited. At the top we stopped for our packed lunch but first we had to pay our respects to the ancestors by using the rum as an offering. George made three simple containers with folded Banana leaves and Paul poured some of the Rum into each one. These were carefully positioned amongst the stones of a cairn. In turn the offerings were for three deities; God, the ancestors and the keeper of Zebu cattle. Paul spoke some words which included permission for us foreigners to be present on the hilltop. Apparently this was granted.
On our way back down we came across a bushfire which had probably been started on purpose. October is at the end of the dry season and the grazing has usually become poor. The burning encourages the growth of fresh green shoots once the rains arrive in November. It does however also lead to soil erosion and ultimately further denudation of the land. Our local tour guide Mamy voiced his concern about this practice and we suspect that if he had found the farmer who had set light to the forest he would have given the person a considerable lecture on the damage the slash and burn process was causing. However Mamy, who lived in 'Tana, had a good job and did not own Zebu cattle. Perhaps if he did he may think differently.
At the foot of the hill was a very impressive cliff face on which there were many nesting egrets and ibis. They were good to watch. Further down on a dirt road the people were returning from the weekly market in the village. One man had clearly enjoyed himself and staggered over to greet us in a very familiar way. The other villagers all smiled at us, the 'Vazaha', and were pleased when we greeted them with 'Salama'. All the way back to the village and beyond there were folk walking at a steady pace homeward bound - many carrying their purchases on their head or under their arms.
FIZAM is a small agency that provides these and many more opportunities including homestays and 2 or 3 day treks into the hills. It will also arrange visits to basket weaving workshops and provide traditional meals. All of the money generated by these activities are ploughed back into the local community.
We were pleased to have undertaken this trek and to have supported FIZAM but were quite happy to leave the rum to the locals. It was like firewater.Related to:
Explore Ranomafana NP: Lemurs galore
We had 3 nights and two full days based near the park entrance at Ranomafana. We stayed at the excellent Setam Lodge which is very conveniently located just about a mile from where we met up with our guide - the superb and talented Theo. He was quite amazing in his repertoire of bird calls and songs. He could imitate many different species and he used his skills to locate for us, amongst others, a Pitta-like Ground Roller. It was calling back to him but sadly it never showed itself to us. We had to content ourselves with the picture in our fieldguide book.
Theo explained how his younger family members were being trained as guides by first becoming 'Lemur spotters'. The two guys went on ahead to try to find the Lemurs which were moving through the rainforest. The spotters would phone Theo to give him the location of any animals they had found or, if they could not get a phone signal, would either run back or call out to Theo - our main guide. The system seemed to work very well and they found for us at least 6 different species of Lemur. One species found was especially rare as there were only two known individuals of the Greater Bamboo Lemur found in the park. A larger population, but still only about 150 individuals, were known to occur further east in a different park but these two, a father and daughter were all that remained at Ranomafana. Theo was particularly pleased to see them because he said that he'd only seen them about 8 weeks previously. This species of lemur are renowned for their ability to chew through bamboo shoots which is remarkable given how tough the shoots are but also because they contain high levels of the toxin, cyanide. These animals probably represent the rarest species of organism I have ever seen in my life and there they were curled up on branches, sitting peacefully only occasionally opening an eye to check up on what we were doing.
We left them in peace.
The following day we continued up into the rainforest encouraged by reports of a much larger Lemur, the Milne-Edward's Sifaka. These were impressive black and white, long-legged animals that were in a group of about 8 individuals. What is more important some of them had babies clinging to them. Our group of about 8 visitors understood the importance of keeping quiet and staying still. Slowly the Sifaka's approached us by leaping between tree trunks until some, even with babies clinging on, were literally a few metres above our heads. That was a very special moment for me. To experience such a close encounter with truly wild animals is always very special but the way they approached out of, what seemed to be sheer curiosity, was a particularly memorable event.
After a satisfying and rewarding expedition along what were quite steep, narrow paths we were ready to return to the Lodge for a late lunch with the promise to meet up with Theo later that day at around 5.30pm. We were impressed to find that Theo did not limit himself to bird calls and songs. He also did a fine line in frog impersonations and sure enough several of the amphibians replied to his calls helping us locate them with our torches in the darkness.
The guides had also habituated some of the nocturnal and tiny Mouse Lemurs to come and feed on banana that had been smeared on tree branches at a convenient location along the road. This is a well established practice amongst the park guides. ( Visitors are not allowed in the park at night.) Sure enough we didn't have to wait long for, just at sunset, a pair of reflecting eyes came hopping along the branches to feed and lick on the fruit. Soon there were several bus loads of visitors all flashing and snapping cameras at the little lemurs. These rat-sized animals were such a contrast to their much larger 'cousins' we had seen in the park during the day.
Not only was Theo good at 'calling in' the wildlife but he was also expert at finding the cryptically hidden creatures like the chamaeleons and geckoes that clung on to twigs at night. Their defence mechanism being that, if they sensed an approaching nocturnal predator, they simply let go and fell to the ground. Quite often it took us many seconds to actually see the creature even with the torch light shining directly upon it. How did the guide manage to see these animals at night? It must have taken many months of practice.
We had set ourselves high expectations of what wildlife we were to experience at Ranomafana but I can honestly say that our hopes were surpassed. I think we all felt that the rainforest alone was worthy of a visit but to have had such wonderful opportunities to get close to such amazing creatures really made it a truly once in a lifetime experience.Related to:
- National/State Park
The road to Mantadia NP
We travelled in the first week of September 2014 and unfortunately we found the dirt road from the village of Andasibe to Mantadia National Park to be very 'challenging' for our small tour bus.
We all had to get out and we started walking. It took our bus about an hour to catch us up but, luckily, it didn't seem any worse for wear. There were several parts of the road that were particularly muddy, rutted and waterlogged but with some assistance by pushing from behind the bus got through the worst patches. It all added to the sense of adventure - this was only our second day on the trip - and no one in our party seemed to mind the long and interesting walk except that some had left their cameras back on the bus so were very glad when it finally turned up.
We were wondering what state the road would be in by the end of the rainy season which, in September, is the slow and gentle start. We were not there long enough to find out.
Mantadia NP however is well worth it though. The Diademed Sifaka lemurs are spectacular creatures and, thanks to our excellent guides, we were able to find a group that were well habituated to visitors.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
We stayed for one night at the excellent and very comfortable Café Couleur in Antsirabe. After a superb evening meal and a good nights rest we were ready to set off the next morning en route for Ranomafana. But first we had appointments at the cow horn workshop and the Gemstone store in this bustling and growing city. Our tour leader said that due to its recent growth Antsirabe had overtaken Fianarantsoa as Madagascar's second city.
The cow horn workshop was a perfect example of how the resourceful folk in the town had found a way of processing the Zebu cow horns into useful and attractive artefacts. We were given a short talk and demonstration of this process and then invited into the showroom where we could buy some of their products. There were many items of high quality there but I tend not to buy this kind of souvenir although a number of our party indulged themselves.
Later we moved on to the Gemstone warehouse. This was simply a store of gems, polished rocks and fossils; all for sale. We didn't see any of the processing. If gems are your thing then you might enjoy this stop off. I was very disappointed to see that they had a small cage with several Vasa parrots enclosed within. They also had several Radiated tortoises just put on display. I couldn't see the connection between these creatures and the gems. I don't think they were for sale and frankly I felt they should have been released back into the wild where they almost certainly came from.
Next was a whistlestop tour of the city including the Independence monument and the Hotel des Thermes. See the photos for an impression. One can get a great view over the city from the hotel grounds. Antsirabe was founded by Norwegian missionaries back in the 18th century. It was considered to have a healthy climate owing to its higher altitude and the fact that there were spa waters available. This led to the creation of the spa town and its classic colonial style Hotel des Thermes. I suspect, though have no first hand experience, that the hotel has had its heyday. I'm glad we stayed at the Café Couleur.Related to:
- Road Trip
Relax at the beach near Anakao
Our fourth location on our two week wildlife oriented tour of southern Madagascar was to be Anakao about a one hour speed boat journey from Tulear on the south west coast of the country.
After fairly intensive and 'full on' stays at our earlier stops we were looking forward to some quiet time in our beachside chalets. The lodge was splendid and we were very comfortable in our individual accommodations.
I'm not one to lie on a beach though and we were soon off to explore further along the coast. It didn't take long before we were joined by children seeking "petits cadeaux" so we turned around fairly quickly in time to watch the sunset over the ocean. I think they quickly understood we were not going to be forthcoming in our gifts.
Our second day here was filled with a morning visit in 4x4 vehicles to Tsimanampetsotsa which was about an hours drive down a sandy road south of Anakao. Being a National Park it meant we had to have a park guide who took us on the standard tour see the sink holes - collapsed caves in limestone rocks, the ancient Baobabs and the salt lake with Flamingoes. We enjoyed all aspects of this tour and we were absorbed by the idea that the oldest Baobab, at possibly up to 3000 years of age, had been there before the first human settlers had landed on the island of Madagascar. The enormous, but now extinct, Elephant Bird would have roamed here and possibly have pecked at its fruits.
It was a hot location and not a lot of shade so we were feeling quite weary by the end of the morning and were ready for our late lunch which turned out to be excellent.
The following day we were due to visit the nearby island of Nosy Ve. Owing to an unfortunate accident I was unable to land on the island although the others on the trip managed it and they saw the Red-tailed Tropic Birds which breed and nest on this island. Instead I had to visit the clinic in Tulear to check out suspected broken foot bones. Fortunately nothing broken and the next day we met up with our fellow travellers in Tulear and were taken to the excellent Arboretum outside the town just off the RN7. So we didn't have as much time to relax on the seashore as we had hoped but, never mind, our final days were not ruined and we were able to catch our flight back to 'Tana without any major difficulty.Related to:
- National/State Park
Trek, swim & wildlife in Isalo National Park
By staying at the Jardin du Roy Hotel, which is located about 10 - 15kms outside the National Park, we were treated to real luxury. The rooms, hotel design and gardens were very palatial and we really did feel that we had arrived somewhere very stylish and special. We were not, however, near Isalo to enjoy the hotel alone. We wanted to visit the National Park and experience the natural delights it had to offer.
We met up with our Park Guide, Roland, at the nearby town of Ranohira. He took us on our first day to the campsite where we encountered the lonely male Verreaux's Sifaka that had established himself at the camp. He had grown accustomed to humans and had forsaken the female that had left for quieter times elsewhere in the park. Consequently we could take some close-up photos of this splendid animal. There was also a troop of Ring-tailed Lemurs that were quite tame and habituated to human visitors. Photo opportunities were rife and we all got some terrific shots of these characterful animals.
Then on to the Namaza Canyon, a narrowing, steep side gorge of about 3kms that terminated in two refreshing pools fed by a waterfall. The temperature had risen throughout the morning and so we were all ready for our swim. A number of other visitors had overtaken us on the path whilst we were investigating spiders, bugs and birds but when we finally reached the pools there was plenty of room for everyone to cool off. There is no obvious place to change into swimwear at the pools so be prepared to hide one's modesty under a towel whilst changing before and after your swim.
There are some interesting burial practices on show on the path up to the campsite. It seems the local Bara people have a two stage burial custom where the body is buried in a rock shelter at the base of the sandstone cliffs. After a couple of years the bones are exhumed and then carried to their final resting place high up in a cave in the cliff. Apparently the person who is asked to carry the bones up this steep and sheer rockface is encouraged to drink the local brewed rum in order to gain sufficient courage for the task. One does wonder however if this practice leads to the need for a double burial!
We were reminded that it is fady (taboo) to point to the caves and our guide instinctively bent his fingers at the knuckle whenever gesturing towards the cliffs.
Our second day was even hotter and we trekked a greater distance in the wide open grasslands, rocks and scrub in the park. We only came across one group of Ring-tailed Lemurs but we saw some stunning birds and the curious Pachypodium plants gave some colour and interest to the walk. Again our efforts were rewarded with a delightful natural pool in which we could cool off. This was a quiet and tranquil place as all the other visitors had gone by the time we arrived there. It was all just wonderful.
Roland, the guide, found a shorter route for us back to the bus and we were all ready after this 4 - 5km trek for our late lunch. I enjoyed a second swim in the hotel pool whilst some of our group went to visit the small museum about 2kms from the hotel.
Isalo National Park is a sharp contrast to the others we had visited in the highlands. It was hot, dry and clearly held a different community of plants and animals. It was not however the spiny forests which awaited us further south.Related to:
- National/State Park
Andasibe-Mantadia National Parks: a wildlife treat
About 3- 4 hours drive from 'Tana on good tarred roads you will find yourself at the settlement of Andasibe where a number of hotels and lodges are located for tourists. We stayed at the very comfortable Vakona Lodge.
In all Malagasy parks it is required that each visiting group employs a local Park guide. This is essential for a variety of reasons. You would soon become lost without them and you are unlikely to find any animals apart from occasional birds and some more obvious invertebrates such as spiders.
I'd not really ventured into a mature rainforest before and I found it throws up its own challenges for wildlife watching and photography. The density of the vegetation means that inevitably branches, leaves and tree trunks will get in the way of your line of vision either through the camera lens or by eye. You only have to move by 0.5m and the creature you're watching will disappear out of sight behind vegetation. Also photographers will find they are shooting up into the lighter canopy from the darker forest floor. This creates challenges for even the most patient photographer.
The steep, damp paths can be physically demanding for some individuals and you should be prepared for this with good quality boots and perhaps a walking pole. It's also called a rain forest for good reason. One day it poured almost solidly for 20hours.
Try to get out early morning as the animals are most active at this time. You can always catch up on sleep during the quieter midday hours.
Be prepared for rain and, because of its altitude, the rainforest at Andasibe is cool at least in September. Our lodge took the trouble to light a large fire in the centre of the dining area for the comfort of its visitors.
Take binoculars and, if you are very keen, a copy of the latest guidebooks. Your park guide should be able to provide details of the species they find for you but it's really nice to go back and read up about them later in the day. Our tour operator provided checklists and I had accessed the excellent Bird checklist from the African Bird Club ( Google for it)
Insect repellent is required for night walks and during the day you may find you gain some hitchhikers - two of our group found leeches had got stuck into them fortunately without too much loss of blood.
Regarding the animals we had to rely upon our guides to locate them. They operate in teams with lemur spotters who go out in advance and who phone or call to the main guide leading your party. Your guide will therefore be able to lead you more effectively to the larger wildlife.
Walks in the National Parks are forbidden at night so at Andasibe most of the night walks take place either in Mtsinjo park - a smaller adjunct, and probably community owned, reserve or along the road to the park. Be prepared to be fascinated by the frogs, the chamaeleons and smaller creatures as well as the nocturnal lemurs - the tiny and cute Mouse Lemurs.
Our second day in the area was to Mantadia National Park. It is accessed by a single, poorly maintained dirt road. Our bus suffered terribly and we got off to lighten the load. After a pleasant stroll along the road and some exchanges with local villagers our transport managed to catch us up and take us on to our final destination in the centre of the park. From here we took a longer walk to find the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs and some absolutely beautiful Diademed Sifakas that allowed us to watch their leaping prowess from just a few metres distance. Do try to curb the noise levels though. We found the lemur groups were less shy when the human visitors were quieter and less obtrusive. Never be tempted to shake a tree to make the lemur move.
One final piece of advice: as with life in general you'll get more out of your trip if you put in more effort. Expect to be tired at the end of the day and ask your guide lots of questions. We found that guides estimated your level of interest and responded accordingly. Show interest and excitement and your guide will show you more. After all they deserve a good tip if they have given you good value.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Do not miss a visit to the Lemur
There are several places where you can observe the Lemur.
I chose Toliara, but there are other places.
It was indeed an extraordinary expereince, although when I later travelled to Mayotte I also saw lemur. I thought that Lemur only live in Madagascar, but no, they also live is Mayotte and in the Comores Islands.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Adventure Travel
THE FRIENDLY REPTILE CENTER
Ok, reptiles may not be for you, but this place is a natural wonder. The MADAGASCAR EXOTIC (REPTILE FARM) actually breeds a variety of reptiles and insects. This means you can see great examples of truly exotic fauna all in one place very quickly. You would need months to see all these varieties in the wild. Some of the chameleons are truly exceptional and unique. Some are brightly coloured, others blend in with the environment. You would truly miss out on seeing half of the natural diversity of Madagascar without a visit to this remarkable place.
The center is also known as Réserve Peyrieras, after it's founder, Mr. Peyrieras. They are open 7 days a week from 7 am to 6 pm and it costs less than $5 (US) to get in.
Please click on the photos for a better view!Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Brown Lemurs are friendly and cuddly. These friendly guys are actually 'Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs' or Eulemur Rufus. It’s a little hard to tell the difference between the males and females because they are the same size. A give-away that it’s a female is when they are carrying a baby (last picture). These cute little guys live for up to 30 years and they definitely love bananas. They also eat fruit, flowers, leaves, bark, sap, soil, insects, centipedes and millipedes. Obviously they are not picky eaters. They live in mixed groups of 13-18. Females have a gestation period of 130 days and give birth to 1-2 babies between August and October.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Madagascar is one of best place to visit on Indian Ocean , this island is unique , rich for the wildlife , culture, beaches resort and so on...
If you will be there on December , it's rain season so east part is not best place to visit because it's wet area and too much rain so the south part is best place for you or north.
If you lead to the south follow the national road 7 , visit Ranomafana park, Anja reserve, Isalo park and after you long journey , you could relax at Anakao beach before you will fly back to Tana.
For the north start in Ankarafantsika then continue to Majunga then extend your tour to Diego Suarez visit Ankarana and Montaigne d'ambre then drive back to Ankify where you will catch the boat to Nosy Be , one of best place for relaxing .
About the Tour Operator you have to compare the price and best option, justez hire car for your trip and it's enough you can arrange yourself your trip and try to deal with the owner.
Mantadia-Andasibe NP (Périnet)
The first park we visited was the Mantadia- Andisabe National Park, also known by its colonial name Perinet. In every park you must hire a guide to go with you on your hike. In this case we had a very good one (especially compared to the others during this trip). He was specialized in birds and found the crested nightjar, a rare endemic nocturnal bird, for us. He also showed us a girafnecked beetle.
But like most visitors here we came to see the Indri-Indri, the largest of all lemurs. Judging to the calls (you can hear the whale-like call for 5 km) they were around. After going into the hills we soon found several familygroups. One mother jumped from one tree to another and dropped the young in the proces. The baby dropped at least 4-5 meters. We all held our breath. The female Indri-Indri came down slowly, the youngster was crying for her on the ground. She picked it up very carefully and went up in the tree. It seemed to have a happy ending. The guide told us he had never seen a lemur dropping a baby before, lets hope he will never see it again.
On our external website we have a short movie in which you can hear the call of the Indri-Indri: http://www.tomengonnie.nl/movie/Indri.WMVRelated to:
- National/State Park
The second rainforest we visited was Ranomafana. Ranofamana became a NP after they discovered the golden bamboo lemur in this area. Ofcourse we had to book guideservices. As we were with 18 people we had several guides and the group was devided in smaller groups. One group decided to do a 3 hour walk, while the other groups wanted a four hour walk. At this point the guides started to talk us into taking a 4 hour walk because we wouldn't see anything on a 3 hour walk........ Ofcourse this was not the point, the point was they get payed less for a shorter walk. We sticked to the plan, but the guide was not interested in showing us anything special after this discussion. There goes the tip...... no good guide, no good tip.
We did manage to see some bamboo lemurs though. The only down point being we had to walk down (or up) the hills, without any tracks, to end up under a tree with lemurs in it and about 40 tourists under it. The Ranomafana Park is natural beauty though.
For our thought on the nightwalk in this park see the tourist trap section of the tips!Related to:
- National/State Park
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