Madagascar adventure vacations travel guide

2 minute summary

Once the preserve of wildlife documentary makers and fearless explorers, Madagascar’s uncharted rivers, dense forests and surreal limestone and sandstone rockscapes are now opening their doors – just a crack – to adventurous travelers. The word ‘vacation’ seems inappropriate; there may be a tour leader, an itinerary and an airport pickup, but as soon as you strap your backpack on and head off up the mountain, clamber onto your canoe, or clip yourself onto a harness, halfway up a limestone pinnacle – you suddenly realise that anything could happen. And it may be days before you encounter other tourists. Adventure has many faces on this near-mythical island. You might be meeting remote communities whose lifestyles have changed little over centuries. Or taking a night walk to hear the strange sounds of the nocturnal forest. Or descending into the deep valleys and gorges in search of hidden waterfalls. Let our Madagascar adventure vacations travel guide help you craft your own island adventure.

Things to do on a Madagascar adventure vacation

Activities in Madagascar

Things to do on a Madagascar adventure vacation…

Madagascar is no walk in the park, and a three-day trek is one of the best ways to really explore these prehistoric landscapes. Canyons, cliffs, plateaus and deep forests each provide their own challenges – but for something a little more heart thumping, head out on a night walk. Robbed of your sight, you’ll hear eerie shrieks, smell the forest and – probably – freak out each time you brush past a leaf. You may even glimpse strange nocturnal creatures such as the aye-aye.
Madagascar is criss-crossed by stunning rivers, many of them unmapped – but there are guides who know how to find them. Spend three days paddling an inflatable canoe along rivers such as the calm Sambirano – ideal for bird watching; the Faraony, with grade I-II rapids; or the Manantanana, teeming with crocodiles and a hub of Malagasy culture. Alternatively, spend two weeks rafting the remote Benahy and Onilahy Rivers all the way to the coast, looking out for sapphire hunters along the banks.
The Tsingy is the dictionary definition of “adventure” – a “forest” of limestone pinnacles, sculpted vertically and horizontally by the elements. Exploring the Petit Tsingy, via walkways and iron ladders, is a great introduction to this surreal landscape. The Grand Tsingy, as the name suggests, ups the excitement level with pinnacles soaring up to 800m high, which you scrambling up while clipped onto safety harnesses. Vertigo sufferers need not apply…

Things not to do on a Madagascar adventure vacation…

Demand luxury. With the exception of a few truly luxurious adventure vacations, Madagascar + adventure does not = comfort. Expect to spend a few nights under canvas, especially on multi-day treks or canoe expeditions, or in cabins with basic facilities. Hotels may not quite match up to their star rating; managing expectations is important here. But if you want air conditioning, silver service and a high thread count – maybe a Madagascar adventure vacation is not for you.
Expect wall to wall wildlife. These adventures take you well away from the tourist areas, and that includes the more popular national parks, which is where much of the wildlife is found. While you may still be lucky enough to encounter wildlife along remote riverbanks or in the forests, keep in mind that wildlife in lesser visited areas is also more timid, unlike the virtually habituated lemurs in other regions. Check your itinerary, however, as many adventure tours do include a day or two in parks where you are much more likely to encounter Madagascar’s most charismatic creatures. It would be a shame to come all this way and not make the most of it!
Try and see it all. We never recommend rushing from place to place, but especially not in Madagascar. The roads are ghastly, with even the shortest stretches taking hours to cover, but as the island’s only airline makes Southern Rail look reliable, you have little choice but to take on the potholes and mud. Pick a region, and explore it to the fullest – ensuring you spend far more time sat in a canoe than a car seat.

Best time to go on a Madagascar adventure vacation

Temperature & rainfall

The best time to go on a Madagascar adventure vacation is any time outside of the Jan-Mar wet season, which brings heavy rains and cyclones. As a general rule, the north is hot and humid, the southwest hot and dry, the highlands are cooler and the east wetter – but this is a big island with a huge diversity of landscapes, so this is just a rough guide. The summer months of Nov-Jan can be unpleasantly hot, especially for active vacations, though there are lots of baby lemurs around. April-May are lovely, as Madagascar is cooler, and greener after the rains.
Photo credits: [Topbox: nomis-simon] [Helpdesk: NH53]
Written by Vicki Brown
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