How to Get the Most From Your Safari to Madagascar

Harriet Reeves

29 Jun 2017

top tips to maximise your safari experience

Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, is quite frankly brilliant. With wide diversity in ecosystems, scenery, wildlife and culture, the country has something to offer everyone, so long as they go there with the right attitude.

On my recent trip to Madagascar, I tried to meet as many people (locals and tourists alike) as possible – I’m chatty like that. One of the things that struck me when I conversed with fellow travellers was that although they often were having a brilliant time and enjoying themselves, they seemed a little blinkered to the country, focusing only on one thing which was preventing them from seeing the country in the whole, which only enhances a trip there! An often heard phrase was ‘I am a little lemur-ed out’ or, ‘there isn’t any culture here like there is in, say, Japan’. Both of which showed to me the traveller’s limited experiences there, which will only reduce your enjoyment of the entire trip!

So, with that in mind, I thought I would make a list of some of the great things to keep an eye out for, and appreciate, because this is a truly remarkable place.

1. Get a good guide and listen to him/her

Our trips include both a driver and an English-speaking guide. There is a reason for this – we don’t want your guide being busy or concentrating on the road so much so as not to inform you of all the crazy and wonderful things you are passing along the journey, and there are a lot of journeys – Madagascar is a very big place! Your guide will be able to teach you about anything and everything, they really know their stuff. For example, had the couple that thought Japan had more ‘culture’ than Madagascar (with its varied ancestry and 18 tribes) had a good guide with decent English, they would have learned all about the different houses and family tombs, ways of life and cultural quirks that each of the tribes have unique to them, as well as the inter-tribal history of war and peace. 

2. Get out there – yes, even if it is raining

Contrary to popular opinion, a vast amount of Madagascar is pretty arid, particularly down in the far south west. Much of it is also pretty wet. Basically, from the highlands that form the spine of the island and the region to the east of it, you can expect to have the chance of some rain at any time of year. I mean, come on, it is a rainforest!

As well as rain, rainforests are areas of huge biodiversity, and as the rain is generally warm-ish (well, warmer than the UK that’s for sure), there should be nothing holding you back from heading out on that hike anyway. You might find the lemurs are hiding, but you will also find you come across new species, like frogs and insects. The rain tends to only be short lived anyway, and it’s only water!

3. Pass it forward

Even if your local guide is not successful in finding you a certain species or sighting of behaviour, tip them depending on how much they tried. Wildlife is a fickle thing and nothing can ever be guaranteed.

4. Appreciate the little things

Chameleons, geckos, crazy beetles, giraffe necked weevils, birds etc.

Madagascar does not just have lemurs and if you come looking only for lemurs, you may be disappointed. 

They’re cute, but they soon become the antelope of Madagascar and focusing just on lemurs is sure to end with you being disappointed and missing out on the wide biodiversity the island has to offer.

5. Savour your experiences

Put the camera down for a while and just soak it in. Spend time with the animals you are viewing beyond that it took to get your shots. Often lemurs come closer to you once the crowds have disappeared, they’re naturally curious creatures but shy of larger groups. Take the time to sit quietly and enjoy learning about and observing their behaviour.

6. Shop in the local markets

Try to get away from the tourist-focused areas, such as the craft markets in Antananarivo, in order to find authentic, traditional and locally made items, like the beautiful supika baskets. Not only are you putting money into the hands of the people who actually made the items, often in poor, rural areas, you are also getting a chance to interact with the local who are only too happy to have the opportunity to interact with you. Plus, the prices are dirt cheap!

7. Go with the flow

Time schedules don’t really apply in Madagascar, whether it’s the time of an activity, or the time of your flight with the national carrier!

Leave any concept of schedule at home and embrace the relaxed nature of Madagascar.

8. It’s all about perspective

At the end of the day, you get out of any trip what you put into it. Raining? Head out there anyway; you are unlikely to see any of Madagascar by hiding in your hotel room. Tired of early starts? Set that alarm and enjoy a nice afternoon siesta to catch up on sleep whilst the wildlife is sleeping too. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ applies here. Not financially (well, yes financially), but also in time, energy and optimism.

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