‘Traveling’ always makes the short list of New Year’s resolutions. Not only do we understand the draw, but we’re in the business of making it happen. Our advice to kick off 2018: don’t wait. Travel plans don’t happen by themselves. And we never know what tomorrow will bring. Just do it. We’re here for you. Wishing you a rich and meaningful year ahead!
Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
Erika Reategui fell in love with Madagascar, one of the most remote places on earth, and certainly one of the most fascinating. Because nearly all of the animals that exist on the island evolved there and nowhere else, the destination is full of jaw-dropping indigenous wildlife. In particular, it is home to 103 species of lemurs, said to be the most endangered mammal on the planet.
First and foremost, you’ll experience nature as you’ve never seen it. The island is extraordinarily beautiful and diverse, filled with unique species and eco systems, ranging from spiny forests in the desert, to rainforests, and peaceful beaches on the Mozambique Channel. We got to interact with freely roaming wildlife, most famously lemurs. And the cultural experience was nothing short of amazing. A definite highlight was spending time with the local Antandroy tribe to learn about their ancestor worship, and to enjoy a festive evening watching a traditional dance.
Tell us about the famous lemurs and chameleons.
While the lemur is an endangered species, they are everywhere. Millions of years of evolution on a remote island has enabled them to come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. We spent a day at Lemur Island Sanctuary near Vakona Forest Lodge, where we had an unforgettable close encounter with them. On one night walk, we spotted a mouse lemur, featured in the movie “Madagascar.” I won’t forget the strange chameleon I saw in its natural habitat, moving in a slow motion, back and forth gait across the grass. You can’t help but be reminded of their pre-historic ancestors, and imagining a small dinosaur as it might have roamed the land millions of years ago.
What was your itinerary?
Over nine days, I split time between the beach and bush, plus one day in the Perinet Reserve, to have my close encounter on the “Island of Lemurs.” The trip began in the highlands of Antananaribo, locally known as Tana. For the day, we had a glimpse of urban life in the island’s largest city, known for narrow roads and cobblestone streets. By chartered flight, we headed to the Anjajavy Peninsula on the northwest coast along the Mozambique Channel. This region is known for its remote forests and gorgeous beaches. Highlights included a boat ride along scenic Moramba Bay and guided jungle night walks. We then enjoyed a few days glamping along the banks of the Mandrare River where daily activities included exploring the gallery forest, full of ring tailed lemurs and sifakas. We ended our travels at the famous Perinet Reserve.
What were your 5 favorite activities?
Tell us about the food.
Rice seasoned with local herbs and spices is a staple. Definitely visit the market in Anjajavy, a colorful fishing village. By day the fishermen display their fresh catch, and at night we’d feast on the sumptuous seafood caught just hours beforehand. Inland, the cuisine is full of savory meat stews, often with eel or pork. The chefs at all the resorts were outstanding. And, of course I had plenty of fresh tropical fruit right at my fingertips, plus incredible Madagascar coffee.
When is the best time of year to go?
Dry season from May to October (winter in the southern hemisphere) has cooler temperatures and little rain. Inland (highlands) is typically drier and temperate while the coast is tropical.
Where did you stay?
We began in the Palissandre Hotel & Spa in Antananarivo, with French cuisine and terrific town views. Next stop was the beautiful beach oasis Anjajavy l’Hotel (Relais & Châteaux), which sits on a nature reserve. Afternoon tea was served in a beautiful garden, where we watched the lemurs and sifakas at play. In the south, we found luxury tented camping at the Mandrare River Camp, located near fields of cacti, spiny trees and baobab trees. We ended our stay in the comfort of Vakona Forest Lodge, nestled in the sloping emerald green hills of the Perinet Reserve.
Top tips for first time travelers there?
Bring appropriate footwear for beach and nature trails, a good camera lens to capture wildlife, and binoculars. Plan to practice your French. And don’t be afraid to fly in a two-person Cessna.