A wet and tropical climate paired with long, sandy beaches abutting the Indian Ocean make the eastern part of Madagascar an alluring destination. Surprises, you might say, at every turn.
Many come for Masoala and Marojejy National Parks, the latter being one of the most beautiful parks in Madagascar. The feel out here is decidedly remote and rustic – with less infrastructure and more roads under construction – which keeps the crowds away but also make access generally limited. The serenity leads to unforgettable Malagasy experiences in nature, with opportunities to admire a wide variety of floral species and draw in long breaths of irresistible perfumes like vanilla and cloves.
In this area, you’ll come across ethnic groups like the Betsimisaraka, Antemoro, Antesaka, Antanosy and Antambahoaka. Though many cultural nuances exist between them, the majority of these groups share a similar lifestyle. Their lives are led simply, ebbing and flowing with the waves of the Indian Ocean, with villages manufactured out of wooden boxes or vegetable material, drawn up into piles, and roofed using sheets of traveller’s palm.
Here are a few of the specific destinations in the east you may want to take in:
Andasibe National Park sits 140 km from the capital city of Antananarivo along the RN2, inside the area
known as Tamatave. The area is split up into park and reserve, with 810ha set aside for the Analamazaotra Special Reserve and 15,500ha making up Mantadia National Park. As a tropical rain forest, the temperature tends to sit at a lovely 18°C and have two campsites available – the INDRI and the TANAFISAKA – sleeping up to 100 people.
The indigenous people who live near the park are the Betsimisaraka, the Bezanozano and the Merina. Most of these people are farmers who practice a specific logging technique that has led to a reduction in the primary forests in the area. Only 80% today are primary forest, with 13% being secondary forests.
The biodiversity in this part of the country is rare, endemic, and extraordinary: orchids, eucalyptus, bamboos, snakes, fawn-colored lemurs, maned lemurs, aye-ayes, Parson chameleons, Malagasy Wagtails, Malagasy Bazas, yellow-eyebrowed Foditany, russet-red bellied lemurs and russet-red mouse lemurs, to name more than a few. In total, the national park shelters 108 species of birds, 72 species of mammals – including 14 species of lemurs – 51 species of reptiles, 84 species of amphibians and 350 species of macro-insects. Their rate of endemicity is approximately 82%.
But it’s not just sights that will bowl you over: the cries of famous, large Indri Indri primate will echo around you as you take in the imposing beauty of the orchids, tropical vegetation and sweeping panoramic vistas.
– ANKANIN’ NY NOFY
In order to reach famous Akanin’ ny Nofy – aka. the Nest of Dreams – we must first make a pitstop in Manambato. This town is a little slice of paradise and sunshine about 20km along the road to Tamatave from Brickaville. Whether soaking up some rays at one of its pristine beaches or cruising across Lake Rasoabe and Pangalanes, Ankanin’ ny Nofy lets you commune with nature under the most ideal of circumstances. Here, perched on its peninsula, you will have a chance to visit and rest at the famous “Palm house” – a private reserve that contains nearly 100,000 endemic palm trees. Pushing further into its forest of palms you’ll find Dypsis, Orania, Lemurophoenix and Voanioala, the Ravinala (or “Traveller’s Palm) as well as varieties of carnivorous plants. The reserve also shelters various species of lemurs, which live there in freedom: Indri Indri (the largest lemur of the world and endemic to Madagascar), the Aye Aye, and the Sifaka, or mouse lemur.
Tamatave, roughly 370 km from Antananarivo along the RN2, is a city teeming with historical sites. The dense and wet forest in this part of the country makes for a climate both warm and wet.
For a taste of its rich history, a visit to the Port Museum is a must: inaugurated September 2006, the museum houses photographs, artifacts and historical accounts marking the events which occurred here at the beginning of the 20th century. Afterward, it’s worth popping over to the markets of the Bazaar Be and the Bazaar Kelly for a chance to sample local products like vanilla, cinnamon, pepper and clove, or to buy artisanal products from some of the area’s craftsmen.
You’ll emerge in an area rich in places of worship, where villagers make wishes to their ancestors for happiness, love, and good luck. Having the right guide here is essential, as the tradition of “Fady” – or taboos – in these spiritual places requires a local’s understanding of the customs.
From here, the botanical and zoological parks of Ivoloina – just 11 km north of Tamatave – await. You can dig into plant varieties of the flora of the eastern forests, as well as 13 species of lemur, including the Aye Aye. Then we’ll discover the crumbling dens of 17th century pirates in nearby Ivondro, which was an old river port, before wrapping up with splendid waterfalls and the town of Farafaty, just a few kilometers from Tamatave.
– TRAVEL TO SAINTE MARIE
The Holy Island of Marie is one of the most beautiful destinations in Madagascar, documented and photographed by travelers for generations. Abutting the Indian Ocean, the island has a wet, tropical climate, and a form that stretches 49km long by 5km wide. To get here, it’s best to jump on a flight with Madagascar Airways or Air Madagascar from Antananarivo or Tamatave. The airport is located on the southern point of the island.
It is an island full of legend, due to the succession of pirates who came to settle here in the 17th and 18th centuries. Portuguese sailors first set foot on its sandy shores in 1503, after a shipwreck on the day of the Assumption, and gave the island an appropriately religious name: Santa Maria. Today the name remains: Holy Marie. That was until 1592 when a Dutch ship made a stopover on Holy Marie’s island to supply itself and then lent the name of their commander – Ibrahim – to the island in calling it “Nosy Boraha,” or the island of Ibrahim.
About 40% of the population of the island speaks French, making it one of the many French-speaking areas of Madagascar. But among guides – including Fano and Arsene – many also speak English, making exploration on the gorgeous island possible for a wider range of international visitors.
The first thing that distinguishes the Isle de Sainte-Marie from the other areas is the renown Festival of Whales. Each year, the magnificent and giant mammals come to Ile Sainte-Marie between July and September for mating season, relishing in its warm waters during this critical – and magical – time.
A few other highlights:
Museum of the small island “Madam”
Where the great discoveries of a team of American archaeologists, directed by Barry Clifford, is on display.
The final resting place of the island’s sea brigands. Before their demise, it was on this small island that the pirates split up the spoils of their adventures.
Located in the south of Ambodifotatra, this island is still completely undeveloped: not a road or electrical pole in site, just a series of sand pathways traversing this paradisiacal locale. It has a surface area of 2,5km2, mostly covered in beautiful white sand beaches and primed for remote adventure.
On the north of Ile Sainte Marie, one finds this little place of paradise – “Ambodiatafana”. It is made up of three wave basins that form natural pools, and invite the most daring and thrill-seeking types to come leap from their rocky shores.
Cascade of Antanandavaka
About 10 kilometers from the town of Ambodifotatra, you’ll find a calm waterfall known as the “Cascade of Antanandavaka.” No thrill-seeking here; this is a place to relax, within easy reach of the town center.
Mangrove Swamp Crossing
The mangrove swamp crossing lets you visit the pirate cemetery first, then – ironically – move on to admire the Catholic Church of Ambodifotatra and the port of St Marie. After a one-hour stroll in the dugout of the mangrove swamp, it’ll be time to head out into the wilds of nature and embrace the magic world of “Malagasy Amazonia.”
Ambodiforaha Endemic Park
A zoological and botanical gardens on the southern tip of Sainte-Marie, in the direction of Ravoraha. Here you can discover native fauna and flora, including a wealth of tortoises, chameleons, lemurs, snakes, frogs, orchids and euphorbiums.
The Bay of Ampanihy
A screensaver come to life, the Bay of Ampanihy is famous for crystal blue waters and stretches of fine white sand dotted every so often with coconut trees.
In summary: we hope the primal allure of Eastern Madagascar tempts you into taking a tour here. While it’s off the beaten path in a country that is already very much off the beaten path, the reward is overwhelming. The east creates the firm sensation that you are truly “out there.”