90% of the wildlife and plants found in Madagascar are endemic to the island, making this the perfect safari destination for a wildlife enthusiast interested in getting off the beaten track. Madagascar has so much to offer in the wildlife department. Here you will discover chameleons the size of your fingernail, humpback whales breaching off the coast, and of course the lemurs Madagascar is so well known for. There are about 100 different lemurs species to search for.
Geographically, Madagascar is a varied island, with grasslands, mountains, rainforests, and pristine beaches all on offer here. Each of the country’s famous lemurs lives in different habitats and so by exploring several regions during your safari to Madagascar, will, you will get the best chance to see a variety of species.
At Stanley Safaris, we particularly like Madagascar as an adventurous honeymoon destination. It is easy to combine the thrill of searching the rainforests for unique animals, with relaxing on a pristine island beach.
All our safaris to Madagascar are tailor-made and in some areas include a private guide so you can explore at your pace, making it ideal for a family safari as well. Some of our most memorable wildlife experiences have come from our time exploring Madagascar and we are certain you will come away with memories you will never forget. The island is still developing as a tourist destination and so is perfect for someone looking for an adventure safari and getting off the beaten track. This is one of the many reasons we love Madagascan safaris.
Where to go in Madagascar
Madagascar has many national parks that are teeming with impressive wildlife and varied terrain. Here is our guide to Madagascar’s national parks and best beaches and islands.
Andasibe National Park
Andasibe National Park is the country’s most popular park and is about a 3-hour drive from Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo, abbreviated to Tana. Andasibe is home to an amazing array of lemurs, chameleons, geckos, and birds.
Here you will find the world’s largest lemur, the indri-indri, as well as the Diademed sifaka, a grey, white and gold lemur that is one of our personal favorites. Andasibe has an impressive collection of chameleons as well, including the Parson’s chameleon, which is the largest on earth, and the tiny nose-horned chameleon.
Andasibe is a beautiful, forested national park with many trails. We think it’s an ideal place to start your Madagascan safari.
Ranomafana National Park
Ranomafana National Park can be found in the mountainous area south of Antananarivo. Ranomafana means “Hot Water” in Malagasy and is named after the hot springs in the area. This beautiful, forested park is home to some of Madagascar’s rarest lemurs, including the golden bamboo lemur. There are several paths through the forests where guests can spot black and white ruffed lemurs, Milne-Edwards Sifaka, eastern woolly lemurs, and others. The rainforest of Ranomafana is one of the best forests in Madagascar for frogs and chameleons. The paths are a little steeper here as the reserve is more mountainous, but the wildlife on offer here is well worth the trek.
Isalo National Park
Heading even further south from Tana and Ranomafana, you start to drop down from the highlands to the drier areas of Madagascar. Isalo consists of grassy plains, mountains, and canyons, perfect for hiking and exploring. As you head down into the canyons and bluffs, the vegetation starts to become lusher, with waterfalls and cool spring pools to swim in. Isalo is home to ring-tailed lemurs as well as the dancing Verreaux’s sifaka.
A visit to Isalo offers a different perspective of the wildlife and geography of Madagascar.
Palmarium is a small, private reserve along the coast of Madagascar, to the east of Tana. The 50-hectare reserve is on the banks of the Pangalanes Canals that run for several hundred kilometers up the coast of Madagascar, creating a safe passage for fishermen and locals who use the channels to travel. Palmarium is home to several habituated lemurs that roam free on the reserve. This is a photographer’s dream as you can get close-up shots of sifakas, indri-indri, ruffed lemurs, and more. For families, Palmarium is perfect as the kids can get close to the different lemurs.
15 minutes by boat is a small island that is home to 6 aye-ayes. Guests staying at Palmarium Lodge head to the island in the early evening - giving them a rare opportunity to see and photograph these incredible-looking lemurs in the wild. With the lemurs being completely habituated and the paths through the forest easy and flat, this is also a great place for families to visit as kids can see the lemurs close-up.
In the far north-east corner of the island lies a peninsular of forested mountains that tumble down to golden beaches, crystal clear waters, and volcanic rocks. This area, known as the Masoala Peninsula, is without a doubt our favorite part of Madagascar.
Getting here is a little tricky, but that is half the fun and is also what keeps the majority of tourists away. Visitors need to fly to Maroantsetra, a small market town, and then boat across the bay to get to the Masoala Forest Lodge. Once at Masoala, guests have the opportunity to explore the rainforest with their guide, looking for the beautiful, red-ruffed lemur, black and white ruffed lemur, the helmet vanga (a beautiful bird) as well as the smallest chameleon in the world, the brookesia chameleon.
There’s plenty to do in the area. When you’re not exploring the forests, there’s a beautiful strip of beach to relax on, as well as beautiful coral reefs to snorkel through. There are also sea kayaks, and between June and September visitors can hope to see humpback whales in the bay.
Amber Mountain National Park
In the far northern tip of Madagascar, a short drive from Diego Suarez is a small, lush, forested reserve called Amber Mountain. Rising out from the drier areas around it, Amber Mountain is home to an array of endemic animals including brookesia chameleons, leaf-tailed geckos, mouse lemurs, dwarf lemurs, and sportive lemurs. The panther chameleon is one of the most colorful chameleons in Madagascar and is also found here. Neat paths lead guests through the forests past crater lakes and waterfalls.
Ankarana National Park
As you head south from Amber Mountain, the terrain starts to become more arid. En route to Ankarana National Park is a special reserve that is home to one of the rarest primates on earth and is critically endangered. The Perrier’s sifaka is a jet-black sifaka that lives in a small pocket of forest in northern Madagascar. It is possible to visit this forest en route between Amber Mountain and Ankarana National Park.
Ankarana National Park is a beautiful, unique park in that it is dominated by eroded limestone pinnacles called tsingies. Between these towering, razor-sharp tsingies are lush forests, rivers, and the largest cave system in Africa. Paths lead to stunning viewpoints and suspension bridges. Ankarana National Park is home to crown lemurs, sportive lemurs, mouse lemurs and if you are lucky, you might even see a fossa, a cat-like mammal that is endemic to Madagascar and is closely related to the Malagasy civet.
Off the northwest coast of Madagascar, lies a string of small islands with the main island being Nosy Be. White sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and warm weather make Nosy Be and its surrounding islands the perfect place to lay your towel after a few days exploring Madagascar’s national parks and reserves. Nosy Be itself is a little too crowded for our liking, so we prefer some of the smaller islands in the same area.
Ile Sainte Marie
Ile Sainte Marie is a small tropical island found off the east coast of Madagascar. Pristine beaches, fringed by swaying palm trees and turquoise waters make this the perfect beach location to relax after a few days of exploring Madagascar’s forests. Between July and September, humpbacked whales migrate past Ile Sainte Marie. Aside from relaxing on the beaches, guests can go snorkeling or scuba diving on the offshore reefs.
Miavana is a small, ultra-luxury private island that can be found off the northeast tip of Madagascar. Guests are helicoptered in and stay in luxury villas steps away from pristine beaches and turquoise waters teeming with marine life. Miavana was not always like that though. It used to be a seaweed farming village, but thanks to warming sea temperatures, the seaweed business plummeted. The owners of Miavana have transformed the island back into its natural glory and have employed the seaweed farmers and members of other local villages, creating employment in an otherwise desolate area. The island is home to lemurs, chameleons, and nesting turtles, as well as nesting seabirds.
Tsarabanjina is a spec of an island off the coast of Nosy Be. What it lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in character! With white sandy beaches and beautiful blue water, Tsarabanjina is the perfect, Robinson Crusoe, barefoot luxury island.
Traditional bungalows are located steps from the pristine beach and turquoise waters. Tsarabanjina is the perfect honeymoon retreat, away from the crowds. Diving here is incredible because there is very little human presence, and the reefs are teeming with marine life.
Ifaty is the small coastal town at the end of the road that leads from Tana south through Ranomafana and Isalo. Ifaty consists of small fishing villages and sandy beaches with a long offshore reef, perfect for diving. There are several species of sharks to see when diving here. If you are still feeling active, you can explore the botanical gardens, which consist of baobabs and a spiny forest.
Located on the northwest coast of the island lies the private reserve and beach resort of Anjajavy. Without a doubt one of the most luxurious lodges in Madagascar, Anjajavy is Relais and Chateaux registered, and for good reason. This resort exudes luxury in everything it touches, and so the cuisine, along with everything else, is incredible.
Anjajavy is a large private reserve with several beaches to choose from. Visitors can enjoy both nature and the beach here. The reserve is home to Coquerel’s sifaka as well as sportive lemurs, mouse lemurs, and brown lemurs. Guides take guests on walks through the forest during the day and at night to catch a glimpse of the animals that call the area home.
The Masoala Peninsular - One of the most diverse areas in Madagascar
Located in the far north-east corner of Madagascar, you’ll find the Masoala Peninsular – the largest tract of virgin rainforest in Madagascar. Thick vegetation covers mountains that form a stunning backdrop against golden beaches and the pristine waters of the Indian Ocean.
This is one of the most biodiverse regions in Madagascar, yet it is one of the least visited national parks due to its remote location. Because there are no roads to get here, you need to fly 2 hours from Antananarivo and then take a boat trip for a further 2 hours. It’s a complicated journey, but once you arrive, you’ll realize why all the travelling is worth it.
What makes this part of Madagascar so special? The rainforests are teeming with wildlife. Endemic species like the red-ruffed lemur, the tiny brookesia chameleon and the helmeted vanga (a beautiful bird native to north-eastern Madagascar) can all be seen here. While trekking through the forest you’ll pass mangroves, crystal streams and waterfalls. Some lodges even gives guests the opportunity to do nocturnal walks where if you’re lucky, you’ll see an aye-aye – a lemur that also happens to be world’s largest nocturnal primate.
Aside from the lush forests, Masoala National Park is blessed with stunning beaches and crystal oceans that teem with marine life. Sea kayaking and snorkelling are popular activities here. Between July and September, visitors have the chance to see humpbacked whales as they migrate past the east coast of Madagascar.
There is only one lodge we send our guests to in this area and that is the Masoala Forest Lodge. It is located just outside the park, and houses guests in charming, African style tents built on platforms. From here, guests can explore Masoala National Park proper as well as the forests surrounding the lodge. There’s a wide variety of activities on offer here, including kayaking, snorkelling and even whale watching by boat.
We love Masoala National Park, and we are certain you will as well!
Madagascar Seasons and when to visit
In our opinion, the best time to visit Madagascar is between September and November. The lemur birthing season is from October to November, so this is the best time to see baby lemurs. September and October is when the fossa (Madagascar’s largest carnivore) are mating, making it the best time to see them. And whale season runs from July to September, so if you wish to see humpbacks, that is the time to do so.
The weather is also good at this time of year – not too hot and not too cold. Rainy season tends to start in December and continue through to March. During this time, cyclones can batter the island, so it is best to avoid travelling at this time of the year.
Because of Madagascar’s size, weather patterns can vary across the length of the island. The South is generally drier and more arid when compared to the thick forests of the central and northern areas.
Usually at the lower altitudes and along the coast, the temperature and humidity can be high. The capital city of Antananarivo (Tana) is at altitude and so can get cool in the evenings. The average maximum temperature in Tana ranges from 21°C (70°F) in June and July to 27°C (81°F) in November and December. Minimum averages range between 10°C (50°F) in June and July and 17°C (63°F) during the summer months. Along the coast temperatures range between from 14°C (57°F) to 25°C (77°F) in June and July.