Madagascar Birding Tours

Cactus Tours Madagascar is one of the few Malagasy tour companies, who are specialist in birdwatching in Madagascar. Cactus’ team is wide spread all over the Island and have strong and proven expertise in their own areas.

While the normal birding season starts from September to mid-December, with our field team, that time frame can start from June due to our knowledge of the fields, habitats and birds behaviours in our Island. That is an undeniable advantage of using our service as a local tour company.

Madagascar birding tours


Tour review by K. Merkel

Welcome to our 2015 Madagascar Trip

This page contains the pictures and videos we took on our 2015 trip to the unique island of Madagascar.  Keith had wanted to visit this island for a long time since it contains so much endemic flora and fauna, i.e., they exist nowhere else on earth.  The most notable example of this are the lemurs, made famous in the Madagascar movie series.  There are slightly more than 100 different species of lemurs in the world, all of which exist on Madagascar (we saw 21).

The cause of this uniqueness is Madagascar’s geographical isolation.  From Wikipedia: “Madagascar is an island in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of southern Africa, east of Mozambique. It is the fourth largest island in the world. The highest point is Maromokotro, in the Tsaratanana Massif region in the north of the island, at 9,436 feet. The capital Antananarivo is in the Hauts Plateaux near the centre of the island. It has a total area of 226,660 square miles: 224,530 square miles of land and 2,100 square miles of water.  Madagascar originated as part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Its west coast was formed when Africa broke off from Gondwana around 165 million years ago. Madagascar eventually broke off from India about 88 million years ago.  As a result of the island’s long isolation from neighboring continents, Madagascar is home to an abundance of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth.  Approximately 90% of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic, including the lemurs (a type of strepsirrhine primate), the carnivorous fossa and many birds. This distinctive ecology has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the ‘eighth continent’, and the island has been classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hot spot.”

It takes a long time to get to Madagascar from the United States.  One has to cross over 8 time zones from the east coast.  From the west coast, one has to cross 11 time zones going east and 12 going west.  We flew from the east coast through NYC to Johannesburg, South Africa and then on to Antananarivo (Tana), Madagascar, leaving early morning on August 16th and arriving in Tana in the afternoon of August 17th.  Almost all of that time (19 hours) was spent on the planes with only a 3 hour layover in NYC and a 2 hour layover in Johannesburg.  The trip home took even longer.  We left Madagascar on September 8th and arrived home on September 9th.  It took 3 hours and 40 minutes to return to Johannesburg and 18 hours and 45 minutes to fly back to the US.  Total flight time was 22 and a half hours with a very tight one hour connection in Johannesburg.  In fact, our bags didn’t make the flight.  They arrived home the following day.

The infrastructure on Madagascar is in very bad shape since it is a poor Third World country.  Only 3 main roads are paved, but not that well.  All the rest are dirt and gravel with conditions ranging from pretty good to almost impassable.  In fact, during Madagascar’s rainy season from November to May, many rural roads are completely impassable.  Even though we were there during their dry ‘winter’ season, we chose to fly to save time and avoid long, arduous travel over the terrible roads.  We used the only airline possible, Air Madagascar, which currently has a lousy reputation for delays and cancellations.  We were pretty fortunate in that none of our four flights were canceled and only one was delayed enough (3 hours) that we had to alter our plans slightly.

We used a Madagascar tour company, Cactus Tours Madagascar, to book the land portion of our vacation while we booked separately our international and internal flights.  Cactus Tours did a fine job of arranging everything for our private tour.  They booked all of our lodging which also included most of our meals.  They provided 4x4s in good condition with good drivers.  We never had a problem getting to our destinations.  In addition to the driver, we had an English speaking guide on each land leg of the trip.  Each guide’s English was pretty good, but our second guide was not that experienced and seemed to not understand our questions at times.  Cactus Tours also took care of all of our transfers.  The car, driver, and guide were at the airport waiting for us at each location we flew to.  They stayed with us the entire time until we flew off to our next destination on the island.  Thus, we were never left to fend for ourselves which was a good thing since neither of us spoke the native Malagasy language and Carolyn knew only a little French which is their second language (but seldom spoken in rural areas).  Finally, we even had a welcome meeting with our Cactus Tours travel representative the evening we arrived in Tana.

Cactus Tours was moderately priced.  One could find cheaper alternatives, but those involved roughing it more than we cared to do or risking our safety with less reliable vehicles and/or guides.  On the other side, one could also find exorbitantly priced trips, many 2 to 3 times what we paid and one which cost almost 5 times as much.  We ran into the latter during our stay in Isalo.  They had at least 2 English speaking guides that constantly catered to their group of 13.

Almost all expenses for the trip were paid before we left the US.  As noted above, we booked all flights and the land portion of the trip before we left.  All the activities we wanted to do plus some suggested by Cactus Tours were included in our land package.  All park entrance fees, all airport transfers, and all ground transportation including gas, drivers, and guides was also included.  Finally, the package included all breakfasts, some lunches, and all but 1 dinner.  Thus, the only money we spent was for some lunches, one dinner, bottled water (not safe to drink the local water), tips, and souvenirs.  Food and everything else except gas was very cheap in US dollars.  For example, we had a lobster feast for lunch for $5.  We paid cash for everything as credit cards are accepted at very few places, mostly in major cities.  Keith spent about $300 during the trip, most of which was spent in tips for the Cactus Tour drivers and guides and for park guides (Madagascar requires tourists to hire a park guide in every National Park).

While in Madagascar, our itinerary kept us primarily in the southern half of the island with the exception of our last destination, Masoala, in northeast Madagascar.  We visited a number of National Parks, a Forest Reserve, and a private protected area.  We went to, in order, the Kirindy Forest Reserve, the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Isalo National Park, Anja Community Reserve, Ranomafana National Park, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, and Masoala National Park.  On the way to and from Kirindy, we stopped at the Avenue of the Baobabs.  At Tsingy de Bemaraha, we hiked both the Petite Tsingy and the Grande Tsingy.  We also took a dugout canoe (pirogue) ride on the Manambolo River through part of the beautiful Manambolo Gorge.  And on our way back from Masoala, we spent some time on Nose Mangabe, an island in the Bay of Antongil that is part of Masoala National Park.

Our albums and videos are displayed in several sections.  First, there is the View Our Best Madagascar Pictures section which contains the Best Madagascar Pictures album.  Next, there is the View Our Madagascar Pictures by Location section.  This section contains an album for each location we visited in chronological order.  The next section contains all of our videos.  We end this page with the View Lemurs By Species section which contains an album for each of the 21 species of lemurs we saw.  This allows you to view Madagascar’s main attraction separate from all the other photos.  Note – The pictures in each album are shown in chronological order.

We hope you enjoy viewing our pictures and videos.  While some have been included mainly for documentation, many more are quite scenic and tell a wonderful story of what we saw and did.  If you are short on time, we recommend viewing the Best Madagascar Pictures album first.  This album contains the best set of pictures that describes our trip.  Then, as time permits, you can look at the other albums to find more photos at each site we saw or activity we did.

Finally, while the album and video descriptions give a pretty good idea of their contents, you have to look at the picture filenames to see what that shot actually depicts.  Specifically, look at the bottom line of the 2 shown below each picture to get the full description of that picture.  The first line is often cut off too short because the description/filename is longer than the software will display.  Another hint:  On the large albums where there are a lot of pictures, the best way to view them once you’ve opened the album is to select ‘All’ where it says ‘Show’ on the left hand side before the pictures begin.  This will show all the pictures in the album on one page.  Then, when you do a Slide Show or just go through them one at a time, you can see all of the album pictures without having to go back after 25 or 50 pictures to select the next set of 25/50 pictures.


Turkish Airlines arrived in Madagascar

The first flight of Turkish Airlines landed in Antananarivo on 15th December 2015. The airline connects Istanbul -Antananarivo via Mauritius three times a week.
This new line will facilitate the travel of East European travelers as well as the Scandinavians.
By April, the airline will fly direct and will increase its frequency to four flights per week.

New coffee plants in Madagascar

The National Research Center of Madagascar FOFIFA have succeeded to create a new hybrid specie of coffee plant which is capable to grow comfortably within the climate conditions of the Highlands of Madagascar. This new specie matches the requirement of global market standards.
This coffee called “Ratelo Hybrid” (meany by the Threesome) is the result of the cross breeding of three main varities: the Eugenoide, the Canephoria and the Arabica according to Jean Jacques Rakotomalala, a researcher at FOFIFA. It is also resistant against rust.
The taste of this new coffee is confirmed as outstanding than the Arabica itself as per the processed test in Japan and Reunion Island.
124 species of coffee plants have been inventoried in the entire world and 61 species belong Madagascar alone and they are all endemic to the Island. But 76% of these Madagascan species are protected and they not allowed to be exported.
The researchers say that it is also possible to grow the “Bourbon” specie from the Reunion Island by crossing it with native species. Only eight months is needed from the blooming to the harvest time while twelve is required for the Arabica.
As per our other article on Facebook, the Cocoa of Madagascar is also one of the world top species to make the world’s most famous chocolate.
There are more reasons calling you to visit Madagascar!