An educational trip of Madagascar – Trip notes of a Travel Designer

Introduction to my educational trip to Madagascar

Once upon a time I had the opportunity to visit Madagascar on an 7 day educational trip with other travel designers. I love traveling with a purpose and hopping from one place to the other to explore as much as possible. It was an incredible week of discovering the amazing island Madagascar.

We did site inspections of 45 hotels in and visited 3 Malagasy national parks and 2 private parks. The trip also included 2 domestic flights within Madagascar. It was FAST paced and not for the faint at heart!

We were hosted by the wonderful Hely from ICTours who adores her country and is possibly the best host you could even wish for when you visit Madagascar.

Photo left: Hely and I enjoying a delicious Malagasy meal

I thought it would be interesting to share my trip notes as a travel designer about this trip to Madagascar so you will get an idea of what an educational trip entails. I have to be honest, this was VERY detailed and it was also the only organized multiple day educational that I’ve ever done. I would love to do many more but usually I organize them myself now and take Rosie along.

Route: Tana – Andasibe NP – Antsirabe – Ambositra – Ranofamana NP – Fianarantsoa – Ambavaloa – Anja park – Isalo NP – Ikaka – Ifaty – Nosy Be

Flights: Jo’burg – Nosy Be – Tana; Tulear – Tana; Tana – Nosy Be; Nosy Be – Jo’burg

Travel with driver from Tana – Ifaty

Travel by 2cv in Nosy Be

Introduction of Madagascar

Madagascar is the fourth biggest island in the world and also called ‘The Galapagos of Africa’. It is the furthest gateway to Asia. Madagascar is a melting pot of 18 cultures and yes this is something that I will always remember from this trip. The diversity in landscapes, people, building structures. One day we felt as if we were in Asia, the other day it was truly Africa and in between some hints of France too.

Madagascar is well known for the many different lemur types and there are no predators like in other African safari destination. We thoroughly enjoyed the many walking safaris we did in the national as well as private parks.

Antananarivo

IC Hotel

This hotel is only 4 minutes away from the airport which makes it perfect for guests arriving in the middle of the night. It has a huge swimming pool and the owner lives on the premises as well. There’s a nice restaurant. Rooms are pretty with nice colors and Madagascan furniture.

Food: I ordered a Zebu steak for dinner which was great; breakfast was baguette with confiture and you could order eggs as well.

 

I was picked up early by Rivo. Then we drove a while before we picked up guide Patrick. His English was very good and he was my guide for the day.

Andasibe

enjoyed here a 2 hour forest walk with guide John. He already works 21 years in the park and was able to show me a Giraffe Beetle, several Lemurs and also many different birds. Would have loved to hike a bit longer. Nearby we visited a Lemurs sanctuary which was situated on an island, accessible with a canoe (only to cross max 10 meters). The lemurs came very close and even come and sit on your shoulder. We also visited some type of zoo where there were all kinds of animals in different enclosures. I didn’t really understand why we visited that but I guess in case people don’t see the animals in the wild it is nice to at least see them

Vakona Forest Lodge

Beautiful setting in the middle of the rainforest.

From this lodge you can do trekkings, horse riding, squash and there’s also a pool. The chalets are quite nice but maybe a bit basic. The restaurant is ok and offers a variety of Malagasy and French dishes.

 

 

Andasibe Hotel

This hotel is fairly new and looks stunning. The rooms are massive and nicely decorated with beautiful wooden furniture and nice color schemes. Each room is individually decorated. They have playgrounds for children and a really nice pool as well. It is also possible to rent one of the 2 villas but I thought they were a bit over the top. They do have their own Jacuzzi which was not functional yet at the time that we visited.

Feonala

About 40 basic bungalows overlooking the national park. This place would be ideal for budget groups but not for the FIT traveler. It is too big and too basic.

Site Eulophiella

After driving on a very long dirt road you will arrive at this beautiful place in the middle of nowhere. The big chalets are really very beautiful and spacious. Nice well maintained gardens. I don’t know how the management of the lodge is, we only saw a receptionist. It seems like a very quiet place. Would recommend it for people looking for absolute quietness.

Grace Lodge

Madagascar Grace hotelPretty little lodge with free standing bungalows and about 6 rooms and 1 apartment in the main house. Decorated with attention to detail, rooms might be a bit small but good value for money. The have a nice restaurant area, swimming pool as well.

Antsirabe

La Residence Social

Great colonial building with about 20 rooms that are very nicely done. Spacious, sunny rooms with Madagascan furniture and colorful curtains. Most rooms had an extra bed for a child. Good place for either FITs and groups as well. There’s a embroidery studio where you can see the ladies work and also buy beautifully embroidered fabrics and cloths as well as hand painted silks.

Arotel

Typical hotel for business / conference people. We stayed here overnight and didn’t like it at all. The rooms were very noisy, we could hear our neighbors. The décor is very dull. No atmosphere at all and not recommendable for guests looking for an authentic experience. The restaurant next door is quite nice and offers a variety of Malagasy and French dishes.

Hotel des Thermes

Beautiful old stylish building but completely dilapidated. When you go inside you get quite a shock about the décor. Plastic furniture, dirty carpets. Would be great to re-decorate but till then: don’t recommend!

Chambres du Voyageur – 2nd choice

The first thing you’ll notice is the stunning garden. The French owner showed us around proudly with a little lemur on his shoulder. He also explained that he’s got the Responsible Tourism label which is great. The rooms might be a bit dark but they’re good and there are only 9 rooms. This is a great place for botanists.

Couleur Café – 1st choice

Everything is beautiful about this place. 6 chalets situated around a spacious sunny garden, 1 suite. The rooms are decorated with local furniture and fittings and is done with a lot of good taste. The owner is really friendly as well and very much involved in running the lodge. Currently they’re also building a professional kitchen so that they can have more guests for lunch and dinner. There is a nice lounge area as well. We were treated with cinnamon tea and cookies.

Les Rose Des Vents

This is a big villa run by a French couple. They have 5 rooms of which 2 are really small and difficult to get to by small stairs. Somehow the couple didn’t seem to me as very friendly hosts. I would not recommend the place.

Ambositra

This area in Madagscar is famous for the wood carving industry; the area seems very Asian with lots of markets, shops, activities, villages rice fields.

Motel Violette

We had lunch here. The bungalows are situated quite close to the road and construction was going on while we visited. The decoration of the bungalows is not really my taste.

Chez Artisan

Bungalows situated around an open space which looks like a parking lot. Beautiful wood carving can be found everywhere. We took pictures of the beautiful doors. The standard bungalows are very small. The family units are ok and can be recommended for couples but the place didn’t have a really nice atmosphere. Something was missing.

Ranomafana National Park

We visited the National Park. Walk with Robin. We hiked for 2 hours which normally is done in 4 hours. Quite steep, sometimes slippery. We saw 3 types of lemurs: Golden Bamboo, Edwardsie Sifaka, Redfronted Brown Lemur; leaf gecko

Setam Lodge – 1st choice

We stayed here overnight. There are about 20 spacious rooms and it was nice and clean. Often fully booked and a disadvantage is that one had to book DBB. Dinner is quite expensive and guests don’t always want to do a 3 course dinner. It’s close to the entrance of the park and has beautiful views. Would recommend this def.

 

Cristo

Cristo Lodge is situated the furthest from Ranomafana NP. The garden setting is lovely and we wished we could help them with some interior decorating. The house has a lot of potential. The bungalows are nicely situated next to the river. It needs a serious upgrade of the rooms and we would not recommend this.

Ihary Lodge

This lodge is next to Grenat and offers quite basic, small bungalows, situated next to the river. The bungalows are built very close to each other and guests will not be able to have some privacy. This is a bit too basic.

Centrest – 2nd Choice

18 rooms in lovely garden setting. Well managed and still building new rooms. Some are nicely decorated others not so much. Spacious rooms which is great. The restaurant has an inside as well as outside area which is nice. Yes, would recommend this.

Grenat – 3rd choice, newly built, great potential

6 newly built bungalows in reddish color. Really pretty and nice atmosphere. Would recommend this

Fianarantsoa

Zomatel

This hotel is situated in the middle of town and would be ideal for conferences or if guests would like to go on the train. The rooms are spacious and everything is very clean. There’s a big indoor swimming pool and the restaurant is very good. We enjoyed a very good lunch here. Would not recommend this to people that would like to have an authentic experience but restaurant might be nice to use while en route

Tsara Guest House

Beautifully restored old building in the middle of town. Very pretty rooms and nice restaurant setting. The furniture in the rooms is very nice and there’s a lovely garden for the guests to relax. Would def. recommend this.

Ambalavao

Ambalavao is a busy little town from where trekkings can be done. In general I can’t recommend any of the accommodation that we’ve visited here. Only stay overnight if an emergency.

After Ambalavao the landscape slowly changes. We move from the highlands to the lowlands and the roads get less windy, the landscape dryer, the villages less, the climate warmer and the people start to look more African.

Bougainvillees

Here we stayed overnight. The bungalows look really nice from the outside and inside as well. They’re quite spacious and the furniture is ok. The towels are very old and the shower has no pressure. I would only recommend this place if there’s nothing else available in the area.

There’s a paper making factory that can be visited and the papers are sold at the lodge as well.

Residence de Betsileo

At first the restaurant seems quite nice when you come in although very dark. The hotel is situated at a roundabout in the middle of town. As soon as you go up the stairs you’ll see that the place is not looked after very well. It’s very dusty and the rooms are quite small and a bit dodgy. I can’t recommend this place.

Tsienimparilhy Hotel

This is a hotel in the middle of town. They have a building in the back and you go up the stairs to get to the rooms. The rooms are really basic and to be honest I can’t recommend the place to stay for travelers except for backpackers. Down stairs is a restaurant and bakery and it might be nice to have a coffee stop with some pastries while en route to the next town.

Anja park

a guide will meet you at the parking and can take you for a 2, 4 or 6 hour walk. We had an incredible experience watching and listening to the Ringtail Lemurs. We only needed to walk 5 minutes to see a whole lot of them. We could sit on a rock and just observe and take pictures. They were also quite curious about us and came to check us out really closely.

A nice thing of this park is that the money earned with the entrance fees goes back into the local communities. Guides are really locals and have learned to talk a little bit of English and are still learning

La Varangue de Betsileo

This lovely place we discovered while en route to Anja park. In Betsileo we only visited and stayed at places that we too basic so we were all quite relieved to find this one which is perfect for overseas visitors. We will always remember the place of the Lady in the Piyamas, a French lady that looooved to talk and was very happy to see some people.

Their rooms are lovely, the grounds and gardens are beautiful. This is a great place from which to explore the area and come back to in the afternoon to relax. There are 5 rooms and they also organise lunch for groups.

 

 

 

Isalo Ranch

This was a very friendly place with rondavels with blue doors and windows and bungalows. They were busy building a couple more bungalows. The rondavels were well appointed, all you needed was there. The bungalows were very spacious and overlooking the beautiful mountains in the back. There is a lovely pool area and gardens to relax. I would def. recommend this place for the more budget conscious traveler.

 

 

Motel d’Isalo -> 70 bungalows

This was a very big place with a massive pool. It’s situated just before Isalo. The bungalows are quite basic and they build them the wrong way around. All the rooms look out on the swimming pool instead of on the backside where there’s a stunning mountain view. I would only accommodate groups here and no FIT’s

Isalo Rock Lodge – 50 rooms

We were absolutely blown away by the beauty and quality of this lodge, a huge contrast with all the other places we had seen so far. It is a 4 star property but definitely has the ambiance of a 5 star property and could compete with luxury lodges in South Africa. At the moment (2011) the rates are about € 85 for the room without meals which is a fantastic offer.

The rooms are beautiful, the gardens are indigenous, food was really refined and a culinary highlight. I hope this lodge is going to do well because they certainly invested a lot. The staff was also very friendly but would need a bit of training.

Jardin du Roy – 20 rooms

This is a well established lodge and looks like a fortress. Very tall angular buildings

Relais de Reine – 20 rooms

This is the sister lodge of Du Roy, lower buildings. Both lodges well established with big pools. There’s grass all around the lodges which I didn’t like. The water was taken from the well behind the lodge. I don’t think it’s suitable to have such big gardens, rather establish an indigenous garden that needs less water in this area. The bathrooms were very outdated. The suite didn’t have a shower, only a shower over bath that you had to hold. We met the French owner who was a very friendly lady.

Satrana Lodge – 40 tents

We stayed here overnight in luxury tents with ensuite bathrooms and outside shower. There was a viewing deck in the front of the tent with really comfortable wooden chairs. The bathroom was a stunning and very well designed with double basins. The electricity is on from 6pm till about 11 pm and then is switched on again and 6am in the morning till 8 or 10, not sure. The French Director is an arrogant pig who smelt of alcohol and tobacco when we arrived and treated our driver like a dog. He was not willing to accommodate the driver which is ridiculous. How can you have a lodge in the middle of nowhere and not accommodate drivers when all your guests come with drivers?? Anyway, just for that reason I would not recommend this lodge. I would always want the driver to stay close with the guests and he should be well looked after as well.

Isalo National Park

We met Momo, our guide, at the entrance of the park and he took us on a 3 hour hike through this park. In the beginning there was a bit of climbing but not really a lot. When we arrived at the Isalo massif the hiking was quite easy and absolutely stunning.

The park is very spectacular with its eroded standstone mountains. We saw a few tombs of the Barra tribe who bury their deaths in the rocks. We didn’t go to the natural swimming pool because it was full of sand. There has been a lot of rain in the area so the pool needs to be cleaned before people can swim in it again.

At the end of the walk, the descent can be a bit strenuous. We stopped for a picnic where there were lots of Brown and Ringtail Lemurs. The Brown Lemurs were quite interested in our breakfast so we had to eat it quickly because we certainly didn’t want to feed them.

Isalo reminded me of the Fish River Canyon as well as the Drakensberg. The landscape changes between rocky mountains, Kalahari plains. Population is more and more African. Houses are lower and no longer brics are used but more mud huts appear with thatch roofs.

Momo is quite well known as a guide and always hired by ICtours. Upon request he can take guests into his village and organize lunch or dinner and traditional dancing. This should be quite a good and authentic experience and can also be offered for just 2 guests which is great.

Ilakaka

We stopped here en route to see the sapphires. Apparently this place is built up the last decade and can be a bit dangerous for bandits. Nevertheless we did stop here and went into one of the shops. A French guy showed us around and afterwards we were offered lunch which took forever. Somehow there was complete misunderstanding about the order and 1 avo salad took about 30 minutes.

The manager got kind of involved but nothing speeded up. We were fed up and just wanted to leave. We got a wrong bill and it was just a bad experience. The Bradt guide book says that most tourist busses quickly drive through this town because it has a bit of Wild West. I would not recommend to stop here if there’s a risk for clients. Of course the manager of the place says that there’s no problem. I didn’t have a good feeling about this visit.

Ifathi

Situated about 1.5 hour from Talenuar; you drive over a very sandy road and pass Nomad villages. The area seems very very poor. The population is definitely African. We’ve left the Asian part of the trip.

Hotel Le Paradisier -> 20 bungalows

After the long bumpy dirt road we arrived at Le Paradisier which is one of the first hotels in Ifathi. We were welcomed with fruit juice. It was very windy. The restaurant area looks basic but warm with wooden furniture, green plants and some nice Madagascan couches. It is a pity that the swimming pool is under construction.

The bungalows are spacious with a double bed and twin beds in the mezzanine. The stairs to go up are a bit too small to take up a bag. The shower is good and the rest of the bathroom too. I like the energy saving key system. Turn down service is offered while we’re at dinner.

For dinner it’s possible to ask for lobster which we did. It was delicious and the service was good and friendly. NOTE: the construction of the swimming pool was not mentioned to a honeymoon couple and the hotel did not organize alternative accommodation for them. I think this is bad service and would not be accepted in South Africa but in Madagascar you sometimes have to deal with these kind of things.

Tourism still very much developing and some people don’t care that much or don’t have enough competition.

Food: We had a really great pasta lunch and an even better Lobster Dinner, we were given each 3 lobsters,nogal!!

NOTE: if you like to get on the beach be aware that you will be accompanied by many local kids. Almost like an ambush. It gets very windy in the afternoon.

Dunes -> most upmarket in Ifaty

Beautiful pool and setting but management not really on the ball. The standard and deluxe rooms are almost the same so never book a standard room but rather go for villas which are situated overlooking the sea. The beach is a problem because it’s not so clean and clients apparently complain about that. Will be a difficult sell.

Hotel de la Plage

Owner-run by a French lady, very well organized. The bungalows each have their own terrace with beach chairs which most probably prevents you from being hassled by sales people on the beach. Great activities centre that also looks very well organized. The hotel is situated between 2 fishing villages which gives a lot of activity on the beach. The decoration of the bungalows is quite basic and could have just a tad bit of an upgrade.

Bellevue

The entrance was really shabby and I didn’t like it but apparently they’re still building on it. There are different type of rooms so when making bookings, be aware of that. The rooms are quite basic. Budget group accommodation. They’ve used really nice linens.

Nautilus

Big massive pool which was the only nice thing about this horrible place. Don’t send clients here.

Reniala Park:

This park is more like a botanical garden with lots of medicinal plants and the oldest Baobab in the region: 1500 years old. Nice guided tour by local guide that has learned to speak a little bit of English. Money goes back into the community although not sure how much and where it is invested. Really lovely place to visit for people interested in flora of the region.

 La Paille en queue

Situated 3 minutes from Tulear airport and run by a friendly French guy. Upon arrival he apologized that some things might be in desperate need of repair but since the 2009 political situation things have been a bit difficult. The rooms are quite ok. We stayed in room 108 with a double bed upstairs and a double bed downstairs. The shower/bathroom is spacious with separate toilet. We didn’t have any hot water. Solar panels are supposed to provide the hot water but it doesn’t function well anywhere. Hotels with different floors experience that some floors simply don’t get hot water.

Food: dinner was a fish curry which was really fresh and delicious. There’s a big swimming pool. I was allowed to use the internet in the office which I very much appreciated.

Tour of Antananarivo

We did a quick tour of Tana (= short for Antananarivo) with guide Patrick. He’s very knowledgeable, speaks good English and looks after clients well and in a relaxed way. He told us about the history and origin of Tana and brought us to a nice viewpoint. We drove down the Avenue de L’independence.

The highlight of the tour was lunch at Café du Gare. An old train station, lovely setting. It was Sunday so many locals and expats were enjoying a Sunday brunch. Service was quick and it was good value for money. Def. recommend to clients to have lunch here.

Nosy Be

Direct flight from Jo’burg to Nosy Be operated on Tuesdays by Air Madagascar. Currently special package offers which include flights and hotel nights, half board.

Nosy Be Hotel

I was picked up from the airport by driver Jean. He was really nice and acted more as a local guide than a quiet driver. Although it was dark he told me all kinds of things en route to the hotel.

The hotel is owned and run by Elma who is also the Head of Nosy Be Tourism. She’s very friendly and makes sure your visit is very comfortable. I was welcomed with a delicious water melon cocktail upon arrival. Check-in was quick and I was also asked my dinner wishes which I ordered before going to the room.

The room was decorated with lovely flowers, there’s a nice outside terrace to relax and write and the bathroom is good as well. What I really liked was the bed and the bed linen. It was the first hotel we had with duvets instead of blankets and sheets. There were also high quality mattresses and pillows. The rooms have AC and no fan. There are different room types and also 1 3-bedroom family villa.

Food: breakfast is quite big with a fresh fruit platter, crepes and pastries, fresh juice and coffee / tea. It is served on the beachfront terrace.

For dinner a daily 3 course dinner is served as well as some seafood specialities. The first night I enjoyed the Stuffed Crab and the 2nd night we really enjoyed the king Prawns served with salad, rice and vegetable dumplings. All very fresh and delicious.

Nose Be Lodge

This is a small intimate lodge with only 6 rooms. They’re currently building a family tree house. The Belgium owner used to have a restaurant in Belgium so he assures us that the food is really of high standard and very important. There’s a nice pool area and access to the beach as well. I would really recommend this place for FITs and honeymooners.

NOTE: the owner keeps lemurs, a boa constrictor, a massive tortoise and I think he should get rid of all of that. Not a pleasant experience.

Le Zahir

Individually decorated bungalows around a pool. The bungalows have no beach views and no access to the beach either. You would need to go through a side street to get to the beach. The decoration is stunning and high quality furniture is used.

Villa Valiha – 20 rooms

We found this place by chance because we were walking on the beach and it looked stunning. It is an old mansion diverted into a boutique hotel mainly catering for the Italian FITs. It struck me that everyone, owner, manager, staff, was smoking here!

Royal Beach Hotel, 4 star

This reminded me of the resort in the Dominican Republic. Very big hotel, resort type. Chairs on the beach but a lot of activity from locals and sales people because of the road between the hotel and the beach. Rooms are decorated with white and beige and look very smart and clean.

Anjiamarango

I wanted to see the hotels up north to check if there were less sales people on the beach. Madagascar is poor so of course people are just trying to make a living. Hotels should include the local community when building and making sure that families get jobs and that is what is done at this lodge.

Here was no one so far the French owner assured us. The lodge employs mainly locals from the surrounding village which is great. They’re also not interested in Club style Italian groups which is also great. The bungalows are massive, 55 m2 and located in 3 different levels. The lowest level has direct access to the beach. Although there’s an AC, rooms are naturally ventilated. The owners are a French family and very much into sustainability and developing the area in sustainable way.

The public areas were a bit too full with too much of the same furniture to my liking.

Vanila Hotel

This is a direct competitor of the Nosy Be Hotel but not owner run. It’s a very big hotel with a rocky beachfront so beach access might be a challenge here as well. There’s 1 infinity pool and 1 pool with 3 levels. Rooms are nice but would prefer to send guests to Nosy Be Hotel.

We paid 699 euro for the land arrangement and 150 for the flight to Tulear. Tickets with Air Madagascar were sponsored by Air Madagascar.