Lying 250 miles off the East Coast of Africa, it is a land of surprises. Large enough to be considered a mini-continent, it is over 900 miles long, and lies entirely within the tropics. Within its boundaries one can find deserts, lush rainforests, high mountain forests, dry plateaus, limestone caves, white sand beaches, and coral reefs. The rich diversity of its habitats has long made it a Mecca for nature lovers, for, like the Galapagos and Hawaii, it has been the site of one of nature's great evolutionary experiments. Here, however, the experiment has run much longer, perhaps 50 million years, resulting in one of the most unusual assemblages of mammals on earth - the lemurs. Its long isolation from Africa has also led to a startling variety of other creatures including reptiles and birds and eighty percent of its plants are found nowhere else in the world. Join Nature Discoveries on a trip to explore a land filled with mystique, Madagascar.

Brown Lemur & Baby
Brown Lemur and Baby*

For most people, Madagascar is first and foremost, the land of lemurs. Indeed, these animals portray an amazing range of adaptations. Our expedition includes visits to six different areas of the island, and each has one or more unique species of lemurs. In the spiny desert in the far south, we may see tiny mouse lemurs, small enough to fit in one hand, crouched in tree cavities awaiting the night. In the rainforest preserve of Périnet, we will thrill to the loud and mournful wails of the Indri the largest lemur, weighing up to 20 pounds.  Indri travel in small family groups; pairs use these calls to maintain group territory and frequently synchronize their calls in haunting "duets." Astounding for their leaping ability are the lemurs called sifakas. In the southern desert, we will observe the Verreaux's sifaka catapult 15 to 20 feet from one tree to another, or occasionally bound across the ground on two legs like a child in a gymnastic competition. There are places too, where the lemurs have grown accustomed to people and you will delight in having close encounters.  You'll have a chance, if you wish, to feed bananas to black lemurs sitting upon your own shoulders!

No less amazing than the lemurs, are Madagascar's unusual birds. Five families are found only in Madagascar and on surrounding islands. In fact, over half of all the bird species found in Madagascar occur nowhere else! They include birds with such intriguing names as couas, vangas, mesites, and jerys. Perhaps most astonishing are the vangas, for in this group the range of body and beak shapes surpasses anything one can see in the Galapagos or Hawaii. We will watch the sickle-billed vanga using its long curved beak to pry under loose bark and the tiny nuthatch vanga, poking in crevices as it hops up trunks in nuthatch fashion. Flashing brilliant blue near the tops of trees  are the tanager-like Chabert's vangas.  There are also breath-taking emerald sunbirds, Madagascar's most colorful birds. We are sure to see several species probing fruits and flowers.

Chameleon and Friend*

There are many other delightful creatures to be seen on the island as well. Though some may shiver at the thought of reptiles, Madagascar sports an astounding variety of non-poisonous species. We will encounter lizards ranging from drab brown chameleons that are no larger than your little finger to some growing up to two feet in length. Many of these can develop speckles of color on their bodies that mix red, yellow, orange, brown, green, and white. Just as intriguing are the geckos which cling to walls, trunks, and leaves with expanded suction pads at the tips of their toes. World famous are the leaf-tailed geckos of the rainforest which we will see on Nosy Mangabe. With amazing cryptic coloration that matches that of fungus covered leaves, these geckos have a broad flat tail that is totally unlike any other gecko.

Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant*

Madagascar has been an evolutionary laboratory for plants as well, and is famous for its eight species of baobab tree, those amazing stout-trunked symbols of Africa. In the southern desert, we will see not only baobabs, but a number of plants which are so bizarre they have made Madagascar famous. There are the thorny-trunked Pachypodium or elephant-foot genus, and the slender, thorny trees of the endemic family Didiereaceae, looking like some kind of cactus, though they are not related to cacti at all. Madagascar has more species of orchids than all of Africa (over 1000),  many species of palms, and is the home of the famous "Traveler's Palm."

Tolagnaro Coast
Tolagnaro Coast*

No trip would be complete without visiting Madagascar's idyllic coastline and sunny beaches.  We will explore the tropical island of Nosy Be, just off the western coast where we'll visit delicious white sand beaches lapped by gentle warm waves. Just offshore, there is a large coral reef with an unbelievable collection of brilliantly colored tropical fish.  Returning to shore, we will be treated to a delicious picnic lunch of fresh seafood cooked on site. 

The mystique of Madagascar is due in no small part, to its people as well and we will have opportunities to visit several cities, and some small villages. The people of Madagascar, called the Malagasy, settled there as little as two thousand years ago, and  have created a fascinating diversity of cultures, cuisines, music, and lifestyles.  Antananarivo,the capital of the modern nation, serves as our base for the beginning and end of the expedition. We will explore several parts of this city and enjoy shopping at several outdoor markets, for beautifully handcrafted textiles, baskets, and carvings.

Your Nature Discoveries escort and guide for this safari-of-a-lifetime is Peter Debes. A lifelong naturalist with an irresistible curiosity, Peter has excited hundreds of travelers about the fascinating wonders of the natural world. Peter has a Masters Degree in Environmental Education and brings years of study, interest and love for all living things to this expedition.  Peter has led a previous Nature Discoveries trip to Madagascar, and many expeditions to Zimbabwe and Botswana. At each lodge we'll have the added expertise and assistance of professional guides, drivers, and boatmen, who know the ways and whereabouts of the local wildlife.  Nature Discoveries is pleased to offer this incredible safari to Madagascar. We guarantee you'll have treasured memories that will last a lifetime.

Queen's Palace
Queen's Palace*

*Photographs by Peter Debes, copyright 2008