Mark Smith Nature Tours
Natural History   •   Birdwatching   •   Flora   •   Wildlife   •   Travel Photography


led by Mark Smith
and Rivo Rarivosoa

September 21 - October 13, 2019


Rivo Rarivosoa is fluent in four languages including Japanese. He has been guiding nature, birdwatching and cultural tours in Madagascar for 15 years and is president of the National Guides Association. He also teaches guide training courses for the government. A fine musician and an accomplished photographer, Rivo's passion for sharing all aspects of Malagasy life has made him a favorite leader of travelers.

Rigors and Accommodations

Nature tourism increased greatly in Madagascar during the 1980's. In recent years several new hotels have been built near the parks and today all our hotels are comfortable with attached bathrooms. The Hilton in Antananarivo is a base we return to and extra baggage can be stored there. Food is good, including French and Malagasy cuisine, and fresh seafood. Madagascar Airlines does a good job, but internal schedules may change. If our internal flight schedule changes, we will still go to all the same places, but in a different order. The island is 1000 miles long, 250 miles wide, and mountainous. This means to see a diversity of natural areas we must make some half-day drives and two beautiful all-day drives; these will be punctuated by many interesting stops. The landscape is enchanting, with lots to look at.

In the dry forest it can be hot, but we will be out early and in the evening (midday we swim). In the rainforests of the east the trails can be muddy and it can rain. At the Ranomafana Forest (two days), the terrain includes some short, steep hills. There are relaxing options in the village and thermal baths at Ranomafana, and we can also get additional guides for photographers or for those who need to stay on more level trails. Throughout the tour most walks will be about a mile, with a few optional hikes up to three miles.

Food: European dishes are available most places, with French food favored, but also we'll enjoy tasty Malagasy dishes, with plenty of vegetables, rice and stews, not heavily spiced. Varied fruits and bottled water will be provided.


Reading and bird lists, articles, maps and travel information will be sent to participants well before departure.

Cost and Reservations

A deposit of $1000 is required to reserve one of the 9 available spaces. (Minimum 6 at stated price.) If the group size is smaller, a reasonable small group supplement will be added. Rivo will have several additional local guides.

$ 1000 Initial reservation deposit
$4950 Final Payment due 90 days prior to departure
$5550 Ground Fare Total

This includes double occupancy accommodations in hotels, transport by small bus, entrance fees, and all but one brunch (Madagascar has some fine French dining). Not included are four internal flights, international airport taxes, snorkeling costs, excess baggage charges, bar beverages, laundry, phone calls and other personal items.

($1200) (Single supplement)
Air Fare
$1,250approx. from Paris to Madagascar.
$600-800approx. round-trip U.S. to Europe, depending on U.S. gateway city.
$800approx. for four internal flights

Air fares fluctuate due to fuel prices and the strength of the Euro.

Mark’s travel agent is Pam Davis of Willamette Travel
Reach Pam at,  503-224-0180
Pam will know of local lodgings and extensions in the area.
Mark can also suggest Portland hotels.

Please make the deposit and final payment payable to Mark Smith Nature Tours and send to:

Mark Smith
PO Box 3831
Portland, OR 97208

Phone: 503-475-1978

Include your address and phone, and the name of the trip. You will be sent a letter acknowledging your deposit. The final payment is due 60 days before departure.


Cancellations made between 90 and 60 days prior to departure, forfeit $500. Cancellations made fewer than 60 days before the departure date forfeit 65% of the tour cost. We recommend that participants consider trip cancellation insurance, which can be bought through our agent, Willamette International Travel.


Days 1–2 September 21-22 U.S. to Paris to Madagascar; Antananarivo
Travelers depart various U.S. gateways September 21 at mid-day, arriving in Paris in the morning of September 22. Our Air Madagascar flight leaves Paris mid-day and arrives in Antananarivo (Tana) late September 22. We are met by Rivo and our bus and drive to our nearby hotel.
Days 3 September 23 Antananarivo
We arrive mid-morning, and tour the historic city. There are viewsfrom the many hills across the city with flowering jacaranda trees and vibrant paddy fields. At a nearby lake are hundreds of waterbirds, and the small Museum of Natural History has displays of the extinct megafauna.
Days 4 & 5 September 24-25 Fort Dauphin, Berenty
At 9:40 AM we fly to Fort Dauphin, arriving at 11:00 AM in this striking coastal town. After a break and lunch at a hotel, we drive south to Berenty, viewing en route an Antanosy tomb with wood carvings depicting the dead or the circumstances of the death. By mid-afternoon we should be at Berenty, a 250 acre private reserve of gallery and spiny forest beside the Mandrare River. We'll have an evening walk to view the famous lemurs of Berenty, the most studied wildlife in Madagascar. Because of prolonged contact with humans, the clown-like Ring-tailed Lemurs, Brown Lemurs, and elegant white Verreaux's Sifakas are tame and easily observed and photographed. The next day, we'll follow the troops at length; a rare opportunity to study details of primate behavior. In Ring-tails, the females are dominant and in October many have babies. Troops settle territorial disputes with a cacophony of wails and hoots. We will likely also see nocturnal Weasel Sportive Lemurs and the Rufous Mouse Lemur. Birds, lizards, harmless snakes, and tenrecs are also to be found at Berenty.
Day 6 September 26 Berenty to Ft Dauphin
After more early walks and lunch, we leave Berenty and drive to Ft. Dauphin for a relaxed evening.
Day 7 September 27 Fort Dauphin
A relaxing day, we'll scan for humpback whales and seabirds, walk the beach and view tide pools, watch birds on the shore and in wetlands, and visit the market, neighborhoods and the old fort. Our hotel is very comfortable and well situated for local walks.
Day 8 September 28 Fort Dauphin
Our flight leaves for Tana en route to Tulear at 9:55 AM, arriving at 11:45 AM in Tana. At 12:20 PM, we continue to Tulear, arriving at 1:30 PM. We continue a scenic hour and a half north by bus along this spiny desert coastline, through humble fishing villages and strange forests, past herds of revered Zebu cattle to our beachside resort at Ifaty, with access to fine forest and fantastic coral reef.
Days 9 & 10 Sept. 29-30 Ifaty, Spiny Desert, Tulear

These will be relaxing days full of options. Mornings we will enter the enchanting spiny forest in search of strange birds like Vangas, Newtonias, Jerys, the Madagascar Harrier Hawk, Button Quail, and the rare Subdesert Mesite and incomparable Long-tailed Ground Roller, which dashes around like a roadrunner. There is no place like these forests. Obese Elephant's Foot and Baobab Trees are scattered amongst gangly Didiera and succulent Euphorbs, and all are endemic. Photographers will enjoy the shapes and textures of this vegetation.

Across Western and Southern Madagascar these dry forests are endangered by charcoal makers. Even here we'll see where grand old trees have been felled and burned slowly in situ. The charcoal is then sold to city dwellers as cooking fuel.

In front of our cabins lies the Indian Ocean, often dotted with outrigger dugouts at sail. Coral reef fringes much of Western Madagascar. The water is clear and a pandemonium of fish and corals will overwhelm our late-morning snorkelers. We'll enjoy relaxed swims, beach walks, and fresh seafood meals. In the late afternoon on Wednesday, we drive to a nearby lake searching for water birds like the rare Madagascar Plover, stilts, herons, waterfowl and often Greater Flamingos. We continue to the town of Tulear for the night of the 29th.
Day 11 October 1 Tulear, Zombitsy, Isalo
We depart early and investigate the arid south coastal Euphorbia scrub on limestone soils, hoping to find a few specialized endemic birds and reptiles. We then continue northeast up to the highlands. We'll make short stops in Zombitsy Forest, and by late afternoon we reach Isalo National Park, the most spectacular landscape in Madagascar. Varicolored sandstone cliffs and gorges, reminiscent of the American Southwest, host rare Pachypodiums, Aloes and other succulents. We'll walk through these enchanted canyons, photographing flowers and watching for the elegant Madagascar Partridge and the Benson's Rock Thrush. We spend two nights at a fantastic lodge built into the rock in the heart of Isalo.
Day 12 October 2 Isalo to Ranomafana

We leave early for a driving day that passes through some of Madagascar's most beautiful countryside. Our route crosses the homelands of several different tribes, pastoralists as well as rice farmers. The rich green paddy fields and shimmering ponds have a backdrop of slick granite monoliths. We will make many photo stops as well as visiting an Antemoro paper factory. Late afternoon we arrive at our pleasant hotel beside the village of Ranomafana at the edge of the national park.

Days 13 & 14 October 3-4 Ranomafana

Ranomafana is one of Madagascar's largest and newest rainforest parks, and harbors the greatest diversity of lemurs found anywhere. Attention was drawn to the area when researchers discovered a new primate, the Golden Bamboo Lemur, in 1986. One of the discoverers, Patricia Wright, then of Duke University, spearheaded the campaign to establish this park. The Ranomafana Project, which is funded by U.S.A.I.D., the MacArthur Foundation and others, aims to safeguard the park (also a hydro-electric watershed) through regional projects in education, agriculture, forestry and tourism development.

We take day-long walks into spectacular Ranomafana. A clear stream cascades down through the reserve, and many well-maintained trails radiate across the hills. Led by local naturalists we'll seek out lemurs like the Grey Bamboo, Red-bellied, Brown and Mouse. With luck we'll find the splendid Diademed Sifaka, Golden and Greater Bamboo Lemurs, and perhaps the Ring-tailed Mongoose. There are birds, like Vasa Parrots, Ground-rollers, Cuckoo-rollers, Blue and Red-fronted Couas, and many Vangas. Watch too for chameleons and geckos, and scurrying tenrecs. We'll bring picnic lunches, while some may opt to return to the hotel and village for relaxed afternoons and a thermal bath.

Day 15 October 5 Ranomafana to Antsirabe

After a final early morning in Ranomafana we continue north through the highlands, passing picturesque villages of two and three-story mud houses with tile roofs. Everywhere the valleys have been terraced for rice cultivation. We arrive in Antsirabe for dinner and stay at the Hotel Des Thermes beside the hot springs. The city was founded in 1872 by Norwegian missionaries and has several interesting colonial buildings.

Day 16 October 6 Antsirabe to Perinet

A relaxed departure for Perinet, a forest reserve 100 miles east of Tana on the moist eastern slope of the Island. En route we pass through the densely populated central highlands where the majority of Malagasy live, cultivating paddy rice, vegetables and vast tracts of Eucalyptus. This area and Tana are the homeland of the Merina people, whose ancestors began immigrating to Madagascar from Indonesia 1500 years ago, and who today dominate the politics and economy. We will have a relaxed evening walk into the rainforest.

Day 17 October 7 Perinet and Mantadia Parks

This day we have diverse morning and afternoon forest walks. Perinet Reserve and Mantadia Park cover over 20,000 acres of eastern slope rainforest, a habitat that has been slash-and-burned until only a few sizable 'islands' of forest remain. Although the region is hilly, many of the trails are relatively level and pass along beautiful ponds, streams and ridges. Here we may find the Diademed Sifaka, Grey Bamboo Lemur and Brown Lemur, and at night Greater Dwarf and Eastern Mouse Lemurs are spotted by their eye shine. But the largest and most beautiful of all lemurs, indeed one of the grandest primates on earth is the Indri, which local guides will help us find. Family groups of Indris 'sing' to each other with eerie wails that carry over a mile. The tailless black and white Indri sits upright against a free trunk and with powerful hind legs launches itself from trunk to trunk, turning in mid-air. The open, broken nature of Perinet forest, perhaps caused by frequent cyclones, makes forest birdwatching a bit easier. We'll see endemic birds like Vangas of many types, Couas, Asitys, Weavers, Jerys, Sunbirds, and Blue Pigeons. There are chameleons and tenrecs, and plants like tree-ferns, Travelers Palms and orchids, as well as many others our Malagasy guides will know.

Day 18 October 8 Perinet, Tana, Paris
More explorations of Perinet and in midafternoon we continue to Tana for a relaxed evening at the Hilton.
Day 19 October 9 Tana, Majunga to Ampijoroa Park
At 7:30 AM, we fly to Majunga on the Northwest Coast, a one-hour flight. Since the eighteenth century Majunga has been an important commercial port, with the local monarchs trading with Arabs and Asians. By minibus, we continue 90 miles south to Ampijoroa Forest Reserve, one of the finest wildlife areas in Madagascar and a rare vestige of the western dry forests. Lemurs we may find include the Brown and Mongoose Lemur, Avahi, and the stunning chestnut-sided Coquerrel's race of the Verreaux's Sifaka. The open dry forests and quiet lake support many fine birds including rare species like the White-breasted Mesite, Madagascar Fish-Eagle (one of the world's most endangered birds of prey) and the Madagascar Jacana and Squacco Heron. After dark we search the forest for nocturnal lemurs like Grey Mouse, Dwarf, Sportive, and Avahi. Sleeping birds are often seen, and chameleons go pale at night and are more easily found. We stay at parkside bungalows, with attached bathrooms.
Day 20 October 10 Ampijoroa Reserve, Majunga
We enjoy more walks in this beautiful reserve, returning this afternoon for a relaxed evening on the beach and by the pool in Majunga. There will be an optional rickshaw tour of colorful markets and the French colonial city
Day 21 October 11 Majunga, Bombatoka River, Tana

Optionally, we'll have an early 3-4 hour boat ride on Madagascar's largest river, the Bombatoka, in search of the endemic Madagascar Teal and Ibis, as well as wintering Eurasian shorebirds and often Greater Flamingoes which we may have already seen closer in the southwest. The trip is in a fast speedboat and most of it is over flat open water far from shore as we navigate toward remote mangrove islands. This boat trip and catching the flight require an early departure. For non-birders, a relaxed morning on the beach at our hotel may be preferred. At 1:45 PM we fly an hour to Tana and enjoy a relaxed evening at the Carlton.

Day 22 October 12 Tana to Paris

Today a final day in Tana. The zoo and museum feature many rare native species. The small museum is particularly good on Madagascar's extinct lemur mega-fauna. And we'll visit a lake with thousands of waterbirds. There will be market opportunities to shop for Madagascar's unique crafts like handmade paper, carvings, fossils and baskets. After an early dinner we fly to Paris this evening.

Day 23 October 13 Paris to home
We arrive in Paris in the morning and connect to our various homeward flights. Marvelous Madagascar.

Mark Smith Photos from Madagascar
Field Guide to Common Sea Shells of Madagascar
Map of Madagascar tour
Tour Map of Madagascar, click to zoom

Western Avahi Lemur photo by Diana Bradshaw
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