Most of the lodging options for St-Leu, our first stop in Reunion, are apartments that are rented by the week. It’s easy to see why one might be tempted to linger there. From diving with dolphins and turtles to paragliding and surfing the famous Gauche de St-Leu, this town draws both adventure seekers and ocean lovers. In fact, “we could spend weeks here” became an oft-repeated refrain with us in virtually every place we visited in Reunion. Instead of a week, we intended to stay only one night in St-Leu. There were two guesthouses listed in the guide we picked up at the airport tourism desk. We asked the owner of the ice cream shop where we had stopped to use his phone, but the woman who answered was unable to give us directions so she sent her husband for us to follow.
We left Madagascar and an hour later touched down in France. Though the glory days of its colonial empire are a distant memory, France still controls a number of territories outside Europe, which have varying degrees of autonomy. As a department, Reunion is part of France in the same way that Scotland is part of the UK, and Guam is not part of the United States. It was only when we started looking for flights between Madagascar and the Seychelles that we realized a slice of France still exists in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Perhaps it’s a well-kept French secret. After spending a week on the island, we only met one other person who was not from France, and she was French Canadian.
As we get ready to leave the land of lemurs, here’s a look back at our travels in Madagascar:
- 16 – days we traveled around the country, five of which we spent honeymooning in the private Anjajavy reserve.
- 3818 – pictures we took, many of which are blurry, out-of-focus attempts at capturing sifakas mid-jump.
- 1450 – kilometers of route nationale we traversed, including all 100km of RN3 from Tana to Anjozorobe and the entire RN7, which stretches for nearly 1,000km from Tana to Tulear and is the only well-paved road in the south of Madagascar. This does not include the off-roading we did to access many of the places we visited.
Located just three hours east of Tana, Andasibe is Madagascar’s most accessible national park. It is comprised of two distinct patches of rainforest – the smaller Perinet, which borders the main road, and the more rugged Mantadia, which can only be reached after an hour of jostling along a bumpy dirt track. We had been planning on making Andasibe the first stop on our tour of the country, but Vakona lodge where we hoped to stay was booked, so we started our travels in Anjozorobe, saving Andasibe for last. That the lodge was full was a worrying indicator of Andasibe’s popularity so we were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves practically alone on our visit to the forest.
With nearly 300 bird species, half of them endemic to the island, Madagascar is one of Africa’s premier birding destinations. We, however, are not birders and passed up Anjajavy’s bird walks for a chance to sleep in. Our interest in ornithology is solely photographic. We won’t forgo sleep for a chance to add a new bird to our collection, as a committed ornithologist would, but if we encounter one with distinctive plumage, we’ll photograph it.
Lemur spotting is effortless in Anjajavy as small families of Coquerel’s sifakas and large troupes of brown lemurs cross and re-cross the hotel property multiple times a day. Neither species seemed perturbed in the slightest by our presence, peering down at us with as much curiosity as we exhibited. Read more
We’ve been close several times before, but this time we are certain that we’ve found paradise. Set on a private beach ensconced in an undisturbed strand of deciduous dry forest teeming with exotic wildlife, Anjajavy offers the exclusivity of a private nature reserve blended with the tranquility of a luxurious beach resort. To underscore its distinctiveness, Anjajavy operates in its own time zone – one hour ahead of the rest of the country, despite its location on Madagascar’s western shore.
In addition to the typical water sports, boat trips, and beach activities that are the standard fare of most island honeymoon destinations, Anjajavy entices with excursions that take advantage of its unique habitat. You can go birding if sleeping in is not your thing or simply relax by the pool with a book in hand, enjoying the gourmet food and personalized service that reflect the hotel’s unpretentious comfort. For the more adventurous, there are also night walks through the forest and a variety of hikes that allow guests to explore Anjajavy’s flora and fauna. Contrary to the song, heaven, it turns out, is a place where quite a lot happens.
Planning our trip somewhat last minute, we decided to use a tour company – one that came highly recommended by friends who had recently visited Madagascar. We also consulted a few guide books and, seeing that there were no national parks south of Tana until Ranomafana, attempted to convince our booking agent to let us drive from Anjozorobe to Ranomafana in one day. After taking two full days to cover this distance, we now appreciate why she was reluctant to accede to what we thought was a reasonable request, but what in reality was quite a ludicrous notion.
The last stop on our tour was Isalo National Park, a 120km stretch of sandstone massif that held out the promise of idyllic waterfalls, cool swimming holes, and cloistered canyons. The park is also home to more than 80 bird species and three different kinds of lemurs, making it a popular tourist destination. In fact, according to Roland, Isalo receives more foreign visitors than any other park in Madagascar.
The plan had been to spend a day hiking in the Andringitra Mountains, which act as a boundary between the highlands plateaus and the Great South of Madagascar. However, Tsara camp, where we stayed, lay on the south side of the mountains and it was too far to backtrack to access the park entrance. Instead, we spent the day hiking in the Tsaranoro Valley, ascending the peak that gives the valley its name.