Project Description





Highlights: Natural & human history of Madagascar / Lemurs & primate evolution / Aye Aye /
Wildlife viewing / Tree planting service projects / Tribal village life & market / Nosy Magabe National Park / Malagasy cooking class / Giant fruit bats / Coral reef ecology / Marine reptiles & mammals / Madagascar conservation issues

Island of Time – 8 Days

Madagascar is a land like no other. The fourth largest island in the world also happens to be the oldest. Over 167 million years ago Madagascar was a land-locked plateau in the middle of Gondwana, the mega landmass from which all the world’s continents eventually broke away. Originally splitting away from the African continent still attached to India, Madagascar broke from the India subcontinent 65 million years ago to become the first island.

With more time in isolation than any other land mass on earth, Madagascar evolved over 200,000 unique species of plants and animals including 8 entire plant families, over 1,000 species of orchids, 350 species of frogs, 370 reptiles, 5 families of birds and approximately 200 mammal species unique in the world. There is simply no other place like it.

The island’s lemurs scientifically referred to as “prosimians” (before monkeys), represent an entire branch of our human evolutionary tree that survived nowhere else but here. They probably arrived as stowaways on floating rafts of vegetation from mainland Africa at a time monkeys were evolving to replace them. Today, Madagascar’s lemurs represent nearly half of all primate species on earth. The first humans did not arrive on the island until a mere 2,000-years ago, but their impact on the land has been much more massive.

This extraordinary journey takes students well off the beaten path to Madagascar’s largest and richest rainforests. The Masoala (literally “eyes of the forest”) peninsula supports 12 species of lemurs and many other endemic forest species. Coral reefs fringing the peninsula are pristine and support many species of sea turtles. Off shore bottle nosed porpoise, spinner dolphins and humpbacked whales breed in the surrounding waters.

Students on this trip will cruise up remote rivers by launch and dugout canoes visiting hidden villages. They will experience one of the world’s richest forests on day treks and night walks, snorkel over coral reefs and explore remote islands, secret lagoons and estuaries in search of Madagascar’s extraordinary natural treasures.

Service projects will include planting seeds in a nursery and trees in the forest that bear fruits favored by endangered animals, cleaning sea turtle nesting beaches and providing school supplies to poor village schools. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries on earth with 90% of the population living on less than US$2/day, yet the Malagasy are some of the happiest and heart warming people you can ever hope to meet.

Study Focus: natural & human history of Madagascar

  • Students arriving in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, on international flights will be met at the airport and transferred (30-40 minutes) to Belvedere, Hotel de Charm, a quiet enclave in the heart of the historic quarter with spectacular views of the city.
  • If the flight time is early enough in the day, we can take a stroll through the cobblestone streets of the old city, learning about the many ethnic mixes of people and foreign influences that comprise this historic city.
  • After a delicious welcome dinner and trip orientation session, students will be given an overview of the natural and human history of Madagascar – the world’s fourth largest and oldest island.

Overnight: Belvedere, Hotel de Charm, Antananarivo

Study Focus: lemurs & primate evolution/ night walk in search of aye aye

  • After a good breakfast at our hotel, students will be transferred to Antananarivo Domestic Airport for the Monday morning scheduled flight to Maroantsetra.
  • Arriving an hour later at a small rural landing strip, student will know right away they are stepping back in time.
  • After checking most of our bags at Coco Beach Bungalows and enjoying a good lunch, we will board launches for a 1-hour trip up river to Farakaraina – a remote wildlife sanctuary run by a local NGO.
  • Along the way, students will gain fascinating glimpses into the daily lives of the Betsimisaraka tribe that inhabit this region of Madagascar as they see villagers casting nets for fish, wading along the reeds with traps for shrimp and hauling produce to market in dugout canoes.
  • Arriving at the terminus of our launch trip, we then have a 45-minute hike to the Farakaraina Reserve where we will check into bungalows and tents and enjoy a refreshing swim in the sea along a crescent-shaped beach of soft white sand.
  • Dinner will be followed by a talk on the evolution of primates and the importance of Madagascar’s lemurs in understanding our own lineage as a species.
  • Once darkness has set in, we begin a Night Walk in search of many wonderful nocturnal creatures including: common and stripped tenrecs, leaf-tailed geckos, chameleons, poisonous frogs, giant spiders, boa constrictors and owls.
  • The big draw here, however, is the chance to see four species of nocturnal lemurs, including the world’s weirdest primate – the aye-aye.
  • With the teeth of a rabbit, the ears of a bat, the tail of a fox and the hands of no living creature, it took years before scientists finally classified this strange cat-sized mammal as a lemur.
  • The aye-aye has a long skeletal finger it uses to secure grubs from under the bark of trees, filling an ecological niche on Madagascar left empty by the absence of woodpeckers. The aye-aye uses its bat-like ears to hone in on the subtle sounds of grubs burrowed deep in dead wood.
  • The aye-aye is believed to be a demon by the Malagasy and has been almost exterminated on the island, but here in this remote reserve we still have a good chance of seeing one.
  • Returning from our night walk we will enjoy a campfire on the beach, featuring local legends, until bedtime.

Overnight: Farakaraina Nature Reserve bungalows & tents

Study Focus: morning wildlife viewing / tree planting service projects / tribal village life

  • Everyone will rise early this morning and set off in small groups with an expert local guide in search of the many species of animals that inhabit this rare lowland rainforest.
  • A wealth of endemic birds can be found here including the Madagascar crested ibis, but the real draw are the daytime lemurs – the white-fronted brown lemur and the dwarf bamboo lemur that everyone is likely to see.
  • Following a good breakfast, we set off in teams to start a full day service project. There’s no greater threat to Madagascar’s wildlife than the rapid deforestation of the island.
  • Erosion of the island’s red soil is now so extensive from deforestation that it is estimated the entire mountainous island – the 4th largest in the world – will be eroded to sea level within 3 million years. To call Madagascar “an island lost in time” has more than one meaning.
  • To help halt and reverse this terrible trend, students on this trip will sow hundreds of seeds in a large tree nursery cared for by a local NGO and will plant saplings raised at the nursery that are ready for transplanting into the forest.
  • Seeds and trees chosen for this project will be species whose fruits endangered mammals and birds most depend upon as well as trees that local villagers require for building dugout canoes, homes and firewood.
  • In the late afternoon everyone can enjoy a refreshing swim in the Indian Ocean before we pack up to depart Farakaraina by motorized launch.
  • On our return journey we will stop at the traditional Betsimisaraka village of Andranofotsy to learn more about local life. This second largest tribe in Madagascar was influenced by pirates and slave trading during colonial days, but still follows age-old patterns of subsistence and animistic beliefs to this day.
  • The Betsimisaraka abide by many superstitious beliefs like ghosts, mermaids and little people of the forest that our tribal guide will share with us. One of the beliefs helps protect chameleons, but another gave the aye-aye its name and resulted in its demise.
  • Returning to Maroantsetra at sunset, we will check in to Coco Beach Bungalows on the waterfront and enjoy a delicious dinner under the stars followed by a group circle to share some of the highlights of our first few days together.

Overnight: Coco Beach Bungalows, Maroantsetra

Study Focus: morning market / Nosy Magabe National Park / Malagasy cooking class

  • Before we set off on our next adventure, we will enjoy breakfast at our lodge and visit the morning market at Maroantsetra to shop for supplies for a night of camping on Magabe Island.
  • Boarding speedboats in Maroantsetra Harbor, we cross over a short span of Antongil Bay to the island of Nosy Mangabe, a national park that boasts beautiful sandy coves, massive trees with huge buttress roots and a treasure trove of miniature wildlife.
  • In the 1960’s aye-aye were introduced here in an effort to save them from what was believed, imminent extinction. The aye-aye is still here along with many more weird and wonderful creatures.
  • Black and white ruffed lemurs are found here along with white-fronted brown lemurs and their screaming calls can be heard from all points on the island throughout the day.
  • Nosy Magabe is one of the best places to view boas, leaf-tailed geckos, green-backed mantella frogs and the world’s smallest reptile – a chameleon that fits on top of a fingernail.
  • The island is also an ancient human habitation and burial site from some of the first peoples to settle on Madagascar several thousand years ago.
  • We will have the full day to hike the well-maintained trails on the island in search of wildlife as well as time to swim and snorkel in the pristine coves, possibly with sea turtles and dolphins.
  • In the late afternoon, students will prepare their own dinner, featuring fresh seafood, under the guidance of Malagasy cooks.
  • Everyone will sleep under mosquito nets this night atop palm- thatched pavilions to protect us from rain. It’s as close to sleeping in the open air as students are ever likely to get.

Overnight: Nosy Magabe campground

Study Focus: giant fruit bats / coral reef ecology / marine reptiles & mammals / river flora & fauna

  • In the early morning hours, while the sea is still calm, we continue our boat journey across Antongil Bay to Madagascar’s Masoala peninsula, stopping along the way to see a colony of flying fruit bats on a remote island.
  • Masoala literally translates as “the eyes of the forest” and there are a lot of them here with 12 known species of lemurs. Masoala is one of the largest and most diverse rainforests in Madagascar and probably harbors the greatest number of unclassified species.
  • Created in 1997, the park protects 2,300 square km of rainforest and 100 sq. km of marine parks. The Masoala peninsula is exceptionally diverse due to its huge size and variety of habitats, including: rainforest, coastal forest, flooded forest, marsh, mangrove and coral reefs that support a dazzling array of marine life.
  • Arriving at our lodge for breakfast, students will be awed by a spectacular stretch of golden sand beach and an idyllic fresh water lagoon right in front of the resort’s restaurant. Tampolo beach is widely hailed as the most beautiful in the country, but we are likely to have it to ourselves.
  • Students will be briefed on coral reef ecology before having a delightful afternoon exploring the rock outcrops and reefs that make up the Tompolo Marine Reserve.
  • Sightings of hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles are quite common here, especially in the fair weather months of October to December when females come ashore to lay their eggs.
  • Each year from July to early September, hundreds of humpback whales visit Antongil Bay during their long migration. The warm protected waters of the bay provide an ideal breeding and calving ground for these magnificent marine mammals.
  • At any time of year it is possible to see dugong, bottle-nosed porpoise and spinner dolphins in the waters of Antongil Bay.
  • In the late afternoon we will board traditional pirogues (dugout canoes) for a paddle up river.
  • Several species of Madagascar kingfishers can be found in the riparian zone here along with paradise flycatchers, weavers, blue couals, herons and many other endemic Madagascar species.
  • After dinner this evening, students will have an open forum discussion on coral reef conservation, sea turtles and marine mammals and efforts school groups can undertake to help safeguard them.

Overnight: Tompolo Lodge, Masoala peninsula

Study Focus: Masoala National Park endemic species / village school project / traditional music & dancing / constellations

  • We’ll have another early morning as we eat a big breakfast and pack a picnic lunch for a full-day excursion.
  • Our destination is Masoala National Park, home to 12 species of lemurs including the endemic red-ruffed lemur – found on this peninsula and nowhere else.
  • Masoala harbors many other novelties, including the Madagascar day gecko, leaf-tailed gecko, chameleons of all sizes, spectacular birds such as the helmet vanga, and rare species such as the red owl and tomato frog.
  • The Madagascar serpent-eagle was recently discovered here and exists in healthy populations only on this remote peninsula.
  • Our trek takes us along the coast for an hour, through lovely forest trails and along unspoiled beaches before we enter the park proper. The mountainous nature of the trails makes for slow going, but the rewards are many.
  • Students will certainly see one of the world’s most beautiful rainforests during our 2-3-hour forest trek even if the dense vegetation shields the view of wildlife at times
  • Returning back down to the beach from the park trails we will enjoy a picnic lunch and a swim in a private cove before visiting Ambodiforaha village school.
  • Here international students will have an opportunity to support the school with supplies, share in world geography lessons by presenting a map of the world marking where each visiting student is from and playing games together.
  • The villagers may arrange for a traditional dance presentation accompanied by rhythmic singing, drums and rattles made of pebbles in crushed tin cans. The children in this small village of less than 200 people get especially animated when they hear their traditional music.
  • Returning to Tampolo lodge in time to watch a spectacular sunset, students will have time to swim in the sea before dinner.
  • As darkness descends we will gather on mats on the vast expanse of beach to star gaze and learn about constellations in the Southern Hemisphere sky.

Overnight: Tampolo Lodge, Masoala peninsula

Study Focus: Madagascar conservation issues / departure

  • After breakfast this morning students will engage in an open-forum discussion on Madagascar’s pressing conservation issues and discuss ways to resolve these given the poverty situation and growing population the country faces.
  • Before the seas build up at mid-day, we will bid farewell to the Masoala peninsula and cruise back to Marontsetra where we catch a charter flight back to the capital of Antananarivo.
  • As most international flights depart Madagascar late in the day, there will be plenty of time to check in for the return home.
  • If schools prefer a Sunday departure, an extra night in Antananarivo can be easily arranged.

Note: This trip is offered September to mid December

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