A Madagascar trip is an adventure of a lifetime – here are handy planning tips to prepare you for your vacation.
As much as we’d love them to be, holidays aren’t always perfect. If little things go wrong, it doesn’t have to ruin a trip – it can create a new adventure you otherwise never would have had or sometimes is just a good lesson (or reminder!) for a future trip. That said, of course it’s still preferable to prevent mishaps where you can. So, here are some tips from my recent travels to Nosy Be on my Madagascar trip: one of the world’s most incredible and sought after destinations in the northwest.
I had a wonderful time, experienced breathtaking wildlife encounters and learned some things along the way.
Be Prepared – Packing
Several people (including a friend who lives on the island) had warned me before my trip to be careful where and what I ate: “food hygiene isn’t good in Madagascar,” they told me. So we chose nice restaurants, avoided street food and were stringent about hygiene. Yet, mid-week I still found myself huddled over the toilet bowl with a nasty bug that would take two weeks, and a course of antibiotics, to clear. I’d been as careful as I could have been about what I ate – but, in my rush to pack, I’d neglected to throw in some of my usually essential medical items. Massive error.
Lesson: Painkillers, anti bac, imodium, activated charcoal, I’ll never forget you again!
Be Prepared (Part II): Check the Tides
I nipped across to Nosy Sakatia to visit the stunning Sakatia Lodge and the protected marine reserve which has been recently established in the bay. Here, huge green turtles come to feed on the plentiful seagrass and you can walk in right off the beach to snorkel with them.
Not feeling up to it on my first morning there (still haunted by the abovementioned bug), I took it easy and relaxed in a shady spot on the quiet beach. That afternoon, with a bit more energy, I grabbed my fins and paddled out. Looking around, dense seagrass tickling the surface was barely visible through the hazy water. Persevering, I hung around, snorkeling lazily – honestly expecting to see nothing through the bad visibility.
Then, out of nowhere, a huge shape – as big as me – flashed past and vanished, almost before I had time to make out the shape of an enormous turtle. This startlingly brief – but still beautiful sighting – was my only turtle encounter. When I spoke to the staff that evening, I realised I would have had a much better chance of seeing turtles that morning when the tide was in and visibility was clearer.
Lesson: Nature doesn’t fit itself around your schedule, even if you really want or need it to. It doesn’t take long to check tide times or seasonality in advance and you may be disappointed if you don’t.
Ask the right questions
I only had a week on the island and there was a lot to explore in that time – more than I could possibly squeeze in. So I did some digging and asked around for recommendations of the best activities. Lokobe Primary Forest and Nosy Komba both kept coming up as incredible opportunities to see wild lemurs; something I couldn’t leave Madagascar without having spotted.
In Lokobe, two of us crunched quietly through the forest with our own private guide until we came across a family of black lemurs high in the trees. After waiting patiently for maybe half an hour, they slowly crept down the branches to check us out; locking eyes with me as they munched on mangoes just metres away.
The lemurs in Nosy Komba also came incredibly close. But here, the path was thick with tourists and local guides were handing out food to tempt the animals in for photo opportunities. I refrained from taking any food from them and watched from a distance but still felt slightly uncomfortable about being part of this tourist trap. The two recommendations – which both lived up to the promise of having wild lemurs – were worlds apart in terms of the experience.
Lesson: I’d asked questions (where are the best places to see wild lemurs?) but I’d also made assumptions (that those lemurs – because they were wild – weren’t fed or interacted with by tourists). Ask the right questions to avoid a similar mistake.
Be Careful with Your Cash
I’m usually pretty good at budgeting and working out how much cash I need to last me through a trip. For some reason, in Madagascar this all went out the window.
The currency on the island is the Malagasy Ariary, although you’re actually better to bring Euros which are also widely accepted. I’d been warned that many places wouldn’t accept credit card payments, which I did find to be the case on arrival. While there were cash points and currency exchanges on Nosy Be, there would be none on Nosy Sakatia (my last stop) so I got out extra “just in case.” Retrospectively, it was far too much and I headed back to the airport clutching lots of notes. I realised I was foiled when I found Nosy Be airport had no currency exchange either – and only accepted Euros!
Lesson: Budget more carefully than I did and don’t assume you’ll be able to change your currency back at small airports – or you might get stuck, like me, with a lot of cash that can’t be changed outside the country!
Despite a few setbacks I had an amazing trip to the beautiful Nosy Be and, if you’re planning a Madagascar trip, I hope you do too!