Must see attractions in Eastern Madagascar

  • Top ChoiceSights in Baie d’Antongil & Masoala Peninsula

    Parc National Masoala-Nosy Mangabe

    This 2100-sq-km national park contains one of the best primary rainforests in the country. It is famous for its vegetation, which includes rare hardwoods, bamboos, and dozens of species of fern, palm and orchid. Ten lemur species are found here, along with several tenrec and mongoose species, 14 bat species, 60 reptile species and about 85 bird species. It also encompasses three protected marine areas. The reserve is only accessible by boat, or on foot if you are hiking. The park's headquarters are in Maroantsetra, where you can get permits and guides. There is also a park office in Antalaha on the east coast. There are excellent opportunities here for hiking, sea kayaking, snorkelling and swimming. The entire peninsula is exceptionally wet, however, particularly during June and July, when river levels are highest. October to December is somewhat drier and best for hiking. July to September is whale season, when humpback whales come to the bay to give birth and mate: they can be seen right from the coast and on boat transfers from Maroantsetra. This is a hiker’s paradise. If you are staying in the lodges around Ambodifohara, there are many short trails that you can take. There are also three main long-distance trails for serious hikers: guiding fees for these routes are set, even if you decide to do it in fewer days. Park permits are not included; note that some stretches of the routes are not actually in the park itself so you won't need a permit for every day. The MNP office will advise you. Maroantsetra to Antalaha passes through rice paddies and gentler terrain. It is the easiest but also the least interesting. A guide for five days is Ar800,000. For forest lovers, the Maroantsetra to Cap Est route (up to eight days) is more interesting, particularly the spectacular Cascade (waterfall) Bevontsira, but also more challenging, with tough terrain, river crossings, mountains and (shudder) leeches. A guide is Ar1.2 million. Finally, you can walk the entire rim of the peninsula, from Maroantsetra to Antalaha via Cap Masoala and Cap Est. This journey takes up to 15 days. A guide is just over Ar2 million.You'll need to bring all your food and camping equipment with you. Contact local operators to organise a package including cook, porters and camping equipment.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Baie d’Antongil & Masoala Peninsula

    Nosy Mangabe

    Part of Parc National Masoala-Nosy Mangabe, this thickly forested and mountainous tropical island is one of the crown jewels of the Antongil Bay. With huge soaring canarium trees arising from flying buttress roots, a rusty shipwreck piercing one side, waterfalls, a yellow sickle-shaped beach, foreign inscriptions and the omnipresent sound of the jungle, it is quite possibly the closest thing to a Robinson Crusoe experience you'll get. It rains a lot, though, so be prepared. Reptiles and amphibians thrive thanks to the lack of predators, including the leaf-tailed gecko, one of nature’s most accomplished camouflage artists. You'll also find several species of chameleon, many frogs and several harmless species of snake, including the Madagascar tree boa. It is also home to various lemurs, including the elusive aye-aye, which was introduced here in 1967 to protect the species from extinction. It is highly unlikely you'll see one, but you'll no doubt see the white-fronted brown lemur, who like hanging out by the camp, and with a bit of luck, the black and white ruffed lemur too. There are a handful of well-maintained trails: a popular option takes you to the summit of the island. Another leads to Plage des Hollandais, a beach with rocks bearing the scratched names of some 17th-century Dutch sailors. From July to September, you can see whales offshore. The island is usually included in itineraries combining Masoala (either as a picnic stopover or an overnight stay) but you could also visit as a day trip from Maroantsetra. MNP runs a very well-equipped beachside campground (camping per tent Ar5000) with shelters, picnic tables, a kitchen, showers and flush toilets. It’s an idyllic spot. Entry permits can be obtained at the MNP office in Maroantsetra. Boat transfers can be arranged through your guide; the trip takes 30 to 45 minutes.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Île Sainte Marie

    Piscines Naturelles d'Ambodiatafana

    In the north of Sainte Marie, near Ambodiatafana village, these natural pools are separated from the Indian Ocean by a granitic gate of about 100m. During each tide, the sea fills these natural basins by crashing against the rocks. The ocean is too rough to swim there from June to September but they're absolutely idyllic in spring and summer (October to February). There are phenomenal panoramic views of the island from the sand dunes at the back of the beach. The beach and pools are sacred and there are many fadys (taboos) to respect so a guide is compulsory.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Île Sainte Marie

    Maison Blanche

    No stay on the island would be complete without a sundowner at Maison Blanche: this atypical house has a rooftop terrace with 360-degree views of the island, Sainte Marie and the surrounding lagoon. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful and well worth the entry fee (or even better, a drink).

  • Sights in Île Sainte Marie

    Cimetière des Pirates

    This is a fascinating spot from which to contemplate the history of the island. The cemetery overlooks the Baie de Forbans just south of Ambodifotatra, the perfect pirate hang-out. Missionaries, and colonial and marine officers are also buried here, but you can clearly see the skull and crossbones on the grave of one English pirate. The crumbling piers used for ship repairs are visible from here, as is the small island of Île aux Forbans, where many pirates lived. Access is via an isolated foot track, which crosses several tidal creeks and slippery logs about 10 minutes south of the causeway. 'Guides' have erected a hut at the start to collect a fee and do a guided tour (Ar15,000). They're not sanctioned by the local tourist office, however, and their actual knowledge and English is limited so we strongly recommend that you come here with someone who knows the history of the area. The tourist office and other local operators can arrange this. It’s completely unique and worth the effort.

  • Sights in North of Tamatave

    Parc Zoologique Ivoloina

    The Parc Zoologique Ivoloina (ee-va-la-ween) is a very well-run zoo and botanical garden set on a lovely lake just north of Tamatave. Visitors can enjoy four walking trails with booklets in English, a snack bar and an education centre. An optional guide is Ar10,000 or Ar40,000 for a full day. Book in advance for a night tour (5.30pm) to see the nocturnal lemurs (Ar10,000). There is dormitory accommodation, too (for two Ar30,000); order dinner in advance (Ar5000). The beautiful grounds cover 2.82 sq km and contain more than 100 lemurs from 12 different species, both caged and semiwild, as well as chameleons, radiated tortoises, tree boas and tomato frogs. The botanical garden contains more than 75 species of native and exotic plants, and a model farm designed to demonstrate sustainable agricultural methods.

  • Sights in North of Tamatave

    Fort Manda

    The evocative ruins of this 19th-century Merina fort, built for Radama I, are about 500m north of Foulpointe. Its walls, which are 8m high and 6m thick in places, are made from coral, sand and eggs. You can clamber about the ruins and from the highest points, there are gorgeous views over the Indian Ocean. A guide will show you around the site and explain the history and legends of the place. In a case of mistranslation, the word Manda actually means 'fortress' in Malagasy, so the site is known as 'Fort Fortress'…

  • Sights in Baie d’Antongil & Masoala Peninsula

    Aye-Aye Island

    This small, privately owned island in the middle of the Mananara River is home to about 15 aye-ayes (and other lemurs). A sighting isn't guaranteed but this is where you stand the best chance of seeing them in Madagascar: the island means they're relatively contained and the coconut trees aren't so high that all you'll see is a brown blob and a pair of glinting eyes. Night tours can be organised, including transport (car and pirogue) at Chez Roger.

  • Sights in Baie d’Antongil & Masoala Peninsula

    CPALI

    This worthy NGO works with rural farmers living on the edge of biodiversity hotspots to develop sustainable livelihoods that support both people and ecosystems. Its main activity is the production of wild silk made from the cocoons of local silkworms. At the facility in Maroantsetra, you can visit the workshop where the cocoons are processed into innovative textiles. You can purchase artefacts in the small shop; visits are free but donations encouraged. Call ahead.

  • Sights in Baie d’Antongil & Masoala Peninsula

    Ambodiriana Forest

    Rare species flourish in this protected humid forest, including the mouse lemur, the candy cane palm ( Dypsis paludosa) and a parasitic orchid ( Gastrodia madagascariensis). The forest is managed by the association Adefa, which organises a day trip that takes in the reserve's three waterfalls. It's a shame the package is so expensive: on top of the permit and guide, you're required to take a spotter (Ar15,000), a pirogue (Ar18,000) and a picnic lunch for everyone (Ar10,000 per person).

  • Sights in East of Antananarivo

    Musée de la Gendarmerie Nationale

    Exhibits cannons, police uniforms, a vintage taxi-brousse and an enormous bunch of dried marijuana. There are also various traditional medicines and spells on displays.

  • Sights in Tamatave (Toamasina)

    Bazary Be

    Tamatave’s colourful Bazary Be sells fruit, vegetables, spices, handicrafts and beautiful bouquets of flowers (should you feel the need to brighten up your hotel room).

  • Sights in Tamatave (Toamasina)

    Place Bien Aimé

    At Pl Bien Aimé, you'll find the remains of a once-grand park; a dozen magnificent banyan trees weep before a crumbling colonial mansion.

  • Sights in Tamatave (Toamasina)

    Place de Colonne

    A monument to those killed in the 1947 uprising against the French, this plaza is in a sad state of disrepair.

  • Sights in Tamatave (Toamasina)

    Bazary Kely

    Bazary Kely sells fish and produce in the ruins of a commercial complex, west of the train station.

  • Sights in Baie d’Antongil & Masoala Peninsula

    Parc National Mananara Nord

    The remote 240-sq-km park encompasses some of the last remaining lowland rainforest in the country. An additional 10 sq km of islets and surrounding reefs are protected as a marine park, the largest being Nosy Atafana. The park itself isn't the most traveller-friendly: the two-hour terrestrial circuit requires four hours of hiking to get there. The MNP office is in Sahasoa, about 30km south of Mananara. The park has two main circuits, one terrestrial and the other marine. The terrestrial circuit begins 6km south of the park office by foot. It takes four hours to get there, two to do the circuit, and another four to get back. You're advised to camp overnight in the park. The marine circuit includes a trip to Nosy Atafana, and costs an additional Ar120,000 to Ar150,000 for boat and fuel. The cost per person thus declines with the size of the group (maximum eight). A third circuit takes two full days and covers both land and sea. For any trip in the park, you’ll need to be self-sufficient with food and water, and, if hiking, in good shape. Camping is Ar5000 per tent. While lemurs are not always seen, Mananara Nord contains indris, brown lemurs, ruffed lemurs and aye-ayes, and is the only known habitat of the hairy-eared dwarf lemur. There is also a variety of geckos, including the endemic uroplatus and day geckos. Offshore there are dugong.

  • Sights in Tamatave (Toamasina)

    Musée du Port

    The small university museum at the entrance to the port constitutes barely 2½ rooms of farming tools, fishing implements, archaeological finds and tribal charms, along with poster displays on deforestation and local conservation projects. Some of the captioning is in English, including translations of some typically cryptic Malagasy proverbs.

  • Sights in Tamatave (Toamasina)

    Catholic Church

    Landmark church in Tamatave. It's open to the public from shortly before to shortly after services.