Essential Madagascar

  • 2 Weeks

A combination of the classic RN7 with some island R&R in glorious Nosy Be.

On day one, head down to the highland town of Antsirabe, with its wide colonial streets and colourful rickshaws. On day two, wind your way to Parc National de Ranomafana through the highland’s scenic landscapes, stopping en route at the arts-and-crafts capital, Ambositra. Spend day three hiking and searching for lemurs in Ranomafana’s rainforest.

On day four, drive to the superb Parc National de l’Isalo, stopping in Réserve d'Anja on your way to see the oh-so-cute ring-tailed lemurs. Spend the next two days exploring Isalo's stunning desert plains and canyons.

On day seven, head to Tuléar, making sure to stop at Arboretum d'Antsokay on your way. On day eight, fly to Antananarivo (Tana) and then on to Nosy Be the next day. Enjoy some beach R&R on day 10. The next day, take a day trip to Nosy Komba and Nosy Tanikely for unrivalled snorkelling. On day 12, visit Réserve Naturelle Intégrale de Lokobe. Fly back to Tana on day 13. Take a day trip to Ambohimanga for your last day, or shop for souvenirs.

The North

  • 2 Weeks

Northern Madagascar offers rainforest hikes, spectacular rock formations and tantalising white beaches.

Fly to Sambava and head out early to Parc National de Marojejy the next day, spending a couple of days trekking on this sensational massif. It’s a day’s drive from Sambava to the beautiful Réserve Spéciale Ankarana, a wilderness of caves, pinnacles and dry forests. Spend a day here and continue on to the northern belle of Diego Suarez, with a stop at the terracotta-coloured Tsingy Rouges on the way.

Take a day to discover Diego’s heritage and explore the wild coastline of Les Trois Baies. Take another day trip to the mountainous Parc National Montagne d’Ambre.

From Diego, it’s a half-day drive to Ambanja – visit the cocoa and spice plantations before boarding a boat at Ankify for Nosy Be. Spend three or four days enjoying its coral reefs and beaches, putting a day aside for the fabulous Réserve Naturelle Intégrale de Lokobe. Fly back to Tana from Nosy Be.

East Coast

  • 2½ Weeks

Exploring this coast is challenging but by no means impossible, though budget travellers will balk at the cost of heading beyond Île Sainte Marie, since Maroantsetra is hard and expensive to get to.

Head east along the RN2 from Antananarivo to charming Andasibe, jumping-off point for the luxuriant, misty rainforests of Andasibe Area Parks. Spend a couple of days waking to the cries of the legendary indri (Madagascar’s largest lemur), hiking and birdwatching before winding down the RN2 to Tamatave, gateway to the waterways and lakes of the Canal des Pangalanes. Allow three or four days for this aquatic wonderland.

Back in Tamatave, fly to gorgeous Île Sainte Marie. Tour the island by quad or motorbike and take a whale-watching trip (July to September).

If you relish a challenge, take a boat to Soanierana-Ivongo and drive the infamous RN5 (4WD only) to Maroantsetra (two days). Spend a night at Nosy Mangabe and a couple of nights in the pristine Parc National de Masoala. Fly to Tana from Maroantsetra.

Route du Sud

  • 3 Weeks

This classic route will whisk you from Antananarivo down to Tuléar along the famed RN7.

First stop is Antsirabe, where you should visit some of the town's famed artisans. Drive to Sahambavy and its glorious tea-plantation landscapes. The next day, hop on the scenic FCE train to Manakara, where you can tour the Canal des Pangalanes.

Drive to Parc National de Ranomafana and hike in the park’s rainforest. Time your visit to the highland town of Ambalavao to coincide with Madagascar’s largest zebu market, then allow three or four days to explore the spectacular Massif de l’Andringitra with its granite peaks, phenomenal hikes and wonderful lodges.

Further south is the fantastic Parc National de l’Isalo, with jagged sandstone massifs, cool canyons and delightful natural pools. Two days will do it justice.

Stop at the sapphire boom town of Ilakaka on your way to the perfect beaches of Anakao and the Great Reef. From Tuléar, fly back to Antananarivo.

The Wild West

  • 2 Weeks

This itinerary requires some planning ahead, but once you’ve got your boat and your 4WD booked, you’ll be off in a flash.

Book a descent of the Tsiribihina River. Trips start from Miandrivazo, a day’s drive from Antananarivo. From there, it takes 2½ days to drift down to Belo-sur-Tsiribihina.

Arrange for a 4WD and driver to meet you at the boat landing in Belo and continue north to Parc National des Tsingy de Bemaraha. You’ll need at least two days to explore the Grands and Petits Tsingy. It’s then a day’s drive through scorched landscape down to Réserve Forestière de Kirindy, home to the elusive fossa and the giant jumping rat. Make sure to go on a night walk. On your way to Morondava, stop at the iconic Allée des Baobabs.

After a day recuperating in the laid-back seaside town of Morondava, head down to the fishing village of Belo-sur-Mer for a couple of days. You can then drive on to Tuléar (during the dry season only), or go back to Morondava and fly or drive back to Antananarivo.