The Eighth Continent
Madagascar. Only the planet’s fourth-largest island. So unique that it’s only casually called the Eighth Continent. Mostly only by scientists having a bar chat. It throbs with merely rare and endemic wildlife. It’s out of the well-trodden way. Easy to ignore.
Except, if you visit, you’ll never be the same again.
- 10 nights and 11 days exploring the wonderful island of Madagascar
- Assured encounters with lemurs, the group of animals endemic to Madagascar
- A whole array of other endemic fauna and flora
- Great photographs of the wildlife of one of Earth’s greatest biodiversity hotspots
- Expert natural-history and photography guidance by Skipper Jayanth Sharma
With rainforests, mangroves and coastlines, it has, after all, a befitting screening arena for a real-life blockbuster – which its history is.
Madagascar wasn’t always an island. It became one circa 88 million years ago, when Gondwanaland split, causing a tectonic divorce from India.
Since then it lived off the African shore in the Indian Ocean all by itself. Alone. But not lonely. For it spent the time at hand developing its individuality to transform into something of a biodiversity hotspot.
And it succeeded quite spectacularly.
Aided, rather than beset, by its isolation, its residents evolved in such a paroxysm of uniqueness, that over 90% of its animal and plant life is found only here.
The ‘abandoned’ Madagascar became the endemic species headquarters of our solar system. Without a vengeance.
And this, despite humans – apex biodegraders – alighting 2000 years ago and over the next two millennia razing 90% of the rainforest to grow something more edible.
But even within the island’s diminished wilderness reside today more than a 100 types of lemur, that striking primate which isn’t called the mascot of Madagascar, but fully ought to be.
Plant species number close to a jaw-unlocking 15000, flowering in more than 600 endemic orchids, standing tall with 150 palms, and towering with nine baobabs, those burly starkissers from the planet of The Little Prince.
The island is home to two-thirds of the world’s chameleons, making colour change a constant.
There are specialties like the fossa, which is so peculiar, zoologists are still wondering whether to call it a cat, a mongoose, or something they haven’t thought of yet.
There are 180 endemic birds but more than 600 species of terrestrial snail. Apparently, this proves that the slow don’t always get left behind.
These, together, are the motley ambassadors of an amazing land called Madagascar, a land that is so blessed, it’s a blessing to land on it.
These primates, with their outlandish looks, quirky ways and bittersweet vibes of being our distant relatives, are infinitely absorbing.
Chief charmer is the ring-tailed lemur, known to millennials as King Julien. Fox-faced and wet-nosed, it’s in popular consciousness the most lemur of all lemurs.
This isn’t surprising, for like us, it’s social, has hairless heels, and spends a lot of time on the ground, where it likes to sunbathe in sartorial abandon.
Then there’s what John Cleese would call “something completely different”: a lemur that runs sideways.
Sifakas are a group of endangered lemurs that are given to trenchant sprints. They offset the comic effect by sporting a dual-toned coat and advanced grooming tools for their dense hair.
But does that stop them from resembling a football player mockingly cavorting at an opponent after scoring a goal? Not quite.
Notable sifakas include the diademed, the Coquerel’s and the Verreaux’s, and you’ll see that theirs is not the path of elegance, but of adorability.
In the forests of the night there’s no “tyger burning bright” but there certainly is the protagonist of Gerald Durrell’s swansong adventure – the aye-aye.
Once thought to be extinct and now “upgraded” to endangered, it is a strange-but-endearing animal that has been unfortunately persecuted as an omen of death.
Whereas, what it’s really an omen of is itself: a rodent-like nocturnal-primate with an unusually long middle finger, read into that what you will.
Then there’s the indri. One of the two biggest lemurs to be alive – by a thread, for it’s critically threatened.
Its local name, babakoto, evokes a picture of someone old, wise and mystical. This isn’t entirely misleading.
For it’s enrobed in black-and-white and lacks a visible tail. It’s monogamous and has a morning routine akin to sun worship. It’s revered by the Madagascan people and chronicled in their myths. It even has what many people don’t: a hypnotic presence.
Preying on all of these is a walking procession of curiosities. It’s the largest carnivorous mammal on Madagascar, and its scientific name, Cryptoprocta ferox, translates to a hardly flattering ‘fierce hidden-anus’.
It’s been compared to a small cougar, which is slightly less offensive, with traits of hyenas and civets to boot. Some say it’s actually a mongoose in a masquerade.
All we know is it’s called the fossa, and it’s a treat to encounter.
These riveting mammalian highlights will be punctuated by much action in the understorey.
Colourful chameleons reach out to grab an insect with their tongues and posterity in pictures.
Brilliant day-geckos stick out from verdure while leaf-tailed geckos blend into nothing.
Delightful frogs leap to life in a suspension of reality.
Fascinating insects, such as weevils and green bugs, crawl quietly up your consciousness.
And finally, consider that overlooking all this is an array of spectacular birds, such as the crested and giant couas, vangas, ground-rollers, pygmy kingfishers, scops owls – 280 species in all – and you get an aerial view of why Madagascar is a place you should say aye-aye to.
Please note: This Tour commences at Antananarivo (Tana) on 11 November, and end at the same place after breakfast on 21 November.
11 November 2019, Monday
With vivid dreams of the colourful animals of Madagascar, we arrive in Tana and check in to the hotel. After a round of mutual introduction, the Skipper briefs us on the Tour and we’re off to dinner and some shuteye. A lot is to come.
12 November, Tuesday
On this blessed morning, we breakfast and are transferred 150 km east to the place of our maiden foray into Madagascar’s wilderness, the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.
Officially the Analamazoatra Special Reserve, the 155 km2 park hosts 11 lemur species, including Eastern woolly-lemur, Goodman’s mouse lemur, Crossley’s dwarf-lemur, the diademed sifaka, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, red-bellied lemurs and common brown-lemurs, and the coveted indri. A notable speciality will be the common tenrec, a small mammal native to Madagascar.
After lunch we shall take an introductory walk, followed by an exhilarating night-walk to familiarise ourselves with the experience.The day will end with a pre-dinner huddle to discuss the exciting discoveries of the day and discussion of some of the photography challenges and the means of overcoming them to make images that do justice to the wonders of Madagascar.
13 November, Wednesday
We enjoy an early breakfast in preparation of a long day out in Mantadia, carrying a packed lunch to enable ourselves to meet and photograph the park’s many amazing animals and experiences uninterrupted.
The birding here is fabulous. Notable targets will include the Madagascar rail and grebe, Meller’s duck, Madagascar coucal, blue coua, Ward’s flycatcher, Malagasy spinetail, nelicourvi weaver and dark newtonia. Among the rollers we may see short-legged and pitta-like ground-rollers and broad-billed roller. The diminutive Malagasy kingfisher may steal the show with a single appearance.
Returning from an eventful day post-lunch, we shall rest awhile before setting out on our night walk, during which Madagascar long-eared owl and Malagasy scops-owl may oblige with their views.
After dinner we are certain that with a belly suffused with food and a mind infused with much bliss, sleep will come easily to the eyes this night.
14 November, Thursday
After breakfast at the lodge, we spend another morning in Analamazaotra. Later we move to Mitsinjo and spend the afternoon and enjoy a night walk there.
Avian stars here could include the Madagascar flufftail, ibis, cuckoo, cisticola, paradise-flycatcher and the coveted pygmy-kingfisher; red fodi, collared nightjar, red-breasted coua, nuthatch-vanga, cuckoo-roller, spectacled tetraka, white-throated oxylabe and ashy cuckooshrike.
Salient reptilians will be the Parson’s, Perinet, pygmy and horned leaf chameleons and the tree boa.
A lot indeed will comprise this memorable day, as we wrap up operations in this part of Madagascar.
15 November, Friday
We check out after breakfast and visit the famous lemur island before being transferred by boat to Palmarium with packed lunch for the much-awaited pursuit of the aye-aye running into the night before dinner and shuteye following at the heels of another great day.
16 November, Saturday
After an early breakfast, we set out in the forests of Palmarium for more adventure. Rewards may include common brown lemur, black indri and the amazing black lemur. Returning to the lodge for lunch, we resume our visit in the afternoon until dark, carrying on for the conclusive night walk of the Tour.
17 November, Sunday
Enjoying a leisurely breakfast, we check out and drive back to Tana, lunching en route. There, we’ll have some time to reflect on what a fantastic Tour it has been, with some unmatched experiences and memorable moments.
18 November, Monday
We fly to Morondava to see if we can be at the famous Alley of the Baobabs by sunset. We spend some time here making evocative images of the towering trees silhouetted against riots of colour. After the sun has sunk in the Mozambique Channel, leaving only stains in the skies, we photograph the baobabs set against them. And when darkness has erased the sun-stains with an inky dye to stud Earth’s blanket with twinklers, we shall endeavour with long exposures to portray the magic of the baobabs kissing the nightly skylights.
Once we wrap up our starry escapade here, we carry on to our lodge in Morondova and camp for the night with a charge of excitement in the air about the things to come.
19 November, Tuesday
Leaving Morondova following an early breakfast, we admire the sunrise and continue to the Kirindy forest for a full day of photography. And hopefully a date with the fossa.
Verraux’s sifaka, red-fronted brown-lemur, Coquerel’s and pygmy mouse lemurs and sportive lemurs are the other mammals we’ll hope to see here.
Depending on the group’s enthusiasm and energy, we’ll consider making a night visit.
20 November, Wednesday
We drive back to Morondova after breakfast and fly back to Tana by an Air Madagascar flight, and enjoy a leisurely lunch at Tana. The rest of the day is spent shopping and generally retrospecting at the highlights of the Tour, of which we assure you there’ll be a multitude.
21 November, Thursday
We’re dropped to the Tana airport on time for our international flight back home. The Tour has ended but deathless memories have just been born, which, like the baobabs we’ve just seen, will grow to become towers.
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Couple on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Twin-sharing accommodation in comfortable lodges
- All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) as mentioned in the itinerary
- All transfers between destinations as per the itinerary
- Guide and Photography Skipper services
- Entrance fees for all listed activities
What’s Not Included?
- All international airfare
- Camera fees if any
- Any extra accommodation availed of
- Any kind of personal expenses or optional tours, extra meals and beverages ordered
- Insurance, laundry and phone calls
- Bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages
- Vaccination, visa and insurance expenses
- All applicable taxes
- Anything that is not listed under ‘inclusions’
- 100% of the Tour fee as advance for confirmation of participation for the Tour
All figures per person.
- 50% of the Tour fee before 30 September 2019
- 100% of the Tour fee on or after 1 October 2019
Please note: The date of written (email) communication of intent to cancel is the date considered for calculation of the cancellation fees.
While Toehold Photo Travel is one of our most popular offerings, we work as a travel agency without bringing the photography guide element in to your travel. In short you would be using our travel experts service to just plan the vacation and execute it.
- Unlike a Photo Travel experience, your Vacation is completely personalised.
- The dates, style of travel, class of hotels and lodges, destinations, everything is tailor-made to suit your custom requirement.
- A Skipper or a photography guide doesn’t travel with you to guide you unless you decide to take our customised and guided photo travel experience.
So take advantage of the immense experience and field knowledge that we bring in to your Vacation’s planning without having to pay for our time and costs. Plus, we don’t charge an additional fee for our time and travel planning services.
What are the requisites to participate in this Tour?
Apart from interest, a valid passport and related documents, and a minimum level of fitness are essential.
How do you apply for a visa?
Madagascar visa is granted on arrival. You only need a passport valid for at least six more months at the time of entry.
I am a newbie in nature photography. Am I eligible?
Absolutely! This Tour is meant for fledgling as well as experienced photographers. Beginners get all the advantages of learning on and off the field from Toehold’s eminent Skippers. In fact if you are a newbie, you should jump on this terrific learning opportunity and sign up right away! However, in order to make the most of the Tour photographically, we recommend that you be familiar with photography fundamentals. If you’re not, we suggest you join an Art and Science of Photography Workshop before the Tour.
By what mode or modes will we explore Madagascar? What is the level of physical fitness required on this Photo Tour?
We will travel between the destinations by road, but most of the photography will be done on foot, which is why a moderate level of physical fitness is required. Please talk to us to know more.
How sure are you about photographing wildlife on this Tour?
Considering the meticulous attention to timing we pay while scheduling Tours and the local expertise we leverage, we believe that it would be extremely unfortunate if our sightings and photography were unsatisfactory. Madagascar is a country blessed with the greatest biodiversity, and the destinations we’ll be visiting are teeming with wildlife, but since we will be in an uncontrolled environment, we do not claim that sightings of specific species are guaranteed.
Are rains predicted during the Tour?
The weather in Madagascar in November is dry but rain is unpredictable. So please carry adequate rain protection for yourself as well as your camera equipment.
Is vaccination against yellow fever and polio mandatory?
Yes; the vaccination is mandatory in many countries including India. Please talk to us for advice on how to get one.
Are earlier yellow fever and polio vaccinations valid?
Yellow fever vaccination is valid for a period of 10 years from the date of administration, but polio vaccination is valid for only a year. Please check your vaccination cards to verify validity. Please note that the vaccination must be valid as on the date of your return to your country after the Tour
What equipment do you suggest on this Tour?
Madagascar is a place where the entire quiver of lenses may be employed to spectacular effect. A long telephoto prime or zoom that affords a focal length of 400 to 500mm is essential, particularly for birds. For mammals at close range, a 70-200mm or 100-400mm is very helpful, while, surprisingly, so is a wide-angle lens such as a 24-70mm, because of the opportunity to get very close to lemurs in some places. Finally, a macro lens is highly recommended, to photograph the chameleons, frogs and insects we’ll undoubtedly encounter. However, if you do not have appropriate equipment, there is no need to fret. Toehold offers an exhaustive array of cameras, lenses and accessories for hire, so you can always hire what you need. Visit our Rental Store to see what we offer.
How different are your Photo Tours from ordinary tours?
Unlike travel agents who plan your holiday from a remote destination to places they sometimes haven’t experienced themselves, Photo Tours offer a comprehensive toehold to experience a place through the guidance of a professional photographer. The common ingredients in all our Photo Tours are fun and a lot of learning and knowledge-sharing. Besides, most or all of our Tour participants are photography enthusiasts, which keeps the group in harmony and helps make your experience focussed.
For a nature lover seeking solace in the wilderness, dreams galore, expectations are very high. For him the itenary running at pace, guidance, information on field, the whole experience of being one with nature matters a lot.
In the last one year that i have picked up a camera and travelled with a couple of groups, the instant bond that created with the participants was magical. We felt a bond with toehold as we parted and im sure many of us will be there for more trips in future.
The amount of learning about photography that’s possible just being around these guys is amazing. I’d greatly recommend Toehold tours to someone looking for a productive way to spend a few days!