Madagascar Cruise Review
by Gary Harmon
Given the abrupt changes in our Madagascar itinerary totally out of their control (see below), Travel Dynamics did an outstanding job of adapting to the situation.
Tour Operator Performance
The trip was a cruise on the Corinthian II, a 112 passenger ship operated by Travel Dynamics.
Travel Dynamics markets cruises on the Corinthian II and other ships through colleges and other travel groups.
My wife and I responded to a Stanford University offer of a "Mozambique and Madagascar" travel/study cruise with a two-week set itinerary.
The variety of the places we went and the sights we saw made the trip very enjoyable.
These kinds of travel/study trips have a number of guides. Travel Dynamics had three naturalists along who were quite good. Stanford and Harvard Universities and The Explorers Club each had lecturers who were outstanding.
On our trips off the boat to places within Madagascar, we were accompanied by local guides who tried, but were generally unhelpful.
The tourist industry in the country is in the developing stage. Most people speak Malagasy and secondarily French. English is a poor third as a language and most guides are very hard to understand.
Accommodation and Transport
There were approximately 80 people aboard the Corinthian II sailing around Madagascar.
All but one night was spent aboard the Corinthian where accommodations were very comfortable and the service level outstanding.
Food aboard the ship was outstanding. Several lunches ashore included local dishes.
One night was spent at the Satrana Lodge at the entrance to Isalo National Park which was a first-class facility in a spectacular setting but with the service somewhat overwhelmed by the sudden addition of 80 guests.
For inland trips, travel was generally by small vans – uncomfortable and normally not air-conditioned.
Both the flora and the fauna are spectacular in Madagascar and are the principal reason for tourists to visit.
Attraction #1 of course is the lemurs. They only exist in Madagascar and have evolved into many species. The variety is amazing. The highlights for us were the Reserves which had habituated lemurs so we could see the different kinds and watch their athletic antics at close range.
At the other end of the size scale of Madagascar fauna are the chameleons which are also amazingly varied.
This was quite a trip, with two major itinerary changes due to pirate activity in the Mozambique Channel.
We were originally scheduled to sail up the Mozambique coast from Maputo and then across the Indian Ocean to the northwest portion of Madagascar, then around the north end of the island and down the east coast.
However, reported pirate activity north of Madagascar caused the original itinerary to be scrapped, and we sailed south from Maputo, with a one-day visit to Hluhluwe National Park in South Africa before a two-day crossing of the Indian Ocean to Toliara, Madagascar.
We were then supposed to go around the south end of the island and up the east coast as far as Masoala National Park and Nosy Mangabe, but a second warning of pirate activity allowed us to go only as far north as Ile Sainte Marie.
Obviously we have no idea what we missed due to the itinerary changes; however, what we did see was rewarding and we still feel the trip was well worthwhile.
With the changes in our itinerary, I can't rate the trip as a 10. However, what we did see was spectacular and despite the difficulties I would rate the experience as a solid 8.
Tips and Advice
Clearly, as long as pirate activity continues, a cruise is not a good idea.
However, not being isolated aboard a ship would give a traveller a chance to perhaps get to know the Malagasy people. On a trip such as we took there was no opportunity to do this, and the language difficulty made it even more of a challenge.
My camera was the most useful item in my luggage.
Madagascar is a very poor country; most people seem to be involved in subsistence agriculture, either rice farming or tending a few cattle (zebu). Both of these activities involve a slash-and-burn devastation of the landscape. Apparently 90 percent of the country’s rain forest has disappeared over the years. Given the high growth rate of the population and the lack of any major economic activity outside of agriculture, the outlook for the country and especially its unique wildlife is grim.
Madagascar is a difficult place to get to and a difficult place to travel in. However, for the adventurous the trip is worth the effort because it is such a different travel experience.
Sadly, this experience may not be available or might be severely degraded in the future due to the continued loss of the rain forest environment important to the island's unique wildlife.
|Gary's Cruise Details:|
Safari company used: Travel Dynamics (make an enquiry)
Parks visited: Toliara, Reniala Nature Reserve, Isalo National Park, Nosy Be, Fort Dauphin, Nahampoana Reserve, Ile Sainte Marie, Toamasina, Pangalanes Channel - Madagascar; and Hluhluwe Game Reserve - South Africa
Date of trip: 23 January for 10 days
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