Renowned Madagascar tour guide shares his top travel picks
Shortlisted previously for the Wanderlust World Guide Awards, we’re proud to introduce you to one of our best-loved Madagascar tour guides, Harry Rakotosalama. Here, we speak to him about his experiences, recommendations and what makes him so passionate about his home nation.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into guiding?
My full name is Hery Nirina Rakotosalama, but that’s a bit long so most people call me Harry! I was born in the countryside but at the age of 10 I moved to Antananarivo (Madagascar’s capital) to live with a foster family who really treated me as one of their own. My adoptive neny (mother in Madagasy) was a teacher at the National Institute of Tourism (INTH) and a marketing manager at one of Madagascar’s first travel agents. She encouraged my interests in tourism and in the geography and culture of Madagascar more generally. My mother also arranged for some of her colleagues to take me with them on tours, and so I saw the jungle, the forests, the mountains and the unique Malagasy flora and fauna firsthand. That was when my love of wildlife truly began and since 2000 I have been a tour guide.
These days I still live in Antananarivo, now with my wife and two children, and I’ve been leading tours for Rainbow Tours for the past 12 years.
What makes Madagascar so special?
Madagascar is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots, mainly because so many animals are indigenous to the island can only be found here. Overall 89% of plants, 93% 0f mammals, and 98% reptiles and amphibians are endemic, so there really is nowhere else like it on earth! It’s a place that anyone interested in flora and fauna will be spellbound by. Lemurs are of course a big drawcard for tourists; my personal favourites are the reed lemur and the golden bamboo lemur.
Then there are the landscapes! It’s one island but so varied! A chain of plateaus and mountains, rising to 2876 metres above sea level, divide the lands down the middle. To the east you have the lush and vast rainforests, to the south you dry arid lands, to west you have seasonally dry forests. All regions have their own unique beauty and fascinating cultures.
Madagascar is a land of eighteen different ethinic groups, or tribes, with their own traditions and ways of life. I love to introduce guests to these different cultures, telling them stories and introducing them to locals. Although there is a lot of diversity among Malagasy people, we are all so proud of our country.
What’s your favourite thing about being a Madagascar tour guide?
Undoubtedly my favourite part of leading Madagascar tours is seeing our guests enjoy themselves and fall in love with the island. Seeing people’s reactions when they spot a lemur, encounter new cultures or see a majestic stretch of landscape for the first time is very rewarding.
If you had to pick just three places to take a first-time visitor, where would you go to, and why?
It would have to be Andasibe, Isalo and Ifaty.
In the rainforests of Andasibe National Park
you’ll find the Indri, the largest of Madagascar’s lemurs, which is remarkable in more than one way. While all other lemurs on the island grunt, mew or bark, the Indri sings; it has eerie wailing calls that can carry three kilometres across the rainforest. That’s just the beginning of unique species you can see here though. I love taking guests on night walks through this area, when we can go in search of mouse lemurs and all kinds of rare chameleons and frogs.
Isalo National Park
is a complete contrast to Andasibe. The eroded, Jurassic mountain ranges have left spectacular rock formations, canyons and natural swimming pools. This area is also home to the famous ring-tailed lemur, which could be described as Madagascar’s ‘flagship animal’.
My final choice would be Ifaty
, again a totally contrasting landscape to the others. The dry, Spiny forests here feature many rare types of bloated trees like bottle baobabs and endemic birds such as long-tailed ground roller and the sub-desert mesite. Close by is the sea, so a visit here offers the options to see the mangroves or visit a fishing village where you can learn more about the culture of the Vezo people, go snorkelling to see aquatic life or relax at the beach!
These are just three locations I would recommend, but there is so much to see on a Madagascar holiday, I could spend a lifetime showing you around!
So, there you have it, an insight into Madagascar from any expert guide. Has this inspired you to book you own trip? You can always get in touch with our experts for more information.
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