We had a fabulous time in Madagascar, thank you. In summary everything worked perfectly (well jolly nearly and one cannot expect more in Madagascar) and we are delighted to have chosen Rainbow Tours to organise it for us and would not hesitate to use you again or to recommend you.
Madagascar as a country was an amazing place to go to visit. The wildlife was stunning and you did well in helping us to choose good and varied places to visit to get a wide cross section of things to see. With the help of amazing guides we managed to see a large proportion of what was available in each location. They also took the opportunity of time not walking to tell us more about the country, people and customs thus making us feel we had a better idea of life for the Malagasy. The degree of poverty and the difficulty of daily life for the Malagasy is eyeopening although we tried hard not to appear shocked by it. We will certainly look into the charities you suggest on your leaflet. On the subject of which our excellent guide (see below) mentioned Père Pedro and his work in Tana with the homeless, which I now see is mentioned in the Bradt Guide. Is it a charity you know anything of? By the careful avoidance of unsafe food and practice we largely remained free of illness and although we were obviously shielded from the realities of life in Madagascar for most people we hope we got a good feel for the way of life in the areas we visited.
We were very well taken care of. Our main guide, Belaviv, was brilliant. After some changing of plans he ended up coming to Montagne d'Ambre on the flight with us and escorting us all the way to Ankify which we were very pleased about. He was efficient and dedicated in his arrangement of things, making sure we got the most out of every experience both in terms of enjoyment and what we saw. He arranged lunch stops in very good places and when he discovered Naomi was gluten free he rang ahead a couple of times to arrange suitable food. So when he collected packed breakfast for our early flight to Antsiranana he made sure there was a suitable one for her, he rang Ankarana Lodge where we had lunch after our journey from Montagne d'Ambre on our way to Iharana Bush Camp and he informed the Bush camp before we got there. He was well informed about the wildlife in addition to the local guides and stopped to show us things during journeys. We had to detour to the office to get some paperwork in Antsiranana and he took the opportunity to take us to a view point for Sugar Loaf Island. He organised the breakfasts and dinners to get the most out of visits to the park in a very quiet but insistent manner to waste as little time as possible. He was also an absolute delight to be with, perfect for our family. He started out quietly and diffidently and opened up as the time went on. He was a pleasure to spend time with so we enjoyed any meals together and he took our request to learn some Malagasy seriously. I hope you will feed that back as he is a young man who deserves to do very well in his career....
The drivers were all brilliant. Our first (Roy) took greatest care of us and never stopped cleaning the car every time we got out. He never left the car unattended with anything of ours in it which I felt very guilty for as he ate his meals in sight of it rather than with us. The 2 from Antsiranana were also very considerate and good humoured despite the road conditions in places. At no time at all did I ever feel in danger and I do have a reputation here for being a very nervous passenger after too many crashes in my Rally Navigation phase in my 20s.
There were always copious bottles of water available in the cars and the one in the north without the working starter motor was an excellent reminder that we had never taught out eldest to bump start a car, although usually it was just carefully parked on a slope to avoid any evidence that it didn't start in the conventional manner. This is an amusement not a complaint as it was good not to be in TOTAL luxury as that would have felt very wrong in Madagascar.
Local guides all brilliant. Edwin in Andasibe very good at finding things, patient with our interest and had a very effective 'bush telegraph to let him know what was where. It took me a while to realise he was not just conducting social chit chat on his phone but finding things for us to see!
Antonio for Montagne d'Ambre and Ankarana was also very knowledgable, friendly and sensitive enough to tell Belaviv to make sure we did not take valuables to Montagne d'Ambre without telling us why or making us concerned as he was the guide held up at gunpoint there in October 2015. He told us later in Ankarana. He had an amazing ability to find wildlife.
Hotels: no complaints at all.
Relais: very conveniently close to the airport and, although service at dinner was desperately slow on the 2 occasions we were there to eat, the food was good. Clean, large sized rooms, helpful staff.
Vakona Lodge: I am delighted with my choice. Loved the bungalows, grounds beautiful. Breakfast good, evening meals also good. Used our last morning to go to the two reserves of the hotel (crocodile park and then lemur island). Managed to spend ages at the crocodile reserve looking at so many things the guide from there said 'You are interested in everything aren't you)! but there was so much to see even if that was our first Magpie Robin or Day Gecko! Lemur island was a lovely experience for all its slightly un PC-ness in the fact that it exists at all. We persuaded ourselves it was a rescue area and just enjoyed the time there.
Litchi Tree: Splendid place. We loved it. Hervé excellent in all respects, rooms a delight, food excellent. With a night walk taking us out we felt we could easily have stayed another night and maybe headed to the Cap d'Ambre or other more northern area for the day of arrival and had a full day in the Montagne d'Ambre park in order to enjoy The Litchi tree even more (of course this wouldn't have fitted with flight schedules but one can dream...)
Iharana Bush Camp: I did briefly wonder why we were driving for 1.5 hours away from Ankarana Est only to return fairly early the next day, but when I arrived I knew why. This was a delightful place. Very comfortable, very exciting and excellent food and service. We loved it. Even the drive there was interesting passing all the houses and the views were amazing. Good birdlife too.
L'Heure Bleue: Splendid choice, thank you. The bungalows with legs in the sea (or whatever the website calls them were sheer luxury). The view at any time of day was breathtaking. The only downside was that that side of the bay is in shadow from before 4pm but the rest of the experience easily surmounts that small fact and one can always get up to watch the sunrise instead. Breakfasts and dinners good and eaten on the terrace overlooking the bay. My daughter liked it so much she declined Tanikele to stay at the hotel. (Snorkelling with company called 'Baleines Rand'eau' just down the beach from the hotel. Pleasant frenchman and 2 Malagasy assistants. 2 sites for snorkelling round Nosy Tanikely and a short land on the island and then excellent lunch at Sakatia and snorkelling with the Green turtles after, good trip although my mask didn't have a clip and was just put through the mask headband so kept kinking. He sorted it out for the second session and it was fine.)
What can I say? Paradise. We had the two cabins at the very far end away from the main lodge and in my opinion the best despite the walk taking 4-5 minutes (you just needed to factor that in to timings) not sure if that was requested by you or just chance? It would not work to come here before other places in Madagascar as many of the things we worked so hard to find and were so excited to have a glimpse of were just sitting around waiting to be viewed. We had worked quite hard with early starts and evening walks so felt justified in a bit of a rest here although there was still so much to do that resting was rationed. The whole experience was fabulous: accommodation, trips, service, food, everything.
We met people who were here for a week and had spent a week either at Ile St Marie or 4 days at Andasibe and 2 at Tana, both arranged by Audley Travel. In my opinion they were badly advised. They did not see as much of Madagascar as they could have done in the time and I think that showed in their experience of the country compared to ours. Your suggested itineraries undoubtedly swayed my suggestions as to what we would like to do and I am sure that your approach is right and leads to a much more fulfilling holiday.
Air France, however you are also right about. Poor disinterested service, 2/5 TV sets did not work on journey home (despite requesting reset), very limited food service (there are help yourself snacks during the flight but no information that they exist. However for UK probably better to have the last leg so short as opposed to changing in Istanbul, but close call. And although they had Gluten free food for Naomi on the way out they did not on the way back, the flight attendant said we should have confirmed it 48 hrs before the flight. As you will know from Anjajavy and most of Madagascar that is not really likely to work.
All in all a remarkable trip. I have already read your recent brochure from cover to cover to see where to go next...
Thank you again to all at Rainbow who made this trip not just possible but such an incredible experience for the whole family.