Trip Reviews: Madagascar

The West - In Search of Fossa, Tsingy, Baobabs and Dancing Lemurs
This trip was our first with Aqua-Firma and our first time to Madagascar.  The novelty of our surroundings - from the iconic baobabs at sunset to the dramatic formations of the tsingy plateau, coupled with the intimacy of a small group experience left us with indelible memories of the trip of a lifetime.  It certainly helped that we were able to see much in the way of wildlife - including the fossa and at least seven different species of lemur.  But the memories of this week are infused with a familiarity uncharacteristic of being a stranger in a foreign land.  Ralph seems to have been born for the role of host and guide, imparting information and humor in equal doses, and handling situations both planned and unforeseen with customary aplomb.  

The Rainforest - Lemurs, Golden Frogs and New Rainforest Reserve
The uniqueness of this trip, located off the main tourist circuit and with a focus on local community engagement was what initially attracted us to Aqua-Firma over other companies providing tours in Madagascar.  We were impressed by the financial support that Aqua-Firma had provided to help protect the area and to promote a more sustainable path forward, and we wanted to be a part of it.  We are so glad we did.  We had a truly special week in the Mangabe reserve, meeting the community members and having them show us their village and the rainforest surrounding it.  We saw an abundance of wildlife, including a majority of the ten species of lemur that are present and a wonderful variety of birds, chameleons, insects and amphibians, including the stunningly beautiful golden mantella frog.  As advertised, our trip did truly have the feel of a "pioneering conservation adventure," and we enjoyed the camaraderie of the hosts and participants as much as the spectacular scenery and wildlife. 

Whale Shark Research - Islands, Marine Life & Lemurs
 It's difficult to know where to begin to describe this trip.  As the title suggests, whale shark research is a central focus, and one that certainly captured our attention.  The experience of swimming with these gentle giants is impossible to fully express in words, but "marvelous" and "awesome" provide a hint; being on the boat with the scientist who studies the sharks, sharing meals with the project members and learning about their work while contributing to it adds another dimension to the experience entirely.  And this is only a portion of what the week had to offer.  Snorkeling in pristine waters over colorful coral reefs, watching humpback whales and their calves breach, camping on a secluded island and hiking to see lemurs, flying foxes, chameleons and geckos were also somehow fitted into the week's activities.  This was our third trip with Aqua-Firma and the most varied in terms of experiences.  Relative to other group members on our trip (some of whom have been traveling with the company for over a decade) we were relative newcomers; we understand, however, why so many return.  Ralph does an excellent job of providing special touches throughout an already bountiful itinerary and the result is extremely gratifying.

(Chrissy & John, US)

What a trip! Once again Aqua-Firma have delivered the experience of a life-time. Working alongside Stella Diamant of the Madagascar whaleshark project, Ralph led an action-packed trip that included multiple snorkelling encounters with whalesharks, encounters with humpback and omura's whales from the boat, swimmming with turtles on the house reef just in front of our stunning lodge, trips to beautiful remote islands and marine parks and an exciting trek through a national park to see the lemurs, birds and reptiles endemic to the region. An amazing week full of unforgettable experiences. Thank you so much. 

(Susanna, UK)

I cannot thank Aqua-Firma enough for organising one of the most memorable trips I've been on. Madagascar provided the perfect mix of abundant wildlife, conservation in action, warm seas and idyllic beaches.

I joined both of the weeks offered by Aqua-Firma, the first of which was spent inland exploring the incredible biodiversity of the rainforests. Camping well off the beaten track offered a unique experience, we were fully immersed in the rich wildlife of the region and also gained a valuable insight into the challenges of village life and the hard balancing act for local communities at the front line of conservation management. The sheer variety of flora and fauna here is staggering - scurrying through the dense forest, tracking Indri with their melodic calls, was a particular highlight for me.

We followed this with a blissful week of sunny days snorkelling alongside magnificent whale sharks. Nothing can prepare you for your first time swimming with these gentle giants - a truly magical experience. Every day we went out on the boat we were lucky enough to swim with several individuals and that's in addition to dolphins, mobula rays, turtles and watching breaching Humpbacks. The nearby islands were stunning: picture-perfect white sandy beaches surrounded by gin-clear waters bursting with life...pure paradise!
Ralph was an excellent leader and looked after the group brilliantly, always on hand to help with any situation and a fountain of knowledge. Having Simon's expertise on tap and hearing the latest research insights on whale sharks was also invaluable. It's both Ralph and Simon that really make these trips superb: their enthusiasm and dedication are inspiring and their clear excitement when wildlife spotting is a pleasure to observe.

Be prepared for an action-packed schedule that's been perfectly designed to immerse yourself in all that Madagascar has to offer. There were some long days and at times I was pushed slightly outside of my comfort zone but I wouldn't change a thing. I cannot recommend both parts of this trip highly enough. Thank you once again for such a wonderful experience.

(Amelia Hampton, London)

An immersion in some of the best biodiversity on earth, time in Madagascar is well worth the effort.  I combined both Aqua-Firma trips to Madagascar for a taste of trying to protect a forest and a sea life brimming with wow factor variety.  First the pioneering conservation adventure: you need to be hearty, fit and open.  The reward is waking up to the Madagascar cuckoo and the lyrical singing of the Indri indri.  We were up and out every day and evenings (with the exception of one rainy evening when we decided to sleep early), exploring, finding lemurs, chameleons, birds galore, frogs and other beasts.  It was magic for a wildlife buff like myself.  You understand the stillness of this place when you visit Andasibe-Mantadia National Park - a stunning primary forest - where we were privileged to spend time watching at close distance the illusive fossa.  Bliss.

Madagascar is a tough and extremely challenged country.  You need to be able to want to see how people in this country live - and survive - despite the hardships.  We transferred from the forest to the sea and the next adventure.  Another wow, double wow experience.  Comfortable lodge, enthusiastic and knowledgeable scientists on board to find those whale sharks (we did) and much more - dolphins (three species), humpbacks, rays, turtles, more lemurs, geckos... Very comfortable lodge, good food, lovely staff and a spa - and we were active all day!

Aqua-Firma takes good care of you, is meticulous about arrangements even in the most challenging of places, and provides knowledgeable and caring shepherding from place to place.  This is my third trip with them, and they deliver an approach to seeing the world that enables you to step out of your comfort zone and feel secure.  If you have ever thought about going to Madagascar, do it now.  I suggest too, that you do it with Aqua-Firma.

(Professor Betsy Stanko OBE, London)

This excursion into Madagascar was divided into two parts -  the forest exploration which was well off the tourist routes, and then the second week looking for whale sharks…

The first week was very innovative. We stayed in the forest with a community linked to an NGO who were opening the area to small scale eco-tourism. The forest walks, although quite strenuous at times, proved just how rich in wildlife the area is.  We saw numerous lemurs, and the local guides were incredible at finding chameleons, spiders, endangered frogs, snakes and a variety of other forest dwellers for us to marvel over.  Paths had been cut through the forest to make our explorations easier.  The community is well off the tourist routes and I got a feeling that I was experiencing a real part of Madagascar seldom seen .  My special thanks go to them for my excellent vegetarian food. We visited 2 other forested areas and I shall never forget the wonder of spending a good half hour watching a Fosa - what an amazing experience.

In contrast we had an excellent week looking for, finding and swimming with whale sharks.  We stayed in a very comfortable tourist encampment, and I enjoyed having lemurs jumping over the roof of my hut in the early morning.

An excellent holiday all round.  Thank you.

(Sally Dean, UK)

My Madagascar trip was amazing, I really enjoyed the balance of forest project and more basic conditions, and then the beaches, whale sharks and luxury of the lodge. The shear amount of wildlife we saw was incredible, made more enjoyable by being in a small group and the enthusiasm of the guides. Not to mention Ralph who is like a child in a sweet shop. The forest project is an excellent addition and has a lot of potential. The camp although basic was comfortable, with a shower! Didn't expect that. Toilet facilities and hand washing needs to be tweaked a little, but otherwise it was perfect. The guides, NGO's and camp staff were all lovely. I really enjoyed the forest walks and boat trips but others may find the walking challenging. Visiting the established park was good and the Fosa sighting was a top highlight of the trip for me.

Hotel in Tana was great, good location even though traffic was pretty bad, good breakfast and very comfortable.

The whale sharks were superb as usual and the boat organised well. I enjoyed all the activities, diving and Island trips all fitted nicely to make a week of lots of great experiences.

All in all an excellent trip!

(Serena, Wales)

Hi Ralph and all at Aqua-Firma

I am emailing today on my return from the Lemurs, Golden Frogs & New Rainforest Reserve - Pioneering Conservation Adventure October 2017.

Five Star Service, Warm and Friendly Hospitality, a High Standard of Accommodation and Meals beside a Once in a Life Time Adventure packed with Wildlife in a great location seen by few to explore to your hearts content.  Jungles are my passion and I can highly recommend this expedition experience to all, so take the leap and enjoy as I did.

(Samantha Johnson, UK)

Nature is often unpredictable so I'm always a little anxious about looking forward to encounters in case the wildlife doesn't show up. However, this trip brought it in heaps and then some! I was bowled over by the quality of the experiences with the whale sharks in the water and impressed with the professionalism and passion ... Add to this the chance to meet the whole host of prosimian and reptilian inhabitants of the island and I was truly astounded with how much nature we managed to cram into the week.

Also worth a mention is the "base" … which was absolutely perfect. Rustic, but incredibly well maintained and staffed by incredibly personable and happy people.

The trip was a true joy and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wanted to surround themselves with the best of Madagascar.

(Aaron, London, UK)

'It was indeed an unforgettable trip that you guys put together. Great itinerary and Ralph is such a great host'

(Klaus Metzger, Germany)


  • Female Black Lemur, Nosy Tanikely - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Whale Shark Researcher, Nosy Be - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Our Camp overlooking stunning white sand beaches of Nosy Iranja, Madagascar
  • Female Fossa, Mantadia National Park - Ralph Pannell
  • Whale Shark with Remora, Nosy Be - Ralph Pannell
  • Golden Mantella Frog, Mangabe Reserve - Ralph Pannell
  • Mangabe River, Madagascar - Ralph Pannell
  • Turtle over Seagrass Beds, Nosy Be - Ralph Pannell
  • Tree Lizard, Mangabe Reserve - Ralph Pannell


  • Snorkeling with AQUA-FIRMA's Whale Shark Research Team in Madagascar - Ralph Pannell
  • Tree Gecko, Nosy Kombe - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Nosy Be Sportive Lemur, Lokobe Forest - Ralph Pannell
  • Swimming with Whale Shark Aqua-Firma / MMF Research Team in Madagascar. Photo: Dr Simon Pierce
  • Female Chameleon, Mangabe Reserve
  • Giraffe Necked Weevil, Mantadia National Park - Ralph Pannell
  • Indri Lemur, Andasibe - Ralph Pannell
  • Chameleon, Lokobe Forest - Ralph Pannell
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