The rainforests of northeastern Madagascar are some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Deluged in parts by as much as 6000mm of rain in the course of a year, these hilly landscapes support a riotous display of jungle trees, lianas and other flora, and extraordinarily rich wildlife, from minuscule chameleons to weighty indri lemurs. In the wettest areas, the air is almost always damp, while steep and slippery trails can make access to some parks challenging. The region gets rainfall throughout the year, but the driest time to visit is mid-September to late November. In higher areas, the nights can be cool during July and August.
While the northeast’s natural vegetation is dense forest, the vast majority of trees had been cut by the time of independence, and today rice and sugar-cane fields, and plantations of vanilla and fruit trees, account for much of the more level ground. The sizeable pockets of forest that remain are major strongholds of Madagascar’s natural heritage, now flagged by UNESCO as the “Rainforests of the Atsinanana” group of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
Just a three-hour drive east of Antananarivo, one of the country’s most accessible and rewarding parks is Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia, which has a less extreme rainfall pattern than much of the region and some relatively easy trails. Four hours’ drive further east is Tamatave (less commonly known as Toamasina), a major Indian Ocean port and springboard for the remote far northeast. The idyllic Île Sainte Marie, with its outstanding beaches and diving and snorkelling opportunities, is reasonably accessible from here.
Back on the mainland, if you plunge on northwards the rewards mount along with the difficulty of travel (most visitors fly), as the tough and unpredictable coastal road, the RN5, takes you to the privately owned Aye-Aye Island near Mananara and eventually the remote town of Maroantsetra. From here you can reach the fabled island of Nosy Mangabe and the cloud-shrouded flanks of the Parc National de Masoala, home of Madagascar’s most stunning rainforests.
Beyond the Masoala peninsula lies Madagascar’s prime vanilla-exporting region of Sava, named after its four main towns, Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar and Andapa. The last of these is the highland base for the rugged Parc National de Marojejy and Réserve Spéciale de Anjanaharibe-Sud.