Almost cut off from the rest of Madagascar, with forested hills rising sheer in the distance, the back-of-beyond town of MAROANTSETRA seems a suitable introduction to the wild and wet Masoala region, which protects the Baie d’Antongil from the rough seas of the Indian Ocean. The town’s rainfall averages around 4000m, with downpours almost every day of the year.

Spanning the delta of the Antainambalana River, this friendly settlement of sandy streets and wooden houses sprawls northwards from its beach on the Baie d’Antongil into a hinterland of rice paddies and bush near the airport. Most of Maroantsetra’s simple hotels, eating houses, shops and offices line the one main street, which leads from the airport into town. A crisscross of sandy lanes to the east of town runs out to the riverbank which serves as a cargo port.

There are no compelling reasons to stay long in Maroantsetra: the beach is a shadeless, working fishing strand rather than a place to relax, and most of your time in town is likely to be spent organizing a visit to Nosy Mangabe and Masoala. While you’re here, look out for some of the herpetofauna of the region, including brilliant scarlet tomato frogs (Dyscophus antongilii), easily found in the puddles and streams around the town’s vegetable gardens, and panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis), the males of which are spectacularly emblazoned in ginger, green and ice-blue.

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