Turtle, Ecuador

Your words, not ours

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Your Words - We tell it like it is! Holiday Reviews by previous Exodus travellers  

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  • Reviewed July 2018
    Jackie Freshfield

    An Incredible Adventure!

    Not so much a holiday, more an adventure of discovery! An island of contrasts, Madagascar is the gift that gives on giving – from the leaping lemurs in the rainforest to the giant baobabs of Morondava and the sandy beaches of Ifaty, there was always something new and exciting to experience and look forward to. As many have commented, the trip is dominated by long drives on poor roads, but the rewards at the end of each journey are exceptional and worth every mile. But don’t sleep through the drives as you’d miss the breathtaking ever-changing landscapes of Madagascar, from rainforest to stunning highlands, paddy fields, white sandy beaches, boulder-strewn deserts, spiny forests, rivers and of course the fascinating towns and villages of this incredible island – not forgetting the resourceful and welcoming Malagasy people. We were exceptionally lucky with our weather and wildlife spotting and the whole trip ran very smoothly due mainly to Sol, our superb guide, who made it all happen with charm and efficiency. If you want five-star accommodation and haute cuisine, this is not the trip for you. You’ll get a comfy bed and (generally) hot water at the end of each dusty day, a limited but well-cooked menu of zebu/chicken/fish for cheap lunches and dinners and the opportunity to experience the Malagasy culture at first hand, including the children who will wave from the side of the road, press you for ‘bon bons’ and delight in seeing themselves on the back of a camera. The unique wildlife and cultural melting pot make Madagascar an exceptional destination, and this varied and illuminating trip was better than I expected, such that it will take me some time to process the whole experience. I was also fortunate enough to be with lots of fun, like-minded people in the group who really added to my enjoyment of the trip.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I’d wanted to visit Madagascar for some time to see the wildlife and to visit the giant baobab forests and these did not disappoint. As a keen photographer it was great to see the Avenue of Baobabs in both the afternoon sun and at sunset, and also to get lots of opportunities to see lemurs in the wild, although we all got neck-ache from looking up at the tops of trees for hours at a time! The night walk in Kirindy was particularly rewarding, and hearing the haunting call of the Indri in the morning in Andasibe was just superb. I can’t believe that I got to the top of the Tsingy as I have issues around heights, so that was an unexpected if terrifying highlight! I really loved the drive from Morondava to Bekopaka with the baobabs, villages and Heath-Robinson-style ferry crossings: all very wild!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Sol was brilliant. The trip went like clockwork because Sol spent much of the trip checking ahead to make sure that everything was organised for us, including nabbing us a ferry for the Tsiribihina River crossing so we wouldn’t be held up by the Prime Minister who was about to visit! Sol kept us fully informed of all aspects of our itinerary and managed everything so that we didn’t waste time, particularly as regards ordering food, wearing the most appropriate clothes for each excursion, finding us good shopping spots and bush toilets (some better than others!). He was a fount of wisdom on all fronts – history, flora and fauna, culture, food, topography etc etc and we all soaked up his fascinating insights about the Malagasy culture. He was always cheerful and patient, despite various annoyances, and contributed hugely to the trip’s success.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Read the trip notes and all the reviews thoroughly as they are full of tips and information. In practical terms . . . Camera Gear: photographers should take the best wide and long lenses you have: 100-400mm is ideal as some wildlife gets very close. Don’t bother with laptops/hard drives etc as the luggage limit for internal flights is limited. Take lots of memory cards and spare batteries. I took binoculars but didn’t use them and used my long lens instead. Take video clips when you can as these really convey the culture, wildlife and landscape better than stills – particularly the leaping lemurs which are so difficult to capture. Clothing: I should have taken more long-sleeved t-shirts as these are v useful in the rainforest under a waterproof. It gets cold in the highlands so a fleece is essential. No need for smart clothes – travel light with layers for the rainforest and a sarong for the beach (or buy a Malagasy one along the way). Take advantage of the laundry facilities on two-night stopovers – you get very dusty! Food: Take a few protein/crunchy bars for a snack if you need them, but the food is filling if not very varied. Be prepared for a limited menu particularly if you have a restricted diet. Don’t be afraid to go off-menu as the restaurants will do their best to accommodate you. I took tea-bags and Marmite and was glad I did as a breakfast boost will set you up for the day. Give your empty plastic water bottles to the kids who will recycle them by finding a use for them at home. Change all your money at the airport as doing so later is a pain. I changed £400 and that was just enough to cover everything, including a bit of souvenir shopping (if you see something you like, buy it then and there as there are few shopping opportunities), wine at dinner (NOT the local stuff) and a few beers along the way. Food is cheap! Take hand sanitizer and use it regularly to stay healthy. Get as fit as you can before the trip. The Tsingy is challenging and the terrain in some of the parks (Ranomafana) requires stamina. Hotels are varied, some more basic than others. Take a travel pillow for both bus and hotel bed! This is not a ‘relaxing’ holiday but it is really rewarding. Take an open mind and an easy-going attitude and soak it all up!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Despite a 6-hour layover in Nairobi, my luggage did not make the connecting flight to Antananarivo, and the same happened to two others in our party as well as many more people on the flight. This is not uncommon apparently. I'd recommend having all camera gear in your hand luggage including battery chargers, plus overnight essentials. We returned to the airport at 3am the same night to meet the next flight and our bags were on it, thankfully. We'd have been in trouble otherwise: shopping for 'regular' kit in Madagascar is tricky as there are few Western shops, although it is also refreshing NOT to have the usual global brands, shops and advertising on every corner!
  • Reviewed September 2017
    Sharron Taylor

    Madagascan Discoverer (2017)

    A busy and interesting trip that covers a lot of ground, sights and emotions in 2 weeks - I'm still absorbing the experience almost 2 weeks later! Early starts and some long days of travel, mainly in a comfortable bus or 4x4s - all part of the adventure and the only way to see so much in such a short time. The drivers (Dama: bus driver) and 4x4 drivers were excellent and negotiated sometimes difficult terrain with expertise. I loved the first week; the second week had some great highlights, but a lot of bus travel, which was broken up as much as possible by visits to villages, tombs and local craft areas. The hotels were generally good - a couple were better than expected which was a bonus. Food catered for all diets - meat, fish and vegetarian. Not much variety, but all decent quality. We never went hungry. Loved the opportunities to interact with local people and learn more about their culture. The people were mostly welcoming and friendly, although it's impossible to escape the poverty. Most children asked for sweets, pens or 'gifts' - if you take gifts such as pencils etc ask your guide for advice on distributing them as he will know where they will be of most value. Expect a lot of street sellers in some places. So lucky to share the experience with a brilliant group of people.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing and hearing the indris (my favourite lemur). Climbing the Tsingy - challenging in places for those of us with issues around heights, but well worth it. Sunset at the Alley of Baobabs - although you will be with a large number of tourists gathering to see it - quite a funny sight! The ferry crossing with the 4x4s - fascinating. Isalo National Park walk, including the 'piscine naturelles'. Meeting local people and learning about their culture.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Sol was an excellent leader. All leaders that I've met over 12 years of travelling with Exodus have been good - and Sol is up there with the very best of them. He has incredible organisation skills, happily shares his knowledge on all things Madagascan, is a good leader - clear information, always available to help if required, but never in your face. Best of all he's a really nice guy with a great personality and is a real pleasure to spend time with.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    On arrival at the airport avoid the 'helpful' staff in high viz vests who offer to help you jump to the front of the visa queue or help with your bags - they will charge you a fortune for the pleasure! Money - change cash at the airport. Only one hotel took credit cards, so you do need cash. £350-£400 should be sufficient for most people, including all tips, unless you like to buy a lot of souvenirs. Spend all your Ariary before check-in for the flight home (Euros preferred in departures). Take a first aid kit - I cut my foot on a rock and was glad I had antiseptic wipes, ointment and plasters to keep out infection. Most people had a 24/48 hour stomach bug (cramps or the 'runs') at some point - not a major issue, but come prepared. Bring toilet wipes as many loos whilst out and about don't have loo roll and hotels only provide a small roll! I'd also recommend hand sanitizer. Hotel laundry services at Olympe de Bemaraha and Ihary were good and inexpensive.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    A full on trip, but worth the effort.
  • Reviewed July 2017
    Gyan Fernando

    A Real Adventure in A Big Island

    A rather hectic journey taking you from Antananarivo, the capital city, to the East and then to the West seeing a large chunk of this big island state. It involves two internal flights and bumpy Jeep rides and two ferry crossings in open vehicle ferries in the scorching-ly hot Sun. All part of the adventure! Just put on your sunscreen and don't complain! Most of the time it was a comfortable mini-bus driven by Dan, a very good driver Nature lovers won't be disappointed as there are Lemurs and Chameleons everywhere. The trees (Baobabs) and Eurphorbias are equally interesting but beware that this is a poor country.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Two: Seeing Baobab Alley on two occasions, once at sunset and the moment a friendly Lemur gently jumped on my shoulder and stayed put! In spite of the mad rush by our group to get good good pics of the Lemurs at the start, towards the end we found a glut of Lemurs.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Sol Razafimahazo, a charming guy, was a tolerant and knowledgeable leader. He had everything in hand from the moment he got us to change money at the airport on arrival, handed us pocket maps and after the interesting tour, made sure that we got checked in for the homeward journey. He was in contact with hotels and restaurants on the long journeys and would pre-order food for us to cut down on the waiting times. One of the best that I have met in over 15 years of traveling with Exodus!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    The roads are largely unpaved and washed away. The 4 wheel vehicles are therefore essential. Be prepared for dusty, bumpy rides. The drivers are very safe but do put on seat belts. Take anti-Malaria tablets. The hotels we stayed in provided good mosquito nets and repellents but you can get bitten outdoors. One trek involves rock climbing (Exodus trip notes specifically warn you about this!) and, at my age, I opted out of it. Sensible shoes are a must. There is no point bringing fancy evening clothes. There is no National Electric Grid as such and in most parts the hotels have their own generators which, understandably, only work when needed. Electronic devices are a pain as some of the group found out. Signals are weak and the power not reliable. Internal flights weigh your baggage assiduously! Be warned! Airlines confiscate a lot of items including locally produced souvenirs. Do check with your tour leader before buying. Cuisine is either local or French or Italian. Do not expect a full English Breakfast although in all the hotels, we did get eggs cooked the way we wanted.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    It takes a long time to get from Antananarivo airport to Hotel Belvedere. This was fine at the start but when, on the last day, we had to fly from Tuliary Airport to Antananarivo, drive to Hotel Belvedere through heavy traffic, have a quick dinner/turnaround and drive back to the same airport to catch our flights back home it was a little bit of a pain. Sol did his best to smooth things out: Some of us opted to leave our big bags in the coach so as not to waste time loading and unloading. Maybe it would be a good idea to find accommodation closer to the airport on the last day.
  • Reviewed October 2016
    Deborah Barber

    Madagascar Discoverer

    A good trip which covers a lot of ground, literally. There are some very long days travelling on pretty rough roads in hot and dusty conditions. Perhaps I should have studied the trip notes more carefully before booking the trip. Clean and comfortable hotels, although occasionally only a "set menu" was available. At a small resort, like Grace Lodge this was quite understandable, but at some of the larger places it seemed to be more for their convenience than the guests.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The hightlight for me was Vakona Lemur Island, where you can get up close and personal with the lemurs. Grand Tsingy was suitably dramatic and the walk through Isalo National Park was excellent.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Ben, our group leader was helpful and knowledgeable.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be aware of the length of the drives involved, and the days of consecutive driving. But the ferry crossings were good fun.
  • Reviewed October 2016
    Andrew McGregor

    Madagascan Discoverer (2016)

    This was a great trip. Comprehensive with lots of variety. Plenty of opportunities to see lemurs and other wildlife along with great scenery.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    National parks - Tsingy was spectacular and fun to explore by walking and via ferrata - the views at the top were superb. Isalo was great - walking through desert only to find a lush canyon oasis filled with plants and a (very cold!) natural swimming pool at the end (definately take the option of the local community barbequing food for you rather than the hotel sandwich!). Seeing lemurs in the wild eating and playing was excellent. There are loads of opportunities to see lemurs - mostly in the trees from from a short distance (but note if you want really good pictures you'll need a camera with a proper zoom e.g. 75-300mm DSLR lens... in some areas (where they are more tame a standard compact camera will do). Diving on the reef was great. The landscape changes on a daily basis - lush rainforests, deserts, white sand beaches etc.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Ben (Nambinina) was great fun. He took care of us throughout the trip and ensured we were in the right place at the right time. He arranged a kitty so that all tips for porters etc. were taken care of. He tried to cater for everyone's needs.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Exchange most of your money at tbe airport. This is the easiest place to do so and probably the best rates (certainly compared to hotels in Tana). Cash machines are possible but are only really present in larger places, are often out of order or have no money and there is a maximum of around £100 you can withdraw at one time (often the machine will let you do more than one withdrawl... if there is enough money!). It's also a hassle if one person needs the cash machine as it holds up the whole trip. Similarly there are often queues at banks which can take a while to exchange. The airport currency exchange took sterling without a problem. Meals are between 15000-25000 ariary (£4-7) each for lunch and evening meal. Drinks are £0.5-1.50 each (cold beer is available everywhere!). By the time the kitty is paid for and tips at the end along with souvenirs and extra trips probably £350 spending money is needed. There are long journeys - this is clearly documented in the trip notes. It's the only way to see everything. On a few occasions we arrived at the hotel at dark and were leaving early the next day. For one of the internal flights it was a 3am start! There are times to relax on certain days but there is a lot of travelling too.... and some is on very bumpy roads and rather 'interesting' ferry crossings - all adding to the adventure. Most of the journey was spent in a very comfortable mini-bus and a small amount in four-wheel drive cars. For those with a bit more time it would be very easy to book a few extra nights in Ifaty at the end to spend relaxing on the beach or to do some more diving or birdwatching. Get rid of all Ariary befire you check in to the flight home (Euros is preferred once you pass through security in the limited shops in the airport). Have some Euro for entering the country to pay for the visa - was 27 euros. It gets cold in Andasibe and Ranomafana in the evening so take a warm jumper. It is generally a poor country and children will ask for sweats ("bon bon") - especially on the west side. One person had brought along some pencils, balloons and brightly coloured bangels which went down a treat with the children! They like to have their photo taken and it will amuse them for ages if you show them the picture on the screen afterwards! There are at least three night hikes so make sure you have a torch. Hand santiser is useful as often no soap in toilets.... 'bush' toilets may be cleaner! As you will be staying in remote areas food options can be limited at times - usually chicken or zebu (seafood on west coast which was amazing). In larger areas pasta and other options are available. No vegetarians etc. in our group. There is a three course meal on offer for lunch and dinner but often a main meal will suffice. It is possible to wash clothes at most hotels but save this for the places that you'll be staying in more than one night. It was fairly cheap. It is worth taking mosquito spray - I rarely used it and wasn't bothered too much (but some others were).

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Great trip - definately worthwhile!
  • Reviewed September 2016
    Catherine Grimes

    Madagascan Discoverer

    This was my second trip to Madagascar, I wanted to go somewhere that I have not been before so I thought that going to the west of Madagascar would be a good idea and I was not disappointed. The Tsingy was amazing with stunning views and the "Alley of Baobabs" at dusk was stunning.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Walking in the Tsingy, it was better than I ever imagined. I had not been to Anja park before and I was pleasantly surprised to see the ring tailed lemurs enjoying themselves in a natural setting. I have never seen so many ring tailed lemurs in a single tree as I did here. Walking in the Isalo National Park was stunning.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Our tour leader Sol was very good and he was very helpful when people had problems.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Don't miss out on seeing the spiny forest at Ifaty. It was very sunny so take some good sunscreen, I used factor 50 and didn't burn.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The east of the island can be wet as we found at the Andasibe and Ranomafana national parks. However, as this holiday concentrated on the middle and west of Madagascar, there was good weather everywhere apart from the above mentioned national parks. There is some long coach journeys but it was worth it.
  • Reviewed July 2016
    John Matthiessen

    Madagascar Discoverer

    What a sensational trip! Broad in extent; deep in experiences in this fascinating country. Covering an amazing and surprising diversity of landscapes, wildlife, plant life, cultures and endless moments of 'what's next around the corner to amaze the senses?' Just immerse yourself and be deeply rewarded!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I was just blown away by the whole experience. Obviously the wildlife (lemurs, chameleons) and the baobabs are something very special, and I really loved the 4WD trip to Tsingy and back.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    In a word: exceptional! Armel ('Mel') was so knowledgeable, informative, caring and an absolute bundle of fun - and, above all, just so thoroughly professional. I simply cannot speak more highly of this terrific guy!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Just do it!
  • Reviewed July 2016
    Harvey Trop

    Discovering Madagascar

    This is a fantastic trip! The scenery is quite breathtaking at times, and the wildlife encounters were better than I expected. You get to see a lot of what is a very big island, and you can get a peek into Malagasy culture.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    My number one highlight was the hike through the Tsingy; it had dramatic scenery, wildlife, technical hiking and bouldering all in one day. Number two would be hearing the Indri location call from just a few feet away.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Sol (Solofoniray Razafimahazo) was outstanding. He was a great ambassador for the Malgasy culture and his patience and calm under all conditions was really inspirational. He always prepared the group for what we were likely to expect the following day, so we were always properly dressed. Little things like that can really add to the enjoyment of the experience.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be sure to lock your rooms and your valuables (especially money) at all times, especially at night. At one place, my roommate was robbed by a thief who entered our room while we were sleeping! Avoid the local Malagasy wine; it's reputation as swill is well deserved; the imported wines available at the restaurants were of good quality and very reasonably priced.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    This was my first trip with Exodus, but I believe it won't be my last.
  • Reviewed October 2015
    Lindsay Challoner

    Madagascar Discovery

    A great trip. Be prepared for long, hot travelling days yet the rewards at the end are worth it.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Conquering the Grands Tsingy!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Looked after the group very well. Kept us informed during the trip and worked hard (and successfully) to source alternatives when our Itinerary changed. Even helped to check in online for the flight home for those of us who didn't have the technology to do so!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be prepared for the long coach journeys and the heat. We travelled during Madagascar's spring and for half of the trip the temperature was +30C including the days walking in the Grands Tsingy and Isalo National Park. Yet the scenery is stunning and it was always worth arriving at a new and wonderful location where we would see more of Madagascar's amazing flora & fauna.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The food during the trip was a little hit and miss. Some of the hotels en route had a limited menu and meals became a little repetitive. For travellers with a limited diet (Vegetarian or vegan for example) it is a little harder to find a satisfying meal yet our guide Amrel was always on hand to help when ordering food. Don't be afraid to ask for something which isn't on the menu as the worst that can happen is they can say no. Recommend taking snack bars and sweets/nibbles with you, yet there are opportunites to stop en route at Supermarkets and stock up on food & water. Be prepared as well for lower standards of hygiene than you are used to. Several members on our tour became sick with stomach complaints, therefore it is worth stocking up with dehydration sachets and imodium tablets (just in case).
  • Reviewed August 2015
    Mark Lawrance

    Magical Madagascar

    My wife and I have had Madagascar at the top of our "must go" list (which is a pretty long list!) for many years so it was really exciting to eventually book this trip and then hope that we hadn't set our expectations of this far away island too high. Before we left the UK, we were a little daunted at the amount that was being included in the itinerary but once we arrived, we recognised that all of this was expertly organised and that we really were going to see the maximum number of highlights in a two week period. But the "glue" holding the itinerary together was our marvellous guide, Solofo (Sol), who calmly and efficiently made sure that we got from place to place, seeing all the key sights and experiencing the real Madagascar. There is something for everyone on this trip - the variety of landscape, wildlife and activity shows off Madagascar at its best. I've only had a little exposure to travel in the African continent but this unique island seems somehow different. I really felt that we were explorers seeing the island as it opens up to tourism but also struggles with tough ecological challenges. The welcome we received wherever we went was warm and genuine and that connection to both the people and the island has really remained with me since returning home. I can't recommend this tour highly enough.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    There are so many..... Climbing the limestone pinnacles in Grand Tsingy National Park, hearing the Indri calling to each other on our morning walk in Andasibe, walking along the pure white sea shore in Ifaty, the peace and tranquillity of the Maki gorge (it really is like paradise) and being just metres away from the cheeky ring-tailed lemurs

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Sol was simply amazing. He was our guide, our teacher, our interpreter, our ecologist, our naturalist, our motivator (ahead of long journeys and early starts), our doctor (to a couple of poorly group members), but most importantly our friend. Sol calmly and quietly just gets things done but gives his time and support freely to ensure the total satisfaction of the group. Despite a few challenges that were thrown at him along the way (primarily the Air Madagascar strike) he just smiled and did whatever was necessary to keep the group happy and the itinerary on track.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Despite the fact that the trip is described as "moderate", be prepared for a really intensive and often tiring two week adventure. But rest assured, it's really worth it!! Most days start at (or before) sunrise and there are many days when you don't reach your destination until after sunset but that's based on the curious Madagascar combination of a) fabulous things to see and do during the days, b) terrible roads and slow journeys, and c) short days during the winter season. This is not a "holiday" in terms of rest and relaxation. In fact, there were only a couple of very short periods when we had "free time", but it is a full-on and magnificent introduction to the sights, sounds and experiences of this wonderful island. Booking a few extra days on a beach to end the trip might not be a bad plan....
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