Madagascar’s varied ecosystems and climatic zones make it a particularly diverse country and choosing when to visit is not always straightforward.
(The stunning beaches of southern Madagascar can be great to visit year round, but travel in general is still best avoided in the January – March cyclone peroid)
Madagascar has three key biomes; the wet and humid rainforests of the eastern side of the country, the dry but tropical forests of the west and north and the hot and arid south west. In general Madagascar can be visited anytime from April through to December, while the cyclone season of January, February and March means those months are best avoided due to travel disruption.
Madagascar’s location in the southern hemisphere means it has an austral calendar with its spring between September and November, a wet and warm summer between November and March and a cooler winter between May and August.
From a general wildlife perspective, the optimum time to travel is in Madagascar’s spring months of September, October and November. At this time the weather is still good in most areas (though showers can always occur), baby lemurs are being born, the endemic birds are breeding and on territory and the reptiles, frogs, dwarf lemurs and tenrecs are all out of their hibernation and most active.
(A Verreaux’s sifaka in the spiny forest of the south)
(The normally secretive ground rollers such as this short-legged ground roller are at their easiest to see in September, October and November)
The spring season and October in particular is the most popular time to travel though and as a result the accommodations get booked up well in advance and some of the more accessible National Parks and Reserves can also become very busy such as Andasibe, Ranomafana and Isalo National Parks. We therefore often recommend exploring some of the quieter community managed reserves or trails during that time which still offers excellent wildlife, but a more intimate experience.
November can be a little quieter and also brings the benefit of fruiting trees and increased animal activity particularly with frogs. It is also the fossa mating season at Kirindy Forest and the increased humidity can encourage the chameleons lower in trees. Travelling in November can however increase the risk of some showers in the rainforests and some National Parks such as the Tsingy of Bemaraha close from the middle of the month onwards. In general, though travelling in November offers outstanding wildlife viewing and quieter National Parks.
(Tenrecs such as this lowland streaked are usually only possible to see from September to May)
For the bio diverse but often rainy Masoala Peninsula, November and December is actually the driest time and is superb for frogs and the helmet vangas, ground rollers and couas are calling on their breeding territories.
(The spectacular red ruffed lemur can only be found on the Masoala Peninsula and is easiest to find in the spring months of September, October and November when they are most vocal)
Whales and whale sharks
Combining Madagascar’s unique terrestrial wildlife with some of its marine life makes for an excellent complement and there are several places to do this. Humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the sheltered inshore waters of several large bays and channels around Madagascar to breed and feed. The very best area to observe humpbacks is in the Saint Marie channel on the east coast from the island of Ile Saint Marie. Between July and the end of September there is a large gathering of humpbacks here and towards the end of the season in August and September, mothers are teaching their calves to breach. During July, August and early September they can also be found in the Bay of Antongil in the Masoala region and also from the west coast of Ifaty, Anakao and Nosy Be. There is also a population off the coast of Manafiafy that lingers later into November.
(Breaching humpback whales are always a special and rare sight, but they are most likely to be seen doing this behavior towards the end of their breeding season)
Whale sharks are now being seen with increased regularity on snorkelling trips from Nosy Be with October and early November being the best period, although they have been seen as early as late August and as late as December. During the same period, manta rays and pods of spinner dolphins and rare Omura’s whales can also sometimes be seen.
(Whale shark snorkelling off Nosy Be is best in October and early November)
For those looking to travel at a cooler time of year then June, July and August are the best months although the dwarf lemurs and some reptiles and birdlife will be less active. For the endemic birds, the best time to travel is the spring when most species are on territory and most vocal and conspicuous. However, during the winter months there can be mixed species flocks of vangas and other bird families travelling together. This can make it easier to encounter some species such as helmet and Beriner’s vangas in the Masoala National Park.
(The wonderful helmet vanga is perhaps Madagascar’s most spectacular bird and can be quite easy to find in the winter in Masoala as well as the breeding season)