Lac Ampitabe Vohibola

Accessible only by boat, Lac Ampitabe is a great place to go and get away after a few days on the river. It is peaceful, with white sandy beaches and a wonderful private wildlife park. The Palmarium Reserve (§§ 033 1 4 847 34; admission Ar10,000; S dawn-night) recently changed ownership (it was Le Reserve d'Akanin'ny Nofy, named for the village of Akanin'ny Nofy, northeast of the lake), and protects 50 hectares of palm-tree forests. Inside you'll find wide, well-maintained trails, and several species of incredibly tame lemur, including Coquerel's sifaka and some very tame black-and-white ruffed lemurs. There's also a good selection of reptiles on another island just offshore.

The adjacent Le Palmarium Hotel (@ 033 14 847 34; [email protected]; bungalows from Ar70,000) is owned by the same people as the reserve. The bungalows are large with hot-water bathrooms -almost posh for the wilderness. Night-time entertainment is provided by Philibert, a tame vasa parrot, and a pair of clowning lemurs. Meals can be arranged for Ar 15,000.

The German-run Bush House (§ 22 258 78; www.boogiepilgram-madagascar.com; r& bungalows per person from Ar75,000), just across from the reserve, is another option. It has charming staff, a great atmosphere and simple but rustically attractive rooms. Rates include full board. Walks, boats and canoe trips can be arranged to visit local village projects supported by the hotel, as well as the lemur reserve and the sea beach on the other side of the lake. All the guests eat together in the evenings, and the food is superb. Speedboat transfers from Toamasina/Manombato cost € 159/38 per boat for up to six people. Near Bush House is File aux Nepenthes, an islet containing hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants.

Don't miss a visit to Vohibola, the newest ecotourism initiative from Man and the Environment (MATE; §§ in Antananarivo 22 674 90; www.mate .mg). A visit to this preserve is a great way to see a Madagascan-started NGO with the goal of teaching local people about conservation.

Vohibola in an interesting area between the Indian Ocean, lakes and the Canal des Pan-galanes, about 45 minutes south of Ankanin'ny Nofy by boat. The project protects one of the two largest remaining pieces of littoral forest in the country, home to a number of highly endangered tree species. When MATE employees began exploring the forest they discovered a rare and extremely endangered tree, the Humbertiodendrom saboureaui, which had not been seen in 50 years and was thought to be extinct. Visitors have the opportunity to plant an indigenous tree from the extensive nursery should they wish. You should. Placing the little tree in the ground is not only a small way to give back, it makes you feel great to boot!

For now there are just two hiking trails, the Discovery Trail and the Wetiands Trail, each with unique scenery. Other activities are planned including canoeing and mountain biking. Contact MATE for all details on access, tariffs and facilities; volunteer placements may be available.

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