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Andasibe (= Périnet): Analamazaotra Special Reserve, and Mantadia National Park ***
The Analamazaotra Special Reserve is one of the most frequently visited sites in the country, one of the easiest to reach, and one of the best places to observe lemurs in Madagascar, and indeed one of the best primate-watching sites in the world. It is located right next to the village of Andasibe, which is also sometimes referred to as Périnet (actually the name of the train station). Andasibe is about 145 km east of Antananarivo on RN2 (one of Madagascar’s better roads and the highway to the eastern coastal port of Toamasina), and can be reached in 2½ to 4 hours by car, depending on traffic and stops along the way. There are various hotels in Andasibe, suitable for all budgets. A few are particularly worth mentioning; the upscale Vakona Hotel, the charming Feon’ny Ala Hotel (which has the advantage of being situated right next to the forest in which the principal indri tourist groups live), and the Mikalo Hotel, an extension of the historic old train station hotel, the Hotel de la Gare, which used to be the only place to stay prior to the 1980s. Another hotel, Euphon, is located along the main highway right before the turnoff to Andasibe, and is also a good place to stay. Analamazaotra consists of mid-altitude montane rain forest at 900–1,250 m, but covers a mere 810 ha. However, it is immediately adjacent to the much larger Mantadia National Park and several other important forests, such as Maromizaha. An overnight stay at this site is an absolute must for the first time visitor to Madagascar, since it is the single best place in the country for seeing the indri (Indri indri). Two indri groups in the surrounding forest have been habituated to the presence of tourists and are easily found with the help of local guides. The Association des Guides d’Andasibe is composed of approximately 30 people from the village of Andasibe. They are excellent naturalists and can show visitors a wide variety of wildlife in a very short period of time. Guides are easily located at the entrance to the park or can be contacted through one of the hotels. The new Association Mitsinjo also has guides, as well as its own reserve in the Station Forestière d’Analamazaotra right across the street from the Analamazaotra Special Reserve. The Mitsinjo Reserve has the advantage of allowing night walks, which are sometimes prohibited in government protected areas. However, night walks along the road between the main highway and Andasibe are allowed at any time, and can be quite productive. A third guide association, Tambatra, was created recently and can also provide services. In all, there are almost a hundred guides from Andasibe working in this area. In addition to the indri, the following lemurs are also relatively easy to observe at Analamazaotra: Goodman’s mouse lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara), Crossley’s dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus crossleyi), weasel sportive lemur (Lepilemur mustelinus), brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus), gray bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus griseus), and eastern woolly lemur (Avahi laniger), as well as recently re-introduced diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) and sometimes southern black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata editorum), also a recent re-introduction. The sifakas are now quite easy to see in the same area as the two habituated indri groups, but the ruffed lemurs are more difficult. There is also a possibility of seeing the red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer) and the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), although sightings of these species are much more infrequent. Finally, the rare hairy-eared dwarf lemur (Allocebus trichotis) is known to occur in the reserve, but is difficult to find. If this species is of interest, be sure to ask for a guide who knows where to look for it. First time visitors to Madagascar should try to spend at least two nights in Andasibe, and should also go to the nearby Mantadia National Park, where it is now easy to see the diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) and possibly also southern black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata editorum). Both of these species occur in Mantadia, and are regularly seen at km 15. In other words, with a little bit of luck and perseverance, one can see 8 to 11 different lemurs at this one site—a good start to any lemur-watching tour of Madagascar. Note that the smaller nocturnal species are much more difficult to find in the colder austral winter (June–August), so if seeing these is a priority it is better to visit during the warmer months (November–February). At present, nocturnal walks are conducted only along the road to Andasibe or in Station Forestière d’ Analamazaotra, administered by Association Mitsinjo. However, we hope that Madagascar National Parks will reopen its parks and reserves to nocturnal visits in the near future. In Mantadia, most excursions into the forest start at km 15, where there are several good trails. Birdwatching is also exceptionally good at Mantadia, especially in September and October when the ground-rollers (Brachypteracias) are visible, and butterfly and orchid enthusiasts can expect to find a great diversity of species as well. However, most facilities in Andasibe are heavily booked during these two months, so it is important to reserve early.