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Madagascar & The Galapagos Islands

Hear from the experts about the biodiversity, wildlife and breathtaking landscapes to be discovered on tours to Madagascar and the Galapagos Islands.

 

Learn about these biodiverse islands

We held a digital event with a spotlight on two of our most biodiverse and individually unique destinations - the Galapagos Islands and Madagascar.

We heard our experts talk about all the highlights on offer on our tours to these fascinating destinations, including (obviously) the incredible wildlife, but also the breathtaking landscapes and cultural experiences. They talked through some of our most popular tours and answered questions.
 

Watch the event recording

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FAQs - Galapagos and Madagascar

General

If we are aware in advance of travel, we can cater for vegetarian diets and other dietary requests. In Madagascar if you do not eat fish or meat, your food options will be rather limited (i.e. omelette, cheese, pasta, vegetables and rice) on this trip. Breakfasts are usually simple: eggs, a baguette, jam and coffee or tea, and sometimes fruit. You may wish to bring something to supplement your morning meal (spread, peanut butter etc). Catering for vegans and gluten intolerances is challenging in Madagascar.

We offer single room options for those not wanting to share a room - you can spot them on the dates and prices section of our tour pages. They do often feature in our special offers throughout the year so worth keeping an eye out for them.

Of course! More than 60% of our bookings come from solo travellers! We're very solo-friendly.

We aim to be as inclusive as possible but it's important for our travellers to take into consideration the destination they'll be visiting. If you have any queries, please get in touch with our customer service team who will be happy to walk through any concerns with you.

Travelling in a group is ideal for this as you've always got a tour leader with you for guidance and sharing safe and local experiences with you. We can book additional nights at the start or the end of the trip. Give us a call and we can chat through in more detail with you and make sure we cover any concerns you have and share some ideas with you.

Our Madagascar and Galapagos trips are for adults - so over 16. Our average age is around 55 years old; it does vary a little across departures. Our groups are typically 11 people and a mix of genders, plus a mix of single, solo and people travelling together, everyone with a shared love of travel.

While tipping isn't compulsory, it is generally expected in the countries that we visit. To help navigate this, we give recommended tipping amounts on the trip notes for all our tours. The tour leader will also assist with any tipping questions while on tour.

It is extremely well managed and whilst you may come across some other smaller groups the local guides manage this to ensure you are spread out and do not negatively impact the wildlife or your experience. The Galapagos in particular is extremely well regulated by the authorities, and only a certain number of people are allowed on the various islands at any one time. On occasions it's easy to feel like you're the only people in the vicinity.



Madagascar

You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy this trip, but a basic level of fitness is needed as all the wildlife viewing is on foot, some of the trails will have steep sections. Comfortable walking shoes are a must.

We regularly chat to our local partners and leaders to discourage these practices and avoid accommodation providers that do this. We welcome feedback though as things do change over time and we react quickly to any situations like this, if we hear about it and if the hotel owners are not prepared to remove captive animals we will move hotels.

They don’t - both these are located in the west of the country, around eight hours drive from the capital and well away from RN7 which we follow on our trips. The roads in this area are a lot more challenging, so to include these two far flung destinations we would need to look at a separate trip. We may well look at introducing these destinations as a week-long extension in the future.

The domestic airline, Madagascar Airlines is notoriously unreliable. We have secured firm flight commitment by pre purchasing airline seats ten months in advance for all peak dates. Whilst this gets around availability issues, last minute schedule changes can still happen at any time. This situation should improve in 2025 as the airline has secured additional aircraft.

We build in a contingency day to both our cultural and trekking tours in case our flight back to the capital is delayed. In such cases Explore will take care of changing the hotel and transfer arrangements.

Certainly, wildlife spotting! But you will be doing longer walks in comparison to the Lost Continent tour. The highlight of the walking tour is the ascend the island’s highest peak – Take on Imarivolanitra, Madagascar’s highest climbable peak at 2658 metres/8720 feet.

Yes, the sea is safe and sheltered. The tour leader and hotel we stay in will always give advice on current tidal conditions at the time, but the sea was spectacularly clear and clean.

The best time to visit Madagascar is April through to December. For lemur spotting you will spot them at all times during the season, but September to November are especially good for sightings, one advantage being the opportunity to see young lemurs playing as typically most species of lemur breed over the months of May to July. Our tour leader Armand always recommends November so that's a great time if you can make it then.

The walks are always at a slow pace and the 3-4 hour walk in Isalo has plenty of breaks along the way.

We recommend you take out Malagasy Ariary, you may be spending around £20 to £30 a day on food. Take a look at the trip page for some more information on budgeting and packing.

We have changed our group size from 16 to 12 this year which allows us to use slightly smaller vehicles which are better able to handle the poor road conditions and cover the ground in less time. We use either Hyandai or Nissan minibus. There is no getting away that some of the driving days are long. On a more positive note, the government is finally getting round to undertaking a long overdue road maintenance programme.

Although not mandatory, we do recommend protection against malaria, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A plus Polio and diphtheria. And to consult your travel clinic or doctor for latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria.

For Madagascar cash is definitely king. Whilst you can use your card in the hotels you will need cash elsewhere.

They weren't a huge issue, but we would recommend taking mosquito repellent and nets are provided at a majority of the hotels.

Not as such, the evenings in the lodges are quiet, there is usually a bar and lounge to relax and talk about the experiences of the day. Madagascar does have very good rum for a night-cap.

Regarding the train in Madagascar, you have indeed two routes, we currently don’t use these in our tours – Laurence from our local partner agency explains why:

The first line is called the FCE (Fianarantsoa - Côte Est). It starts in Fianarantsoa and goes to Manakara. The railroad is very old and in bad condition. It used to be used for tourists, but not anymore as it’s too risky in terms of security.

The second line is the TCE (Tana - Côte Est). This starts in Tana and goes to Tamatave via Andasibe NP. It is safer than FCE because it is used to transport goods, Tamatave being the islands largest port. However, it is not something we can offer to guests (unless very adventurous ones). I did this train ride last May, and it has been one of the most difficult experiences I had in my life, 13 hours in an overcrowded, poorly ventilated carriage, with stops at stations and at any time between stations depending on the needs of the local population. No toilets and no food. It's fair to say Explore will not be using Madagascan trains any time soon.

 

Galapagos

 

You will fly to Quito from the UK, where you will overnight. The flight to Quito usually involves one plane change, depending on the airline you use. After your overnight in Quito, you will fly to the Galapagos. The planes are relatively small aircraft due to the landing runway, but still carry upwards of 100 passengers on board.

For the cruising itineraries, no set level of fitness is required. They are quite full-on itineraries with multiple excursions per day, getting in and out of zodiacs, and doing very light island walks (completely flat). However, the boat crews are quite used to taking on board people of all ages and fitness levels and are able to manage all sorts of abilities.

For the land-based Galapagos itinerary, I would say a moderate level of fitness would be required particularly for the volcano walk in the Galapagos, and the walks on the Ecuador mainland. You don't need to be a hiker by any means, but even our city tour of Quito will involve approximately a 5-7km walk, and at altitude.

The regulations in the Galapagos are firm, rightly so, so guests are asked to ensure footwear and equipment is clean and steps are taken to ensure that no invasive species are brought into the region. The destination is ahead of the game in protecting their biodiversity, which is wonderful and hopefully an inspiration to other destinations.

Explore will provide you the equipment (minus the swimming trunks!).

Water temperatures in the Galapagos range from approximately 19-24 degrees Celsius / 66-76 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmer months are December to May, and the cooler months are June to November.

During any month in the Galapagos it’s fine to swim in the sea without a wetsuit. Those from Europe and the cooler parts of North America will find the sea warm even in the cooler months. For those accustomed to swimming in very warm waters, you may find it a little chilly on entry but it soon warms up.

On the boat-based trips there aren't laundry stops so it would be a case of rinsing a few bits in the sink when you need to. There are places to hang washing on the upper deck, and it’s very informal aboard the boat so you don’t need to pack multiple changes of clothes. On the land-based trip there are chances during the tour, so you'll be able to do a quick refresh a couple of times during the holiday.

Yes, the panga options are available for you but if you decide to stay on board the boat and just relax, that is absolutely fine.

If you're on the land-based tour there are cash machines on Santa Cruz Island, so on arrival you can get cash out. They do take card in some restaurants and shops, but cash is definitely preferred and WiFi for the card machines is quite hit-and-miss. There are no cash machines on the second island (Isabela), so we always advise customers to withdraw cash for the 2 nights there. You'll just need cash for meals and drinks, and any souvenirs that you may like to purchase. All excursions and boat trips are included on our trip.

On the cruises, everything is included on board aside from alcohol or other drinks from the bar, so you don't need to bring much cash aboard. Again, there are cash machines on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands so whichever airport you fly into, you will be able to withdraw cash there if necessary.

We are OK to take you on the cruises if you don't swim, but of course you wouldn't be able to go out on the snorkelling excursions, and you'd need to accept the risks of sleeping on a boat without being able to swim. Life preservers are provided every single time that you go out of the boat, and they are obligatory to wear in the Galapagos. For customers who don’t swim, we would actually recommend our land-based tours, which reduce your exposure to risk.

Want to know more about our wildlife holidays?

Our Wildlife holidays are perfect for every animal lover: from safari holidays to gorilla trekking tours and bird-watching tours, we've got a trip for everyone. So if seeing your favourite animal in the wild is on the bucket list, or you're a keen twitcher or wildlife photographer, come and explore with us.
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