Our expeditions in Madagascar formally start and end in the southwest coastal city of Toliara. We therefore offer a very popular overland tour from the capital Antananarivo down to Toliara at the beginning of each expedition, and from Toliara back up to Antananarivo at the end of each expedition.
This journey covers over a 1,000 kilometres through beautiful scenery and some of Madagascar's most famous national parks, with plenty of opportunities for spotting lemurs and Madagascar's famous wildlife! It's also a great chance to get to know your fellow expedition volunteers before arriving in Andavadoaka.
Summary of the overland tour from Antananarivo to Toliara:
Day 1Depart from the Auberge du Cheval Blanc hotel in Antananarivo at 7am, drive through the Malagasy highlands with their distinctively terraced rice paddies and traditional red brick houses.
Stop for lunch in the bustling town of Antsirabe or Ambositra with their colourful pousse-pousse (rickshaws).
Continue on, pausing for photography breaks before arriving in the main highland city of Fianarantsoa at 6pm, dinner and overnight stay at Mini-Croq hotel.
Day 2Wander the old town of Fianarantsoa after breakfast; this has been listed as one of the world's top 100 threatened cultural heritage sites.
Depart for Ambalavao, where we visit the traditional paper factory to see Antaimoro paper being made using sisal and pressed flowers. Lunch is at the nearby community-run Anja reserve, which is home to ring-tailed lemurs, chameleons and and other endemic species.
Hike over the rock formations in Anja to admire the views of the surrounding countryside. Back in the minibus, and arrive in the village of Ranohira at 6pm, dinner and overnight stay at Momo Trek hotel.
Day 3Trekking in Isalo National Park (Madagascar's outback!) with an English-speaking guide to visit natural swimming pools, waterfalls, grasslands, sandstone cliffs and canyons.
Opportunities to see brown and ring-tailed lemurs as well as chameleons.
BBQ lunch in the park, dinner and overnight stay at Momo Trek hotel.
Day 4Depart from Momo Trek hotel in Ranohira at 8am, drive down to the coast and arrive in Toliara at 1pm. This is the end of the overland tour; volunteers are responsible for organising their own accommodation in Toliara, and we can recommend places to stay.
CostThe cost is £185 for the 4-day / 3-night trip south from Antananarivo to Toliara, and £160 for the return 3-day / 2-night trip north from Toliara to Antananarivo. Please let us know if you're interested and we can reserve you a place on a tour. The dates can be found on this page.
The overland tour cost includes:
- Minibus hire, driver, national park entry fees and tour guide
- Accommodation for 3 nights on the tour south and 2 nights on the tour north, starting on the first scheduled date of the tour
The overland tour cost does not include:
- Tips, meals, snacks and drinks. We recommend you budget about £100 for this
- Accommodation prior to the start date or on the last day of the tour but we can arrange this as part of a group booking to minimise costs
Volunteer storyBlanchard Campbell did the overland tour before his expedition in Andavadoaka, and this is an account of his experience in the Isalo National Park:
We had a very friendly tour guide, Momo, to show us around Isalo. We started on a route called Canyon des Makis, taking a hike around the canyons that surrounded us, and were told about the rare endemic plants on our trail, as well as sacred burial sites embedded in the canyon walls. After hiking for twenty minutes, we climbed to the top of one of the canyons to rest, and appreciated the view that surrounded us.
From the canyon top, we descended back to the main footpath. On the way, we encountered a number of small reptiles and dragonflies. Approaching an area called Piscine Naturalle, the sound of rushing water began to fill the air around us. After a few minutes we found ourselves at a beautiful waterfall with a small natural pool that we waded into, cooling ourselves down after our hot trek.
We then hiked to an area resembling a lowland equatorial evergreen rainforest! Momo, our guide, pointed out a native species of aloe, called Aloe isaloenis, and answered many of our questions about the national park, its history and heritage. Soon after, we were greeted by a number of brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus). Everyone was amazed by the way they moved. Even the slightest jump had us staring in awe!
Different expeditions and volunteering opportunities suit different people. The quality and type of experience varies considerably among different organisations, so you should make sure that you do a bit of research to find the right trip for you.
You may like to consider asking some of the following questions:
Remember that an attractive website with appealing marketing does not necessarily mean that the expedition itself will meet your expectations, or give you the experience that you are looking for.
Speaking to the organisation and asking a few direct questions can help you to decide which organisation to travel with. We are always willing to talk, so give us a call on +44 (0)207 697 8598 to discuss our expeditions in Madagascar and Belize.
What makes Blue Ventures different?
Our organisational structure
Our award-winning expeditions are run by a social enterprise which fuels our marine research and conservation work in Madagascar and Belize. Profits generated by Blue Ventures Expeditions (a private company) are re-invested to maintain the standard of our expeditions and further channelled to Blue Ventures Conservation (registered charity number 1098893) in order to support the development of our innovative and integrated community-based programmes.
Our conservation impactWe have hosted more than 1,800 volunteers at our sites over the last decade, resulting numerous reports and scientific papers being published about the state of Madagascar and Belize’s coral reefs, and directly contributing to the development of our marine conservation work.
Our expedition volunteers also play a vital role in diversifying income-generating opportunities away from fishing within coastal economies, generating more than US$100,000 for local homestays to date in Belize alone.
Our volunteer to staff ratioWe limit the number of our volunteers on each expedition to a maximum of three per staff member (with an average group size of 12-14 volunteers) so that everyone receives a high standard of science and dive training and support, no matter what their background.
Other organisations offering similar research opportunities and expeditions tend to accept greater volunteer to staff ratios but we feel that this can limit the learning experience, availability of facilities and diversity of activities that volunteers can participate in.
Our expeditions are run by experienced staff recruited, trained and managed by our London headquarters to ensure we deliver consistently high-quality training, safety and expedition experiences. The teams consist of at least four international staff members (including PADI dive instructors and marine biologists) working alongside at least four local staff members.
Our science and dive trainingAll of our volunteers complete an intensive two-week science training programme run by our field scientists at the beginning of each expedition, to ensure that their knowledge is sufficient to carry out underwater surveys with our marine biologists coordinating the research.
Both qualified and non-qualified divers are welcome to join our expeditions, with the PADI Advanced Open Water course offered to those without this qualification. PADI Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and Dive Master courses are also available for those who wish to advance their diving qualifications.
Our health and safetySafety is our top priority when working both above and below the water in remote environments. Our volunteers are required to complete a medical check with their doctor before joining an expedition with us, and we aim to have a qualified medic on site at all times, with additional 24-hour medical support provided both from our UK based medical professionals and within each expedition country.
Rest days (decompression days) are incorporated into our schedules, and conservative dive profiles allow for a large safety margin. Communications can be difficult on remote expeditions so our field sites and research boats are connected by VHF radios and/or mobile and satellite phones at all times, and our research boats carry medical oxygen on all diving trips.
We have a worst-case scenario medical evacuation (Medivac) plan, supported by 24-hour contact with our head office staff and medical advisers. All of our expeditions staff are experienced divers, with training in first aid and practical rescue management skills.
Our accommodation and foodOur expedition volunteers stay in beach-front eco-cabins at our dive sites in Madagascar and Belize, with a maximum of four people per bungalow. We offer private accommodation for a small supplement; ideal for couples, families or those wanting their own space.
Three meals a day are prepared by local chefs, with plenty of fresh vegetables and seafood, and we are normally able to cater for those with specific dietary requirements. Volunteers are also given the opportunity to learn how to make traditional snacks, such as doughnuts, fish samosas and tortillas. Tea and coffee is available with most meals and treated drinking water is freely available on site, with bottled water and other beverages available to purchase from local restaurants or shops.
Our value for moneyThe cost of our expeditions is among the most competitive in the sector, and we believe that we offer the highest standards of science and dive training, accommodation and food. We don’t charge for dive kit hire (we have all of the expensive equipment that you need available for you to use at our research sites) and PADI dive courses are subsidised to keep prices low.
Our expeditions help to finance our marine conservation programmes in Madagascar and Belize, and we want as many people as possible to join us, learn with us and contribute to this work. We recommend that you compare our prices, quality and reputation versus other marine conservation expedition providers in the market.
Year Out Group and all of our expeditions abide by their Code of Practice and Charter. We spend more than 70% of volunteer fees in our expedition countries, with the remaining sum used to support our UK-based team, marketing, insurance and payment protection.
We have been recognised six times in the annual Responsible Travel Awards, winning the prestigious 'Best Volunteering Organisation' in 2010, and also winning the ‘Best Volunteering Organisation’ in the British Youth Travel Awards in 2012. As a leader in responsible travel, we have also been recommended as an ethical volunteering organisation by the Guardian and the Telegraph.
Join one of our award-winning expeditions in Madagascar!• Immerse yourself in Madagascar's beautiful coral reefs and vibrant coastal culture
• Assist with rigorous underwater research alongside our marine biologists and gain scuba diving qualifications
• Participate in our community education and conservation initiatives
• Take an overland tour and get up close with some iconic ring-tailed lemurs
"Challenging, exciting, rewarding... an expedition with Blue Ventures will change your life!" - Nick Hayes, Australia
Based in the remote fishing village of Andavadoaka on Madagascar’s southwest coast, our diving expeditions offer volunteers from around the world a unique opportunity to get involved with Blue Ventures' marine research and conservation work.
Join our team surveying one of the Indian Ocean's most extensive coral reefs, and contribute to our efforts supporting coastal communities to conserve these spectacular ecosystems. From sea cucumber farming to environmental education with local children, expedition volunteers are immersed in the full breadth of Blue Ventures' innovative and integrated programmes.
“When I look back, I can barely remember the person I was before I came to Andavadoaka. It has been a most wonderful and educational experience for me. I hate to have to go." - Sayoji Pothuneedi, India
From gap year students and university graduates to career breakers and retirees, our expeditions attract a diverse range of people from around the world, who share an interest in diving with the purpose of supporting our marine research and conservation work.
In their spare time at our base in Andavadoaka, expedition volunteers can be found learning to sail with local fishers, exploring the baobab forest, or taking a picnic out to one of the nearby islands.
All of our volunteers complete an intensive two-week science training programme run by our field scientists at the beginning of each expedition, involving numerous snorkelling and diving excursions as well as informal lectures, small group discussions and practical exercises on coral and fish species identification.
"Being able to identify so many coral and fish species has opened up an entirely new underwater world to me!" - Suzie Nott, United Kingdom
Both qualified and non-qualified divers are welcome to join our expeditions, with the PADI Advanced Open Water course offered to those without this qualification, including a Peak Performance Buoyancy adventure dive. Dive training is carried out during the first two weeks of expeditions, so that all volunteers are qualified to participate in underwater surveys once they have successfully completed their science training.
"The diving expertise of Blue Ventures' staff is excellent and I now feel more confident in the water." - Jodi Burley, Australia
Experienced divers who have not dived in the six months prior to their expedition are required to take a refresher course with us, to ensure that they are confident and well trained. We also offer the PADI Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and Dive Master courses for those who wish to advance their diving qualifications.
Our expeditions take place by the village of Andavadoaka, which lies on the edge of a shallow lagoon, protected from the open ocean by a series of fringing and submerged coral reefs, providing a vital resource base for local fisheries. Our team and volunteers are based at a hotel-restaurant called Coco Beach, with a number of comfortable wooden eco-cabins overlooking the white sandy beach and turquoise blue sea beyond.
Every six weeks a new group of volunteers arrive at our site, ensuring year-round sustainability of our marine research. We host an average of 12-14 volunteers per expedition, and we never have more than three volunteers per staff member. We offer a very popular overland tour from Madagascar's capital city of Antananarivo to the expedition starting point in the southwest coastal city of Toliara.
Our teamHeading up our team in Andavadoaka is Madison, our expeditions manager, responsible for the day-to-day running of our field site. Diving activities and training are coordinated and supervised by Bill and Lisa, our dive managers, who are qualified PADI Open Water and Emergency First Response instructors.
Research undertaken by expedition volunteers is managed and supervised by Lisa and Sam, our field scientists, who are experienced tropical marine biologists, responsible for delivering science training at the beginning of each expedition. The health and well-being of our volunteers is looked after by our expedition medics, who are trained medical personnel that join our expeditions and are available at all times on site in case of accident or emergency.
"What I learned and felt during my expedition with Blue Ventures helped propel me to and through a graduate degree in Marine Science. The people and places I experienced through BV were a wonderful start to my journey towards becoming a published scientist.
If I ever have kids, I'll be sending them on a trip with you guys some day." - Geoff Hensgen, UK
DatesWe have spaces for our Madagascar expeditions starting and finishing on the following dates:
|Optional overland tour (Antananarivo - Toliara)||Expedition start date||Expedition end date||Optional overland tour (Toliara - Antananarivo)||Status|
|25-Jun-14 to 28-Jun-14||30-Jun-14||10-Aug-14||12-Aug-14 to 14-Aug-14||Full|
|9-Aug-14 to 12-Aug-14||14-Aug-14||24-Sep-14||26-Sep-14 to 28-Sep-14||Last few spaces|
|22-Sep-14 to 25-Sep-14||27-Sep-14||7-Nov-14||10-Nov-14 to 12-Nov-14||Spaces|
|6-Nov-14 to 9-Nov-14||11-Nov-14||21-Dec-14||By arrangement||Spaces|
|30-Dec-14 to 2-Jan-15||4-Jan-15||14-Feb-15||16-Feb-15 to 18-Feb-15||Spaces|
|12-Feb-15 to 15-Feb-15||17-Feb-15||30-Mar-15||1-Apr-15 to 3-Apr-15||Spaces|
|28-Mar-15 to 31-Mar-15||2-Apr-15||14-May-15||16-May-15 to 18-May-15||Spaces|
|12-May-15 to 15-May-15||17-May-15||27-Jun-15||29-Jun-15 to 1-Jul-15||Spaces|
|25-Jun-15 to 28-Jun-15||30-Jun-15||10-Aug-15||13-Aug-15 to 15-Aug-15||Spaces|
|9-Aug-15 to 12-Aug-15||14-Aug-15||24-Sep-15||26-Sep-15 to 28-Sep-15||Spaces|
|22-Sep-15 to 25-Sep-15||27-Sep-15||7-Nov-15||10-Nov-15 to 12-Nov-15||Spaces|
|6-Nov-15 to 9-Nov-15||11-Nov-15||21-Dec-15||By arrangement||Spaces|
We understand that volunteers are not always available at the time when an expedition is scheduled to begin or for the full 6 weeks. Please see our Madagascar expedition dates and costs page for more details about the flexible arrangements that we are able to offer.
Costs (as at 1st July 2014)
Expedition prices vary according to your current diving qualification and length of stay in Andavadoaka. Half of our volunteers have never dived before and our PADI dive courses represent excellent value for money.
|Expedition length||You are a PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) diver||You are a PADI Open Water (or equivalent) diver||You have no diving certification||Non-diving volunteer||Non-diving under 18||Expedition medic|
|12+ weeks||£225 per additional week||£225 per additional week||£225 per additional week||£150 per additional week||£150 per additional week||£3,650* (18 weeks)|
Please see our Madagascar expedition dates and costs page for precise details about what is and is not included in these prices.
* Discounts are given for trained medical personnel fulfilling the role of expedition medic. Find out more here but please note that additional costs apply for dive courses (PADI Open Water - £100 and PADI Advanced Open Water - £75).
Ready for a dive
Studying coral and fish species
Volunteers at work
Getting ready to dive
Scientific monitoring by diving volunteers
Sketching out the local marine area for a community presentation
Statue of blessing
Volunteers assist with BV research
Volunteers with Malagasy students
Volunteers on the beach
An aerial view of the Blue Ventures expedition site
Jumping into the blue
Getting ready to dive
Science open day
Taking an ox cart to the baobab forest