Arrive in Zanzibar and transfer to the Sea Cliff Resort with the rest of the day at leisure. Those arriving in the morning may choose to join a tour of Jozani Natural Forest Reserve for nature walks to search for the photogenic red colobus monkey, Skye’s monkey, duikers, and more than 40 species of birds. Gather at the hotel in teh evening for a welcome reception and dinner.
Tour one of Zanzibar's many spice plantations, famous for their production of nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, and cloves. Continue to Stone Town to wander the labyrinthine alleyways lined with fascinating Moorish, Arab, Indian, and European architecture. Board the Island Sky in the afternoon and settle in to your cabin as it sets sail.
Relax on board as you sail.
Disembark in Iconi, one of the oldest settlements on the island, and take a short drive to view the ruins of an 18th-century palace. Continue through scenic countryside to a plantation to learn about the cultivation of ylang ylang and exotic spices. The tour ends in Moroni with a visit to the small museum, the medina, and the colorful market with a wide array of fruit, spices, and handicrafts. Or hike the trails of Karthala Volcano to search for island endemics like the Comoros blue-pigeon and bulbul.
Mayotte is an overseas territory of France, yet geographically it remains part of the Comoros group. A drive along the scenic southern coast brings you to a museum that unlocks the secrets of ylang ylang and vanilla, and a garden stroll reveals luxuriant tropical vegetation. Or, board a local ferry to Petite Terre to explore the bustling market and charming colonial architecture of Dzaoudzi. A third option offers wonderful snorkeling in a large lagoon protected by a unique double barrier reef.
Go ashore at Nosy Komba, a peaceful fishing village that is close to a small reserve for dimorphic black lemurs. Here you can observe the engaging, semi-tame lemurs up-close for excellent photographic opportunities. With luck, you may spot a Parson's chameleon, one of the world's largest. Spend the afternoon snorkeling at nearby Nosy Tanikely, a marine island reserve whose healthy reefs are frequented by turtles, reef sharks, and large schools of colorful fish.
The archipelago of Nosy Hara consists of 12 limestone islands with white-sand beaches, karst rock cliffs, and pristine coral reefs. Board Zodiacs to explore the fascinating geology of this region and step ashore on secluded beaches for nature walks. Spend the afternoon snorkeling to discover the amazing diversity below the waves.
Disembark in Diego Suarez and board 4x4 vehicles for a scenic drive to Montagne d'Ambre National Park. Search for rare, localized crowned lemurs, as well as Sanford's brown lemurs, striped mongoose, and a wealth of birds, including endemic Madagascar crested ibis and Amber Mountain rock-thrushes. After lunch on board, tour Diego Suarez, the capital of the French colony in the late 1800s, graced with wide streets and colonial architecture.
Depart overland for Ankarana National Park this morning, renowned for its dramatic landscapes: karst pinnacles, or tsingy, deep forest-filled canyons, a labyrinthine cave system, and a vast network of underground rivers. Wildlife is profuse in this park and you have excellent opportunities to encounter several lemur species, as well as birds typical of dry forest such as the white-breasted mesite and the Torotoroka scops-owl.
Spend the day at sea attending lectures and joining naturalists on deck to search for sea birds and marine mammals.
Nosy Mangabe is a haven for a variety of wildlife. Species commonly sighted include black and white ruffed and brown mouse lemurs, leaf-tailed geckos, tree frogs, and with luck, the world’s smallest vertebrate, the thumbnail-sized dwarf chameleon. Return to the ship for lunch then disembark in Maroantsetra to explore the bustling market, filled with vanilla pods, cloves, and other exotic spices as well as finely woven raffia hats and bags.
Masoala is the largest national park on the island. On hikes through pristine forest you are likely to encounter red-ruffed and white-headed lemurs, greater hedgehog tenrecs, and ring-tailed mongoose. The park is also home to various species of brightly colored mantella frogs, a variety of extraordinary chameleons of all sizes, and many endemic bird species including the endangered Madagascar red-owl and Madagascar serpent eagle.
Two tour options are available today. Those with an interest in natural history begin with a drive through lush vegetation, then board traditional dugout canoes for a leisurely cruise through a maze of mangroves, and enjoy a refreshing swim from a lovely white-sand beach. Or, choose a cultural tour that visits the Pirate Cemetery, the residence of the French colonial governor, the oldest Catholic church in Madagascar, built in 1837, and the main town Ambodifotatra.
Relax on deck and attend lectures that highlight our intriguing final ports of call.
Lush, volcanic Réunion is an overseas territory of France. Explore St. Denis, a small colonial town whose pervasive French and Creole ambiance is reflected in picturesque town squares. A breathtaking drive into the island’s dramatic mountains brings you to a volcanic crater for magnificent views. Enjoy a traditional Creole lunch, then continue on to a vanilla plantation to discover the history and the culture of this precious orchid. Birders hope to find the endemic Réunion paradise flycatcher, Réunion stonechat, and Réunion harrier.
Disembark the Island Sky after breakfast and set out on a tour of the island’s scenic highlights. A drive inland takes you up to, and around, the rim of an extinct volcanic crater and the Grand Bassin sacred lake. After lunch visit a magnificent waterfall which cascades over the geologically unique “seven-colored earths of Chamarel.” Birders search the indigenous forest for the endemic pink pigeon, echo parakeet, and Mauritius cuckoo-shrike. In the afternoon, transfer to the airport to board your independent homeward flight.