• Madagascar
    • Fort Dauphin

Program Details

Guesthouse Hostel


Starting Price
Price Details
Our program gets slightly cheaper per week the longer you stay. Minimum of two weeks. There are also some accommodation options to choose from that vary from free (bringing your own tent) to around $40 a week for a very sweet little thatched bungalow on the edge of the rainforest.
Jul 05, 2018
Jan 20, 2016
31 travelers are looking at this program

About Program

We need keen conservation volunteers to stay at the reserve from two to twelve weeks, working with our lemurs and other wildlife, at our spectacular beachfront forest. This isolated forest is an extraordinary place, cut off from people by waterways to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east, it is the perfect quiet place for lemurs and other wildlife to thrive into perpetuity... But... to keep the reserve (and the wildlife) properly protected and managed, we need to have a constant presence, engage with local people, train and then employ them as guardians and managers, manage a tree nursery and keep staff to grow on and plant native trees to optimise the site.

This is a real opportunity to work at our reserve, not a program created by a huge company to make profits. Every cent of your money is spent on our work, here in Madagascar. Our principal consideration is your safety. We aim to provide you with a life-changing experience that will really make an impact on conservation.

Program Reviews

5.00 Rating
based on 2 reviews
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  • 1 rating 0%
  • Impact 4.5
  • Support 5
  • Fun 4
  • Value 4.5
  • Safety 5
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

The Sainte Luce volunteer experience of a lifetime!

Sainte Luce Reserve is the real deal! If you want to get involved in meaningful conservation work in an unbelievable location then you need to volunteer here. It’s really just that simple.

I spent a few weeks volunteering during December 2015 at the Sainte Luce reserve in Madagascar. Ultimately it was a hugely rewarding experience set within a unique and undeniably beautiful rainforest and beach environment. The beach is about 20km of unspoiled vastness. The stretch of rainforest in the reserve is one of the last noteworthy fragments left in Madagascar. Some of the flora and fauna only exists in this one patch of rainforest (in the entire world) so it’s easy to appreciate why the conservation work is so important. If you set yourself the right expectations, this can certainly be a life changing experience!

After submitting my application form I received a response from Brett Massoud (owner/director) who was incredibly helpful in answering all of my additional random questions in plain English. The initial information pack (and other website information) is very comprehensive about what to expect, what to pack etc. Brett is highly experienced in Madagascar conservation work and is truly committed to protecting and researching the fragile ecosystem of the reserve. The appeal of this organisation to me was certainly the grass roots aspect to achieve as much as possible with the limited resources. No money/materials are wasted with Sainte Luce reserve (unlike some other larger organisations…) and all the work you complete has a purpose and is completed in an environmentally-friendly manner. Additionally the reserve only handles small groups of volunteers which makes the setting a lot more sociable.

The closest town (with an airport) to the reserve is Fort Dauphin. I spaced out my flights so I could have a few days to explore the capital (Tana) before heading south. Brett was able to arrange for a local guide to collect me from the airport upon arrival, get me to my hotel, get a local sim card/mobile phone etc. He went above and beyond to make sure I was looked after in general during my volunteer period. Safety is paramount to the organisation and I never once felt concerned about my personal safety during my placement. In general as long as you apply common sense you will be fine.

To get to the Sainte Luce reserve is roughly a 3-4 hour trip from Fort Dauphin via car and then pirogue (canoe). The journey just to get to the reserve is pretty much a small adventure in itself and you will see some local villages and lots of interesting scenery. When you finally paddle up to the dock at the reserve you’ll have a real appreciation for how isolated the site is (which works in its favour).

Some of the work that I was involved with during my time there was collecting and re planting mangrove seeds, clearing and mapping forest trails, collecting different seeds from the forest, nursery work, planting trees and watching lemurs. Jobs tend to vary each day so you won’t get stuck doing the same routine day in day out. It can be busy and hard work but it’s also fun and fulfilling.

It’s fair to say plans will constantly change while in Madagascar. This can be simply weather related, unforeseen events or simply changing priorities. The work will always be based on the reserve priorities so if you can be open-minded and flexible during the placement you will have a great time guaranteed! If you have a pre-conceived idea of what work you want to do the entire time you might be disappointed. Just something to take into account. Personally I just took any job they threw at me and had a great time. Naturally some jobs are more exciting than others, but all the work serves a long term purpose. Brett and the staff will always look out for your wellbeing with the work. Early on I was getting badly sunburnt (side effect of my malaria tablets and not applying enough sunscreen) so Brett made sure the next few days I was only doing work in the rainforest and no jobs in the open sun until I had recovered from the sunburn.

I found the work schedule offered adequate free time (plus days off) to do your own thing (walk in the rainforest looking for lemurs, swimming at the beach etc) so the work/play ratio is very fair and accommodating.

The camp itself is basic but completely functional. (After all it is a remote site surrounded by forest). I stayed in a small bungalow for my placement which had solar powered lights, a clean mattress and mosquito net. It’s really all that is required and is pretty comfortable. Bring a sleeping bag and pillow and you’re all set.

In summing up, if you are looking to get off the grid and be involved in hands on conservation work with a small group of people that is meaningful, safe and rewarding – Apply to this organisation! The level of personal support and information they will provide is incredible. You will be well looked after, fed and housed in such a unique experience with memories that will stay with you long after you leave. You won’t find an experience like this anywhere else. Check out their Facebook page for additional pictures and information if you are interested in volunteering at Sainte Luce Reserve.

A few tips
- It’s worth buying the best head torch you can afford. It will come in handy at all times. (make sure to bring enough batteries to keep it operational). A good small torch is also a handy backup.

- Consider donating any useful items to the reserve/staff at the end of your placement. The equipment in Madagascar stores is generally expensive and poor quality so any equipment (like torches, batteries etc) that you can spare at the end helps out a lot.

- An easy free way to acquire a travel pillow is take it from the plane on a long haul flight :P

- Try learn a few basic greetings in Malagasy before you get there. It just helps break the ice with the locals.

What would you improve about this program?
Finding an easier way to do the money/banking side of the volunteering application would be ideal. Once accepted you are given banking details for transferring your money across directly into the Madagascan business account (for total transparency reasons). For me I had to go into my local bank branch, fill in a form and give it to a teller to complete the transaction. It's not a standard transaction I guess. To confirm everything went through someone needs to go to the bank in Madagascar to check the account (which can be a long drawn out process on the Madagascar side of things! and then email you back) so I guess if there was an easier way to just click and send through paypal (or something similar/easy showing proof of transaction straight away etc) it would be great.

To be fair the banking in Madagascar is still mostly done over the counter and there are certain government restrictions in place with how things are done so it is what it is. Brett is looking at better options for international money transfers (that still show total transparency) but I guess it might be a waiting game until Madagascar gets more involved with online banking...
86 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Magical Mayhem in Madagascar

I visited Sainte Luce Reserve with a friend in March 2012, and would strongly recommend this experience to anyone looking for a new, different, challenging- but rewarding adventure.

As two 21 year old girls from Australia, many of our family and friends were a little concerned when we announced that we would be heading to a remote area in Madagascar to study lemurs. Although we were both Biology graduates, we had not done a whole lot of travel by ourselves, especially in remote locations, and I guess at the time we weren't even that sure ourselves what we were getting into it...

Luckily- we chose an incredible company who constantly provided us with support, information and comfort. The program was for 8 weeks, and we were to head to the Sainte Luce reserve in south eastern Madagascar, to collect information on the behavior of red collared lemurs within the reserve. From the minute we started enquiring and organising, Brett Massoud (the owner of the company) was extremely supportive, calling us to discuss countless things- from how to get cheap flights, to what kind of pants to bring... we really were stepped through each stage or planning, and by the time we packed, we were sure that we had everything we needed. For anyone planning on heading over there, my main recommendations are: get the absolute best head torch that you can afford, bring SO much insect repellant, try and pack light so you don't need to lug everything around, and maybe throw in a few things that you would be willing to donate to the staff when your time is up, such as clothes or batteries.

When arriving in Madagascar, it can be quite intimidating and a little scary to step off the plane into a crazy world of markets, people staring, and screams of 'Vaza!!' (visitor)- but Brett really supported us through all of this. On arrival at our hotel we immediately received a phone call from one of Brett's coworkers making sure that we had arrived safely. The next morning we were met by a researcher who spent a few days with us in the capital city of Madagascar (Tana), discussing our project with us, and taking us to various zoos and reserves so that we could get used to being around lemurs and learning their behaviours. This was so valuable when we eventually had to collect data and deal with the fact that lemurs sit really high up in trees and like to make it really difficult for us to follow them!

Eventually we were ready to fly down to Fort Dauphin to begin the program- and something happened that really demonstrated Brett's incredible leadership and guidance- we missed our flight. When my friend and I approached the desk at the airport with two bookings and receipts for our flight, we were told that our names were not in the system, and that we did not in fact have seats on the flight. In a long exchange of broken English, broken French and broken Malagasy, plus a dash of panic, and a whole lot of confusion, we then attempted to get all of our cash together and somehow pay for new tickets, but soon heard the flight taking off without us. This was the first time either of us had ever missed a flight, and as we stood in the airport in Tana surrounded by bags, we didn't really know what to do. But, after a few minutes of distress we managed to get a hold of Brett on the phone (despite a ridiculous time difference) and he really helped us out. He calmed us down, called a taxi driver he knew (he literally did this from Australia!?!?) and told us to go meet him outside and ask him to take us to 'Flots Bleu'- a nearby and safe hotel, where we could stay until we rebooked a flight down south. A situation which could have been quite scary for new travelers resolved smoothly, and we found a lot of comfort in the fact that Brett was genuinely making sure we were okay despite being so far away. The company also helped us out with organizing the appropriate documents so that we could claim back our air tickets that they (wrongfully) didn't accept.

Eventually we made it down to Fort Dauphin, and once again fell into capable hands, with a lovely lady 'Elise' taking charge of us and helping us settle in. She eventually escorted us on the (2 hour I think?) journey to Sainte Luce. There is probably information prospective travelers have already read about where the reserve is etc but I don't think you can really imagine it until you are being paddled across a lake from a tiny village, into the wilderness.

The reserve itself is absolutely beautiful. If you think about the Madagascar cartoon movie, and picture the beach that the animals wash up on where there is the ocean, white sand, and then a huge green forest directly next to it- that is genuinely what Sainte Luce looks like.

The 'security guards', guide and cook were incredible people, and throughout our stay at the reserve we picked up quite a bit of basic Malagasy, and learnt a lot about Malagasy culture and history. As far as lemur research, every day was an interesting, challenging and fun adventure where we wandered around in the forest learning and following the local lemurs, laughing (sometimes) when they pooped on us, yelling for our guide to help because we lost the particular lemur we were following, hiding in our raincoats while getting pelted with rain and mosquitoes, and generally having new and exciting experiences which seemed completely ridiculous at the time but are fun to recount now.

One main thing that stood out for me on this trip was just how different Malagasy culture is to Western culture, and how sometimes that can be really hard to handle. For example, the presence of witch doctors, the rejection of modern medicine, and attitudes towards pregnancy (eg. not being allowed to stand in a doorway while you are pregnant or the baby will get stuck when you give birth) were just a few themes that seemed to come up in discussions, as well as some smaller but common differences such as respectful ways to address a person. Learning about these differences, although sometimes challenging to think about, was something valuable that I took from my experience in Madagascar, and helped to slightly expand my understanding of our world.

I think the main thing I would have wanted to know before embarking on this journey is: it is okay if you find this really hard. You will be uncomfortable, you will get bitten by a billion mosquitos, you will deal with the frustration of walking through a forest for 4 hours and never actually finding any lemurs, you will get explosive diarrhea, and you might even want to go home at some point- and that is what makes this experience so ridiculously valuable. Because if you stay, and learn, and experience all of these new things- you will remember it for the rest of your life, and you will laugh about it, and be so glad that you did it.

I wholeheartedly recommend this experience to anyone out there who wants to see something new- to understand how other people live, and to challenge themselves. You won't regret it.

What would you improve about this program?
If I had to change anything I guess it would be nice to receive a little more information about Malagasy culture and attitudes before actually arriving to the reserve. While it is quite possible for people to look up things like this on the internet before they go, I think a warning would still be useful as sometime it creates confusion or offense when small things aren't understood (eg. Malagasy people don't seem to ever say 'please' which to us seemed rude but to them was completely normal).
Also, at the time of our trip some of the camping equipment was faulty- but according to the website, accommodation has since been upgraded so should no longer be a problem.
76 people found this review helpful.

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