Madagascar was once a part of Gondwana before the supercontinent split. The world’s fourth largest island remained in relative isolation for 88 million years, allowing the evolution of its unique wildlife, designing some of the island’s (and the world’s) unequalled flora and fauna. Madagascar, formerly the Republic of Malagasy is a biodiversity hotspot, with more than 90% of its wildlife found only on the island. Most popular among the animals is the ring tailed lemur, one of the primates you’ve probably seen if you’ve watched the film, Madagascar.
Malagasies speak French and Malagasy, the country’s official languages. Their traditional culture is closer to Southeast Asia than Africa since the first inhabitants came from Borneo and Indonesia although the French influence is evident in their architecture, cuisine and culture. However, they do not want to be called Asians or Africans. They want to be known by their own identity.
Varied geography and climate
The country’s nearest mainland neighbour is Mozambique. It is quite near the island of Réunion and Mauritius, Mayotte and Comoros. Madagascar has unique geographical features. Its western section has grassy plains where you will find deciduous forests, stony massifs and avenues of baobab trees. The central highlands have terraced rice fields while in the south are spiny forests and desert. Tropical rainforests and glistening sandy beaches are found in the country’s eastern side.
Madagascar has a subtropical climate with rainy and hot seasons. Summer is from November until April. Winter, occurring from May until November, is dry and cool. Temperature varies though by geographical position and altitude. The south west and the farther southern areas are semi-desert while the east is wetter than the west coast. In the highlands the temperature is definitely cooler. It is a good idea to be ready for temperature changes when you visit Madagascar.
It’s good to visit Madagascar from late March until June, after the rainy season. There will still be periods when the rain falls, bur there will also be plenty of sunshiny days and the reptiles and the lemurs become very active. Whales arrive in July and stay until the end of August in Ile Sainte Marie. The weather becomes warm and fine during the months of September until November and you’ll see many lemurs with their young and the regions covered with color from the flowering jacarandas.
Fantastic and unique sights and plenty of lemurs to boot
Unique sights are such a visual feast in Madagascar where eco-tourism is the biggest draw. In the country, you are like to see some of the most unique flora and fauna, some of which are already endangered yet happily existing in their natural habitat. The cute grey and white long-tailed lemur is just one of the 30 species of lemurs endemic to Madagascar and they are almost everywhere.
The capital, Antananarivo is filled with historical sights, churches, streets covered in cobblestones and several restaurants serving delicious food. This is a place where you can start or end your sojourn in Madagascar.
Madagascar has several national parks, each one an excellent place to visit, with diverse sights and opportunities for outdoor activities. Parc National de L’Isalo has fantastic canyons and sandstone formations and waterfalls with crystal clear waters. On a higher location is Parc National de Ranomafana, a rainforest where the bamboo lemur resides. The Indri, the largest lemur and 13 other species of this primate are denizens of Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia. Another popular park is Berenty National Park, a true rainforest where tame lemurs roam. This is one of the areas where accommodations are plentiful.
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is the country’s largest reserve, covering 152,000 hectares. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has several areas covered with deciduous forest where brown lemurs frolic. While touring the limestone plateau that is richly decorated by frail yet razor-sharp pinnacles called the Tsingy or the Labyrinth of Stone, there is a huge possibility that you will get to meet the island’s unique and rare lemur, the all-white Decken’s sifaka and the equally rare stump-tailed Brookesia perarmata (a chameleon species). If you stay longer you might be able to see some 50 bird species, seven lemur species, and numerous baobabs, pachypodium, orchids and aloes. The natural reserve, managed by UNESCO, is located some 180 km from Morondava. Access here is restricted and areas to visit change.
Covering over half a million acres is the Masoala National Park with a diverse terrain. It has coastal forests as well as rainforests, coral reefs and marshland. It’s a great place for snorkelling and kayaking, waiting for the chameleons and geckos to scuttle about and see if you can spot the rare aye-aye lemur. Although nocturnal, you might also chance upon the bright red or orange tomato frogs and the beautifully plumed serpent eagle. If you are in the region between July and September, there are humpback whales that migrate into Antongil Bay during these months.
Some of the trees in Madagascar are also quite unique. If you have read The Little Prince then you are familiar with the baobab tree. Quite near Morondava in the region of Menabe is the widely known Avenue of the Baobabs. The avenue has a group of more than a dozen baobab trees lining the dirt road going to Belon’i Tsiribihina. Some of the trees are more than 800 years old. Lots of photo ops here, especially when the trees are enveloped in a golden glow from the setting sun. Just imagine standing beside one of these huge trees that seemed uprooted and replanted crown down, exposing the roots!
For swimming and snorkelling, Nosy Be is a popular island with plenty of hotels and restaurants. If you are after deep sea fishing, you can go to the islands of Mitsio and Radamas. Budget-friendly Ifaty has some lovely beaches and a lagoon. Windsurfing and kite flying are two of the fun activities you can indulge in when you visit the Emerald Sea in Antsiranana, formerly known as Diego Suarez. Ile Sainte Marie offers guided kayaking along its coastline. There are plenty of chances to explore local villages and interact with people here. If you want to see the whales playing in the ocean, visit Ile Sainte Marie in July or August.
Visiting foreign countries has an element of risk, just like in Madagascar. Its political scene is quite volatile and outbreak of diseases does occur. It is recommended that you check the latest travel advisories before you leave. If it is safe to travel Madagascar is one place you are not likely to forget for a long while.