Today (December 16, 2019): Top 10 reasons to visit Madagascar.
Iconic lemurs, paradise beaches, impenetrable jungle, breathtaking landscapes, and a fascinating underwater life: Madagascar is an irresistible destination for adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts. Shrouded in myth, the Indian Ocean island split from the supercontinent Gondwana 90 million years ago, and has been on its own since then, evolving into one of the world’s last frontiers. It’s also one of the planet’s most biodiverse places: 5% of all known animal and plant species on earth can be found here, and here alone. From idyllic archipelagos and historic cities to stunning national parks and incredible hotels, here’s my top 10 list of the best things to see and do in Madagascar.
Have you ever been to Madagascar? Do you think I missed a site in this list? Leave a comment.
10. EXPLORE THE CAPITAL ANTANANARIVO (TARA)
Antananarivo – or Tana as the capital is universally known – is the main entry point for most travelers to Madagascar. There are no tourist attractions to speak of in Antananarivo – a city that two million people call their home – but for some that is part of its appeal. While the capital of Madagascar doesn’t boast the architectural prowess of capitals in Europe or the grandeur of other capital cities around the world, bypassing the capital altogether would be a mistake as the city is unique in its own right. Tana has been the home of Malagasy power for three centuries and there’s a huge amount of history and culture to discover, and it is the place in Madagascar to treat yourself to a fine meal: some establishments rival Europe’s Michelin-starred restaurants, but without the price tag.
9. DIVE, SNORKEL AND SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS
Being an undiscovered destination for tourism, the coral reefs around Madagascar have not suffered the degradation that has befallen so many other tropical islands. If you are a keen diver or snorkeler, Madagascar offers some world-class diving opportunities, especially on the smaller islands off Nosy Be, as well as Ile Sainte Marie on the East Coast and, to a lesser extent, islands off the South West coast. The reefs are home to indo-pacific fish species such as clown fish, angel fish, trigger fish, surgeon fish and groupers. A special highlight is being able to swim with whale sharks in the deep blue waters of Nosy Be, a truly exciting and unique activity not to be missed when you visit the country.
8. DISCOVER THE RAINFORESTS OF ATSINANANAN
The rainforests of Atsinanana comprise six national parks distributed along the eastern part of the island. These relict forests are critically important for maintaining ongoing ecological processes necessary for the survival of Madagascar’s unique biodiversity, which reflects the island’s geological history. Having completed its separation from all other land masses more than 90 million years ago, Madagascar’s plant and animal life evolved in isolation. The rainforests are inscribed in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites for their importance to both ecological and biological processes as well as their biodiversity and the threatened species they support, especially primates and lemurs.
7. GO ON A HIKE IN ISALO NATIONAL PARK
Madagascar’s most popular nature destination (because of its easy access off the RN7), Isalo National Park lies amidst the Jurassic-era highlands of the country’s southwest. Established in 1962, it protects over 80,000 hectares of land dominated by a dramatic sandstone massif that has been eroded by time and weather into an otherworldly collection of plateaus, canyons, gorges and pinnacles. Iron and mineral deposits stain the rock formations into a colorful rainbow, while the impressive rock plateaus, peaks and walls of Isalo hide an oasis of waterfalls, dense forests and grassland that are filled with unique flora and fauna. Hiking is the main attraction for visitors to Isalo, with trails taking anywhere from a few hours to several days to complete.
6. GET LOST IN THE TSINGY OF MADAGASCAR, A GEOLOGICAL CURIOSITY
Tsingy is the Malagasy word for “walking on tiptoes” and the nearly impenetrable labyrinth of limestone needles that they form justifies this name. Visible in several of Madagascar’s regions, the Tsingy are wide areas of limestone and friable rocks made of fossilized shells. Creating surreal and impenetrable landscapes, the immensity of the Tsingy remembers visitors of a forgotten era – the Jurassic – when Madagascar was still attached to Africa’s continent. The most famous Tsingy site is the spectacular mineral forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site standing on the western coast of Madagascar. The Tsingy de Bemaraha was the first refuge for the inhabitants of the island.
5. TRACK THE LEMUR, AN EMBLEMATIC SPECIES OF MADAGASCAR
Considered to be the monkey’s ancestor, lemurs are a monkey species endemic to Madagascar, and they can be found in National Parks, natural reserves, and the rainforest. Nowadays, there are more than 100 species of lemurs remaining in Madagascar. Recognizable by its black and white ring tail, ‘maki catta’ is the most popular species of the lemur. It takes its name from its mewing and its purr, similar to the cat. Other famous species include the indri whose calls awaken weary travelers with a rush of excitement. Lemurs are very smart animals, and some species like the Sifaka are very comfortable with humans; don’t be surprised if a lemur lodges on your shoulders during an outing in the jungle.
4. VISIT THE FAMOUS BAOBAB ALLEY
The baobab, also called “reniala” (“mother of the forest”) in Malagasy, is a majestic and sacred tree that counts eight species. Six of them only grow in Madagascar. The trees have been used locally for hundreds of years as sources of medicinal remedies and as well as sources of water (as rain is trapped in their huge trunks forming pools for wildlife and humans). Whilst the trees themselves can be found dotted around this tropical island, the hotspot – and the ideal location for photographers – is the Avenue of Baobabs located in Kirindy. This majestic avenue is lined with huge baobabs making for giants in the surrounding countryside. The best time to visit the Avenue is sunrise or sunset so you can take advantage of this spectacular setting in the best light.
3. SPOT HUMPBACK WHALES IN NORTHERN MADAGASCAR
Madagascar’s phenomenal wildlife is not just restrained to land. Head to this wonder-country between June and the end of September to witness one of the most fascinating spectacles on the planet. Large groups of humpback whales make their annual migration from Antarctica and end up in the warm waters around the island. The whales separate in two groups: one group migrates to the West coast (Nosy Be) while the other group will linger in the water on the East coast (Sainte Marie Island and the Atongil bay). The best way to see the whales is by hopping aboard a fast motor launch with a whale watching specialist, who will be able to take you to all the best spots and give a detailed insight into the whales and their behavior patterns.
2. RELAX ON THE MAGNIFICENT BEACHES OF NOSY BE ARCHIPELAGO
Aside from its vast quantities of bizarre wildlife, Madagascar is also the ideal place for a little bit of beach time, as the country is surrounded by thousands of miles of spectacular wild beaches. The country’s most idyllic beaches are found on Nosy Be, the main island of an archipelago of the same name that comprises a dozen small islands. Situated in the Mozambique Canal, near the north-western coast of Madagascar, Nosy Be is called the island of perfumes because of its scents of ylang ylang, sugar cane and spices. This tropical paradise – dotted with turquoise lagoons, long beaches of golden sand where lush vegetation abounds, and a volcanic relief spread throughout with lakes – is just a stone’s throw from the northwest coast of Madagascar.
1. STAY AT THE WORLD’S MOST EXCLUSIVE BEACH RESORT, TIME + TIDE MIAVANA
Time + Tide Miavana is an ultra-luxury lodge located on Nosy Ankao island, part of a private five-island archipelago off the north-east of Madagascar. Surrounded by vibrant coral reefs and the Indian Ocean’s spectacular maritime wonders, Miavana consist of only 14 one-, two-, and three-bedroom pool villas strung along the island’s western pure white beaches. These palatial villas have been perfectly designed by Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens of Seychelles’ North Island (which I reviewed here) and Zambia’s Chinzombo fame. Guests step directly onto the powder-soft sand from their private decks to enjoy spectacular panoramic Indian Ocean sunsets extending to the far contours of mainland Madagascar.