Madagascar is the land of lemurs, rainforest, desert, baobabs, diving and hiking. All these activities are definitely capable of attracting tourists year-round to this dream destination. A land of mystery and a place of adventure, Madagascar has been the favorite place for movie plots and also as a storybook backdrop. After all, Madagascar is an incredible mix of activities and natural beauty which is not only rare but unique too. Nature knows no bounds in this part of the world.
Geography & Demography
Madagascar is basically an island nation situated off the African coast in the Indian Ocean and thus has a striking biodiversity. It is, in fact, the 4th largest island in the world. This island split from Gondwana land around 88 million years ago and since then boasts of an amazing range of flora and fauna. In fact, it has been found that around 90% of the animals inhabiting this island are not found anywhere else in the world. French and Malagasy are the spoken languages in this island which is inhabited by Christians with traditional beliefs. This island nation is economically dependent on their ecotourism and is not a very developed country. Endeavors are being made to improve their economic condition.
The island nation of Madagascar covers an area of 592,800 square kilometers. To the east, it is bordered by Mauritius and Comoros and to its northwest lays the territory of Mayotte. The nearest mainland to the island is Mozambique. The highest peak of Madagascar is Maromokotro at 2,876 feet in the Tsaratanana Massif. The island is home to dry deciduous forest, deserts, xeric shrublands and spiny forests in its southern and western parts. The central plateau has rainforests and is the most densely populated area of the island.
Madagascar experiences hot rainy season from November through April with frequent cyclones which are destructive in nature. The climate from May through October is cool and dry. The rain clouds arising from the Indian Ocean bring heavy downpours due to which the rainforest has been preserved in the island. The western part is drier whereas the southern sector experiences semi-arid climate. The highlight of Madagascar is its ecology which is varied and of course attractive. It is fondly known as the ‘8th continent’ by some ecologists due to its distinct ecology. It is also deemed as a biodiversity hotspot by the Conservation International.
History & Culture
The first evidence of human activity in Madagascar goes back to 2000BC. The Austronesians settled down in this island between 350 and 55 AD who had arrived from Borneo. A thousand years later, the Bantu migrants from Mozambique arrived and shared their existence with the earlier tribe. The land has been home to almost 18 ethnic tribes. Until the 18th century, the island did not have a ruler. But a century later the Merina nobles started ruling this land under the Kingdom of Madagascar. However, in 1897 it was conquered by France and was incorporated as a French colony but it gained independence in 1960.
The capital of Madagascar is Antananarivo and is the seat of their democratic government which has been ruling since 1992. Since then the nation has witnessed political changes and unrest until in 2013 when a free and fair election was held in which Hery Rajaonarimampianina was appointed the President. The island is a member of the United Nations, Southern African Development Community, Organization de la Francophonie and the African Union.
Attractions and Activities
The biggest attraction of Madagascar is obviously it’s beautiful landscape and the wide range of animals found on this island alone. It is known as the land of the lemur but apart from that, there is Fossa which appears like a car but is a predator and also the camouflaged chameleon. Other these there are weirdly shaped frogs, vividly colorful insects, turtles, humpback whales, a wide variety of sharks and so on. The flora is also as impressive as the fauna. The distinct baobabs have become the flag bearer of the flora but there are others like the Ravinala which fans out and a huge variety of orchids in the desert and spiny forests.
The landscape is just as impressive as the flora and fauna of Madagascar. It is the chosen land of God where you will find limestone karsts, mountains, sandstone canyons, terraced rice paddies, fertile hills, and every kind of forest imaginable. The island is also known as the ‘Red Island’ referring to the laterite-rich soil preserving the landscape. Even the sea has so many shades in this land of nature’s bounty; dangerous and roaring in some places whereas turquoise and idyllic in others.
Some of the top experiences in Madagascar are as follows
Parc national de I’Isalo
This is a natural canyon home which might appear like a painting. Gorges in this park are full of yellow savannah grasses, vertical rock walls, and sculpted buttes. The deep canyon floors look lively with the streams and lush vegetation. There are also pools for the swimming enthusiast. The sunset looks gorgeous at this park. Some of the highlights of this park are La Reine de I’Isalo, Maison de I’Isalo, Canyon des Rats and Canyon des Makis.
With this peculiar name, the beach of Nosy Be is the best sea and sand destination in the island. It offers accommodation though the rooms are expensive as compared to the mainland. You will find peace and tranquility in this area and it is perfect for those who love lone places to enjoy their sojourn without much crowd.
Eastern Madagascar will allure you by its wildness. It still feels like an untamed world of primitive quality. The water bodies like the Pangalanes Lakes and the seas have a primordial quality about them and so also the misty mountains of Masoala; they appear like they have not been touched by civilization yet. Traveling to this place is an adventure in itself because it requires a combination of vehicles like car, 4WD, scooter, pirogue, dirt bike, bush taxi, cargo boat, ferry and motorboat. There is an adventure while arriving at this place as travelers will discover something new in their route; sometimes an entire national park. For the ones who live to travel safe, this may not be your cup of tea. But the ones who enjoy being surprised during the tour, this place consists of stuff that adventure tales are made of.
Rova means a fortified palace and this one is located in Tana and known as Manjakamiadana which literally means a fine place to rule. This structure lies atop the city’s highest hill point but was destroyed by a fire during 1995. Though it is currently undergoing restoration yet you can visit it. The place contains relics of other structures and also a replica of the palace of King Andrianampoinimerina at Ambohimanga. The monarch’s tomb is also here and you cannot point your finger directly towards the tomb; it is considered a sign of disrespect.
This is the most attractive part of the town as well as the oldest. It is known as Tanana Ambony in Malagasy. This place is famous for its unique architecture which primarily displays two-story brick houses featuring steep roofs, tumbling plants and balconies. You can take a stroll along the cobbled streets to discover such mini-gems of architecture. The place features 6 churches including the Ambozontany Cathedral which is a massive structure.
Food and Culture
Madagascar cuisine is an interesting fusion of the traditional and the modern. The island has been inhabited by so many culturally varied tribes that the food has an amazing variety too. The staple consists of rice accompanied with another dish which could be vegetarian or non-vegetarian. The natives love spices and herbs and their favorite ingredients are ginger, onion, garlic, tomato, vanilla and coconut milk. In some parts, they eat cassava or curd prepared from zebu milk. A wide range of sweets is found along with tropical fruits.
La Varangue in Antananarivo produces gourmet style food by a Malagasy chef. The place is famous for spiced carrots and cocoa gravy, zebu steak cooked in smoked lard and curried chicken livers. It also offers plenty of beverages like rum and wine, preferably the French variety. Their flavored rum is a delicacy which the natives and the visitors love equally. The island is also one of the topmost producers of chocolate in its finest form.
Different tribes have populated the island of Madagascar from around the Indian Ocean thus establishing a blend of culture. However, the inhabitants revere the spirits of their ancestors which is a common aspect. Travelers can attend the Famadihana which is a traditional ritual of exhumation of a dead body and reburying it. It is believed that the relatives of the deceased are communicating with their forbearers. Also, the Ile Sainte Marie has a history of pirates which could be very interesting to know.
Cost and Living Expenses
Madagascar is partly expensive and partly inexpensive. If you have a budget of €60 then you will be able to avail basic double rooms, food from roadside stalls and also sometimes dinner at a low-cost restaurant. You will also be able to travel by bush taxis and chartered ones for day trips. If the budget is between €60 and €150 then you can take a double bedroom with €12-25 and have a good meal at €10. Also, you can hire an upper-end taxi and even a car. If the budget is €150 and above, then you can put up at a guesthouse or you may also rent a fully accomplished resort at €500. Avail the best private 4WD with a driver and also internal flights to save time.
Best Time to Visit
The low season in Madagascar particularly in the eastern zone is from January to March which is also referred to as the cyclone season. This is basically the rainy season during which some areas become completely inaccessible. The best season when the temperature is warm and comfortable is from April through June and again from September through December. Some of the attractions close during November and reopen in late June. The high season in Madagascar is during July and August when the weather is cool and enjoyable and also it is the time for school holidays in Europe; thus a large number of people visit this island for vacation.
Madagascar, as we know by now, is a land full of nature’s gifts. Millot Plantations is another example of that. This plantation was established in 1904 which produces organic spices, essential oils and cocoa. Visiting this plantation is like celebrating all your senses. It is truly beautiful and exotic too. You can also have lunch in the old farmhouse. The best part is that you can smell, taste and also reap some of them and carry along with you as a souvenir. Lunch here is wrapped up with vanilla cream and chocolate cake. Book a vehicle because the plantation spreads over 15 square kilometers.
Arboretum d'Antsokay is another must-see venue in Madagascar. This is located in Tulear and covers an area of 400,000 square meters in the form of a distillery. You will be able to spot almost 900 species of plants here. The place also features an interpretation center, a restaurant, stylish bungalows and a small museum. It is easily accessible by car or by taxi.
Highlights of the place
Madagascar is a land of surprises and exceptions. It is unique and has some special qualities which you will find nowhere else. However, if you love to visit such places where nature has bestowed its treasures, then you can also visit Mbabane in Swaziland, Lubango in Angola, Lusaka in Zambia, Rasht in Iran, Guayaquil in Ecuador, Beira In Mozambique, Tirana in Albania, Porto Velho in Brazil, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and Libreville in Gabon.
All these destinations are similar to Madagascar in their characteristics, spirit, natural scenic beauty, adventure opportunities, gastronomic delights, quaint architecture, stupendous ecology and wilderness along with beaches.