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There is more to Madagascar than lemurs

baobabs in madagascar

A remnant of ancient Gondwana gone astray and left in isolation for 88 million years, the island republic of Madagascar is home to an astonishing array of wildlife, including over 100 species of lemur. Add to this almost 15,000 plant species, another 100 mammal species and birds, reptiles and amphibians too numerous to count and you start to realize the natural bounty this island harbours.

But there is more to Madagascar than lemurs, flora and fauna. Incredible beaches, wild limestone pinnacles known as tsingy, beautiful waterfalls and rock pools, thriving markets, traditional villages, gorgeous sunsets, a fascinating history, some of the best hiking on the continent and the most incredible vistas and landscapes all conspire to make Madagascar one destination you will not soon forget.

Also known as "Tana", Antananarivo is Madagascar's capital and the place where you will first land. The city has a lot of history, most importantly the Royal Rova on Ambohimanga, a forested hill, north of Antananarivo. It was from this fortress that Madagascar was united into one country and Ambohimanga remains spiritually significant for the Malagasy people. There are spectacular views to be had from the hilltop. As for markets, Zoma Market is enormous and well worth a visit.

indri in madagascar

One of my most endearing travel memories is waking up to the sound of indris heralding the break of day at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, a day's travel north of Tana. The largest lemur in Madagascar, the trumpeting of the animals as they mark their territory is a sound you will not easily forget. The reserve also offers the opportunity for night walks during which you may spot nocturnal lemurs, chameleons and some of the colourful tree frogs.

Madagascar is best known for its lemurs, a group of animals that only live here. From the largest (the indri) to the rarest (golden bamboo) and from the dancing sifaka to perhaps the cutest and most famous (the ring-tailed lemur), 103 species are endemic to Madagascar.

South of Tana, fading, ornate colonial architecture and colourful rickshaws (known as 'pousse-pousse') mark the town of Antsirabe, long a favourite with missionaries and colonialists for it's cool climate. Founded by Norwegians the town offers bustling street markets and is a popular spa town thanks to the hot springs and thermal baths.

vista in madagascar

As you travel around Madagascar there are some long drives to be had. But with many incredible vista and amazing landscapes of forest-cad mountains and rice paddies, the drives are well worth the effort. Travelling along the spine of the islands, numerous small streams cascade down to the beautiful Namorona River in Ranomafana. Locally the name means 'hot water', thanks to the thermal baths and swimming pool you will find here. The main reasons to visit the park are hiking and spotting some of its small mammals, birds, reptiles and insects, as well as plants, including orchids and carnivorous plants. There are three species of Bamboo lemur in the park, including the golden bamboo lemur, first reported in 1985 and the raison d'etre of the park. Malagasy boa constrictor, chameleons, the black parrot, cuckoo roller and many other birds also live in the park.

ringtail lemur in madagascar

The highlands of Madagascar are a good place to visit local villages and perhaps try some local cuisine, see how most of the Malagassy people live, experience local culture or support a community project. One of those is Anja Reserve, a great place to observe ring-tailed lemurs. It is a vital example of how community management can effectively protect an area and benefit a community.

Further south still, high mountains, granite outcrops and deep valleys covered in rainforest, mountain forest and high altitude meadows are hallmarks of Andringitra. It is one of the most biodiverse areas of Madagascar with over 1000 species of plants and numerous species of bird, mammal and frog. As the wildlife is harder to spot here, the main reasons to visit are the stunning landscapes and wonderful trekking opportunities.

zebu in madagascar

All over Madagascar you will see zebus, large humped cattle, pulling carts and generally used as work animals (as well as an important food source). If you spot a herd along the road be sure to grab your camera!

Approximately 90 percent of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic. 200 Mammal species (including the 103 species of lemurs), about 300 species of birds, more than 260 species of reptiles, and at least as many species of amphibians call Madagascar their home. The island is also famous for its many chameleon species, a full two-thirds of the world's assortment of species. You will see them in Isalo where erosion by wind and water has produced some of the most fantastical landscapes. Discover incredible canyons and strange geological formations on walks through the park. Don't forget to take a dip in one of the natural pools and watch the sunset at La Fenetre, a natural rock window framing the setting sun. In the park you will also find burial sites of the Bara people, a nomadic people subsisting on cattle.

Snorkelling and beach time are the order of the day at Ifaty Beach, a large sandy bay protected by a barrier reef. Traditional fishing villages are scattered along the bay and there are options for several day trips in the area. During July and August, you can join a humpback whale-watching trip on the lagoon and sunsets are spectacular at any time of the year.

Turning north, Kirindy Forest is home to the giant jumping rat and a good place to spot fossa, the country’s largest predator. Endemic to Madagascar, the latter looks like a cross between a cat and a weasel.

avenue of baobabs madagascar

Nearby, the Avenue of the Baobabs is famous as one of the most scenic roads in the country, a sandy road lined with these giant trees. Sunset is a magical time to visit, when the colours of the setting sun create the perfect photo opportunity.

Almost 15,000 plant species occur in Madagascar, over 80% of which are unique to the island. Rainforest (much reduced in size due to overexploitation), dry deciduous forest and sub-humid forest are the main types of habitat, sheltering numerous orchid species (75% of which are found here alone) and eight types of baobab (six of which are endemic).

Tsingy de Bemaraha madagascar

Finally, the Tsingy de Bemaraha, a Unesco World Heritage site since 1990, is a karst landscape dominated by limestone pinnacles, some of which are several hundred metres high. A hike through this amazing landscape will take you through caves and narrow chasms and offer incredible views. It is a highlight for many but definitely not for the faint of heart!

The best time to travel to Madagascar is the dry season from April to October. Whales can be spotted from July through September. Jacarandas flower between September and November, which gives an added pretty touch to the late dry season. Many lemurs have their young at this time.

November, at the start of the summer wet season, is often regarded as the best month to visit Madagascar for wildlife-watching.

During the wet season proper (December through March) lemurs and other wildlife are active and easy to spot but rainfall and cyclones make travel virtually impossible.

town in madagascar


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