Best things to do in Madagascar
By Martha Hales
Nicknamed the ‘Eighth Continent’, Madagascar can lay claim to being one of the most unique destinations in the world, and it boasts a multitude of attractions. There’s the heart stopping beauty of the northern islands, adrift in turquoise lagoons and fringed with idyllic beaches, the incredible scenery that takes in the jungle-clad peaks of the east, the fertile central highlands and the mangroves of the west coast. There’s the fascinating and distinctive local culture and, of course, there is the wildlife. Endlessly intriguing, over 75% of Madagascar’s flora and fauna is endemic, including the adorable lemurs and many species of chameleons.
Madagascar is the fourth largest island on the planet and there’s so much to see and experience it can be hard to narrow down your priorities. With the help of our local experts, we’ve put together this list of highlights to help you decide what to do in Madagascar.
The ultimate in barefoot luxury awaits at one of Madagascar’s finest lodgings, surrounded by pristine nature on the northwest coast of the island. There are divine beaches scattered along the shore, and apart from the occasional fishing village, there’s no development in the reserve.
Take a stroll through the untouched forests to look for lemurs, chameleons and some of Madagascar’s 300 species of frog, or pick a deserted cove to indulge in some serious relaxation. This is a place that cannot fail to charm you with its sheer beauty and remote castaway mood.
Not far from Morondava in the west of the island you will find a two kilometre stretch of baobab trees standing sentry over the plains. These huge trees are a throwback to a time before agriculture necessitated forest clearance, when the whole area would have been cloaked in dense forests of tall trees.
Baobabs have a sacred significance to Malagasy people and so they were not cut down when all around them were destroyed, leaving them in the splendid isolation you see today. What makes these trees such a draw is firstly their slightly comical broad trunks and short branches, but also their positioning among scattered irrigation ponds, giving them an extremely photogenic allure, especially at dawn and dusk.
This otherworldly landscape of tightly clustered limestone needles, which soar up to 50 metres in height, is located in the west of Madagascar. Recognised by UNESCO in 1990, the whole area is protected as a National Park and it’s relative inaccessibility means that plenty of endemic flora and fauna enjoys a peaceful existence uninterrupted by development or excessive human interference.
The major draw of the Tsingy region is the jaw dropping landforms - tapering limestone pinnacles which bristle across the 100 kilometre long plateau, cut through by canyons and tortuous trails for the hardy hiker. As well as seeing the incredible blades of stone for yourself, another attraction of a trip to Tsingy de Bemaraha is the chance to see untouched nature up close.
The wildlife of Madagascar is so unusual and alluring there is a DreamWorks film dedicated to it. Indeed, even in real life the main characters are impossibly cute and photogenic, and they are so numerous that the chances of going home without having enjoyed seeing lemurs, chameleons, frogs and a few outrageously elaborate insects are slim.
The birds, plants and marine life are also notable, and if you time your visit right (June to September) you can embark on a whale watching trip from Île Sainte Marie, where schools of humpbacks come to calve and mate. It never gets tiring watching the adult whales leaping out of the waves and crashing back into the deep with a flourish, and all the activity means that they are relatively easy to find. It is almost guaranteed that you will see some of these marine giants if you embark on a whale watching trip.
Tropical daydreams come to life in this handful of sun-drenched isles off the north-western coast of Madagascar. If your idea of heaven on Earth is powder-soft white sand lapped by endless aquamarine wavelets, the air fragrant with the scent of flowers and plentiful wildlife on land and underwater, make plans to get yourself to this blissful archipelago.
Nosy Be has the most developed tourist infrastructure, though even this popular hub island still excels at feeling peaceful and languid, the perfume of ylang ylang blossom adding to the appeal. For the best snorkelling head for Nosy Tanikely, where pristine coral is home to a multitude of colourful fish and other marine creatures. Take a day trip to Nosy Komba to visit the lemur sanctuary, or stay put on Nosy Be for a wildlife watching walk through Nobéké Forest Reserve.
Make it happen
Tempted? With such a lot to see and do, we’re not surprised. Get in touch with our expert partner in Madagascar, and they will take the strain out of planning your bespoke Madagascar adventure. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.