Travel 360: Insider’s Guide To Madagascar
Madagascar is an island in the Indian ocean, one that became infamous with the release of the movie by the same name, featuring a bunch of zoo animals who wash up on the shore. Well, you will not find a bunch of talking animals in Madagascar, but you will find a whole other fantastic world that is tempting people to travel form far and wide to visit this wonderful destination.
There are over 12,000 species of plants on this island, and more than three-quarters of these are indigenous and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Half of the world’s chameleons (one as big as a cat!) and over 300 species of frog live in Madagascar. There are also lemurs, ancient amphibious fish species and many other incredible discoveries to be made. As the island broke off from it’s mainland Africa 165 million years ago, many of the species flourished and others simply and slowly adapted, which is why you can find such a beautiful show of nature here. The island is covered in rainforest and white sand beaches, with gem blue seas lapping up against the shore. A trip here surely is a step into another world, and, as David Attenborough referred to it, ‘an evolutionary cauldron, producing increasingly extreme forms of life’.
WHAT TO SEE
It is not all about the wildlife. There are plenty of things to do, including traversing the beautiful terrain. The Isalo National Park is located in the central southern region of Madagascar and has a wild and varied landscape. The park includes steep canyons, sandstone formations, palm trees and lush grassland. You do need a tour guide to explore the park (as you do with many of the parks on this island) but tours can be arranged in advance or very last minute.
In Western Madagascar you will find a dirt road between Morondava and Belon’I Tsiribihina. This road is lined with the Baobab trees, and so has become known as The Avenue of the Baobabs. These trees are up to 800s years old, and whilst the forest around has been cleared for agriculture, these trees have been left standing. Tourists from all over the world come to see this striking landscape.
Another beautiful park is the Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve. This is in the southern region of Madagascar’s largest nature reserve, the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve. Near the west cost of the country, the park has a large expanse of mangrove forest. Here, you will see some of the countries most popular animals- the lemur. You will see seven lemur species within this park, including the Deckens Sifaka- the lemur with the black face and white fur. The Royal Hill of Ambohimangag is considered one of the country’s most scared spots, and the Malagasy people have held this place sacred for 500 years. It is a historical village that once was home to Madagascar royalty. The wall surrounding the village was made in 1847, from a mortar mixed with lime and egg whites. Inside you can see the artifacts of the island’s king, including his weapons and talismans.
The Avenue of the Baobabs
WHAT TO DO
If you want to see then animals of the island, then visit the Masoala National Park. This park is gigantic, covering almost 250 miles of rainforest. There are ten species of lemur, three marine parks, reptiles, birds and more. You can even kaywak and snorkel in the marine parks! If fishing is more your activity, then visit Ifaty. Ifaty is the name given to the two dusty fishing villages on the coast of southwest Madagascar. Coastal waters are created by a 60-mile long coral reef, and so the water is perfect for fishing, diving and snorkeling.
Pic: National Geographic
Just as exciting as the coast and parks is the capital city of Antananarivo, or Tana for short. Although it does not have huge, beautiful buildings, it is home to the Royal Hill (mentioned earlier in What To See), a Lemur park, and also a beautiful marketing which winds up and down the staircases within the city. You can also interact with the locals, who are some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet. They will always speak to you (if you happen to speak French or Malagasy) and tell you about their history and their culture. Bring pens and candy for the children as a treats and they will be forever thankful.
When you visit Madagascar, make sure that you go out on a dive. With so many animals and plants, the diving here is very exciting. You can get your diving certificate on the island, and the hotspots are Nosy Be, Diego, Ifaty and Anakao.
WHERE TO EAT
Kudeta is a super stylish bar and restaurant, using local ingredients to create a very sophisticated menu full of fushion food. The décor is beautiful, the dining is creative and imaginative, and the place is always full of fashionable types.
Antananarivo: 15 Rue de la Reunion. +261 202 281 54
Whilst it may look like a seedy cabaret from the outside with the ‘private’ sign and red glow, this is a favourite among the travelers. The French and creole cuisine is wholesome, traditional, and great for those on a budget.
Antananarivo: 23 Rue Raveloary +261 202 261 00
Le Beateau Ivre
Le Beateau, or ‘The Drunken Boat’, is more than a restaurant. This place is a destination, especially for those travelling with children. There is a 25-meter swimming pool, live music on the weekends and a magnificent menu centered around seafood (what else!).
Tamatave: Blvd Ratsimilaho +261 205 302 94
Ristorante Italiano Sarabanda
A little slice of Italy in Madagascar. This small pizza joint has only a few table, and only about a dozen different pizzas. It is a cute, kitschy little eatery with woven table mats and brightly colored walls, but the real winner here is the delicious pizza that is big enough to share.
Antsirabe: Rue Jean Ralaimongo +261 32 44 17 307
WHERE TO STAY
There are 25 air-conditioned guest villas in the Anjajavy L’Hotel – which is a member of the Relais & Chateaux. Each room has simple furnishings, with a double bed on the ground floor and two singles on the mezzanine. The villas in the front are more private and they also have a beautiful sea view, uninterrupted by any other buildings. Each villa has big bathrooms and a large verandah. The main lodge on site has a bar, dining room and a games room. There are many activities that you can partake in when you stay at these villas, both on land and in sea.
Mahajanga, North-Western Madagascar 00 33 1 44 69 15 00
Le Pavillon De L’emyrne
This hotel is a small, boutique hotel that is at the height of sophistication. With only thirteen rooms, each room is beautiful and has a cool feel to it. The hotel is right in the capital, and has a colonial ambience and well-kept grounds.
Antananarive 00 261 20 222 5945
Mandrare River Camp
Stay here if you want to be immersed in nature, but still have all of the modern luxuries and comforts. This river camp has six tents, each one equipped with four-poster beds and an en-suite bathroom complete with eco-friendly toilets and bucket showers. The excellent meals here are accompanied by South African and French wines, and are served to your tent. There are lots of cultural activities offered, such as visits to local villages and markets.
Fort Dauphin, South-Eastern Madagascar 00 261 20 220 2226