13th May 2019
Situated off the coast of Africa, once part of India some 88 million years ago, Madagascar has unique wildlife and biodiversity. Madagascar such a captivating travel destination, with its Beautiful beaches, stunning landscapes and cultural experiences to offer, here is why you need to visit Madagascar on your next trip.
Without a doubt one of the major drawcards of the island are the stunning and ever-changing landscapes that it offers. As soon as one leaves the capital Antananarivo the highlands of Madagascar can be spotted with gently rolling hills and jagged mountains to view as you are driven through the area. I have already touched on the stunning Tsingy de Bemaraha in a previous blog and, whilst this is an undoubted highlight, there are many other beautiful areas to enjoy. The National Parks of Isalo (above), Andringitra and Ranomafana all offer stunning views and support a huge variety of wildlife, whilst the unspoilt and wild beaches of the west coast offer guests a true feeling of isolation and tranquility. Whether you are enjoying the landscapes from the ground or from the comfort of an aeroplane seat, the ever-changing topography is something that you are bound to find captivating. For visitors looking to enjoy a quintessentially African experience, sundowner drinks on the west coast’s Avenue of the Baobabs is a hard experience to beat.
Many people associate the Indian Ocean with warm turquoise waters and, whilst Madagascar certainly offers this, it does so without forcing visitors to stay in the large and often impersonal resorts of other Indian Ocean islands. Instead, visitors are able to revel in splendid isolation, with their chosen beach property often being many miles from the next property and local villages. This allows one to stroll along unspoilt stretches of beach, enjoy activities in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and enjoy delicious seafood meals with freshly caught fish and shellfish. The beach areas offer some truly stunning properties, especially in the north of the island, whilst the west coast offers a more barefoot luxury experience for those who stay there.
As a former French colony, Madagascar is somewhere that offers excellent food, even in the more remote places to stay. There is a definite French influence to many menus, but with local ingredients also featuring strongly. Zebu, a local cattle breed, is found on almost all menus and is served as steak or in a variety of delicious traditional sauces. Confit de canard (a personal favourite) is also a regular feature on menus and once you reach the coastal areas the quality of the seafood cannot be rivalled; wonderfully fresh and simply prepared, just as it should be. For those feeling a little more adventurous traditional Malagasy dishes are offered in almost all tourist hotels, with pork stews being one of the more regular dishes.
One of the major reasons why people visit Madagascar is of course to enjoy the island’s unique and varied wildlife. As a self-confessed “big game” enthusiast, it was an initial struggle to spot lemurs hiding high in the tree canopy after being more used to watching lion, leopard and elephant at ground level, but the adjustment was worth it. Depending on where you are on the island different lemur species will be spotted, but particular favourites of mine were the golden bamboo lemurs in Ranomafana National Park and the more common ring-tailed lemurs which can be found all around the island, with especially good sightings in community-run Anja Park. Birding enthusiasts will love almost all parts of the country as it is rich in avian life and sharp-eyed guides will help you to pick out even the more elusive species of bird. Chameleons of all shapes and sizes are found wherever one travels and snake sightings here are especially good, augmented by the fact that there are no poisonous snakes anywhere on the island. For those looking to see the iconic fossa, the island’s largest predator, the Kirindy Forest in the west is the best place to see them, although they can be elusive, so setting a full day aside here is worthwhile.
One of the “criticisms” I have always had of my travels in Africa is that it is somewhat devoid of cultural experiences, especially in the more safari-orientated destinations. However, Madagascar has gone a long way to reversing this perception, with some truly fascinating cultural excursions on offer. Naturally, the private guides we use for the majority of our trips offer guests a constant insight into what life is like in Madagascar, especially regarding the importance of ancestors in peoples’ day-to-day life and the interesting attitudes people hold towards death. It's possible to visit a variety of villages in both the coastal areas and further inland to get an idea of how people adapt to living in the often harsh environments that the island creates. The tribalism of Madagascar is a very interesting story in itself and one will have the opportunity to learn about the different tribes, their way of life and how they have grown to live in the areas where they do now. For those looking to meet tribespeople who are still almost completely shut off from the modern world a visit to a traditional Mikea village on the west coast can also be arranged.
Regular visitors to Africa will speak of how friendly the people they come across are, with children waving at vehicles as they pass through villages and people always on hand to share stories with you. However, in Madagascar you get the sense that their warm feelings and interest in visitors are utterly genuine. There was very little begging from children or adults and even people selling their wares in towns will walk away as soon as you declare a lack of interest in their offering. Staff in hotels are wonderfully friendly, always keen to talk about your experience staying with them and across the island in general, as well as to learn more about what life is like where you come from. Despite the social problems that the island has (education not being mandatory is a huge issue), visitors come away with the feeling that the people here are, in the main, content with their lifestyles and keen to learn from their interactions with travellers rather than exploit them for short-term financial or material gain.
A fellow Africa specialist in the office often comments that my taste in hotels and lodges is a bit “high-end” and that Madagascar is somewhere I might not find completely to my tastes. With expectations somewhat lower than I would usually have I was genuinely surprised at the quality of the hotels and lodges across much of the island. As more and more tourist money pours into the country the quality of the accommodation is constantly improving and there are some lodges that wouldn’t be out of place on South Africa’s Garden Route or nestled away in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The island’s newest beach lodge, the simply stunning Miavana, would grace any beach in the world and will be a wonderful spot for more exclusive travellers looking to enjoy the island. Lodges such as Mikea Lodge, Five Senses, Anjajavay and Satrana Lodge (above) are also truly fantastic; well run with excellent food and comfortable rooms and definitely worth including in any Madagascar itinerary.
As you can see, Madagascar does offer the complete package for visitors, with a wonderful blend of interesting and unique experiences, beautiful scenery, fantastic guiding and top quality places to stay. A two to three week trip will allow you to enjoy a huge range of the experiences on offer, soak up some culture and of course relax on a wild and unspoilt beach for a few days to enjoy the sunshine.