For the intrepid wildlife-lover who’s checked mainland Africa off the list, the island of Madagascar is your next “must.” While the island sits just over 300 miles from Mozambique’s coast, it’s a wholly unique safari experience with abundant plant and animal life found nowhere else on earth. You won’t find ultra luxury camps and lodges here, but what you lose in creature comforts, you more than account for in extravagant adventure.
Spanning over 220,000 square miles, travelers will find steep escarpments with lush tropical forests, expansive central highlands of fertile rice valleys and grassy hills, desert, shrub-lands, mangrove forests and sandy beaches. At once alien and enchanting, the island’s landscape has a life all its own.
The real highlight is the island’s unique wildlife though. Life has been left to develop in relative isolation here, making it a biodiversity hotspot. Over 90% of its flora and fauna is found nowhere else on Earth, including one of the world’s largest lemurs, the Indri. The island is home to approximately 60 species and sub-species of lemur altogether.
While the capital of Antananarivo (a.k.a. Tana) is a pleasant base for explorations and a good introduction to Malagasy culture and history, we recommend spending most of your time soaking up the island’s natural beauty and wildlife-viewing elsewhere. Head east to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, or south to the coastal rainforest reserve of Sainte Luce, where you can spot five different species of endemic lemur: including fat tailed dwarf lemur, collared brown lemur, mouse lemur, and the southern woolly lemur. These are excellent locations for stretching your legs and hitting the trails, searching for rare orchids, or perhaps speaking with your guide about local Malagasy customs or the important ancient myths surrounding lemurs here.
Near to Sainte Luce, Fort Dauphin is great for rustic camping and full-day kayaking excursions through mangroves. While the town itself is not much to look at, the surrounding beaches and natural areas are top-notch. For more luxurious accommodation, base just north at Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge.
Isalo and Ranomafana National Parks, in the southwest and southeast of the country, respectively, offer visitors a variety of terrains and activities. From exploring lush rainforest paths for spotting the golden bamboo lemur and Milne-Edwards sifaka, more canoeing or kayaking, to trekking with a local guide from the nomadic Bara people through sandstone formations, deep canyons, a palm-lined oases, and grassland.
In the northwest sits Anjajavy Forest, bounded by beautiful bays and home to numerous tsingy formations and subterranean caverns ripe for exploration. Further north is Ankarana Reserve, home to 150-million-year-old Middle Jurassic limestone, underground rivers, canyons and craggy ridges, and tropical jungle and forests with excellent hiking and more opportunities to spot the island’s iconic lemurs. Ankarana has the highest density of primates of any forest in the world.
For more coastal adventure, or just good old-fashioned R&R, the small islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Komba offer sandy beaches, volcanic lakes, and azure waters. Coral reefs offer scuba opportunities.
Madagascar is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites which include the rainforests of Atsinanana, the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, and Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve. Malagasy and French are the official languages, and English is not widely spoken outside major tourist areas.
Madagascar packs a lot of diversity into one island, and we love exploring corner to corner. Some of our highlights include: Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, the coastal rainforest reserve of Sainte Luce, Isalo and Ranomafana National Parks, and Anjajvy Forest and Ankarana Reserves.
People who want adventure and unique wildlife will love Madagascar.
It’s ideal for travelers who want to get outdoors and out of the car. The island offers diverse hiking options from rocky, arid landscapes to lush tropical forests, kayaking and canoeing through mangrove forests, and more. The island is best seen and explored through hands-on activities that get you moving.
Madagascar is also a unique destination for wildlife-enthusiasts who don’t mind skipping the big game of mainland Africa. You won’t find wildebeest and lion here, but you will find a biodiversity hotspot with animals found nowhere else on the planet. Particularly for travelers who want to see lemurs, Madagascar is the top choice.
If luxury is at the top of your list, Madagascar might not be the best fit. While the country has a handful of luxury lodges we prefer, accommodations and towns tend to be fairly basic – clean and comfortable, but not 5*.
Madagascar’s climate is generally tropical with varying amounts of rainfall. Coastal areas tend to be hot throughout the year with much more moderate temperatures in the central, elevated regions.
In general, the best time to travel is April/May and October/November during the cool and dry winter months (May to October). July and August are good for weather but tend to get busier with tourists. During this time the central highlands, which include Antananarivo, can get cold and windy.
From January to March, rainfall can be heavy in many areas and make some roads all but impassable. This is also cyclone season in the east and northeast.
Travelers should plan on a starting budget of at least $4,000 per person sharing for a one week journey. Pricing will always fluctuate based on individual needs and preferences, along with seasonality, exclusivity, etc.
Guided hikes through rainforests, karst rock pinnacles, and towering baobabs are one of our favorite ways to explore and get to know the island. Canoeing and kayaking through the waterways is another great option when you’re ready to rest your legs without leaving nature. Driving between destinations is, in itself, a great opportunity to soak in the scenery and get a lay of the land and local life.
Lemurs are the most popular among visitors, with over 100 sub/species calling the island home. You’ll also find unique mammals such as the cat-like fossa, and the planet’s smallest-known chameleon (plus 2/3 of the world’s total chameleons). Birders will delight in the over 300 species found here, while humpback whales, sea turtles and aye-aye all call the island (or its waters) home as well.
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