A guide to Madagascar
A guide to Madagascar
Venture through volcanic highlands, lush rainforests, idyllic tropical beaches and semi-arid rocky massifs in search of a unique array of wildlife, much of which is found nowhere else on the planet. Due to its size, it is impossible to see all that Madagascar has to offer on a first visit, so choosing one or two regions to focus on is highly recommended, and what each has to offer is summarised below.
Antananarivo is a bustling explosion of Afro-Asian culture, where friendly citizens make the city a worthwhile stop on any itinerary.
Berenty Private Nature Reserve
The most well-known reserve in Madagascar, this reserve is famous for its population of ring tailed lemurs and sifakas. There is a small cultural museum with interesting exhibits about the local peoples and their customs and the forest trails are well kept and easy to explore on unguided adventures. Nocturnal walks in the spiny forest are highly recommended.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
This park is split into two separate forested reserves; Analamazoatra and Mantadia. The Analamazoatra Reserve is a small secondary rainforest where the star attractions are the 11 lemur species, the best known being the indri, the largest of all. In addition, there are more than 100 bird species and many reptiles, amphibians and butterflies. Mantadia’s primary rainforest is magical, with eruptions of lush greenery at every turn. This quieter forest offers excellent bird and reptile viewing and serenity not always found in its smaller sister reserve.
Isalo National Park
Madagascar’s equivalent of the Wild West, this is easily one of its most beautiful parks. Looming over endless grassy plains, a huge sandstone massif features spectacular rock formations interspersed with canyons, tapia forest, trickling waterfalls and cool natural springs. Wildlife densities are lower than in other parks, although ring-tailed lemurs and red-fronted lemurs are often seen. There are also 80 bird species, of which 50 are endemic. There are more than 500 plant species, with the locally endemic elephant´s foot perhaps the best known, throwing the park into a sea of yellow when it blooms in the autumn.
Amber Mountain National Park
The Amber Mountain National Park is packed with endemic flora and fauna, dramatic waterfalls and volcanic lakes, and is a superb walking area. It takes its name from the sticky amber coloured resin, which oozes from the trees and is one of the most visitor friendly reserves in Madagascar. Impressive tree ferns, huge epiphytic bird’s nest ferns and strangler figs all make for green and lush scenery. The fauna is exceptionally diverse and includes ring-tailed mongooses, elusive fossas, eight lemur species, including Sanford’s brown lemurs, crowned lemurs, lesser bamboo lemurs and five species of nocturnal lemurs.
The island of Nosy Be is a bustling place. Golden sandy beaches and warm turquoise waters combine with inland cane plantations, rum distilleries, ylang ylang bushes, lively markets, bustling nightlife and relaxed wildlife to form Madagascar’s most popular beach destination. You can also take a boat to nearby Nosy Komba (lemur island) to explore.
Ranomafana National Park
Established in 1991, after the discovery of golden bamboo lemurs, Ranomafana has quickly become a popular destination for wildlife viewing on foot. There are 12 lemur species in total, the best known being the golden, greater and lesser eastern bamboo lemurs. The golden and greater species are critically endangered, as well as the Milne-Edwards’ sifaka. Ranomafana is also noted for its 118 bird species, of which 36 are endemic. Among them are Henst’s goshawks, rufous-headed ground-rollers, velvet asitys, and the threatened crested ibises.
Ankarana National Park
The Ankarana National Park is a remarkable landscape of limestone karst topography, also known as tsingy. Erosion, caused by heavy annual rainfall, has created valleys of rocky spikes and a deep canyon and cave system that is the largest in Africa. The thick tropical jungle that exists between the rocks is home to extremely high densities of wildlife, including crowned lemurs, Sanford’s brown lemurs, Perrier’s black lemurs, northern sportive lemurs and dwarf lemurs.
Kirindy Private Reserve
Delicate and unspoilt, Kirindy’s dry deciduous forest is home to some extraordinary wildlife species. Among them are elusive fossas, nocturnal felines that are the only natural hunters of Madagascar’s lemurs. The best time to find them is at night during their mating season (October to December). Locally endemic Madame Berthe’s lemurs are one of eight lemur species that can be found in the park and the smallest primates in the world.
Masoala National Park
Encompassing 230,000 hectares of rainforest, coastal forest, marsh and mangrove habitats, the Masoala peninsula is an utterly unique ecosystem. Masoala’s forests are full of local endemics, including red-ruffed lemurs, Madagascar red owls and Madagascar serpent eagles. A boat trip and overnight stop at the nearby Nosy Mangabe island is a must for those seeking aye-aye lemurs. This tropical paradise is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for the world’s largest nocturnal primate.
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
The vast, mystical Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is one of the last true wilderness areas in the country. It is known for its vast tracts of tsingy (Malagasy for ‘walking on tiptoes’), limestone rock pinnacles formed by erosion from acidic rain, and as the historical home of the Vazimba – the first inhabitants of Madagascar.
Île Sainte Marie
Located off Madagascar’s east coast, Sainte Marie island has kept its small tropical island charm. Once the domain of pirates and political prisoners in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sainte Marie is now a natural paradise of tropical vegetation, windy clay roads and sandy creeks. Several lemur varieties, as well as majestic orchids (season dependant) can be seen.
Tucked away in the south-east corner of Madagascar, Manafiafy is a fishing village situated two and a half hours’ drive from Fort Dauphin. This part of the island has its own micro-climate with the warm waters attracting lots of humpback whales and dolphins (June to October). Wildlife viewing is productive too, with guided mangrove canoe trips and lemur spotting among rare littoral rainforest proving popular.
Note: Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest nations and tourism is in its infancy. Distances can be long and roads can be poor. Hotels, while sometimes not reaching western standards, are clean and comfortable.