Madagascar – Real Paradise

Undoubtedly one of the world’s most fascinating destinations, Madagascar floats off the coast of Mozambique, in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, and is home to some of the weirdest, most wonderful wildlife in existence. A cliché maybe, but there really is nowhere quite like it.

Up to 90% of the flora and fauna found in Madagascar is unique to the island, which was cut adrift from the African mainland millions of years ago and has evolved in sweet isolation since. Mother Nature had a chance to experiment in Madagascar, and the experiment she did.

Nowadays the island is home to around a quarter of our planet’s primates and they exist in glorious variety: big and small, social and solitary, adorably cute, and downright freaky. The primates’ story is played out across the animal groups: there are several hundred types of frog, dozens of bats, over a hundred snakes (mostly small, all harmless), and almost half of the world’s chameleons. It’s a similar story where the flora is concerned, too.

History of Madagascar

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Madagascar was ruled by royalty until the French invaded in 1895. It remained a French colony until achieving full independence in 1960, following a bloody uprising thirteen years previously.

For most of the next forty years, a former military man named Didier Ratsiraka held tight to the reins of power. He imposed his own brand of Christian-Marxism but his socialist policies led to a spectacular collapse of the economy.

In the early 2000s, a businessman and former mayor of Antananarivo – Marc Ravalomanana – took over the presidency after achieving a narrow electoral victory, which Ratsiraka initially refused to accept.

There followed seven years of impressive economic growth for Madagascar under Ravalomanana’s leadership, accompanied by extensive development such as road building. The international community was impressed by the president’s resolve to triple the protected areas of the country to around 10%.

Sadly, during his second term in office, he began to abuse his position for personal gain and public opinion turned against him. A young former DJ named Andry Rajoelina seized this opportunity to topple Ravalomanana in a coup d’état. Rajoelina successfully forced Ravalomanana into exile and appointed himself leader.

Between 2009 and 2014, Madagascar had no internationally recognized government. Most international aids were stopped, living standards across the country dropped, the economy backpedaled and the security situation worsened.

Rajoelina’s stated aim was to organize democratic elections, but it soon became clear that he had no intention of giving up power. During those five years, he dragged his feet and deliberately derailed plans each time election dates were set, whilst hurrying through constitutional changes that would favor him as a presidential candidate.

Eventually, he realized that the international community would never accept him as a rightful president, even if he were to win free and fair democratic elections. He decided to change tack and put forward a proxy candidate called Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

Elections went ahead in late 2013 and Rajaonarimampianina won, having spent eye-watering sums on campaigning (thought to have come from the sale of vast quantities of illegally logged rosewood timber to China). He assumed the presidency in January 2014, with Rajoelina presumed to have his eye on making a Putin-esque move to the prime ministerial position in due course.

Best time to visit Madagascar

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Madagascar’s central highlands and north coast can get extremely wet in January all the way through to March with the cyclones of February making the start of the year well-worth avoiding although, accommodation will be cheaper and there will certainly be fewer tourists.

April still finds a few storms but on the main, this is the start of Madagascar’s dry season with plenty of lush green foliage making April or May the best time to visit, especially for surfers.

Visiting Madagascar in June and July is perfect for watching baby lemurs as well as humpback whales on Ile Sainte-Marie, and birdwatchers will want to hang around until August and September to catch the abundance of endemic and migratory species.

Madagascar’s iconic ring-tail lemurs are born in October and a visit to national parks, such as Isalo, lets you see these cuties up close, particularly now it’s cooler in the southwest.

Temperatures begin to soar in the southwest during November and December with rains returning to Antananarivo, the central highlands and the north of Madagascar. December is definitely the best time to visit Madagascar if you’re hoping to hit the beach.

Wild World

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Madagascar is unique: 5% of all known animal and plant species can be found here, and here alone. The island’s signature animal is the lemur of course, but there are many more weird and wonderful creatures: the eerie-looking fossa (a cat-like predator), colorful and camouflaged chameleons, oddly shaped insects, vivid frogs, graceful rays and turtles, several species of sharks, and humpback whales during the winter months. Trees and plants are just as impressive, be they the distinctively shaped baobabs, the fanning ravinala (travelers’ palm), the hundreds of orchids, or the spiny forests of the desert south.

 

Cultural Insights

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Madagascar has been populated by successive waves of migrants from various corners of the Indian Ocean. This cultural melting pot has evolved into an intricate set of beliefs and rituals that revere the ancestors’ spirits. For travelers, attending a famadihana (traditional exhumation and reburial when relatives can communicate with their forebears) can be the highlight of a trip. There is much history to discover, too, from Antananarivo’s sacred hills to the pirate history of Île Sainte Marie.

Top Tourist Landmarks in Madagascar

Ile Sainte Marie

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The Ile Sainte Marie lies off the east coast of Madagascar. The island’s array of protected bays and inlets drew pirates to Ile Sainte Marie during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the wrecks of several pirate ships can still be viewed from the shallow waters of the Baie des Forbans. Today the island is one of the top tourist attractions in Madagascar. The still, clear waters of the island’s bays make ideal spots for snorkeling. Migrating humpback whales visit the island waters during summer and early fall.

Masoala National Park

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Situated in northeast Madagascar, the Masoala National Park covers nearly 250 miles of rainforest and includes three marine parks as well. The park features ten species of lemur, including the Aye-aye, the world’s largest nocturnal primate. The park is also home to a diverse array of birds and reptiles, including the Tomato frog, named for its bright red color. The Campolo, Ambodilaitry and Ifaho marine parks are ideal for snorkeling and kayaking adventures.

Andasibe-Mantadia

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Encompassing around 100 miles of land in eastern Madagascar, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is home to eleven lemur species, including the country’s largest lemur, the Indri. Located near Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo, Andasibe-Mantadia is one of the easiest parks to visit. The park is split into two areas, the Mantadia National Park and the Analamazoatra Reserve. Local guides conduct 1- to 6-hour tours of either area.

Royal Hill of Ambohimanga

Royal Hill of Ambohimanga

Considered one of the country’s most sacred spots by the Malagasy people for 500 years, the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is a historical village that was once home to Madagascar royalty. The wall that surrounds the village was made in 1847 and was constructed with a mortar made of lime and egg whites. The Mahandrihono compound includes the former home of King Andrianampoinimerina, with walls made of solid rosewood, and artifacts of the island’s great king, including drums, weapons, and talismans.

Ifaty

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Ifaty is the name given to two dusty fishing villages on the coast of southwest Madagascar. Offshore, a 60-mile long coral reef is a natural barrier to rough sea waves, creating coastal waters that are ideal for diving, snorkeling, and fishing. The desert inland area is known for its spiny forest, where the strange-shaped baobab trees have thrived for centuries.

Avenue of the Baobabs

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The Avenue of the Baobabs is a group of trees lining the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in western Madagascar. Its striking landscape draws tourists from around the world, making it one of the most visited locations in the region. The Baobab trees, up to 800 years old, did not originally tower in isolation over the landscape but stood in a dense tropical forest. Over the years, the forests were cleared for agriculture, leaving only the famous baobab trees.

Tsingy de Bemaraha

The Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve lies in the southern region of Madagascar’s largest natural reserve, Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve. The word “tsingy” refers to the pinnacles that dot the park’s limestone plateau. Located near the country’s west coast, the park features a broad expanse of mangrove forest. The park is home to seven lemur species, including the Dickens sifaka, a genus of lemur notable for its creamy white fur and blackface.

River and sea travel

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The operation of river ferries may be irregular. Seek local advice on ferries from Tamatave- Sonierana to Ste Marie Island and the West Coast (Toliara/Tuléar, Morondava, Mahajanga, and Nosy Be). There have been several reported accidents with causalities due to overcrowding, poor maintenance, poor crew training, and unexpected squalls. Check weather conditions locally before traveling.

While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High-Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.

When to visit Madagascar

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Madagascar’s central highlands and north coast can get extremely wet in January all the way through to March with the cyclones of February making the start of the year well-worth avoiding although, accommodation will be cheaper and there will certainly be fewer tourists.

April still finds a few storms but on the main, this is the start of Madagascar’s dry season with plenty of lush green foliage making April or May the best time to visit, especially for surfers.

Visiting Madagascar in June and July is perfect for watching baby lemurs as well as humpback whales on Ile Sainte-Marie, and birdwatchers will want to hang around until August and September to catch the abundance of endemic and migratory species.

Madagascar’s iconic ring-tail lemurs are born in October and a visit to national parks, such as Isalo, lets you see these cuties up close, particularly now it’s cooler in the southwest.

Temperatures begin to soar in the southwest during November and December with rains returning to Antananarivo, the central highlands and the north of Madagascar. December is definitely the best time to visit Madagascar if you’re hoping to hit the beach.

Political situation

The coup of 2009 was followed by 5 years of political unrest during which, according to the World Bank, Madagascar became the poorest country in the world, not in conflict. The Presidential elections in 2013 were won by Mr. Hery Rajaonarimampianina. In his investiture speech, President Rajaonarimampianina undertook to improve the country’s security situation. However, the situation remains fragile.

 

Why I Love Madagascar

Source: live2leave.com

Madagascar is unlike anywhere I have been to – fantastically beautiful, amazingly diverse for its size (similar to France), and still so unspoiled. Vast tracts of the country are virtually uninhabited and seldom explored, and nothing comes easy. But that’s what makes it so unique and rewarding. Plus the fact that after a day of bumping around in a dusty 4WD, or fighting off leeches on muddy trails, you can be served a meal worthy of a fine European restaurant, capped with exquisite rum – that’s definitely my kind of travel!

 
  • Attractions
  • Activities and Landmarks
  • History
  • Society of Island
  • Climate
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