Here are our ‘Top 10 Things to Do’ in Madagascar:
- Ile Sainte-Marie: This famous island, now called Nosy Boraha – lies off the east coast. The island is steeped in myth and legend, its numerous protected bays having attracted swashbuckling pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the wrecks of several pirate ships can still be seen from the shallow waters of the Baie des Forbans. With its gorgeous beaches and clear waters, this 50km long island is perfect for snorkelling and diving, and the humpback whale-watching between July and September is amongst the best anywhere in the world. As well as lemurs in the forest, look out for some of the beautiful orchid species.
- The Avenue of the Baobabs: On the road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in the Menabe region of western Madagascar, have your camera ready for the Avenue of the Baobabs, best photographed at sunset for a stunning picture (cross the field and look back, and you’ll see the trees turning pink as the sun sets). Some of these magnificent giants are 30m high and anything up to 800 years old. The Malagasy people call them Renala – the mother of the forest. You’ll find them 45 minutes north of Morondava on an unmade road. Remember to take insect spray!
- Andasibe National Park: Located close to Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo, this is one of the easiest parks to visit. It can be quite a long trek into the forest itself (take snacks and tissues) but well worth it as you search for the Indri Indri (so good they named it twice!), the largest of Madagascar’s lemurs. They are very vocal animals, particularly in the early morning, and you’ll hear them long before you see them (look high up in the trees). As well as the Indri, you are likely to see several more lemur species, plus chameleons, reptiles, butterflies, birds and some amazing plant life.
- Water activities: If you like snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving, sailing, fishing, swimming or just being by the water, then Madagascar is for you. There is an excellent dive centre at Nosy Sakatia, just off Nosy Be (in the north west). You can do wind-surfing and kite-surfing in Diego Suarez at the northern tip of Madagascar or whale watching off Ile Sainte-Marie on the north east coast. On the west coast close to Morondava, the diving is fabulous – you might see eels, rays, jellyfish, stone fish and, if you’re lucky, you might get to swim with a curious whale shark. And the beaches … well, don’t get us start on the fabulous beaches!
- Antananarivo: This is Madagascar’s old but vibey capital city. Tana, as it’s normally known, is typically bustling, noisy and slightly chaotic but it has a charm all of its own. There are excellent markets, displaying artisan crafts from all over the country. Tana has been at the centre of Malagasy power for more than three hundred years and there is a huge amount of history here. As the city sits some 1400m above sea level, exploring its old colonial buildings and steep streets is fascinating. If you want good food in Madagascar, this is where you will find it. Fabulous cuisine at a fraction of the price you would pay in Europe.
- Tsingy: This must be one of the weirdest places on earth so you have to go and see it! Tsingy are a bit like stalagmites, but bigger and sharper, created by water eroding fissures into the limestone forming a gigantic mineral forest. The Big Tsingy is probably the best half day trip in Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in the west of Madagascar.
This goes deep into the limestone forest through several hanging bridges with the impressive karstic formations beneath your feet. Be cautious if you suffer from vertigo as looking down from the hanging bridge is not for the faint-hearted! Look out for the 11 lemur species in the area.
- Whale watching: Many people don’t realise that one of Mother Nature’s most fascinating migrations takes place just off the coast of Madagascar. Every year between June and November, several thousand humpback whales migrate from the nutrient-rich Antarctic to the warm waters off Madagascar’s east coast to breed and calve. If you want to see stunning mating rituals and calving, then Ile Sainte-Marie is the place to be from June to September. If you are around Nosy Be between August and November, you can spot mothers with their calves and pods of whales showing off their fabulous water-acrobatics.
- Isalo National Park: This 815 km2 national park lies some 700 kms south west of Tana. This is a great place for hiking, with its Jurassic scenery and temperate climate, and the variety of flora and fauna means there’s something for everyone. If birds are your thing, Isalo is home to around 80 species, including some rare ones – Benson’s Rock Thrush, Knob-Billed Duck and Crested Ibis. If you like reptiles, you’ll find 35 species including several endemic frogs. If flora is your particular interest, there are 500 species to choose from, including several rare palms and aloe species. Otherwise, this is just a lovely place to be.
- Meet a Lemur: Where’s the best place to meet a lemur? Lemur Island of course! This tiny reserve is home to a group of habituated lemurs, now living naturally in their own forest. You’ll fine Lemur Island in the Andasibe National Park, 150 kms east of Tana. You have to cross a moat in a canoe to get on to the island, where you’ll be met by several lemurs waiting for you to bring them bananas. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times to visit as the island gets busy. The lemurs here are semi-wild but certainly not shy and you will end up with one on your head so have the camera ready!
- Ranomafana National Park: In south east Madagascar, Ranomafana is one of the country’s most famous National Parks. Ranomafana is mostly mountainous and consists of low altitude primary and secondary rainforests, mid-altitude and montane rainforests. Lots of fauna here also – 12 species of lemurs, 40+ other mammal species, butterflies, snakes, bats, rodents, fish – and 100+ species of frogs! There are several circuits available, ranging from 4 hours to 2-3 days, the shortest treks being the most popular. If you want to see wildlife, it’s worth considering one of the longer treks which are much quieter and less crowded.