The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar has an astounding selection of unique plants and wildlife species such as baobab trees, lemurs and chameleons.
Madagascar also offers the inquisitive tourist the bizarre burial sites of the Mahafaly tribe, strange rock formations, spectacular landscapes, the French-speaking capital in Antananarivo that is just about worth a couple of days and good beaches with diving and snorkelling locations. What the place doesn't have is too many travellers!
Ring-tail lemurs in Berenty Reserve.
Lemurs are arguably the country's number one attraction, with many varieties including the super-cute Ringtails, the dancing Sifaka, big wailing Indri and tiny Mouse lemurs.
A South African herpetologist comes face-to-face with Malagasy wildlife, a common-or-garden chameleon.
The bugcrew were chatting to this South African in a bar/café in the Berenty wildlife reserve in south Madagascar. We mentioned having difficulty finding the much-hyped chameleons. He promptly reached into the bush beside us and slapped this surprised chameleon onto his face. After that we learned to really look everywhere...
A traditional Mahafaly grave in south Madagascar adorned with horns of plenty (actually zebu) and beautifully carved wooden totems.
East for the Andasibe (Mantadia) National Park, three hours easy drive east of the capital Antananarivo is rainforest hosting a large number of rare and endangered species including lemurs.
South for Berenty Private Nature Reserve's lemurs, chameleons and birds beside the Mandrake river, in a semi-arid forest region of the far south of the country. Also elaborate carved and painted Mahafaly graves and the extraordinary wind cut sandstone, lemurs, and wacky plants of Isalo National Park.
West for Morondova's small coastal town - with airport if you don't fancy a 9 to 12 hour drive drive - is a relatively relaxing place with few beggars, several decent beaches with small beach hotels and proximity to a couple of brilliant nature reserves as well as the famous 'Avenue of Baobabs' 45 minutes drive away, a grand line of ancient and magnificent specimens that are particularly spectacular at sunset.
Nosy Kely near Morondova town is a good place to stay, with comfortable beachside chalets and good French food. Chez Maggie Hotel is well known, offers excellent tours in many languages and worked well for us, though there was a bit of excitement about a snake. Ours, not theirs. More of that later.
North for Montagne d'Ambre National Park, rain forest stuffed with the usual unusual species including the blue nose chameleon. No shortage of leeches either. Lots of hiking trails and two lovely waterfalls. 500mi north of Tana. Cooler than the coast so you don't need shorts.
Nosy Be island for expensive beach package hotels, Lokobe Nature Reserve and the usual beach activities plus Deep Sea Fishing.
Ile Ste Marie island (Nosy Boraha) for beach bungalows, coral and kayaking.
Superb, panoramic landscapes, though deforestation is an ever-present issue that is not being addressed.
Many rural villages have neither electricity nor running water, roads are dirt poor and schools are fundamentally useless. The burning of forests to plant rice and manioc happens through ignorance and desperation and has been happening for many years, enough time to strip the island of thousands of hectares of unique plants and animals.
A recent president, Marc Ravalomanana, established a conservation plan to triple protected areas and give alternatives to slash-and-burn culture. Sadly he was ousted in a coup in 2009 and since then commitment to the island's precious and fragile bio diversity seems to have disappeared down the river, along with the rosewood logs. More.
Worst: December-March (rains and storms)