Why holiday in Madagascar?
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.
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/tomb in south Madagascar adorned with horns of plenty (actually zebu) and beautifully carved wooden totems.
Antananarivo, the capital
Also known as simply Tana, this over populated, polluted and bustling city is not an attractive place at first look. But tourists should perhaps experience the cultural side before heading off to see natural wonders. Antananarivo offers a few historic buildings and museums to explore, such as Rova, the Royal Palace and Musée Andafivaratra, a colourful lakeside market at Lac Anosy, especially flower market and also a quite few gourmet restaurants - French and Creole - can be found downtown.
East for the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Three hours easy drive east from Antananarivo the Andasibe-mantadia National Park is a rainforest hosting a large number of rare and endangered species including 11 lemurs species.
South for the Berenty Reserve
Berenty Reserve is a private nature reserve, home to various lemurs including Ring-tailed Lemur, chameleons and birds beside the Mandrake river. It's in a semi-arid spiny forest in the Atsimo-Andrefana region of the far south of the country.
West for Morondova
A small coastal town with airport if you don't fancy a 9 to 12 hour drive drive, Morondova is a relatively relaxing place with few beggars, several decent beaches with small beach hotels and near 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, and in our defence it was not deadly (there are no deadly creatures in Madagascar, apparently), but it was quite big and coiled peacefully in the middle of the dining table.
North for Montagne d'Ambre National Park
The 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. It's 500 miles north of Tana and 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.
The Best weather May-October (winter, dry season)
Worst: December-March (rains and storms)