Topography and trade winds have given Madagascar an impressive variety of landscapes and eco-regions. Discover cool air and the cultured capital on the high-rise plateau that forms the island’s spine, trek steamy east-coast rainforests that ring with the cries of lemurs and wander the west coast’s spectacular karst regions. Spiny forest dominates the arid south, while the north’s Robinson Crusoe islets are irresistible.
The North and its Islands
THE NORTH AND ITS ISLANDS
In the scattering of tiny archipelagos strung along Madagascar’s north-western and north-eastern shores, talcum-white beaches share top billing with vibrant coral reefs and unmissable wildlife. The largest island is Nosy Be, where you can shop for locally grown spices in the sleepy capital’s richly scented bazaar, then head to Lokobe Reserve whose forests hide black, Gray’s sportive and mouse lemurs. Base yourself at Tsara Komba on nearby Nosy Komba, a car-free idyll draped in lemur-friendly rainforest and lapped by fertile turquoise seas, from where you can visit the giant tortoises on Nosy Mamoko. Further to the north, the Mitsio archipelago is a minuscule slice of paradise where you’ll find Constance Tsarabanjina; on a private island encircled by coral, where the loudest noise is birdsong, it takes ‘off-grid’ to a soul-restoring new level. If you’d rather stay on the mainland, Anjajavy l’Hotel is set in a tucked-away private reserve where endangered cat-like fossas find sanctuary. Or hide away off Madagascar’s north-east coast at Miavana, one of Africa’s most exclusive beach retreats, which blends sustainability and luxury to impressive effect.
BACK TO TOP
Stretching between Mahajanga and Morondava, the west coast is home to some of Madagascar’s most photogenic sights. In the north, just beyond Mahajanga, Cirque Rouge is a geological oddity, a curve of mini Grand Canyon whose time-weathered multicoloured sandstone shows to theatrical effect at sunset and sunrise. In the south, the small seaside town of Morondava is close to the quirky Avenue of Baobabs, ancient endemic trees whose giant forms line a 260-metre stretch of unpaved road. From here, wildlife aficionados can strike out into the dry forests of Kirindy Private Reserve, whose rare and precious residents include the world’s smallest primate, nocturnal Madame Berthe’s mouse lemurs, among many others. There are more attention-grabbing landscapes (and a host of birds and animals found nowhere else) at UNESCO-listed Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, whose woodlands, plains and mangroves are wrapped around two otherworldly plateaux of needle-sharp limestone pinnacles threaded with aerial trails.
BACK TO TOP
The ancient rainforests of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, where the Central Highlands begin to slope down to the east coast, shelter an extraordinary diversity of endemic species, including 11 types of lemur. Follow wooded trails to find the largest of these, the indri, whose distinctive call sounds like a baby crying. Back down at sea level, the slender Île Sainte-Marie, or Nosy Boraha, has the softest of sandy beaches and stunning underwater landscapes, particularly around the islets off its southern tip. History buffs will be fascinated by an atmospheric cemetery, whose weathered headstones marked with skulls and crossbones are evidence of its 18th-century reputation as ‘the island of pirates’. Other travellers will be more excited by the chance to see migratory humpback whales in season. Barefoot boutique hideaway Princesse Bora Lodge & Spa runs daily whale-watching experiences, led by an eco-expert, from the beginning of July to the end of September.
BACK TO TOP
Stretching for more than 600 miles from north to south, the Central Highlands covers a vast swathe of the interior. Towards its northern edge lies the mountaintop capital Antananarivo – usually known as Tana – among whose historic neighbourhoods you can visit a brace of royal palaces, the almost-new photography gallery and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. Escape the city to immerse yourself in the region’s timeless countryside, pausing at villages set among emerald paddy fields, where life has barely changed in centuries. The traditional craft of wood-carving lives on in the town of Ambositra, where you can stop at family workshops passed down through many generations to admire, and buy, their ornate creations. Or you can focus on the highland’s wilder places, from the steamy jungles of Ranomafana National Park, a refuge for rare golden bamboo and greater bamboo lemurs, to Isalo’s striking sandstone cliffs and waterfall-dotted canyons or Andringitra’s mountains and endemic inhabitants. See our sample Explore Madagascar itinerary for more inspiration.
BACK TO TOP
With its sub and semi-arid climate, Madagascar’s far south looks very different from the rest of the island. It’s dominated by an extensive belt of spiny forest, bursting with endemic species adapted to the erratic and often inadequate rainfall, including lemurs. In protected areas such as Berenty Reserve, on the banks of the Mandrare – the only river that isn’t dry for much of the year – you can follow trails that wind their way through bush and tamarind woods in search of ring-tail lemurs and Verreaux’s sifakas. A little way upstream, the wonderfully remote and intimate Mandrare River Camp is a haven of comfort in the wilderness, with four-poster beds and an imaginative programme of immersive experiences. These include day and night nature walks through Ifotaka forest, where octopus trees soar into the sky; learning about the culture and traditions of the Antandroy, ‘the people of the thorns’; and checking out the abundant birdlife of the nearby wetlands.
BACK TO TOP