Madagascar is a treasure trove of culture, tradition and natural wonder, whose natural appeal has not been spoiled by tourism. The ever-changing landscapes will leave you with a lifetime of awe-inspiring memories. From the rice fields and tsingys (natural limestone formations) to the Tsaratanana and Isalo mountain ranges, and plateaus along the South road, those who are lucky enough to find themselves on Madagascar will not go a moment without the opportunity to explore and marvel. The country's famous capital, Antananarivo, will both amaze and sadden you due to its intense beauty, paired with striking poverty levels. For a less emotionally charged feeling visit the Malagasy provinces where the transition between wealth and poverty is less steep and the standard of living is higher.
Security: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all but essential travel to Madagascar's regions of Andohahela National Park and against all travel on road RN13 between Ambovombe and Ihosy. Take great care and follow local advice if you are travelling in the south east of the country. See full official advice.
The Indian Ocean's "Big Island" can create the impression of a coast of Africa that has seemingly detached itself from the mainland. The overpowering force of its nature and the friendly, ever smiling population shall transform your voyage into an adventure of strong emotions.
Madagascar boasts 5,000km of coastline bathed by a beautiful turquoise sea and all accompanied by seemingly endless coral reefs, home to an unbelievable range of fish species. The waters around Madagascar are perfect for those with an interest in snorkeling or diving - and they're hardly a bad place just to relax either!
Madagascar is composed of one main island and 250 smaller ones, the most famous and tourist appealing ones are Nosy Be and Sainte-Marie. The Big Island that stretches more than 1500 kilometers actually calls for wilderness adventure. Mineral and vegetable resources, endemic species and animals such as the emblematic lemurs are just a sample of what can be observed on the island.
It has a unique ecosystem of colourful plants and weird and wonderful animals, a lot of which can't be found anywhere else in the world. In terms of animals, you'll be able to find a variety of lemurs, chameleon, fossa and tenrec - a a bit like Africa's answer to our everyday hedgehog.
The island is home to over 10,000 specires of plants, 90% of which can only be found on Madagascar! The diversity of the island's flora never ceases to amaze either, with rainforests along the coast, grasslands in the central highlands, savannah to the west and even desert in the southwest. The most impressive is the Baobab plants (pictured above) - trees with trunk diametres of 15 metres, heights of up to 35 metres and some of the specimens around today have been there for 1,000 years!
Perhaps the most well known sights are the Tsingy limestone massifs, which were formed by thousands of years of erosion, the enchanting alley of baobabs near Morondava in Menabe, and the mythical National 7 highway which flows for almost 1000km through the main Big Island connecting the capital city to the south-west coast. Landforms and vegetation of the island are varied and promise more than a fair share of incredible landscapes. The East Coast will delight lovers of lush vegetation and rainforests. The South has a desert landscape with large open spaces. In the North, you will be able to discover not only volcanic landscapes, but also the perhaps the densest tropical forest of Madagascar. The West is the home to the populated Ankarafantsika lemur reserve. Finally at the centre of the country it is the highlands that occupy most of the territory.
Sainte Marie is a quiet island east of the Big Island, home to several luxury hotels and is renowned to be the perfect spot for whale watching. Nosy Be, located in the north west, is the most popular resort of Madagascar although it is sometimes described as perhaps being a bit too touristy. Instead travel away from the action to one of the many small islands where you will discover your own peaceful haven.
The nation's capital Antananarivo has a rather poor reputation for bringing together the richest and the poorest Madagascans and thus displaying the huge gap in wealth distribution. However, the opportunity to see firsthand not only how difficult life is for some, but also how people manage to, despite their circumstances, find happiness around them is something we should all experience Also the many boutiques make this an ideal place for shopping as well as provide you with the chance to enjoy excellent foie gras and Zebu fillets in capital's incredible restaurants.
Traveling across Madagascar is not only a chance to admire the breathtaking landscapes but also immersing yourself in the local rhythm, adapting and sharing, all without prejudice.
Surface area : 226597.0 km2
Population : 20653556 inhabitants
You can find many high-quality handcrafted products on sale, such as embroidered tablecloths and blouses, silk gowns, wooden figurines, zebu-horn jewels, paper decorated with dried flowers, mohair carpets. Products sent to shops and the three crafts markets of Tananarive come from the four corners of the island: Andravohangy (highly visited on Wednesday), Route-Digue, and 67 Hectares (where there are only chic products). Prices drop quite easily. Get green and black peppers, curry spices, vanilla, old rum and duck foie gras from the market. The law bans the exportation of crocodile-skin objects (except those sold with a farming certificate), some plants and all inherited objects (antiques, funeral carvings, aepyornis eggs). Shops open from Monday to Saturday 8:00am to 12:00pm and 2:00pm to 6:00pm.
The waves of migrants from across the Indian Ocean have not only brought their culture but also their cuisine to Madagascar. For example the Indo-Malayan people brought rise, which has gone on to become a staple of Madagascar cuisine. Settlers from continental Africa brought with them zebu cattle which accounts for the succulent beef now available across the island nation, traders from the Arab world and India have brought spices and the French introduced the love of duck; baguettes and vanilla.
Today most of the local dishes are accompanied by rice, for example "romazava" (a vegetarian dish based around zebu leaves and other vegetable) and "ravitoto" (pork with cassava leaves). These dishes are usually served with an onion-tomato-chili sauce called rougaille. Madagascar's cuisine also has a distinctly French taste to it, with the popularity of such dishes as frog's legs, foie gras and crayfish. Tropical fruit are numerous and exceptional, but to get the most out of them we recommend only eating fruits that are in-season: mangoes (October-December), litchis (December to February), pineapples and papayas (July-October), guava (February-March), passion fruit (January), bananas and nuts coconut (all year).
Madagascar's diverse population which was built around wave of migrants from different corners of the Indian Ocean has led to an equally diverse local culture. A vast majority of local beliefs revolve around the ancestors' spirits. If you are visiting this remarkable country and wish to immerse yourself in local culture we recommend getting yourself accustomed with the central role that death plays in everyday life. An excellent way of doing this is by attending a famadihana (traditional exhumation and reburial) or a traditional circumcision ceremony.
The daily lives of many locals are governed by the fady (or ones that are forbidden), which are passed on through generations. For example, touching a grave without permission is fady; certain areas are fady, etc. While the Malagasy are known as being open and friendly people, they do not always inform you of what is ?prohibited?. So brush up on local customs before visiting various areas, thus avoiding doing anything which could be frowned on.
As Madagascar is a fairly big island, aiming to visit it all in one trip would be unrealistic, unless you spend a month running from place to place constantly. Only 10% of the roads are asphalted.
You can travel alone, but if you choose to travel with a guide, you will visit lesser-known areas and also feel more safe.
Types of accommodation: in Antananarivo you have hotels at varying prices and quality. Completely renovated and expensive is the Hilton, though another option is the Ibis which is pleasant and centrally located.
On the island, the lack of hotels is mostly felt during the high season. By the shores, you can find many plant-material bungalows from about £12 a night.
Moreover, in 2002, Madagascar had a political crisis that brought the country's economy to it knees. The consequences are still visible in the tourism and air transport sectors and hence you are advised to plan your trip carefully.
Cyclones occur between December and March. You should therefore avoid this period.
Madagascar is an extremely diverse country with its population of 22 million peope being divided into as many as 18 different ethnic groups. The original Africans and Polynesians have been joined by Arabs, Indians and Europeans, forming a melting pot of traditions, customs and cultures that are demonstrated perfectly in the island's music and dance. Such variety is hard to find anywhere else in the world!
Madagascar is more than just wildlife, beaches and relaxation. For the adventurers among you, you can sail on the river Tsirbihina with its waters, varying between strong and calm currents, taking you on a journey of discovery through narrow gorges. Alternatively, you can explore the Ranomafana Park's rainforest and the rivers and waterfalls hidden inside.
Thanks to the mix of peoples and cultures on the island, Malagasy cuisine is an explosion of flavours. With rice as the staple ingredient, the farmers grow it on the island in large plots which, like mosaics, decorate the landschape and change colour with the seasons. The most popular meats are easily zebu and chicken though we have to mention the sumptuous seafood, fresh from the sea!
With its wild expanses, central massifs, peaks and forests, you'll never run out of places to explore by foot in Madagascar. Some of the best hiking trails on offer are in the mountains of the Tsaranoro Massif, a definite must for keen hikers!
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