Madagascar Holiday

The ultimate guide to your next Madagascar holiday

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    Everything you need to know about your Madagascar holiday

    Welcome to Discover Africa’s Madagascar holiday guide. The world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar is situated just off the east coast of Africa, home to a wealth of unique flora and fauna. Madagascar’s tropical climate, sun-kissed beaches, friendly locals and diversity of wildlife and flora make it a must-see destination for travellers and wildlife-enthusiasts alike. Few countries on the planet can match Madagascar’s biodiversity – over 70% of the 250,000 wildlife species on the island are found nowhere else in the world, while it’s estimated that 90% of the plant-life on the island is also native to the country. Curate your holiday experience and let us do the rest for you. It couldn’t be more easy.


    North Madagascar Diego Suarez and Nosy Be Beach Tour

    A Madagascar vacation lends itself to more than just a beach holiday. As the world’s fourth biggest island there is much to explore and be seen on this Mystical Island of Madagascar. To appreciate the full diversity of the Madagascar wildlife, culture, amazing plant life and unusual Tsingy rock formations you need to travel through the forests, through villages and across the countryside, finally enjoying three days of relaxation on the beaches of Nosy Be Island. This adventure holiday tour will take you to the northernmost tip of Madagascar, Diego Suarez and then south-west to Nosy Be Island. Diego is situated on the shores of the second largest natural bay in the world and a strategic safe deep-water harbour to shipping with dry docks and other shipping services.

    • Antananarivo

      Day 1

      On arrival, you’ll be met at the airport and transferred to the Lokanga Boutique Hotel … On your way to your overnight Lokanga Boutique Hotel hotel, you will see rice paddies, houses that are all different from each other, and the daily life in this city of about 2 million inhabitants. Antananarivo is full of life and color! Once you get to your hotel, the rest of the day will be free. Dinner will be served!
    • diego suarez

      Day 2

      After spending a night in the Lokanga Boutique Hotel, you’ll fly from Antananarivo to Diego Suarez, at the northern tip of Madagascar. Depending on your arrival time, you will be able to explore the beautiful three bays of Diego Suarez … A dozen kilometers away from Diego, you will drive on a sandy track for five kilometres to reach the three bays. Sakalava Bay, the Bay of Pigeons and the Dune Bay will blow your mind. Their long white-sand beaches are wild and almost empty. The calm sea varies in color from green to turquoise. You will have a picnic lunch on site before ending your loop in Ramena fishing village. On your way back to Diego Suarez, you will enjoy the colors of the sunset on the Sugarloaf Mountain. Diego’s bay is listed among the ten most beautiful bays in the world. Dinner and overnight in the Allamanda.
    • joffreville

      Day 3

      Bid farewell to Diego Suarez as you short drive to the south, passing through Joffreville (historical town with former colonial architecture) to visit Amber Mountain National Park (25 kilometres) … The Amber Mountain National Park is a hotspot of endemic wildlife with 77 species of birds, seven species of lemurs and 24 species of amphibians. During your visit, spot more than 1,000 planet species. It is also here, if you are lucky, you’ll capture the cutest and smallest chameleon in the world. You will have a picnic lunch on the site. Enjoy Dinner and overnight in the Litchi Tree.
    • iharana bush camp

      Day 4

      Drive four hours to Ankarana special reserve, located about 100 kilometres from Diego Suarez. On your way, you will visit the famous Red Tsingy (“Tsingy” means sharp, the word remains singular in Malagasy) … These sandstone pinnacles are built from red laterite by wind and rain erosion. It looks like a spectacular Mars-like landscape! After the visit, you will drive on the national road six to reach Ankarana. The Ankarana National park is the home of the other Tsingy: the grey ones. These are limestone pinnacles and are smaller than the ones in Western Madagascar, but no less impressive! Dinner and overnight in the Iharana Bush Camp near the National Park.
    • lemurs

      Day 5

      Walk through the limestone pinnacles populated by dry deciduous trees such as baobabs and the elephant foot plant. Visit caves, spot crowned lemurs, ring-tailed mongoose and the northern sportive lemurs … Inside the Ankarana National Park, you will also see the sacred lake, canyons, batsdeep-waterand crocodiles. Indeed, under the Tsingy lies the south-west cave network in Africa! Dinner and overnight in the Iharana Bush Camp.
    • ankify

      Day 6

      Ankify is a small village where you board on the boat to Nosy Be. The road to Ankify is magnificent, lush and green. On your way, you will pass coffee, cocoa, ylang-ylang, sugar cane and cloves plantations … Malagasy chocolate is one of the best in the world. From Ankify, you will travel 45 minutes on a boat to reach Hell Ville, the main city of Nosy Be Island. This paradise tropical island also has inland activities such as Mount Passot viewpoint. There is a 360° view from the highest peak on this former volcanic Island. Dinner and overnight in the Manga Soa Lodge.
    • nosy be

      Day 7

      Nosy be has white sandy beaches but they are not the best place if you want to swim, dive or snorkel. You’ll take a boat to discover the islands around Nosy Be archipelago … You can schedule a boat trip to Nosy Komba (the island of lemurs), Nosy Tanikely (the protected marine reserve), or Nosy Sakatia (the Orchid island). Highlights in Nosy Be includes: Nosy Iranja, two small islands linked by a narrow stretch of sandbank at low tide! If you stay longer, you can book a boat trip further to Mitsio or Radama archipelagos. Dinner and overnight Manga Soa Lodge.
    • manga soa lodge

      Day 8

      Time to leave the paradise island! You’ll be transferred to Nosy Be airport and for your flight back to Tana. Your car in Antananarivo remains at your disposal the whole day for a city tour.
    • chameleon

      View the complete tour

      Time to leave the paradise island! You’ll be transferred to Nosy Be airport and for your flight back to Tana. Your car in Antananarivo remains at your disposal the whole day for a city tour.

      Highlights of Madagascar

      Highlights of Kenya

        • nosy be

          Nosy Be

          Nosy Be is a small island a few kilometres off the north-western coast of Madagascar. It’s Madagascar’s quintessential beach-holiday destination, with a delightful climate almost year-round and white-sand beaches so pure they squeak … Its coral reefs are colourful and prolific and the tropical waters, warmed by the Agulhas Current, beckon you in. Inland, forested reserves and lush ridges are home to island birds, peculiar reptiles and lemurs, making Nosy Be an unmissable destination for sun seekers and nature lovers alike. On its south coast, the small port town of Andoany (more commonly known by its former French name, Hell-Ville) connects Nosy Be to mainland Madagascar by ferry. It’s awash with bright colours, tuk-tuks, old colonial buildings and busy markets selling fresh seafood and spices and everywhere the hypnotising scent of ylang-ylang blossoms drifts through the air.
        • turtle

          Highlights

          Go snorkelling or scuba diving: Nosy Be’s inshore waters are shallow and protected by colourful coral reefs, making this one of the safest swimming spots in Madagascar and perfect for families … The majority of hotels and seaside resorts provide gear and offer snorkelling excursions for all ages, while many also organise scuba-diving trips for more adventurous guests. Marine highlights include hawksbill-, loggerhead- and green turtles, which swim through the underwater meadows and use beaches on the nearby archipelagos for nesting. Reef visitors include clownfish, pufferfish, batfish and butterflyfish and lucky divers might spot dolphins, humpback whales or even a whale shark at the right time of year. Hire a scooter: There’s something particularly exotic about exploring an island with the wind in your hair and Nosy Be is the perfect place to do it. The island is circled by a ring road so it’s almost impossible to get lost. It also gives you the freedom to explore some of the lesser-visited bays and for budget travellers it’s much cheaper than paying for a taxi. Visit the markets: A visit to one of the markets in Hell-Hell-Ville is an incredibly fun excursion filled with just the right mix of chaos, exotic sights, smells and sounds. It also gives you the opportunity to buy arts and crafts directly from local artists and support the local economy. Charter a boat: Get even closer to Nosy Be’s incredible marine life by hiring a live-aboard catamaran and spending several days exploring the nearby islands of Radamas and Mitsios. Catamarans are available for groups or families with exclusive service (you won’t be sharing with strangers) and generally come with their own private chef. Whale watching excursions can also be arranged, while deep-sea fishing is a year-round activity with kingfish, sailfish, wahoo, mackerel and yellow-fin tuna on the bill. Go hiking in Lokobe National Park: For landlubbers, Nosy Be’s Lokobe National Park offers a magical mix of island flora and fauna which visitors can spot on one of three hiking trails. These range from an easy one-hour forest meander to a more challenging three-hour route. There’s also the option to hire a pirogue (small dugout canoe) and explore the shores of the park from the water.
        • camping balule

          Practical advice

          Nosy Be shares a microclimate with the north of Madagascar, largely dominated by the Tsaratanana Massif. This gives it year-round sunshine and daytime highs that rarely dip below 20°C (68F) … It also means that rain can fall at any time of year, but the showers don’t usually last longer than a few hours. Unlike much of Madagascar, where prices for accommodation are listed as ‘per room’ the prices for accommodation on Nosy Be are generally quoted ‘per person.’ Keep this in mind when comparing quotes and always ask before booking.
          • Most travellers arrive by air, on local flights from Antananarivo or Antsiranana, or on long haul flights from hubs such as Johannesburg or Paris. These direct flights allow travellers to avoid the potential hassle of flying via the mainland, but as such are hugely popular and get booked up very far advance.
          • Nosy Be is extremely safe and the people are incredibly friendly and helpful but it’s still best to avoid walking alone after dark, or flashing valuables. There are opportunists everywhere.
          • fort dauphin

            Taolagnaro (Fort Dauphin)

            At the southern end of Madagascar’s spectacular eastern rainforests, Taolagnaro (formerly and still commonly known as Fort Dauphin) has the charm and je ne sais quois of a French port town-turned-holiday-destination, without any of the tourist trappings … At least not yet! Situated on a thin outcrop peninsula, the little town is almost completely circled by gorgeous beaches, while behind it a hefty shoulder of mountains and classic Madagascan spiny forest give it a sense of complete isolation. (In fact, it’s more than just ‘a sense’ – this former French outpost has incredibly poor road access.) Along its shores, pirogue boats bob in the ebbing tide and locals move languidly between the clutches of colonial buildings and straw rondavel huts. Surfers wait for perfect breaks and lobster nets are only checked every now and again. Time comes to an almost complete stop here, which makes it the perfect destination for a holiday that feels like it could last a lifetime.
          • Taolagnaro

            Highlights

            A number of the lodges host bespoke bush dinners and traditional barbecues at particularly stunning outdoor spots in the reserve. You can even arrange to camp at certain water holes for a truly immersive night in the African bush … Hit the beaches: Blessed with a seemingly endless coastline, Taolagnaro is home to some superb swimming beaches (Libanona Beach is considered the best), as well as tidal pools and even a handful of shallow reefs worth exploring. There are also a handful of world-famous surf spots that include sites for relative newbies such as Ankoba Beach and more advanced breaks such as Monseigner Bay. Visit Berenty Reserve: Probably Madagascar’s best-known reserve, Berenty is about three hours west of Taolagnaro but certainly worth a visit for the more adventurous traveller. It’s unusually verdant for this part of Madagascar, thanks to its position on the Mandrare River. While most reserves and national parks in Madagascar require that you take a guide, Berenty is unique in that guests can walk the trails unguided and explore the riverine and baobab-scattered forest in search of lemurs. Five species are common here, the most famous being Verraux’s sifaka, known for its comical poses which make the lemur look like it’s dancing. Tour the forts: Taolagnaro is home to the oldest building in Madagascar, a fort whose origins remain somewhat of a mystery. Some claim it was built by shipwrecked Portuguese sailors in 1504 while others maintain it was a Swahili structure erected centuries prior. Worth a visit too is the Flacourt Fort, built more than a century later. Both forts offer a fascinating glimpse in to the history of this part of the island.
          • verreauxs sifaka

            Practical advice

            Effectively cut off from the rest of the island due to its extremely poor access roads, you’ll want to make your holiday in Taolagnaro a fly-in and fly out affair. There are local flights from Antananarivo daily; the alternative is hours of bumpy and unreliable public transport …
            • Although very safe, it’s generally a good idea to keep valuables out of sight and to avoid walking alone along the beaches at night.
            • Swim and surf only at designated beaches – Madagascar’s south east coast has areas with very strong currents and swimming can be dangerous outside indicated areas.
            • baobabs morondava

              Morondava

              On Madagascar’s west coast, this ultra-relaxed seaside town was once a popular stopover for sailors trading with chiefs of the Sakalava Kingdom … Today it’s the centre of a large rice-growing region and, aside from its sandy streets and seaside bungalows, there’s not a lot to see or do; it’s beyond the town where the treasures lie. More or less mirroring the distant Mozambique coastline, the landscape north and south of Morondava boasts remote beaches, deciduous forests, sprawling deltas and waterways teeming with life. Exploring the region’s excellent nature reserves is definitely for the more adventurous traveller, while those looking for a laid-back beach break will find a range of hotels and resorts along the beautiful boulevard that runs along Nosy Kely Peninsula.
            • tsingy

              Highlights

              Walk along Baobab Avenue: With trees up to 30 metres high, the baobabs along this famous ‘avenue’ in Madagascar are unique not only because of their size but also because this is one of the few places where they’re almost completely unobstructed by surrounding forests. This makes for spectacular photographs, with dawn and dusk the best times to capture their isolated silhouettes against a purpling sky … Walk along Baobab Avenue: With trees up to 30 metres high, the baobabs along this famous ‘avenue’ in Madagascar are unique not only because of their size but also because this is one of the few places where they’re almost completely unobstructed by surrounding forests. This makes for spectacular photographs, with dawn and dusk the best times to capture their isolated silhouettes against a purpling sky. Take a 4x4 trip to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park: Only accessible from May to November (and even then, only via a 10-hour 4x4 drive or chartered flight) this UNESCO World Heritage Site is fantastic for nature lovers. With gigantic grey rock pinnacles (called tsingy) that appear to be balanced precariously on top of one another, and careful walkways and suspension bridges that somehow manage to link them together, it’s an otherworldly landscape. Alien-like succulents, sifakas, crocodiles and chameleons, complete the stunning picture and there are six hiking trails of varying lengths that allow visitors to explore on foot. You’ll find a wide range of accommodation, from basic camping to luxury lodges, at Bekopata just a few kilometres from the park entrance. Visit Kirindy Reserve: Not to be confused with Kirindy-Mitia National Park, which lies directly to the south of Morondava, Kirindy Reserve is 65km to the north and one of Madagascar’s most recently established protected areas. Despite its history as a logging zone, it’s home to significant concentrations of wildlife and plenty of reptiles, including collared iguanas and hognose snakes. It’s also one of the best places in the country to spot fossa, a rather curious cat-mongoose that eats lemurs and lizards and is endemic to Madagascar.
            • morondovo chameleon

              Practical advice

              This region of Madagascar is hot and dry, especially in summer. If you’re planning to hike, rock climb, or spend the day outdoors doing anything physical, then be sure to make an early start and avoid the afternoon heat. Travelling to the national parks and reserves in this area can be a challenge, especially if you’re travelling alone or not staying at lodge that offers transfers. Tour operators generally charge per vehicle with the onus on single travellers to negotiate between themselves to split the costs.

              • il saint marie beach

                Nosy Boraha (Îl Sainte-Marie)

                Nosy Boraha (formerly and still more commonly known as Îl Sainte-Marie) is a sliver of paradise off Madagascar’s northeast coast. A notorious pirate hideout in the late 17th century, it’s believed that this tropical islet once provided shelter for almost 1000 marauders … They would shelter in its calm bays between escapades into the Indian Ocean, plundering vessels as they returned from the West Indies laden with riches, especially spices. The remains of some of their pirate ships still lie just beneath the surface at Baie des Forban, a tantalising prospect for divers and snorkelers. Nowadays, Nosy Boraha’s long, palm-shaded beaches, tropical rainforests and selection of rustic-chic lodges and luxury hotels, provide the perfect hideaway for holidaymakers looking for an even quieter island escape that can be found on Nosy Be.
              • pirogue

                Highlights

                Go whale watching: Nosy Boraha is the best place in Madagascar to be during whale season, which runs from July to September. As they make their way north (many to Antongil Bay on mainland Madagascar to calve), humpback whales filter through the eight-kilometre-wide channel between Nosy Boraha and the mainland. … As they make their way north (many to Antongil Bay on mainland Madagascar to calve), humpback whales filter through the eight-kilometre-wide channel between Nosy Boraha and the mainland. Because of this, they generally drift quite close to the shoreline and spotting them can be as easy as sitting outside your hotel and glancing across the water. Boat tours can also be arranged if you’d like to get up close. Explore the town of Ambodifotatra: Nosy Boraha’s main hub is not much more than a long sandy road but it’s an exciting mix of old French architecture and exotic goods. There’s a market on Tuesdays and Thursdays where you can buy fresh fruit, fish, cloves, coco rum and handicrafts. Those willing to venture a little further can visit the pirate cemetery south of town – there’s even one with the classic skull and crossbones on the headstone! Go snorkelling and diving: The shallow waters and secluded bays around Nosy Boraha make it an excellent destination for snorkelling. The best spots are near Atafana and La Crique on the central western shores where the mix of healthy coral reefs and shallow wrecks make for an enchanting underwater experience. Further out, black-coral reefs and expansive granite-bouldered seabed are the perfect environment for scuba divers to encounter grouper, grey sharks, stingrays and barracuda. There are also a handful of deeper wrecks for more experienced divers to explore. Take a pirogue (dugout canoe) to Île aux Nattes: For solitude and total isolation, this small island off the southern tip of Nosy Boraha is perfection. There are no roads and no cars, the beaches are gorgeous and the coral reefs some of the best in the world.
              • marina

                Practical advice

                Nosy Boraha’s location is a double-edged sword. Its position off Madagascar’s more temperamental east coast has saved it from overdevelopment, but the weather can be unpleasant at certain times of the year (January to March) …
                • Nosy Boraha has some exceptional hotels and lodges and there are regular flights scheduled from Antananarivo and Taomasina. Be aware that these can get severely overbooked during the holiday season (July and August) so last-minute bookings are not advisable.
                • Swimming on Nosy Boraha should be done with caution – while there are several safe, shallow bays, Madagascar’s east coast is known for its strong currents and much of the island is not protected by coral reefs.
                • When booking whale-watching tours, be sure to find a reputable operator that adheres to ethical whale watching guidelines – some have been known to use unethical tactics to try and get visitors as close to the whales as possible.
                • butterfly

                  Taomasina (Tamatave)

                  Taomasina (formerly known as Tamatave) is Madagascar’s main port city. It’s situated on the east coast, on the northern edge of the island’s vast rainforests … The region around it is characterised by long beaches, split by rivers that empty into the sea. High concentrations of unique flora and fauna can be found, as well as exotic plantations of coffee, vanilla, clove, banana, coconut and lychee. The city itself is an enticing mix of bric-a-brac sophistication – boulevards lined with palm trees and upmarket hotels sit alongside old, crumbling colonial buildings and creole houses built on stilts.
                • old buildings

                  Highlights

                  Take a boat trip down the Pangalanes Canal:Just south of Taomasina, at Port Fluvial, you’ll find a series of lakes linked by canals that were built during the French colonial occupation. Their quiet waters are perfect for idling the day away as you glide by on a dug-out pirogue, past the private nature reserves that line the shore … Explore the port town: You can do this officially, with a historic guided tour, or at your leisure with a map from the local tourist office. There are buildings that date back to the early colonial era and three fascinating museums, which highlight everything from the town’s beginnings as a pirate community to local modern art and Malagasy culture. Rent an ATV: Exploring Madagascar’s east coast on a four-wheeler is something for the adventurous, with day tours down to the Pangalanes Canal and overnight trips into the surrounding forests and nature reserves. For added excitement some itineraries include river crossings.
                • port city tour

                  Practical advice

                  As Madagascar’s major port city, Taomasina is one of the few coastal destinations that are relatively easy to get to by land – a good network of roads links it to Antananarivo and the journey takes about seven hours. There are, however, also daily flights from Antananarivo for those who want to minimise travel time …
                  • Taomasina has good facilities – ATMs, supermarkets and a shopping mall all serviced by rickshaws, tuk-tuks and taxis.
                  • As a holiday destination, Taomasina is probably Madagascar’s most weather-dependant – visiting midyear is magical experience whereas during the wetter summer months (December to April) the rainfall can feel endless and there is always the risk of cyclones.
                  • lake ravelobe

                    Mahajanga

                    Mahajanga is the largest commercial port town on Madagascar’s west coast and the hub of the country’s trade with East Africa. As one of the first points of contact between mainland Africa and Madagascar, it has a rich history and a wonderful mix of culture coloured by merchants and trader. … Set along the Bomboteka River delta, there’s lots to see outside of town and most holidaymakers head north to explore the area’s natural highlights from one of several exclusive resorts along the coast. The region is best known for its African baobabs (an introduced species), one of which plays a major role as a traffic island!
                  • sifakas

                    Highlights

                    Visit Cirque Rouge: About 12km north of Mahajanga is a dramatic natural rock formation - a canyon of eroded sandstone with rock pinnacles rising like church spires. Visitors can walk down to the bottom of the valley where a river runs out towards the sea. It’s best visited in the late afternoon when the formations seem to glow in the soft, warm light. … Take the ferry to Katsepy and the Antrema Reserve: Across the bay from Mahajanga is the small fishing village of Katsepy and just beyond it the Antrema Reserve, a magnificent mix of mangrove forests and lakes. The ferry crossing from Mahajanga takes 45 minutes each way and exploring the small fishing village and hiking one of the short park trails is a great way to spend a day. Visit Ankarafantsika National Park: A delight for hikers, this national park is about three hours away from Mahajanga. It’s tourist friendly with well-marked and well-maintained trails and there are also boat tours of Lake Ravelobe available. It’s home to the rare Madagascan radiated tortoise, sifakas, mongoose lemurs and western woolly lemurs, and is the only place in the world where you might spot the golden-brown mongoose lemur. Explore the town: A delight for hikers, this national park is about three hours away from Mahajanga. It’s tourist friendly with well-marked and well-maintained trails and there are also boat tours of Lake Ravelobe available. It’s home to the rare Madagascan radiated tortoise, sifakas, mongoose lemurs and western woolly lemurs, and is the only place in the world where you might spot the golden-brown mongoose lemur.
                  • hiking tsingy

                    Practical advice

                    As a relatively busy port town, Mahajanga has good facilities, including clinics, ATMS and shopping. There’s also good road access from Antananarivo, although it will still take you 10 hours in a private vehicle and significantly more on public transport. Many of the lodges along the coast north of Mahajanga also offer direct fly-in packages from Antananarivo.
                    • toliara beach

                      Toliara (Tulear)

                      Toliara is Madagascar’s southern paradise. Largely centred around St. Augustine’s Bay, this coastal town and its surrounds are blessed with an excellent mix of pristine beaches, clear tidal pools and shallow frontal reefs, making it a wonderful place to snorkel and swim … With less rainfall than the rest of Madagascar and consistently warm days even during winter, it’s also a year-round beach destination. Inland, a handful of truly exotic national parks and reserves are home to unique arid landscapes which support some of the world’s rarest flora and fauna, most famously a family of large spiny plants that look like they belong on another planet.
                    • shark

                      Highlights

                      Explore St Augustine’s Bay: You’ll never tire of this 14-kilometre-long coastline. Stretching south from Toliara’s airport to the Onilahy River mouth, you’ll find a mix of open beaches, rock pools, caves and mangrove forests, while offshore, dhows lean gently over on the white sand, waiting for the tide to lift them up on gently rising, turquoise waters … Go scuba diving and snorkelling: The Toliara region was once Madagascar’s most popular destination for underwater activities, however overfishing and silting have left large parts of the seabed in poor condition. That said, there is still a good reef, called Massif de Roses, at Ifaty, which is 24km north of the town and is where you’ll find the best diving in the area. Visit the Reniala Forest Reserve: There are several small reserves a little way inland. Reniala Forest Reserve is one of the best and home to some of the typical flora and avifauna of the southern region – spiny forests, long-tailed ground rollers, sub-desert mesites – as well as Madagascar’s famous lemurs. Routes are well marked but walks are guided and should be booked in advance. Go hiking, mountain climbing or horse riding at Isalo National Park: It’s a four-hour drive inland from Toliara but a one- or two-night stay at Isalo National Park is incredibly rewarding for active travellers, especially hikers and mountain climbers. Here, deep canyons cut into the rock are home to extraordinary arid flora and succulents and there are several well-marked trails and rock pools in the reserve, plus number of midrange and exquisite upmarket lodges.
                    • isalo national park

                      Practical advice

                      Toliara offers a wide range of accommodation, from affordable backpackers to ultra-luxury lodges …
                      • This is the driest and hottest part of Madagascar, sometimes getting no rainfall at all in a year. If you’re planning any physical activities, then start as early as possible as it gets extremely hot in the afternoons.
                      • It takes two days (20 hours of driving) to get to Toliara from Antananarivo so flying is the best option for most visitors.
                      • While Toliara itself has good facilities for holidaymakers (ATMS, shopping, clinics), the surrounding areas generally have very little so be sure to draw cash and buy supplies before heading out.
                      • fianarantsoa

                        Fianarantsoa

                        About 400km south of Antananarivo is Fianarantsoa, considered the cultural capital of Madagascar. Split into an upper and lower town, Fianarantsoa has a captivating historical charm … The upper, referred to as the ‘old town’, is perched on a hill with the Antranobiriky Church at its centre and there is a good mix of midrange and budget accommodation to be found. However, it’s the surrounding areas that are the biggest drawcard for visitors. A mix of undulating valleys and exotic plantations offer holidaymakers something quite different from the rest of the country. Fianar, as it’s affectionately known, is also the gateway to the eastern rainforests and is best suited to adventurous travellers who don’t mind long travel times, or those happy to hire a vehicle and driver.
                      • ranomafana birding

                        Highlights

                        Explore Ranomafana National Park: Madagascar’s rainforests are a naturalist’s nirvana and Ranomafana is the best park in the country to experience its wild mix of ancient forest and curious wildlife (new species are being discovered every year). There are a variety of well-marked trails inside the park and guides are particularly adept at finding lemurs … Ride the Fianarantsoa-Cote Est Railway: This 163-kilometre-long railway line is built from rails taken from Germany after WW1. It runs between Fianaro and Manakara on the east coast, a full-day trip that departs on Tuesdays and Saturdays with the return journey from Manakara on Wednesdays and Sundays. You’ll cross a total of 67 bridges and go through 48 tunnels – one tunnel is over a kilometre long. Visit the highlands town of Ambalavao: About 56km southwest of Fianar is the remarkable highland town of Ambalavao with its distinct architecture of carved balconies and steep red-tiled roofs. It’s also home to the world-famous Antiamoro Paper Factory, which manufactures a papyrus-type paper infused with dried flowers.
                      • antaimoro paper factory

                        Pratical advice

                        There’s an airport in Fianarantsoa, but no regularly scheduled flights. Getting there takes about seven or eight hours by road from Antananarivo and you’ll need to hire a vehicle with driver or use a taxi-brousse (local bus). As such, Fianar is generally a destination for the hardier traveller and usually done as part of a longer trip from Antananarivo down to the south coast …
                        • You’ll need cash to pay for national park entry permits and the various other conservation fees along the way. Although not particularly expensive, it can get complicated with all the different permits involved, so be sure to get the latest details and prices before you set out.
                        • sugar cube

                          Antsiranana (Diego Suarez)

                          Once coveted by French and British military powers for its strategic importance, the northern port town of Antsiranana has grown into an eclectic holiday destination with a diverse mix of architecture and cultural influences that include Creole, Indian, Colonial and Arab … In the middle of the harbour, a small island (nicknamed ‘the sugarcube’) rises out of the water and the region is ringed by a lush hillscape that’s as dramatic to look at as it is to explore. There’s a wide variety of accommodation available, from budget backpackers to upmarket beach lodges. With its secluded beaches, bustling nightlife and extensive list of adventure activities such as surfing, kitesurfing and trail running, Antsiranana offers something for everyone.
                        • amber mountain national park

                          Highlights

                          Hike French Mountain (Montagne des Francias):For some of the best views of the turquoise bay and colourful town, it’s worth taking the four-hour hike up to the top of French Mountain. The trail is well-maintained and set inside a protected area home to lemurs and baobabs. On clear days you can see the island of Nosy Lonjo from the summit. … Go surfing or kitesurfing: There are several fantastic bays around the east coast of Antsiranana and the conditions in Madagascar’s north are perfect for surfing and, especially, kitesurfing. Sakalava Bay and Andovokonko Bay are two notable examples, which have increased in popularity over the past few years. New lodges and surfer-friendly facilities have started to garner attention from the international surfing community. Visit Amber Mountain National Park (Montagne D’Ambre): This park is home to some of the most pristine montane rainforest in the world. When dry, the its beautiful peaks (massifs) can be reached by road and in general it’s one of Madagascar’s most accessible parks and a great place to get close to the enormous ferns, ancient cycads, chameleons and lemurs that are endemic to the island. Spend the night in Ankarana National Park: This unusual park is also home to more than 100km of underground caves that wind their way beneath the limestone tsingy (rock pinnacles shaped by the wind). Many have their own small ecosystems and some feature underground lakes containing cave-dwelling crocodiles. The best way to experience this park is to book a few nights at one of the upmarket lodges on its outskirts as most include transfers via 4x4 from Antsiranana.
                        • sakalava lodge diego suarez

                          Practical advice

                          Antsiranana is well connected by air with weekly flights from Nosy Be and daily flights from Antananarivo. There are also a few direct flights from a handful of international destinations. …
                          • While the weather here is similar to Madagascar’s eastern zone, the region has its own microclimate and conditions tend to change quite quickly.
                          • Taxis are a good way to get around town, but get an estimate of the price before you set out as unscrupulous drivers do sometimes overcharge.

                        When to go

                        When to visit Madagascar?

                        • January
                          boabab
                          Travelling by road in Madagascar in January is generally ill advised. Heavy rains render some regions completely inaccessible and several hotels and lodges along the west and the east coast close completely for the first two or three months of the year. Nosy Boraha and Taomasina can be particularly unpleasant in January as hot monsoon air currents make it exceptionally humid and the rain can set in for several days. In the extreme north, Antsiranana has its own microclimate and experiences less rainfall than the east but is still prone to cyclones. Similarly, while also less affected by the rainy season, Nosy Be still experiences its heaviest rainfall and high humidity. If you’re set on visiting Madagascar in January, the southern regions, Toliara, Taolagnaro, and to a lesser extent Morondava, provide the best chance of a pleasant holiday although you will still experience peak summer temperatures.
                          • Those willing to take their chances in the rainy season may be rewarded with discounted accommodation prices, cheaper airfares and far fewer other visitors.
                          • Several regions are inaccessible during this time of year, with some completely cut off by swollen rivers. There is a risk of cyclones on the north and east as well as heavy rain that could set in for the entire duration of your stay.
                        • February
                          rain in madagascar
                          Madagascar’s rainy season continues throughout February and there is high chance of heavy rain across most of the country. This is also the month with the highest risk of cyclones. Many lodges and hotels along the east and west coast remain closed during this period although even in these rainy months there are some sunny days. Average midday temperatures are between 25°C (77°F) and 30°C (86°F) on the coast and between 20°C (68°F) and 25°C (77°F) in the central highlands. Much like January, travelling to regions on the east and northeast coasts is a bit of a gamble in February. With February bearing the brunt of the cyclones that make landfall (more than 12 cyclones have hit land in the last decade), it’s best to avoid destinations such as Nosy Boraha and Taomasina during this time. The risk to tourists is actually quite small – warnings come several days in advance and brick and mortar hotels are generally impervious to the storms. Nevertheless, they can completely shut down internal travel and you may not see much beyond your hotel’s doors.
                          • If it’s solitude and bargains you’re after, you’ll pick up the best deals in February. However, accommodation options are limited. Naturalists prepared to brave the rainforests this time of year will be rewarded with incredible sightings of flowering orchids found nowhere else on Earth.
                          • Humid and wet, Madagascar in February isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Many tour operators shut down completely, especially those offering excursions to national parks where dirt tracks become thick with mud. Driving and walking can be nearly impossible in places. Similarly, with many hotels and lodges closed at this time of year, your preferred accommodation may not be available.
                        • March
                          betsiboka
                          March is still very much within Madagascar’s wet season, with recorded rainfall up to 280mm in the northeast and around 25mm in the south. Recent years have seen some of Madagascar’s southern regions receiving almost no rainfall at all, but this is unusual and subject to change. Although rain across the island tends to abate towards the end of the month, swollen rivers and deltas along both the east and west coasts continue to make access, especially to the highlights, near impossible. As such, many lodges and operators remain closed until April. It’s still hot across Madagascar’s coastal regions and especially humid in the north and east. Central Madagascar and the highlands are prone to impressive thunderstorms during this time. With significantly less rainfall than the rest of the country, and sea temperatures generally lower than in the north, the semi-arid south and especially the shores of Toliara and Taolagnaro are your best bet for a sunny beach holiday in March. Off-season specials on Nosy Be and a handful of islands off Madagascar’s northwest coast are also available for those on a budget. Visiting the rainforests in the eastern region around Ranomafana is an excellent option for those interested in reptiles and amphibians, which are especially active during this time.
                          • Off-season specials, affordable flights and fewer tourists makes visiting Madagascar during March very attractive. Wildlife lovers and naturalists interested in smaller forest and wetland fauna will also be rewarded with some wonderful sightings.
                          • Several of Madagascar’s parks and tour operators remain closed during this period. Swollen rivers and muddy tracks continue to make transit very tricky and there is still a risk of the final few cyclones of the season making landfall in the north and northeast.
                        • April
                           isalo national park
                          While there may still be significant rainfall in the east and north, the number of sunny days across the country increases dramatically in April and the countryside, from the highlands down to low-lying valleys, is at its most lush and green. It’s the hottest period of the year on the east coast, with averages temperatures of 30°C (86°F). On the west and south coasts, April marks the start of the dry season and the deciduous forests and deltas around Mahajanga and Morondava, as well as the arid regions north of Tulear, won’t see rain again until November. April marks the start of the breeding season for Madagascar’s lemurs. Males are active throughout the country’s national parks but especially fascinating are the ring-tailed lemurs, best found in Berenty Reserve and Isalo National Park where they engage in ‘stink fights’ – wafting pungent odours and shaking their tails at one another. North-easterly winds bring fantastic ocean swells and draw experienced surfers to the Taolagnaro coastline. The beaches of Tulear, Morondava and Mahajanga are also popular, with little to no rainfall and conditions that are cooler and less humid than the rest of the country.
                          • April is a month of lush landscapes, bounding lemurs and quiet national parks and beaches. It’s very much still ‘shoulder season’ and the beaches and hotels are generally quieter, despite good deals on hotels, private tours and certain flights. There’s great surfing to be had on the southeast coast and the drier west coast is good for snorkelling and scuba diving.
                          • The rainy season isn’t over on the east and northern coasts and accessing the local parks and natural wonders can still be very tricky.
                        • May
                          vakona forest
                          May marks the start of a stable and dry southern winter. There’s no rain at all on the west coast from May until November and average daytime temperatures rarely stray outside 20°C (68°F) to 25°C (77°F). Many wetlands, marshes and deltas are still swollen from the rains, but access gets much as the month progresses and conditions are generally pleasant and sunny in the highlands, despite the occasional chilly morning. While some of Madagascar’s wetlands are still inaccessible in May, fly-in safaris to lodges around Morondava and Mahajanga are now possible, where you’ll find a great mix of quiet beaches and beautiful deciduous forest. It’s a wonderful time to spot small mammals and curious reptiles, including chameleons, giant jumping rats, tenrecs and dwarf lemurs, before they go into hiding for the winter. Madagascar’s interior is green and lush and views from the highlands are spectacular. The peach blossom valleys and lavender scented hillsides around Fianarantsoa are especially pretty.
                          • Cooler temperatures and clear skies make Madagascar’s northern and eastern beaches especially comfortable during May. May is still considered the ‘shoulder season’ and you can expect lower prices from hotels and operators attempting to attract pre-season visitors. On Nosy Be, the weeklong Donia Festival in Hell-Ville is usually at the end of the month, although sometimes it shifts to the first week in June. The festival features live music, a carnival, dance performers, and even a beauty pageant. In Antsiranana, look out for the weeklong Zegny’Zo Arts Festival with its parades and circus acts, street painting and puppetry.
                          • Some inland regions are still inaccessible in May, and you’ll be just too early for the start of the whale watching season which begins in early June.
                        • June
                          pirogue
                          June is the coldest month in Madagascar, but daytime temperatures along the coast remain pleasant, only sometimes dipping below 20°C (68°F). The arid south is particularly cool in the late afternoons, while the highlands are even cooler, with days seldom topping 21°C (70°F) and dropping close to freezing in the evenings. It’s also relatively windy in the highlands, which makes for some magnificent, crystal-clear afternoons. While this is officially Madagascar’s dry season, the north-western and northern microclimates (from Mahajanga up to Antsiranana) continue with their perennial rainfall, with occasional, light showers that rarely last very long. June brings lovely clear weather all around Madagascar’s stunning coastline and although temperatures are relatively cool there are still some great beach days. Isalo National Park is especially pleasant at this time of year, with just the right conditions for warm, comfortable afternoon trekking. June also marks the start of whale season in Madagascar and Taolagnaro, Taomasina and Nosy Boraha are also fantastic for swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving and boat trips.
                          • Madagascar celebrates its independence on 26 June and there are festivities throughout the country. It’s also the start of the whale season on the east coast (although some can be seen off the western coast too). The western archipelagos are best known for turtles; June marks the start of the hatching season when the baby turtles dash for the sea.
                          • The highlands can get very cold in June and many of Madagascar’s forest creatures go into hiding during the winter months. June also marks the start of the island’s busiest season and the more popular hotels and lodges can be harder to book.
                        • July
                          humpback whale
                          July is generally dry across Madagascar although the country’s two microclimate regions (the northeast and northwest) still receive regular, light rains. Temperatures average around 22°C (72°F) along the coast, but can often reach 28°C (82°F), especially in the east. Conditions inland are considerably colder with daytime highs seldom above 21°C (70°F) and cold evenings that dip to almost freezing. Madagascar’s east coast (particularly Nosy Boraha and Taomasina) is at its best from July to September, when humpback whales make their annual migration north. You might even spot males competing for females by breaching and slapping their tails and fins on the water. There’s still great surfing in the southeast around Taolagnaro and trekking conditions are ideal at Ankarana, Isalo and Berenty Reserve, although much of the highlands parks’ endemic wildlife will be less active and harder to see.
                          • July is ideal beach time all across Madagascar and you’ll find excellent surfing conditions along the southeast coast. The island of Nosy Boraha holds a nine-day whale festival (Festival des Baleines) near the beginning of July, with a carnival, concert, singing, film screenings and dancing, as well as a trail run and mountain bike race. Antsiranana also hosts a major highlight on the international trail running calendar in July – Racing Madagascar’s Ultra Trail run.
                          • July (and August) is high season in Madagascar and flights and hotels book up far in advance. Top destinations such as Nosy Be, Nosy Boraha and Tulear can get particularly busy at this time of year. Some of Madagascar’s smaller mammals and reptiles are also largely inactive so it’s not the best time to see the island’s incredible endemic fauna.
                        • August
                          kite surfing
                          August has a similar climate to July. Days are cool with temperatures on the east coast reaching their lowest for the year, occasionally dipping below 20°C (68°F). The west and north coasts have daytime averages of 22°C (72°F) with sporadic showers. The south coast is slightly warmer and bone dry, but its waters are cooler than those in the north, which makes daytime dipping all the more refreshing. Intermittent south-easterly winds buffet the east and north coasts throughout August, with wind speeds ranging from 20 to 40 knots (37 to 74 km/h). August is a great time to explore Madagascar’s arid regions with the Reniala Forest near Tulear and Isalo National Park both at their best for daytime trekking. Nosy Boraha and Taomasina are excellent this time of year with the whale season in full swing. Favourable winds in the bays around Antsiranana (Sakalava Bay is especially good) make this the best time of year for kitesurfing, while the swells around Taolagnaro in the southeast offer up some magnificent surf.
                          • With the weather at its mildest across the board, it’s tough to pick a bad spot in Madagascar in August. For active holidays, August offers the best conditions for trekking, surfing, trail running and kitesurfing.
                          • August is the most popular time for holidaymakers across Madagascar’s coastal regions so you’ll need to book well in advance. Strong winds along the east coast can hamper scuba diving, especially with regard to reduced visibility. Some of Madagascar’s rainforest wildlife goes dormant in winter and there’s much less action in the lowland and montane rainforests.
                        • September
                          lemur family
                          September is springtime in Madagascar and temperatures start to rise gradually across the country. Evenings on the west coast and the highlands remain cooler, while the northwest and northern coasts experience daytime averages of 25°C (77°F) and sporadic showers. The southwest and south are a little warmer and remain dry, with steady winds along the south coast that are not quite strong enough to ruin lazy days on the beach. In general, September’s weather is mild and pleasant across Madagascar and it’s a great time to find yourself anywhere on the island. Spring signals the start of baby lemur season in Madagascar and it’s nothing short of adorable watching mother lemurs and their babes swinging through the trees. Berenty Reserve near Taolagnaro is an especially good place for this, but reserves and national parks across the country are all excellent at this time of year. Ranomafana and the montane rainforests offer exceptional birding in September, with optimal avifauna conditions continuing through to January. September also marks the start of the mating season for Madagascar’s curious fossas and your best bet of spotting these are on the west coast’s Kirindy Reserve, near Morondava.
                          • September is your best chance of spotting whale sharks as they move across the Mozambique Channel to the warm waters off Madagascar’s north-western archipelagos. Fauna and flora flourish at this time of year and the beaches across the country are at their magnificent best.
                          • September’s major disadvantage is its popularity with visitors and smaller boutique hotels and budget backpackers can fill up equally quickly. You’ll need to book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
                        • October
                           make moments
                          As Madagascar ramps up to summer, average temperatures along the coastal regions nudge their way up to 26°C (79°F). Temperatures in the highlands also get markedly warmer and winds drop everywhere, bringing blue skies and clear days. Across the island it stays generally dry except for sporadic showers in northern and eastern zones. Weather-wise, October is arguably Madagascar’s best month, with warm, pleasant days and cool nights throughout the country. It’s impossible to isolate Madagascar’s best regions in October. Throw a dart at the map and you’ve found a great place to be. Baby lemurs and excellent birdlife are still plentiful throughout the parks and the beaches just get better as the temperatures slowly rise. Along the southeast coast the flagging winds mean better visibility for scuba diving and the highlands are magnificent, with mild daytime temperatures that make exploring Fianarantsoa and the surrounding valleys bliss.
                          • The town of Sambava, in Madagascar’s northeast, hosts the festival of Festivanille, which celebrates the island’s vanilla industry. There’s also the Malagasy VTT Raid, a six-day, 300km, mountain bike race up the coast from Taolagaro. Scuba diving is also at its best this time of year, and with the local school holidays over, it’s also quieter across the country.
                          • There are no real disadvantages in September other than securing your bookings and, perhaps, struggling to leave.
                        • November
                          beach
                          November marks the start of the rainy season in central and eastern Madagascar, while the west and south coasts remain relatively dry. Average temperatures continue to climb across the country with daytime highs reaching over 30°C (86°F) and humidity building rapidly in the east and north. The long eastern escarpment catches the southeast trade winds, slowly gathering the deluge that will soon be unleashed over the windward rainforests. November is a risky time to visit Madagascar, but warm, clear days can still be found across the country. Madagascar’s south and west coasts are the last to receive rain and tend to remain relatively clear and fine during November. Scuba diving and snorkelling is excellent around Nosy Be and Morondava, where water temperatures can reach a balmy 32°C (90°F). Madagascar’s northern microclimate zone, around Antsiranana, is also generally pleasant, offering a mix of great beach days and a genuine rainforest feel. Visit the surrounding montane regions, such as Mount Amber, for superb sightings of lemurs, chameleons, colourful amphibians and hundreds of birds.
                          • Warm waters along the northwest and dry conditions in the south and southwest don’t rule out the great beach days just yet. It’s also generally quieter this time of year as visitor numbers drop off briefly before rising again for Christmas.
                          • The east coast can get very wet in November, with high humidity that makes the days hot and sticky.
                        • December
                          jumping frog
                          December is Madagascar’s hottest month with highs of 33°C (92°F) in the north, east and west, and still hotter days in the south as the sun climbs directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Although hot, there’s often a cool sea breeze along many of the coastal regions, reducing the humidity and providing some relief. With the wet season reaching its peak, you can expect to see rain roughly two out of every three days in the east and northeast, with slightly drier conditions in the west, and the least rain falling in the south. The northern and north-western archipelagos of Nosy Be and Antsiranana, as well as the southern beaches of Tulear, are generally the best bet for a beach holiday in December. The southern beaches may remain completely dry and showers in the north and west usually only last a few hours. There’s still good surfing at Taolagnora (and especially Monseigneur Bay) in December, but the weather is less predictable, with the chance of much heavier rain. Warm daytime temperatures and abundant fauna make the highlands attractive this time of year.
                          • Each December, for just a few days, Madagascar jumping frogs gather to mate in the marshlands of Ranomafana, and the males turn a bright canary yellow in order to attract a mate. There’s also the Mada Sakafo Food Festival which takes place in Antananarivo. Happily, jumping frogs are not on the menu.
                          • Heavy rain begins to make many of Madagascar’s parks and reserves inaccessible and except for the far south, beach days are certainly not guaranteed. The December holiday season is also a busy time in the major centres and hotels and lodges can book up far in advance.

                        Why Madagascar?

                        As far as genuinely fascinating destinations go, you can’t beat Madagascar. Beyond the exported images of baobabs and beaches are ancient forests and wetlands filled with peculiar creatures, secret bays once bedevilled by pirates and crumbling citadels built by feuding kings and queens. And that’s just the start…

                        baobab trees

                        This is because on Madagascar – the oldest island on Earth – two very contradictory influences have converged to create something quite sublime. On the one hand is a natural history that has unfolded in almost total isolation. On the other is a melting pot of humanity that’s left virtually no one out. Indonesian, African, Arabic, European – all lay claim to an inextricable mishmash of culture that colours Madagascar’s anthropology. And it’s these two seemingly opposed forces - isolation and accessibility - that together have created an island that is truly, in every sense of the word, unique.

                        For visitors, it’s a recipe that couldn’t be more intoxicating. There are endless shores and ancient reefs, forested trails and lazy rivers. There are tropical islets filled with the smell of ylang-ylang blossoms, valleys that radiate with the scent of lavender and markets where vanilla wafts between pots steaming the air with the aroma of boiling rice. You can hike along vast and deep terracotta canyons that glow red at dusk, ride through primordial jungles on mid-century railroads or zoom through pastel-coloured coastal towns in yellow tuk-tuks. You can explore underground caves home to troglodyte crocodiles, climb massifs once fortified by Allied soldiers or brave suspension bridges that dangle between precipitous spires of limestone carved by the wind. You can also just take your towel down to the beach, order a bottomless cocktail and a barrel of seafood and do absolutely nothing.

                        beach holiday

                        You cannot, however, do them all. And therein lies the challenge for anyone planning a holiday in Madagascar. At more than half a million square kilometres it is the fourth-largest island in the world. It spans more than 15 degrees of latitude and straddles the southernmost tropic. Its climate, landscape and infrastructure are as varied as they are on some entire continents. Variations in culture, language and customs are not far behind. To travel from the east to west coast by 4x4 could take as much as three full days. From north to south you can easily triple that.

                        And so, what makes Madagascar most unique of all is how to plan a holiday here. Whether it’s the swashbuckling shores of the south, the languid beaches of the north, rainforests of the east or semi-arid wonderlands of the southwest, each region is poised to offer different types of traveller exactly what they are looking for, all the while remaining quintessentially Madagascan.

                        city

                        Experiencing all that Madagascar has to offer would take even the most expedient traveller at least a year. The distances are too great and the infrastructure simply too poor to zip from one end to the other, and there’s just no way to tick all the boxes on a two- or even three-week-long holiday. The most enjoyable way to experience this unique destination is to do it one region at a time. With its mix of world-class beaches, exotic cuisine, sublime wildlife and cultural interactions, not to mention superb hospitality and variety of hotels and lodges in all the right places, you won’t feel like you’re missing out by taking it slow. This is an island to experience one magnificent region at a time, with the added bonus that by revisiting you’ll be supporting the conservation organisations and local traders and businesspeople that depend significantly on tourism to keep this wonderful destination going.

                        Fauna and flora of Madagascar

                        To really appreciate the diversity of Madagascar’s flora and fauna you first need to understand its unique geological history. Separated from Africa almost 100 million years ago, the base of all its plants and animals is original marooned stock from the Gondwana supercontinent. While those on the African and South American continents continued to evolve in constantly changing environments, Madagascar’s ancient species were left to develop in relative isolation, miles from anywhere, for millions of years. Sporadic landings from floating and flying seeds (sometimes on air currents and sometimes in the stomach of seabirds) and brief land bridge across the Mozambique Channel, only further contributed to Madagascar becoming its weirdest, and most wonderful self.

                        fauna

                        Some of its more bizarre creations – 400-kilogram elephant birds, giant sloths the size of silverback gorillas and dwarf hippos a quarter the size of their continental brethren – have been driven to extinction by human colonisation. However, it’s still home to more than 200,000 species of fauna and flora, including 11,000 endemic plant species, 420 different kinds of endemic reptiles, five complete bird families and a variety of mammal species found nowhere else on earth. Per square kilometres this makes Madagascar one of the most biodiverse places on the plane, and one of the world’s officially recognised biodiversity hotspots.

                        fossa

                        For travellers trying to decide how to immerse themselves in this natural wonderland, it’s best to understand Madagascar as an island of two parts. The eastern flank is mostly made up of dense rainforest, separated from the rest of the island by a long, arched spine of mountains that runs down the length of the country, a few kilometres east of centre. West of the escarpment is drier, made up initially of stark gnarled highlands and then deciduous trees and savannah grasslands as the mountains descend into rolling hills and valleys. Nearer the western shores, the landscape is a mix of marshlands and delta and mangrove swamps, with some arid regions stretching all the way to the coast. The south is mostly arid, with spiny forests, succulents and hardy woods dominating much of the landscape before reaching the shores. The north has its own microclimate. It’s closer to the equator and hemmed in by a half moon of towering massifs making it tropical and humid, but also susceptible to cyclones.

                        In the moist rainforests, you’ll find ancient cycads, giant ferns, orchids and long-stemmed lianas stretching across the damp undergrowth. Red-bellied-, and rare cyanide-eating golden-bamboo lemurs hang out in the dense canopies. Still more peculiar creations, such as giraffe-necked weevils, giant millipedes, satanic leaf-tailed geckos and a very special species of chameleon no larger than your thumbnail, all hide in the undergrowth.

                        vanilla bean orchid

                        Though you’ll find far fewer species in the western deciduous forests, wetlands and arid regions, they are no less strange. These dynamic regions are home to species such as radiated tortoises, hog-nosed snakes, net-throwing spiders, fossas, dancing sifakas, vasa parrots, skinks, plate lizards, cave-dwelling crocodiles and large boas.

                        Found throughout the island are baobabs, including many endemics. Of the nine species of baobab found in the world, six grow exclusively in Madagascar.

                        Seabirds are also common around the island although, in comparison to its litany of insects, reptiles and small mammals, Madagascar’s population of birds is surprisingly small.

                        fish

                        In terms of marine life, Madagascar shares much of its variety with the western shores of Africa. Perennial visitors include hawksbill and green turtles, and humpback whales frequent its eastern bays on their mid-year migration from Antarctica. Madagascar is also notorious for sharks. Its east coast is a well-documented hotspot and as such many bathers prefer the west where the shallow reefs not only offer more protection, but also give snorkelers and divers a larger variety of tropical sightings (more so even than the Red Sea) that includes a wild menagerie of curiosities, such as squirrelfish, batfish, boxfish, flutefish, lionfish, butterflyfish and damselfish.

                        Type of traveller

                        What type of traveller are you?

                        • Solo travel in Madagascar

                          Travelling alone can be daunting regardless of where in the world you go. On a remote island with a beleaguered infrastructure, it can seem all the more formidable. The good news is that Madagascar is absolutely fantastic for solo travellers. But that’s only provided you take one essential item: the right (casual) attitude. With a laid-back approach and, especially, a relaxed notion of time, solo travellers will find Madagascar safe, fun and rich with cultural and natural experiences, whether travelling on foot, by bicycle, or using rented or public transport.

                          solo travel

                          The best region for solo travel in Madagascar depends on two factors: your interests and the time of year. Many solo travellers gravitate to the surfing and kitesurfing hotspots of Antsiranana and Taolagnaro, with optimal conditions between April and September. The bars and cafes of Nosy Be, Nosy Boraha, Taomasina and Tulear also attract a small community of independent travellers and are at their busiest between June and November. On the other hand, if you’re travelling solo to escape the crowds then you’ll have no problem finding a quieter spot. Even the busiest resorts are relatively quiet by world standards, but try April, May or November for the best combination of good weather and fewest people.

                          • Highlights

                            For the truly independent, self-guided city tours in Taomasina, Antsiranana, Taolagnaro and Mahajanga allow solo travellers to wander the streets and take in the history and culture of these key port towns in their own time; maps are available the towns’ tourist offices. Joining a group is also a great way for solo travellers to meet new people and split costs. Try one of the adventure activities around Taomasina, such as scuba diving, ATV excursions or boat trips down the Pangalanes Canal. For solo travellers on less tight budgets, most of the country’s luxury lodges provide all-inclusive, often highly customisable packages, with a wide range of activities to suit your taste.


                          • Travel tips
                            • In general, there isn’t much of a backpacker vibe in Madagascar, so if you’re planning to wing it you should be prepared to get to know the locals or spend much of your time on your own.
                            • One major disadvantage is the cost of tours and guided trips into the national parks and reserves. Most operators, and certainly all national parks, charge a flat rate for guides (who are compulsory). Unless you find a group to split the costs, you’ll need to pay the full guide rate even if you’re on your own. The same applies to hiring a vehicle with driver, which is the only way to access large areas of Madagascar.
                            • Women travelling alone will likely encounter men making uninvited approaches. In general Madagasy men are respectful and a firm ‘no’ is usually enough.
                        • Honeymoon in Madagascar

                          beach dining

                          A beach holiday in Madagascar has all the qualities of a classic romance – long walks along white-sand beaches, tropical sunsets and warm evenings under a blanket of stars. That said, there is such an intoxicating mix of exotic flavours, sights and smells that it doesn’t really matter where you are in the country, there’s always the feeling that you might be swept up in a romance at any time. Madagascar has come a long way in the past few years and there’s increasing choice for romantic visitors. From luxury lodges with honeymoon specials, to fly-in safaris and private-hire catamarans, Madagascar leaves it up to you to set the scene for your next romantic escape.

                          For complete, luxurious, romantic isolation head to Madagascar’s west coast, just north of Mahajanga. Here you’ll find a selection of stunning fly-in resorts where you’ll feel like you have the beautiful beaches all to yourselves. The boutique hotels and upmarket lodges of Nosy Be and Nosy Boraha are also fantastic romantic islands for couples, with palm-tree-lined beaches and clear, turquoise waters. On mainland Madagascar, Antsiranana in the north and Tulear in the south both offer couples the option of mixing luxury oceanside accommodation with the spectacular natural highlights of Amber Mountain National Park and Reniala Forest Reserve. For a truly wild break, Berenty Special Reserve and Ranomafana National Park set an unforgettable scene for romance amongst some of Madagascar’s most breathtaking forest scenery.

                          • Highlights

                            Whether it’s a honeymoon, anniversary, or a just an impromptu getaway, a romantic holiday in Madagascar ticks all the boxes. You can take a private boat trip to the Radama and Mitsio island archipelagos near Nosy Be, or watch whales lobtail and breach from the shore on Nosy Boraha. You could learn to surf together in Taolagnaro or search for lemurs on a jungle trek. Of course, and probably most importantly, you can also find a secluded bay in Ifaty, Tulear, or Morondava, and simply while away a sparkling afternoon in each other’s company.


                          • Travel tips
                            • Some hotels and lodges – especially the smaller more bespoke establishments – are exclusively childfree. It’s worth seeking these out for an uninterrupted romantic getaway.
                            • Be aware that many of the upmarket and exclusive hotels and lodges (especially on Nosy Be and Nosy Boraha) list their prices for accommodation as ‘per person’, whereas the rest of Madagascar it’s generally quoted as ‘per room’.
                            • Madagascar is one of the relatively few African countries where homosexuality is not a crime, although public displays of affection, regardless of sexual orientation, are unusual in Malagasy culture and are best avoided.
                        • Family holiday in Madagascar

                          Immersive wilderness experiences and an endless supply of adventure activities make Madagascar an amazing destination for enquiring minds. There’s snorkelling and kayaking and horse riding and climbing, and the absence of big game means your kids can get close to weird and wonderful creatures and return home with photos of animals that their friends won’t believe exist. Despite all this, you should consider a family holiday to Madagascar carefully. Poor infrastructure can mean long transit times so it’s best to keep focussed on a specific town or region.

                          snorkelling

                          Unless you’re feeling very brave, it’s highly recommended that you centre your family holiday around a child-friendly lodge or hotel. These offer activities for children, private, comfortable transfers, and have experience in providing safe and entertaining itineraries for kids. Suitable hotels are increasingly common across the country, but there are good options around Isalo National Park, which offer short walks directly from the premises, horse riding, mountain biking and on-site play areas. Hotels in Tulear, Nosy Be and Nosy Boraha also have child-friendly activities and staff who are trained to deal with young ones.

                          • Highlights

                            Horse riding in Isalo National Park is a magical experience that allows the whole family to explore the canyons and arid flora and fauna without having to walk large distances. A guided walk at the top of Mount Amber National Park is also perfect for kids and in the dry season (April to November) it’s possible to drive all the way up to the main picnic site which eliminates the long trek usually needed to get there. At the top, there are short walking circuits, many on easy boardwalk trails that wind their way past Madagascar’s ancient mega flora. Snorkelling in the warm waters around Nosy Be is also safe thanks to a large offshore reef, which keeps the shallows relatively calm and clear. A visit to the pirate cemetery on Nosy Boraha (where one of the gravestones has a skull and crossbones on the headstone) is certain to fire up the imagination of young minds interested in myth and adventure.


                          • Travel tips
                            • While Malagasy culture is very child friendly, you won’t find many concessions to travelling families outside the dedicated family hotels and lodges. Many tour operators, for example, don’t accommodate children under eight years old and few restaurants anywhere have high-chairs available.
                            • You’ll certainly need to stock up on child-specific supplies (high SPF sunscreen, medication, formula, insect repellent, travel sickness tablets etc.) before you leave, as you won’t find any of these easily once there.
                            • While travelling on public transport with young kids can be stressful, it’s worth noting that children five years old and under generally go for free on local busses.

                        Budgeting for Madagascar

                        • Budget holidays in Madagascar

                          Travelling on a budget in Madagascar can be exciting and immersive, provided you’re willing to accept that it may not always be comfortable. Distances are significant and public transport generally old and crowded; the most affordable way get around takes time and often involves a few bumps! Antananarivo has the biggest selection of budget accommodation, offering the widest variety of low-cost guesthouses, hostels and basic rooms. Further afield, you’ll find budget hostels and hotels close to the beaches in Taolagnaro, Antsiranana and Tulear as well as in tourist hotspots such as Nosy Be. Across the rest of the island, there’s budget accommodation almost everywhere in the form of plain, simple rooms with shared ablutions and facilities

                          taolagnaro
                          • Highlights

                            Great surfing at great prices is one of Madagascar’s major highlights. For budget surf rentals and lessons, head to Taolagnaro where you can hire a surfboard at Ankoba Beach or Monseigneur Bay for about 20,000Ar ($5.50) a day. Surf lessons cost about the same. For a very affordable taste of Malagasy history and culture, take a self-guided walking tour in Taolagnaro, Tulear, Mahajanga or Fianarantsoa. Simply buy a cheap map from the local tourism offices in each town.


                          • Travel tips
                            • Flights to Madagascar can be pricey, and internal transfers are also often quite steep. These can be as much as $400 or more for a return from Antananarivo so it’s important to plan your route with care. Even better, fly directly to your preferred stretch of coast and explore the surrounding area from there. Local taxi-brousse (buses) will get you practically anywhere on the island, but while a short journey can be fun and interesting, longer routes may quickly become an ordeal. Fares are low, and depend on distance. A trip from Antananarivo to Tulear takes about 20 hours, for example, and will cost you around 60,000Ar ($16.50) one way.
                            • Once arrived, you’ll find Madagascar an extremely affordable island destination, but it’s even better value if you’re travelling as couple or – first prize – in a group. Tours, activities, vehicle hire and guide fees are rarely available on a per person basis, which means you’ll pay the same whether you’re on your own or with company. This can also apply when booking rooms, which are sometimes charged at the same rate for single or double occupancy. That said, a simple double room will start at 18,000Ar ($5) a night, although expect to pay more in the harder-to-reach, exclusive areas. One option is to find the less expensive rooms a little further from the main beaches and hire a scooter for about 35,000Ar ($9.50) a day. This will not only allow you to reach the more exclusive, remote areas, but adds a degree of independence and the ability to explore a little inland.

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                        • An affordable holiday in Madagascar

                          Although flights are relatively expensive, Madagascar is much more affordable once you land. There are good-value, mid-range hotels and lodges to be found throughout the island and its archipelagos, although the widest variety is in and around the mainland beach towns of Antsiranana, Taomasina, Tulear and Morondava. Here you can choose between half-board lodges or self-catering apartments, with nearby restaurants and cafes, vibrant nightlife and easy access to a variety of tour operators. Tours can be arranged into the nearby parks and reserves, or there’s also the option of staying just outside a park’s borders where there’s almost always a good selection of reasonably-priced lodges and hotels offering transfers and guided tours. The eastern rainforests and the deciduous parks in the west have excellent nearby accommodation and tend to be more popular. The north and arid south also have good options, but on the whole, are quieter.

                          tulear surf camp
                          Tuleur Surf Camp
                          • Highlights

                            Madagascar offers a wonderful sense of freedom and spontaneity for travellers on a mid-range budget. Bespoke itineraries, guided tours and even vehicle hire (almost always only bookable with a driver included) can be arranged at reasonable rates, which means combining the magic of Madagascar’s beaches with its natural marvels – without having to worry about logistics. Superb combinations include Tulear and Isalo National Park; Morondava and Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park; Nosy Be, Antsiranana and Ankarana National Park; and Taolagnaro and Berenty Reserve. Prices depend largely on the region, season, scope of activities and type of accommodation, but $1700 a person is a rough benchmark for a six- night custom tour with transfers, accommodation, activities, and most meals included. Alternatively, a 4x4 with driver costs around 500,000Ar ($135) a day, while half-day excursions (whale spotting by boat from Nosy Boraha; island-hopping from Nosy Be; horse-riding in Isalo National Park) are generally around 200,000Ar ($55) a person.


                          • Travel tips

                            Organising an itinerary in Madagascar yourself can be frustrating and time consuming. If your budget allows, it’s almost always better to spend a little more on a booking a tour through an established, trusted operator that knows the country well. You’ll spend more time enjoying the islands’ splendours and less being frustrated by tricky travel arrangements and logistics. Keep this in mind when comparing prices – a few extra bucks can save a lot of headaches. You can pick up good deals by travelling in the shoulder months of April, May and October, and even better ones if you’re prepared to brave the rains in January and February, although you risk the chance of a washed-out holiday. If you’re not flying directly to any of the coastal towns, then select itineraries closer to Antananarivo – Morondava, Taomasina, Nosy Boraha and Fianarantsoa are good options. Expect to pay around 200,000Ar ($55) a couple a night for mid-range, half-board lodges and about half that for self-catering. Mid-range accommodation on the outskirts of Madagascar’s national parks is around 400,000Ar ($110) for a double room including transfers.


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                        • Luxury holiday in Madagascar

                          If it’s luxury you’re looking for then Madagascar is your oyster, and where to find its pearls is entirely up to you. For chilled-out beach bliss, cocktails and massages, look no further than the upmarket lodges around Nosy Be, Mahajanga and Antsiranana. If it’s Madagascar’s unique fauna and flora that fascinates you, you’ll find almost all of the national parks have at least one exclusive resort nearby. There are private bungalows that look out onto sculpted ‘forests’ of tsingy and luxury tented camps with seemingly prehistoric mountain views. Then there’s French villas, board walked jungle gems and even a handful of modern designer hideaways secreted away in secluded bays. For opulence and privacy with a gourmet flair, there are some excellent hidden treasures around St. Augustine’s Bay and also along the beaches north of Mahajanga.

                          miavana resort
                          miavana resort
                          • Highlights

                            Few places in the world are as varied and exotic as Madagascar. With it’s incredible wildlife, unique flora and stunning natural landscapes it’s a dream destination which offers a luxury experience like no other. Choose somewhere remote and intimate and you’ll likely have coral reefs, squeaky white-sand beaches, private pirogue cruises and enchanting forest trails all to yourself. Or why not charter a catamaran with a private chef and let yourself be whisked off for a beach picnic with not a soul around for miles. As a growing luxury destination, Madagascar is all about tailor-made itineraries. Your greatest indulgence here is the freedom to choose.


                          • Travel tips

                            You’ll need to book well in advance if you’re planning to travel during peak season (June to September). Although growing slowly, the number of exclusive hotels and lodges in Madagascar is still relatively small and they tend to book up fast. If you’re spending more than a week (recommended for such a large, varied island), request a few itinerary options from your hotel or tour operator. Many have fantastic ‘beach and bush’ options with partnership arrangements that mean fewer snags and, often, discounts. Several upmarket and boutique hotels offer fly-in packages, which are great for maximising your holiday time and eliminating the chance a frustrating transfer. Almost all large hotels and luxury lodges take credit cards (very few, if any, take American Express), but it’s a good idea to carry some local cash for tips and souvenirs.


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