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.
Our recommended tour
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
When to visit Madagascar?
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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.