10 BEST Places to Visit in Madagascar

Madagascar is the largest island in Africa and is bit expensive but the country is very cheap and different from other African countries. It is well known for lemurs, colorful chameleons, stunning orchids, and towering baobab trees. Madagascar is home to some of the world's most unique flora and fauna.

Don't be fooled into thinking that Madagascar offers just a typical beach holiday. Quite the opposite - it's much more than that. The fourth-largest island in the world offers so much regardless of whether you want an adventure or a relaxing time to start a journey of self-discovery. Therefore, it's difficult to top an active vacation in Madagascar.

As only a few countries in the world offer as much biodiversity, you can enjoy meeting new species while falling in love with stunning nature. Further in this article, we'll let you know what to expect in Madagascar and what kind of exciting activities you can try.

Madagascar means the country of 'moramora,' meaning 'no hurry'. Madagascar provides a perfect environment for growing poinsettias. When folded in half, the shape of a poinsettia leaf looks just like that of the island of Madagascar. With an area of over 587,000 square kilometres, Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world, after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo.

Tsingy de Bemaraha, Isalo National Park, Ile Sainte Marie, Nosy Be, Avenue of the Baobabs, Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, Ranomafana National Park, Andasibe-Mantadia and others are most visited tourist attractions in Madagascar. There are paradisiacal spots on the coast that are equipped for tourism, but the inland is only for the adventurous, as conditions are rough.

This large island off Africa was isolated from the landmass for 88 million years, and is home to an abundance of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. It is nicknamed the 8th continent. Excluding Antarctica, Madagascar was the second-last significant landmass to be reached by humans. It was only settled at around 500 AD. Sespite it being less than 400 km off the African coast, African colonists were beaten to the island by Austronesians from across the Indian Ocean!

Madagascar possesses species of animals and plants which are unique in the world as a result of the isolation produced after the separation, millions of years ago, from the rest of the African continent and later from India. This fact favored the evolution of flora and fauna that has been different from that of any other part of our planet and hence its exclusivity.

Madagascar is so much more than your regular beach holiday. Not only will you be able to see species that can't be seen anywhere else, but you can also have an adventure of your life and try new, exciting things. However, always have in mind that the most important thing is to protect yourself while traveling. Therefore, if you are trying something bold and risky, make sure to have a professional to guide you through the process.

best places to visit in madagascar

Can there be a better reason to visit a country than to see species that you have never seen before? This guide is designed to help the independent traveler who is planning his trip to this country.

1. Tsingy de Bemahara National Park

Don't miss out on seeing a unique Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park or Stone forest as it's different from anything you've ever seen. Found in northwest Madagascar, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its extremely jagged landscape. Its endless cathedral-like spires of limestone have been gouged out by rain and groundwater over millennia.

Because the spires are so inaccessible, they often contain endemic species unique to each rock formation. The many needles of rock have been eroded by streams into a labyrinth of limestone, and are home to an exceptional number of endemic species. Visit the Grand Tsingy de Bemaraha.

The grand Tsingy de Bemaraha is known for its pointed rock formations, karstic mountains molded by the underground waters that have eroded it to give it that peculiar shape, so seen in the Madagascar guides. Embark on the adventure of descending by canoe down the Tsiribihina River, camping on the river bank and being surprised discovering the wildest fauna. The fastest option is to go by road to Belo-sur-Tsiribihina and from there to Bekopaka.

2. Morondava

Morondava is divided between the coastal town and the area of Nosy Kely, near the beach of Bethany. Going to Madagascar is not like going on an average beach holiday, although the beaches there are spectacular and will leave you speechless. Morondava is a quiet coastal town in western Madagascar famous for being only a few kilometers from one of the most visited places in the country, Avenue of the Baobabs.

Marvel at magnificent baobab trees, or, as they're often called, Trees of Life. In Madagascar, you can find six types of endemic baobab. Although you can see these trees all over the island, make sure to stroll down the Avenue of the Baobabs. You can take amazing photos standing next to trees that are as high as 100ft.

Undoubtedly one of the most famous places in Madagascar is this avenue in which the protagonists are the baobabs. The avenue is very close to Morondava. To top it all off, there are many unique plants in Madagascar, some of them entire unique families. Baobab trees are an absolute icon of the island, and six of the world's nine baobab species are only found on Madagascar.

This includes by far the largest and most spectacular one, Grandidier's baobab. There's also the bizarre-looking octopus tree, which is 10 metres tall and densely covered in spines.

Madagascar periwinkle might look normal enough, but it's the only source of the important drugs vincristine and vinblastine, used in the treatment of cancer.

3. Ranomafana National Park

The cutest things in Madagascar are definitely the lemurs. Lemurs are an adorable species Madagascar is most famous for. They are also the most iconic species, and there are over 100 sub-species that are equally adorable. Make sure to explore Ranomafana National Park. You'll be able to see over 12 different types of lemurs there while also being surrounded by gorgeous nature.

4. Anja Community Reserve

The Anja reserve is very close to the town of Ambalavao. In this small reserve enjoy the catta or ring-tailed lemurs, the best-known animals of this island of Africa.

5. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

The Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is located about 20 kilometers from Andasive. The main protagonist is the dreaded fossa, the largest predator in Madagascar.

6. Isalo National Park

Another place that must be on your exploring list is Isalo National Park, which is a Madagascar version of the American Grand Canyon. Brace yourself for extreme adventures, sensational views, and close encounters with wildlife.

7. Antananarivo

Despite being the capital of the country, Antananarivo or Tana is not what one imagines and has nothing to do with a big city. The best way to reach there is to take cargo ferry from Tanzania to Comoros and Comoros to Mahajanga in Madagascar or you can fly from Nairobi to Tana which is cheaper than other options.

Antsirabe is located in the central area of the country. Ambositra is the capital of craftsmanship in Madagascar, a town in the central lands where you can find wood carvings, raffia baskets or marquetry.

8. Nosy Be

Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most exciting things you can try during your active vacation in Madagascar. Regardless of if you're an experienced diver or it's something you've always wanted to try, there are many opportunities for scuba diving in Madagascar. Scuba diving is one of the ideas for an active vacation in Madagascar.

If you are up for a true adrenaline rush, maybe you should try swimming with the world's largest fish - the whale shark. Between September and December, these fish gather to feed on blooming plankton around the island of Nosy Be. However, there's no need to be scared as these species are docile and do not pose a threat to people.

As Madagascar is home to the world’s third-largest coral reef system, you'll love seeing some of the 6,000 marine species that live there. Most of them are unique to Madagascar. The most popular diving place is the island of Nosy Be, where you can see dolphins, sharks, manta rays, and whales.

If you enjoy surfing, you'll be delighted to hear you can surf in Madagascar from May to October. Even if this is something you are still considering trying, it's excellent for beginners.

The best place for experienced surfers to ride waves is in the southwest part of the island, where you can find many high-quality surf spots. We did a little research, and here are the best places for surfers in Madagascar:

Corre - suitable for all levels of surfers, and you can access it via Tamatave on the west coast.

Ankaninoof - you can access it only by boat from Tamatave, and it's only recommended for experienced surfers. Also, make sure to watch out as there are sharks.

Flame balls - it's located in the Anakao area, it can only be accessed by boat, and it's only recommended for extremely experienced surfers.

9. Reserva Analamazoatra

Very close to the small town of Andasive is the Analamazaotra reserve, one of the parks where you can see the indri, the largest lemur of all. If you love hiking and exploring new places while also encountering unique species, you'll enjoy Madagascar. The oldest island on Earth has amazing flora and fauna - 90% of all species in Madagascar live only there.

Unusually, all the rodents on Madagascar belong to a single African family - the nesomyids. The most well-known would be the Malagasy giant rat, which has the size and appearance of a rabbit, and can jump a metre into the air. Another interesting one is the beautifully named bastard big-footed mouse. Among its bird-life are many beautiful feathered friends, such as the Madagascar blue pigeon.

Madagascan fish-eagle is possibly the rarest species of raptors in the world. Vangas are a group of birds which are typically black and white, resembling shrikes. However, there are several interesting variations and outliers - namely, the helmet vanga, which has a thick, bright blue bill, the sickle-billed vanga, which uses its thin, curved beak to probe soil, and the brilliantly coloured blue vanga.

The cuckoo-roller, a single species which has an entire order to itself, the Leptosomiformes is quite strange for many reasons. It has an oversized head, with a stout beak and eyes set back far. Its feet are zygodactylous, with two toes facing forwards and two backward. Also, they’re unique among birds in that they are sit-and-wait ambush predators.

The asities are some of the planet’s most beautiful perching birds. The males of most species have brightly coloured fleshy wattles on their faces. The colour of these wattles is created by arrays of collagen fibres which reflect light in a specific way - in fact, no other animals have this. Additionally, asities have some of the shortest tails of any birds.

As well as mammals, Madagascar is also well-known for its chameleon fauna. In fact, about half of the world’s chameleon species live in this one island. Among them is the world’s largest chameleon, the Parson's chameleon. As well as the world's smallest, Brookesia micra. At around an inch in length, it's also one of the world's smallest reptiles.

And there's also Labord's chameleon, which has the shortest lifespan of any land vertebrate. It lives for only 4–5 months! They always hatch in November, then reach adulthood in January, mate and lay eggs in February, and die shortly thereafter. Because of this life cycle, there is an annual 7-month period when the species is extinct in the wild.

Coincidentally, Madagascar is also the only home of the world's longest-lived land vertebrate, and it too is a reptile - the radiated tortoise. Tu'i Malila, a captive individual, died in 1965 at the age of 188. This makes it the oldest tetrapod whose age has been determined with certainty. That being said, there is currently a living Seychelles tortoise who might be 187, and one Aldabra giant tortoise died at an unverified 255, so it might lose its crown in time.

The two Madagascar blind-snakes are the sole species in the family Xenotyphlopidae. As its name suggests, it is completely blind. The head has a tough shield, used for burrowing, which makes it appear almost perfectly vertical. Sadly, it's critically endangered, and may inhabit only about 10 square kilometres of land.

There is also the critically endangered Madagascan big-headed turtle. As its name suggests, its most noticeable feature is its very large head. Evolutionarily, it's highly unique, having diverged from all other turtles 80 million years ago. Because of this, it is the highest land vertebrate on the EDGE list, which ranks species based on their endangerment as well as their uniqueness.

There is a near-endemic family (also found in Mayotte, a small island) known as the mantellas, which are essentially the Malagasy answer to Latin America's poison dart frogs. Another example of convergent evolution at work. Another notable group are the tomato frogs, in which the females are very large and bright red.

The giraffe weevil is a favourite of many a macrophotographer. As you've probably guessed, the reason it's called the giraffe weevil is because of its huge, extended neck. There are many species all over the world in this group, but Madagascar has an especially high number of them. They're famous for their macabre habit of drinking the blood of their own larvae in lean times. One Madagascan species, Mystrium capillae, can snap its jaws shut with dumbfounding speeds of 90 metres per second.

Mayflies are usually a few millimetres in length, but the larvae of this genus reach seven centimetres. They’re aquatic, and have rows of feathery gills on each side, which ripple in an almost mesmerizing way. Madagascar is a hotspot of mayfly diversity, with around 200 species (of which all but one are endemic).

The Madagascan fire millipede is the most beautiful myriapod in the world. Scientifically termed Aphistogoniulus corallipes, its carapace is scarlet red and black, while its legs are a fiery orange colour. Because of their attractive colours, they are popular as pets.

The Madagascar shell-squatting spider, Olios coenobiticus uses threads of silk to hoist snail shells off the ground, creating a home for the spider which is sheltered and safe from predators. This could even be seen as tool use. Unfortunately, very little is known about the shell-squatting spider.

Darwin's bark spider is even more amazing than the previous arachnid. The webs they build are the largest in the world, with 2.8 square metre surface areas. These webs span across entire rivers! The silk they use to build these webs is the toughest biological material in the world by a factor of two, ten times stronger than Kevlar. They also have fascinating mating habits, but that’s a story for another day.

And that's just the extant wildlife of the island. During the last Ice Age, there were lemurs as big as gorillas, giant eagles, giant fossas, giant tortoises, and the largest birds of all time, all on Madagascar. Living alongside them were dwarf hippos (the only ungulates ever to inhabit the island) and crocodiles. There's even a muskrat-like aquatic species. Surprisingly, tenrecs are more closely related to manatees than they are to any of these animals - a great example of convergent evolution.

From the point of view of animals and plants, Madagascar is one of the most unique and interesting places in the entire world. And that's not to mention some of its amazing landscapes, such as the world’s largest stone forest.

Things to know about Madagascar before visiting

Madagascar is like no other place you've ever visited. We guarantee you'll be left speechless by its beauty as soon as you land. However, it's always good to get informed before visiting a new country. Therefore, below you can find some useful information:

Weather - Madagascar has two seasons. From November to April, you can expect hot and wet weather, while from May to October, the weather gets cold and dry.

Language - Madagascar's official languages are Malagasy and French. However, English is also spoken by a lot of people, although it's not that widespread.

Visa - Foreigners need a tourist visa that lasts up to 90 days. The visa can be obtained on-arrival at the Ivato airport.

Currency - The official currency in Madagascar is Malagasy Ariary. Word to the vise - don't try changing the money with the street dealers as you're risking getting robbed or arrested.

Time - When it comes to time zones, Madagascar is 3 hours ahead of UTC/GMT.

Prepare for your trip

Before you get excited and board the plane, make sure to be fully prepared for your trip. First of all, check which vaccines you should take in order to stay healthy on your vacation. Also, don't pack too many things but rather make a packing list and only pack things you really need.

Regardless of how long you will stay in Madagascar, you want to make sure that your valuables are going to wait for you safely when you get back from your travels. You need to find a safe place during that time to keep your belongings. A good idea is to temporarily rent a storage unit. That way, you can enjoy your active vacation in Madagascar without having to worry about the safety of the things you left at home.

So, when are you leaving for your active vacation in Madagascar?

We hope our suggestions for an active vacation in Madagascar inspired you to book a flight and pack your bags. Madagascar is one of the places you absolutely must visit during your lifetime. Once you've experienced what it has to offer, guaranteed you'll want to go back.

Kalyan Panja