More about Madagascar
Madagascar is a largely unknown island in the Indian Ocean and unique in that it is one of the only places in which 80% of the species of plants and animals are endemic to that region only. With a tropical climate and some luxurious beaches, it is one of the best places to enjoy an exclusive retreat.
Return to Madagascar home
Madagascar is located 400 km off the east coast of Africa, south of the equator, and is the fourth largest island in the world.
Madagascar is a unique island, with flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else in the world. This is due to the history of the island, which more than 165 million years ago was attached to the large continent of Gondwana. As the continent broke up due to movements of the Earth's crust, Madagascar was separated and settled just off the coast of Africa. Here it evolved in a way that has been seen nowhere else on the planet. There are six plant families that exist only on Madagascar, and 1,000 orchid species. Of animals it has thousands of insects, over 300 species of frog, five bird families, 270 known species of reptile at least, and more than 100 mammals, including the lemurs, a whole group of primates endemic to the island. This evolution was partly due to the species left on the island from the breaking up of Gondwana, and also due to other species arriving on Madagascar once it had separated, changing and adapting to the different climates.
The birds in Madagascar are extraordinary, and there are nine areas in particular that the keen birder will want to visit; however if you go to just one of them, a decent range of the endemic birds will be found. There are three national parks in the eastern rainforest, Ranomafana National Park, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park and Masoala National Park. At Ranomafana, ground-rollers, emutails and sunbirds are amongst the most popular birds to be seen, whilst Masoala has more rare birds such as the Madagascar serpent eagle and the Madagascar red owl which are both protected species. In Andasibe-Mantadia, most of the commoner rainforest endemics can be found, amongst other special birds such as warblers, vangas and nightjars. There are also wetlands in this national park which hold different species particular to this habitat. Tropical dry deciduous forests can be found in the Ankarafantsika National Park where vangas, raptors and kingfishers are seen, amongst others. There is a transition forest region where the Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park has sought-after birds such as the giant and crested couas, Madagascar hoopoe and several different weavers. The final birding habitat is the southern sub-arid thorn thicket where there are two areas, Ifaty/Mangily and St Augustine’s Bay. Here you can find ground-rollers again, along with more nightjars, kestrel and coua. At Ifaty in particular banded kestrel are found and in St Augustine’s Bay the Madagascar plover can be found near puddles along the road.
One of the more stunning aspects of the evolution of life on Madagascar can be seen in the baobab trees around the island, whch include six out of eight species that are endemic to the country. These are best seen at the Avenue des Baobabs, with its nearby town of Morondava, which give you a chance to marvel at the majestic power of nature.
The fascinating history of Madagascar can be explored in museums in Berenty Reserve, Toliara, Antananarivo, Mahajanga and Tana. These range from ethnological to natural history, and the best is the Museum of the Antandroy (People of the Thorns) in Berenty.
Diving is an obvious attraction here, with nine diving sites around the island. Almost every species of hard coral in the Indian Ocean can be found on the reefs, and global warming has not yet affected the coral drastically enough for any biodiversity to be lost. The fish life is amazing, and it is possible to meet whale sharks whilst swimming. At Nosy Be, one of the better dive sites, there is a wealth of nudibranchs. Here the local fishermen and diving operators work together to protect the environment with the aim of encouraging tourism with good diving conditions, making this an exciting experience.
There are some wonderful beaches on the coast of Madagascar; swimming is better on the west as the beaches on the east have a danger of sharks, and many are sunbathing only.
A rich cultural history make the people of Madagascar just as interesting as everything else, especially the after-death customs, and it is possible to go on a trip to view a famadihana, in which the remainders of relatives are taken from tombs and turned over in a spiritual ritual.
The climate of Madagascar is tropical, and this largely determines when you take your trip. From November to March is the summer, otherwise known as the wet season which is hot with variable rainfall. The dry season is mainly dry and mild and falls between April and October.
February and March are the cyclone season, so it is best to avoid these unless you want to see the orchids, which flower in February. April and May shows the vegetation off to its best after the rainy season and the coldest winter months are when the animals are least active.
The best months to visit are October and November; the weather is pleasant but not too hot, the jacarandas are flowering, and the lemurs have babies which are always fun to see.
For birding the eastern rainforest is best from mid September to January whilst the other areas are good all year round.
Air Madagascar is the country's main airline, and it serves over 40 destinations making air travel the most efficient way of seeing the country. When travelling to Madagascar if you use this airline for the international flight, you get a 25% discount on any internal flights provided you are there from one to four weeks. Other international airlines operate, including Air Mauritius, Air France and InterAir from Kenya, the USA and Australia.
This is the only way to get there, unless you take a yacht from South Africa, which will need to be privately chartered.
With some of the most fascinating animals in the world, as well as some truly spectacular scenery from majestic mountain to dusty plains, this is a must see for someone looking to explore somewhere a little more off the beaten track. The rich seas around the island are the perfect place to relax and unwind, making it ideal for those looking for a beach holiday with a difference.
With unspoilt beaches, unrivalled wildlife, exceptional birding and some incredible scenery, Madagascar is a beautiful and interesting place to explore, with enough to keep you occupied for as long or as short as you desire.