Only a fraction smaller than the state of Texas, the island of Madagascar comprises rainforests, arid deserts, mangroves, white sand beaches, and the compelling capital of Antananarivo. Baobab trees and lemurs are the emblems of Madagascar but that’s not all you’ll find in this African country. Let’s take a tour of Madagascar’s highlights.
Flora and Fauna of Madagascar
Also known as reniala (the mother of the forest) baobab trees thrive in environments where few other living species can. These gigantic succulents are native to the African savannah and six of the nine genera grow in the arid south of Madagascar. They can exceed heights of 30 meters and act as a source of water and shelter for reptiles, birds, and mammals.
As the ‘island of lemurs’ Madagascar is home to over 100 different varieties of its endemic primate. Ranomafana National Park provides a habitat to around 20 species including the rare golden bamboo lemur and Milne-Edwards' sifaka lemur. These arboreal lemurs are so acclimatized to leaping through the canopies that they are unable to walk on all four legs. Instead, they bound upright as though using a pogo stick. Berenty Reserve is a prime spot for sighting ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) and Verreaux's sifaka while Aye-Aye Island harbors an endangered species of long-fingered lemur.
The Jurassic-era Isalo National Park grants dramatic canyons, gorges, and rocky pinnacles as well as forests and grasslands. Around 14 species of lemur dwell in the park alongside the cat-like fossa, tenrecs, Madagascan boas, and rainbow frogs. It’s mandatory to hire a local guide to explore the park if you are not traveling as part of a tour.
Whale-watching, Scuba Diving, and Snorkeling
Humpback whales migrate past the east coast of Madagascar and Mauritius between July and September. The island of Sainte Marie is one of the most reliable destinations for whale spotting at this time of year. Mothers and calves are also encountered off the island of Nosy Be during these months although the high season for sightings is in September and October.
June through September is the best time for snorkeling and diving at the coral reefs off these islands as well as Nosy Boraha, Ifaty, and Nosy Ve.
Seafood, braised meat, and beans prepared with regional vegetables are the staples of Madagascan cooking but rice is the backbone. Mihinam-bary, the Malagasy verb for eating a meal, literally translates into “eat rice”. Malagasy cuisine is influenced by the countries of East Africa, Austronesia, and France. Savory dishes are not typically spicy but asking for sakay will change that.
Look out for foza sy hena-kiso which usually fuses pork, crab, and lobster with tangy ginger and lime. Pick up a mofo gasy for breakfast – a type of pancake served with maple syrup and fresh fruit. These are also popular pick-me-ups, just like koba. Made from peanuts, mashed bananas, honey, and corn or rice flour, koba is a traditional Madagascan cake. It’s served wrapped in banana leaves at markets or with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Naturally, the principal ingredient is sourced from the country’s famous vanilla forests!
Madagascar is a wonderful addition to an East and Southern Africa travel itinerary and an aspirational destination for a luxurious vacation or honeymoon. Contact me when you are ready to book your trip to this Indian Ocean island nation.
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