Lemurs, baobabs, rainforest, desert, trekking and diving: Madagascar is a dream destination for outdoor lovers – and half the fun is getting to all these incredible attractions.
Madagascar is unique: 5% of all known animal and plant species can be found here, and here alone. The island’s signature animal is the lemur of course, but there are many more weird and wonderful creatures: the eerie-looking fossa (a cat-like predator), colourful and camouflaged chameleons, oddly shaped insects, vivid frogs, graceful rays and turtles, several species of sharks, and humpback whales during the winter months. Trees and plants are just as impressive, be they the distinctively shaped baobabs, the fanning ravinala (travellers’ palm), the hundreds of orchids or the spiny forests of the desert south.
The remarkable fauna and flora is matched by epic landscapes of an incredible diversity: you can go from rainforest to desert in just 300km. Few places on Earth offer such an intense kaleidoscope of nature. There are sandstone canyons, limestone karsts, mountains, fertile hills cascading with terraced rice paddies, forests of every kind – rain, dry, spiny – and a laterite-rich soil that gave the country its nickname of ‘Red Island’. With 5000km of coastline, the sea is never very far, turquoise and idyllic in places, dangerous in others.
Of Life & Death
Madagascar has been populated by successive waves of migrants from various corners of the Indian Ocean. This cultural melting pot has evolved into an intricate set of beliefs and rituals that revere ancestors’ spirits. For travellers, attending a famadihana (traditional exhumation and reburial when relatives can communicate with their forebears) can be the highlight of a trip. There is much history to discover, too, from Antananarivo’s sacred hills to the pirate history of Île Sainte Marie.
Making the best of Madagascar can be challenging (and expensive): it is the world’s fourth-largest island and its roads are dismal. For those who relish an adventure, however, this is a one-of-a-kind destination: the off-road driving is phenomenal, there are national parks that only see a few hundred visitors a year, regions that live in autarky during the rainy season and resorts so remote you’ll need a private plane or boat to get there. There are also more activities than you’ll have time for: trekking, diving, mountain biking, kitesurfing, rock-climbing, you name it. Oh, and there are plenty of natural pools, beaches and hammocks to recover, too.
Turn to the Sea
With 5000km of coastline, 450km of barrier reef and 250 islands, no stay in Madagascar would be complete without a few days on the island’s shores. Divers will revel in the choice of sites, from underwater ‘cathedrals’ to shipwrecks, and will relish the chance to see rays, whale sharks, reef sharks and many other kinds of sharks. Snorkellers will be awed by the sheer grace of turtles and marvel at the rainbow of colours displayed by corals and fish. For those keen to keep their heads above water, the idyllic beaches will prove hard to resist. And once you’ve swayed in your hammock to your heart’s content, you can join a local fisher for a pirogue (dugout canoe) trip, go sailing to explore nearby islands or board a whale-watching boat to admire humpbacks breaching – one of nature’s most majestic spectacles.
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