Madagascar is a paradise island that lies in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. A hundred million years ago, the Mozambique Channel cut it off from Africa, leaving humanity a unique natural gift. The landscapes of the island are changing like kaleidoscope images, from wild relict forests in the north to the red desert lands in the south. The flat crowns of baobabs centuries-old nine-story high trees hold the sky, and the sharp spikes of the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve stone forest make your blood turn into ice. Sapphires, emeralds, and topazes are washed in muddy waters of the rivers. White-tailed sifakas hide from fossas on the tops of the tropical forest, and the ring-tailed lemurs, the distant relatives of cartoon king Julian, are throwing parties in the thicket of the jungle.
Modern Madagascar is not ready to accept demanding tourists. The former French colony has no fashionable hotels or Michelin-star restaurants. There are dusty trails with bumps instead of roads, the Internet is not working well, and ATMs can be found only in big cities. But believe me, any inconveniences are compensated by the delight of the picturesque "eighth continent".
Where to go and what to see
Toliara grew among the desert with its thorny bushes in the cozy Bay of Saint-Augustin. It is a major port city in Madagascar. The 250-kilometer reef protects the city's coast from the dangers of the ocean and is also a mecca for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. More than 200 species of coral, 760 species of fish, dolphins, turtles, tiger sharks, and ancient Latimeria — this underwater world is admirable. And when you see your fingertips wrinkling from a long stay in the water, go to the Reniala Private Reserve, where hundreds of species of birds will cheer you up — literally and figuratively.
Antsiranana is a region in the north of the country, where hiking enthusiasts go to conquer the shaggy slopes of the mountains and the volcanic mountain range of Tsaratanana. Extreme adventures are waiting for travelers in Mahajanga area as well: narrow paths of the Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve stone forest with peaks, sharp as a sword's blade, can take your breath away. Relax after active hiking through cool-down volcanoes and mangroves on the sandy beaches of Morondava, in the west of the island. The legendary Avenue of the Baobabs and Kirindy Forest, an ideal spot for observing lemurs, mongooses, and fossas, are all within easy reach.
"Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!" - this is how pirates sang back in the XVII century, burying looted treasures on the island of Nosy Boraha (better known by its former name Île Sainte-Marie). It is unknown whether it is true or not, but no gold deposits have been found on the island so far. But the fact is that the tourists love Ile Saint-Marie very much for its white beaches, clean ocean, and palm trees that slope low above the shore. The Torre del Homenaje, Ozama fortress, the churches of Saint Nicholas and Saint Francis, Alcazar castle — the island's colonial architecture will surely appeal to curious minds. And the cherry on the cake will be the watching of humpback whales: they twirl a flip over the waters of the strait near the island every year from July to September.
In the north-west of Madagascar, there is another paradise place, the island of Nosy Be. It has experienced much during its centuries-long history. It was a refuge for pirates and a living embodiment of a treasure chest; a prison and hard labor for French colonizers; a slave trade center; it even had a fleet of Russian General Rozhestvensky. Today Nosy Be smells of coffee and ylang-ylang. In the forests of Lokobe Strict Reserve, black lemurs are jumping from one tree to another. Cold streams of waterfalls lull the cooled volcano. In the town of Djamandjary, they pour the world-famous Dzama rum. The Omura's whale, the rarest species of these mammals, demonstrate their fountains near the coast. Besides, it offers excellent hotels, gorgeous beaches, the best quality of service Madagascar has, and you won't be able to resist the temptation to book your own ticket to Madagascar.
Things to consider when going to Madagascar
- The criminal situation in Madagascar leaves much to be desired. A light-minded tourist will be gladly "processed" by pickpockets and overcharged by taxi drivers. It is best to avoid walks after sunset, and it is better not to go without a local guide in some parts of the island.
- Drinking or using raw water for hygienic purposes is prohibited: you should either boil or buy bottled water in shops.
- Many tourists buy locally mined gems in memory of Madagascar. Make sure you ask the seller for a certificate of origin if you do not want problems with customs control.
- Before you are tempted to dive into the warm Indian Ocean, make sure you are allowed to swim on this part of the coast. Sharks often swim into lagoons that are not protected by coral reefs, and you clearly do not want to be their dessert on your vacation. It's also not recommended diving into freshwater bodies, where reptiles, leeches, and disease-causing agents are waiting to enjoy you as a treat.
- No special vaccinations are officially required to visit Madagascar. If you have followed the vaccination calendar, you may feel relatively safe. Tourists who have stayed in Tanzania, Nigeria, and some other African countries for more than 12 hours may be required to obtain a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Prevention of malaria before and after a trip to the island is also recommended.
- Local cultures and traditions may seem illogical to foreign people, but you should take them into consideration. For example, do not wear khaki or military uniforms; do not point one finger at a person, only five at a time; it's a bad omen to sing while eating; do not take pictures of locals without permission; do not enter the local cemeteries.