The second-largest island in the world, known as the Republic of Madagascar, is located in the Indian Ocean. You would think since the DreamWorks animated movie became popular, Madagascar would see a big influx of tourists yearly, but it’s often overlooked. The country sees only a few hundred thousand tourists a year because getting around is fairly difficult and Madagascar’s public authority, sadly, doesn’t focus on turning it into a popular tourist destination. However, the island is unique and beautiful, well worth your time if you decide to embark on an exploration.
Cool fact: Madagascar does have a lot of lemurs.
The middle of the island is not as well known for raw nature experiences, because it’s mostly a rural setting, however, it’s the best place to discover local life, culture, and traditions. It’s a mountain setting with altitudes greater than 6500 ft, with plateaus of crop girls, tea and coffee plantations, and vineyards.
It’s not big, with a population of around 20,000 inhabitants, but it’s famous for its rice fields and honey. Many locals have businesses with bees, a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Some of the best organic honey can be purchased from here.
Ranomafana National Park
If you want to visit one of the richest biodiversity in the world, Ranomafana forest is the place to go. The 240 sq miles national park is home to hundreds of species of reptiles, birds, amphibians and mammals, and 12 species of lemurs, which are endangered and protected. The park was established in 1991, and it’s well known for its hot springs.
It often rains here, so you might want to time your vacation because many species (including the lemurs) don’t like to be out while it rains, and they stay out of sight. The best time to visit it is from December to March, when it tends to be a bit drier. Many species hibernate in June and July, so if you want a different Christmas, why not spend it in a tropical paradise?
There are quite a few trails you can pick to hike through Ranomafana National Park, but it’s best to do so with a guide so knows the area very well. Be well-equipped and keep in mind that you will need several days to visit it, if you want to get the best experience.
Villageoise Anja Natural Reserve
You can find this beautiful reserve 7 miles from Ambalavao. It’s protected and cared for by the local community, which makes it quite unique and dear to the locals. The mountains surrounding it are actually considered sacred, and it’s full of burial grounds.
The best thing about this area is the local community of lemurs, which have been thriving since the World Wildlife Fund has taken them under their wing. The terrain might be quite difficult to hike on, but it’s well worth it to see the lemurs in their natural habitat. Your guide will take you to the best places where you can observe them at play.
This region of the country has some of the most popular tourist attractions. It has various geographical formations that make exploration even more entertaining, as visitors can move from mountains to beaches or rainforests. The local communities are worth to be observed and learned from, as they are skillful in their crafts (weaving, tile making, painting), cattle herders, and farmers.
Andringitra National Park
Stretching over 215 sq miles, Andringitra National Park is the home of hundreds of species of fauna and flora. Its geography changes from mountains to grassland and woody areas, making it truly spectacular to witness. The ring-tail lemurs living here are quite friendly with visitors because they’re used to being fed. Aside from lemurs, tourists can encounter various species of birds and reptiles, including chameleons. The rainforest is more difficult to explore, but open areas are also full of animals.
Isalo National Park
The arid land, almost desert-like, makes Isalo National Park one of the most impressive places to visit in Madagascar. Hiking here can be quite difficult, but it’s all worth it. You’ll get to see spectacular cliff formations, deep valleys, and natural pools of clear water that will cool you off after a long hike.
The locals are part of the Bara tribe that resembles the Maasai from Africa. Any visitor can expand their cultural knowledge while observing their day-to-day activities and ceremonious burial grounds that are scattered through the caves in the cliffs. These cliffs are also full of lemurs. There are around 14 species living here
The port city of Tuléar in Southern Madagascar is an important trade center for various goods, such as cotton, soap, and peanuts. It has a population of around 200,000 inhabitants and it’s surrounded by mangroves and dunes. Unfortunately, it’s not the best place to hang around since the city is poor and tourists might be targeted by thieves.
However, the sights around Tuléar are a pleasure to see. One of them is known as “the arboretum”, a botanical garden with over 900 species of plants, including a trail with baobab trees. The trails offer displays of traditional rural houses and on the “etymology trail” visitors will get to witness demonstrations of traditional plant medicine and history lessons.
15 miles away from Tuléar you can find one of the best places in Southern Madagascar, the Baie de Ranobe coral reef near Ifanty village. Tourists will get to experience diving and swimming with sea life in this beautiful marine reservation. The area close to the beach is a baobab reserve where visitors can enter aided by local guides.
The spiny forest
You won’t find anything else like this on the plant, which is why the spiny forest is one of the best places to visit in Madagascar. It stretches over 9000 sq miles and houses a huge amount of species of plants and trees, such as octopus trees, various species of cacti, baobabs, and all sorts of succulents.
The fauna is rich as well and unique. Visitors can spot various species of lemurs, tortoises, iguanas, bats, and many species of birds. The spiny forest is an adventure for everyone that loves to be out in nature, and spending time with exotic animals.
This region of Madagascar is great for those who are looking for a thrill in the jungle. It’s a wet place where it rains most of the time, so the best place to visit it is between September to November when it tends to be a bit drier. It’s the best place to relax on the beach on the shores of the Indian Ocean, or if you prefer to stay inland, you’ll find great hiking trails.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
You would have realized by now that Madagascar is the country of national parks because of so many species that need to be protected. Lemurs are everywhere, and they don’t mind hanging around tourists, especially if they get served pieces of fruit. This lemur paradise is shared with over 100 species of birds, and many reptiles and amphibians. If you don’t like insects, you’ll have to keep in mind that there are a few thousand species here.
If you want to interact with the lemurs, at Vakôna Forest Lodge you’ll find beautiful accommodations in the middle of nature, and best of all, a private lemur sanctuary with animals that are used to socializing with visitors.
If you don’t know what the Aye-Aye is, you’ll want to spot them once you find out. They are one of the weirdest species of primates (but when we say “weird” we mean “odd-looking”). It’s a species of nocturnal lemur that has something from a bat, a gremlin, and a vampire. Because they look a bit different from the cuddly well-known species of lemurs, they have been killed over the years and at one point they were believed to be exciting. Nowadays, they are not endangered, but the possible destruction of their habitat might lead them there, so they’re considered extremely vulnerable.
Aye-Aye Island aims to protect them and educate visitors when it comes to this strangely beautiful creature. To get there, you will have to start from the city of Manara before sunset and travel 3 miles upstream on the Manara River. The reserve is privately owned, and you’ll only be able to observe the Aye-Ayes during the night.
Do you love vanilla? If you visit Sava you’ll find yourself on the Vanilla Coast, as this region of Madagascar is called. The vanilla export is what turned this place wealthier than the rest of the country and more prosperous. Despite being destroyed by strong cyclones in the past, it found a way to rebuild and keep growing.
Visitors can visit many vanilla plantations in Antalaha and Sambava, the latter being one of the most visited towns in the region. The city has an opening to the ocean, with beaches and a river delta. The plantations, farms, and rice fields end close to the surrounding national parks.
Marojejy National Park
This is one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in Northeastern Madagascar, with some of the tallest trees in the country. It’s a great spot for hikers, having numerous trails of various difficulties. Because of the heavy rainfall in the area, it’s best to visit it from May to October.
The rich wildlife includes a few species of reptiles that are very rare and can only be found here.
Other famous places to see in Madagascar
Located in the far north region of Madagascar, Nosy Be is a conglomeration of islands in the Mozambique Channel. It’s probably the most visited place in the country, with direct flights from many European countries. The rainforest and the mountain range offer beautiful views and experiences, but since Nosy Be is so much more promoted than the rest of Madagascar, many of the other places are overlooked.
The end of May brings the Dinia cultural festival, which attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.
While heavy tourism does happen, Madagascar manages to preserve its natural parks in this region. Tourists seem to flock to experience encountered with the mouse lemurs, one of the cutest species in the country.
Another popular spot is Antsirabe, a town well-known for its hot springs. There are thermal baths and exotic resorts. This spa town built around an ancient volcanic chain features French architectural influences.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is another heavily visited place and the most famous national park in Madagascar. The hundreds of species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds were the influence for the animated movie with the same name.