The EA guide to Madagascar holidays
Madagascar is the ultimate adventure holiday destination with so much on offer both land and sea. It’s important to bear in mind that the country’s infrastructure is not nearly as developed as mainland Africa.
It’s a paradise for wildlife lovers, boasting more than half the world’s chameleons and dozens of species of lemur. Just don’t expect the mainland Africa safari animals like lions and giraffes. Birding in Madagascar is exceptional and one of the most elusive bird species in the world, the long tailed ground roller can be found here.
World heritage sites here are worth visiting, Royal Hill of Ambohimanga (a 500 year old burial site), the rainforests of Atsinanana (home to rare primate and lemurs) and the Tsingy de Bemaraha reserve (a sea of limestone pinnacles and cliffs).
You can also get cool places that are rainforest and natural hot tub in one. Ranomafana is a national park rich in lemurs and hot springs. You don’t dip in the springs, instead cross the spindly bridge over the gushing river just at the village and you’ll reach a line of hot tubs in little rooms!
It’s easy to overlook the tropical island beauty of Madagascar as the natural and cultural intrigues attract your attention. Uber luxury only arrived to the island in 2017 thanks to the opening of Miavana, a spectacular high end accommodation on Nosy Ankao. It is only accessible by helicopter and offers its guests a stylish, casual elegance and an abundance of activities like marine safaris spotting turtles, whales and dolphins, scuba diving and fishing.
When you’re on the coastline, you see a truly vibrant side of Malagasy life. Women adorn themselves in multi coloured ‘lamba’ sarongs and fisherman haul their catch out of dugout pirogue (canoe).
Are you intrigued yet?
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Wildlife in Madagascar
Madagascar has been isolated for over 80 million years and so its animals have evolved in relative isolation. It’s fair to say Madagascar is home to some of the most unique and unusual species of wildlife in the world. There’s over 25,000 species of wild animals and a significant portion are endangered.
Lemurs are primates and vary greatly from the 25 gram pygmy lemur to the largest Indri Lemur weighing in at 12 kilograms. The lemurs are one of the most threatened animals on the planet because their habitat is diminishing. At last count, 22 species of lemurs were listed as critically endangered, 48 endangered and 20 vulnerable.
The country’s only predator is called the Fossa. It is a close relative to the mongoose and grows up to 1.8 metres long from nose to tail and weights up to 12 kilograms. It moves quickly through the trees using its tail like a tightrope walking pole!
The chameleon is native to Madagascar and one of the most colourful of animals. Perhaps the most devilish is the Satanic leaf-tailed gecko that disguises itself in its environment, blending into and mimicking dead leaves to hide from predators.
World heritage sites
Madagascar is home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites and each one is certainly worth a visit.
Tsingy de Bemaraha Nature Reserve can be found on the west coast of the country is known for its karstic landscapes and limestone uplands that cut into ’stingy’ peaks and an eerie forest of limestone needles. Beyond the peaks you’ll find remote forests, lakes and swamps that are home to rare and endangered lemur and bird species.
The rainforests of the Atsinanana are found across six national parks along the eastern side of the island. These ancient forests are critically important to the survival of Madagascar’s unique biodiversity. You’ll find 72 species of mammals, 173 bird species and over 160 amphibians and reptiles!
Every visitor on a Madagascar tour or holiday will start the journey in capital, Antananarivo, fondly referred to as Tana. It is a fantastic city with haphazard hills and streets ideal for wandering and exploring.
The easiest wilderness area for lemur spotting has to be The Andasibe-Mantadia, accessed by car from Tana. It is a wilderness corridor at the foothills of an impressive escarpment. Andasibe National Park is just 154 square kilometres with two protected areas including the Mantadia Analamozaotra National Park and the Indri d’ Analamazaotra Reserve, more easily known as Perinet.
You will find montane forest, endemic rainforest species, Indri lemurs and more. This region is well known for its birdlife with 112 species plus eleven lemur species, 39 reptile and 36 frog species. More mammals of interest are the lowland streaked tenrec, Eastern Avahi and the diademed sifka.
Ranomafana National Park
Popular Ranomafana National Park covers 3,950 acres of land and is home to rare lemurs like the greater bamboo and golden bamboo lemur plus 7 other species. At altitudes between 800 metres and 1,200 metres, the landscapes here are impressive and the montane rainforest a sanctuary for wildlife.
It feels like a magical forest in the clouds some days and is dotted with rolling hills, waterfalls and lush vegetation. It’s also considered a Madagascar birding safari highlight with numerous types including velvet asity, brown mesite, Henst’s goshawk and Madagascar flufftail. Our favourite are its natural springs, one of the areas greatest pleasures.
South West Madagascar
On the South West coast we have the city of Morondava and the starting point for visits to the well photographed and scenically impressive Avenue of Baobabs and then Kirindy, home to Madagascar’s largest predator the Fossa. Did you know the world’s most endangered ecosystem is dry deciduous forest just like Kirindy? Importantly, there is the Kirindy Private Forest Reserve and close by, the Kirindy Mitea National Park. The national park sees three ecosystems merge, a spiny desert, dry forest and mangroves.
The region boasts 23 species of mammals including the Fossa, eight lemur species plus 90 species of butterfly, endangered birds and reptiles. In the national park, the forest is regenerating naturally due to its remote location. It is remote, far off paved roads and only accessible by truck in dry season and otherwise, on foot, ox cart or boat from Morondava, a real Madagascar adventure holiday.
Isalo National Park
Isalo National Park is one of our favourites in Madagascar. It extends over 200,000 acres in southwest Madagascar and boasts impressive eroded sandstone massifs, rocks dating from the Jurassic period and unusual shapes amid gorges and canyons.
This is a photographic safari paradise with formations, waterfalls and valleys. This region is not prominent for wildlife, it’s the landscapes that bring you here and impressive hiking trails. Having said that, Isalo is home to 55 species of birds, five lemur species and numerous reptiles and frogs.
Madagascar’s northern region is truly beautiful, tropical and an explorer’s paradise with lush forests, remote coastlines and islands. Madagascar beach holidays are usually on or around Nosy Be, the largest island within Madagascar, covering 320 square kilometres. Nosy Be and neighbouring Comoros islands are wonderful and relaxing Madagascar holiday destinations with ample to keep you occupied. The region is also a major producer of ylang ylang, sugar cane, vanilla, pepper, saffron, coffee and other spices.
New to the scene is luxury and exclusive Miavana on the island of Nosy Ankao (pictured). It has taken the Madagascar island experience to new heights of style.
A Madagascar island holiday is unlike its cousins, Mauritius and Seychelles because it is less developed, more relaxed and extremely tranquil. Friendly people, beautiful beaches and wonderful beach holiday activities await.
Masoala National Park
Masoala National Park is an all time favourite for those who love an adventurous journey to reach new found territory! Masoala is the largest protected zone on the island where time has literally stood still. There is an impressively bizarre range of plant and wildlife species here that have apparently evolved due to the geographic seclusion.
With multiple habitats like mangroves, forest marsh, rainforest, coastline and coral reef the wildlife is impressive and the landscapes spectacular. Rainforests plummet to the beach parting for walking trails making it a walking holiday paradise. Residents include nine species of primates, gecko, chameleon, frogs, birds and butterflies.
During July to September, humpback whales come through the passage between Masoala and Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve which is an island 2 kilometres off the coast. It is a special little island, the best place to spot Aye-Aye, one of the rarest lemur species.