Madagascar Baobab Trees

Travel Guide: Explore the Natural Beauty of Africa’s Madagascar

The name “Madagascar” might bring to mind escaped zoo animals, a squad of penguins, and a lemur king. However, the real location will be sure to exceed the expectations created by the fictional movie. The Madagascar island, fourth largest island in the world, is located off the southern coast of East Africa. While its name has become popularized through the DreamWorks movie franchise, it still remains a lesser-known destination of travel. Do not discount it as a place to visit, however! Whether you choose to hire your own driver and rental car, or to join an organized tour that will take you through the sights of the island, it will be a trip to remember.

A clear pond surrounded by green trees and a blue sky above
The nature of Madagascar in Masoala National Park, Image source: Natural World Safaris
A zoomed in view of the edge of eastern Africa and the island of Madagascar, with labels on Madagascar and is surrounding countries.
Location of Madagascar off the eastern coast of Africa, Image source: Goway Travel

Getting to the Island

There are several ways to reach the island — primarily by plane or cruise ship. The capital city of Antananarivo is home to the Ivato International Airport, which receives flights from major cities such as Paris, Johannesburg, and Istanbul. Moreover, you can reach Madagascar from African countries like Mauritius and Ethiopia. Cruise ships offer another travel alternative. Some options for a cruise line include MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises. Both are European-based cruise lines that offer Madagascar as a destination. By air or sea, once you reach Madagascar, a variety of options await you!

A street view of the Ivato International Airport, with three peaked roofs and a red sign in front.
The Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo, Image source: Wikipedia

A Multicultural Madagascar

The two official languages of Madagascar are French and Malagasy. Since it used to be a French colony, Madagascar still has significant French influences, especially language-wise. We cannot ignore the Asian and African parts of Madagascar’s history as well. The first populations of this island were people from Malaysia, Polynesia, and Melanesia. This mix of people, along with African settlers from the continent to its west, has created a culturally and linguistically heterogeneous Madagascar today. This can be especially seen in the Malagasy language, native to the local population. Malagasy is also the name of Madagascar’s culture and its people. With foreign companies from France still heavily part of Madagascar’s economy, the tourist industry is a way for the nation to expand its business and welcome more people into this land with a diverse history. Read more about the cultural history of Madagascar here!

An open book made of old parchment, with black Malagasy script running through both sides.
The script of Malagasy, one of the official language of Madagascar, Image source: Wikipedia

Andasibe

The city of Andasibe allows people to dive right into one of the most prominent parts of Madagascar: its abundance of nature. From the capital of Antananarivo, it is 130 km — or about 81 miles. Andasibe boasts many reserves and parks, but there are two in particular to highlight: the V.O.I.M.M.A Community Park, and the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

V.O.I.M.M.A Community Park

The name V.O.I.M.M.A stands for the Malagasy phrase Vondron’olona Ifotony Mitia sy Miaro ny Ala, which means “Local people love the forest”. True to its name, the local population established this community reserve in 2012 as a way to manage their own wildlife and land, instead of the government controlling it. It encompasses a rainforest area, with notable animals such as the largest lemur on earth, the Indri, and the diademed sifakas. Lemurs can be found throughout the island, however, so V.O.I.M.M.A Community Park is not the only place in Madagascar to view these wonderful creatures in their natural habitats.

An Indri lemur colored in black body and white limbs stares at the camera, perched on among the brown branches of a tree.
An Indri lemur in the trees of V.O.I.M.M.A Community Park, Image source: Mada Magazine

The community park system of Madagascar, which V.O.I.M.M.A Community Park is a part of, exists as a way for local communities to be engaged with their environment. While they conserve and promote ecotourism, the profits of this work go back to the community in the form of improved healthcare and facilities for locals, and towards better conservation measures for the local wildlife. You can read more about V.O.I.M.M.A Community Park and its attractions here.

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

The Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is a popular destination for all visitors, due to both its proximity to the capital and for its abundance of, you guessed it, lemurs! You can hear the Indri’s unique call through the rainforest treetops, as the impressive vegetational variety of Madagascar surrounds you. The fauna is just as impressive as the flora. In fact, there are up to 15 different mammal species, and more than 100 species of birds, within this park itself! There is ample opportunity to explore these natural wonders. Several hiking trails and circuits are open, taking visitors through waterfalls, natural ponds, and ancient holy sites. All in all, this National Park is a fulfilling and worthwhile part of your trip!

A clear lake with a villa structure on edge, and large green-covered mountains in the background.
A natural pond location in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Image source: Trip.com

Local Markets

A unique feature of Madagascar villages are their local markets. These often take place weekly, where community members set up stalls to sell food and other products. The markets also function as a way to interact with others and solidify one’s belonging in the community. Some examples of these markets are the weekly markets in the town of Anziru, and the Analakely Market in the capital of Antananarivo. Check them out on your trip for a real taste of local flavor and social life!

Vendors sitting behind stalls laid out with fruits, vegetables, and meat on a busy street.
Vendors selling food at the Analakely Market in Antananarivo, Image source: Booking.com

Artisan Work in Antsirabe

Another town, called Antsirabe, is home to a thriving artisan business that tourists can pay a visit to. Metal found from all over the country is melted and then refashioned into cooking pots, goods, and handicrafts. Skilled artisans and craftspeople run small businesses, selling their goods and in turn supporting their nation’s economy. This unique and creative artisan work garners deep appreciation from visitors. After all, it shows us that Madagascar has more than just its wildlife and nature — it also has the enterprising nature of the Madagascar population! 

Small handicrafted bicycles in a line on a wooden table, made out of recycled materials.
Local handicraft goods made out of recycled materials, Image source: tour-to-madagascar.com

The Rice Fields of Madagascar

A visit to the highlands of Madagascar has another surprise in store. There, you can find rice fields stretching across the hills, in the terraced format unique to rice agriculture. This practice goes back to the history of settlers from Austronesia, namely Indonesia and Malaysia, thousands of years ago. Because of Madagascar’s primary inhabitants and their origins, it now boasts this agricultural feature that is a must-see in your visit to the country! Rice, as a result, forms a significant part of the Madagascar diet — and of the nation’s gross domestic product. Read more about rice’s history and agricultural significance in Madagascar here. A staple in diet and in the economy of Madagascar, the rice fields should also be a staple in your travels!

An aerial view of the green rice fields next to a river, in a terraced and symmetrical format.
The terraced rice fields of Madagascar, Image source: Mada Magazine

Anja Community Park

A trip to Madagascar is incomplete without a glimpse of the ring-tailed lemurs that are so representative of the country. This is not more possible than in the Anja Community Reserve, located south of the town of Ambalavao. Built from the efforts of the local community to reduce deforestation and preserve the local animal life, this reserve started out with a mere 20 ring-tailed lemurs. Now, the lemur population has grown to over 400 with the careful protection of their habitat by the locals. Ring-tailed lemurs are a characteristic part of Madagascar, with their distinct marking and appearance. These lemurs are playful, accustomed to visitors, and sure to bring a smile to any face. Anja Community Park therefore presents another option for those looking to see community campaigns and ecotourism in action!

A ring-tailed lemur with its black and white tail in the air, climbing up a diagonal piece of tree trunk and with green trees in the background.
A ring-tailed lemur in Anja Community Reserve, Image source: Anne Travel Foodie

Isalo National Park

With rainforests and rice fields, Madagascar proves to be diverse in terrain and geography. Isalo National Park only proves this further, since it rests amidst great sandstone canyons and rocky cliffs rising into the air. A trek-enthusiast will not be disappointed in their visit to this National Park! One such trek goes through Monkey Canyon, taking hikers through a ravine and among the shrubland. A lucky sighting of a lemur or sifaka is not uncommon as well. Waterfalls in the green oases nestled within these canyons also provide moments of rest for the adventure-seeking traveler. It is possible to find accommodation within the National Park itself, which is convenient for those passing through.

Gray and brown towers of rock form canyons with patterned ridges, against the blue sky.
The canyons of Isalo National Park, Image source: Natural World Safaris

Nosy Be: An Island off an Island

The word “island” immediately brings to mind the images of a tropical beach, and days spent relaxing by the shore. Madagascar does not disappoint on this aspect, either. One specific beach resort option is Nosy Be, an island off the northwestern Madagascar coast. The most popular beach destination within Madagascar, Nosy Be offers a variety of water sports. These include snorkeling, fishing, and scuba-diving. All of this is accessible with a stay in the luxury resorts on the island. Andilana Beach offers a breathtaking view of the clear waters and bright sand, and there is no shortage of marine life to explore and take in. Madagascar has many natural beauties, and Nosy Be can definitely rival them all! For more information on this destination, visit here.  

An aerial view of the Andilana Beach in Nosy Be, with sparse green trees by the shore and white clear sand, surrounded by a ring of clear blue water.
The Andilana Beach resort in Nosy Be, Image source: TripAdvisor

A Mouthwatering Cuisine to Remember

No travel to a country is accomplished without tasting the local cuisine and delicacies. Madagascar is a product of a cultural fusion, and this is reflected in its food. Its French culinary background can be seen in dishes such as foie gras, and is combined artfully with Malagasy flavors to form French-Madagascar fusion. Besides upscale cuisine, there is also ample opportunity to taste the flavorful fruits and spices of the island, such as papaya and cloves. Passing through southern coasts and towns such as Ifaty, travelers can also try out the seafood of Madagascar. Lobster, fish, and prawns are in abundance here, and can be encountered in restaurants run by local communities. A trip to Madagascar will not only satisfy your eyes, but your tongue as well! 

An assortment of rice, vegetables, and meat on a woven plate.
French-Madagascar fusion food, Image source: Uncornered Market

When to Visit

You must consider the climate of Madagascar when planning a trip to the island. It has two main seasons: a wet season, lasting from around October to May, and the dry season, from May to September. Most tourists prefer to visit during the dry season, as they will be able to experience the country without monsoons and the humidity. This also gives them better chances at observing wildlife, going on hikes, and enjoying the beaches. Make sure the time of year that you choose to travel to Madagascar is right for you, so you can enjoy all that it has to offer!

Baobab trees with tall, bare trunks and flat green leaves on top, with a dirt road underneath and blue skies above.
Baobab trees that can be clearly seen in the dry season of Madagascar, Image source: Climates to Travel

Currency and Caution

Some final notes on your trip to Madagascar are in order: checking that you have the right currency, and that you maintain caution on your trip. The currency of Madagascar is called Malagasy Ariary, shortened to MGA. The conversion rate to U.S. dollars is currently around 3800 MGA to 1 USD. The conversion rate to Euros is currently around 4600 MGA to 1 Euro. There are ATM machines located in the Antananarivo airport, as well as in the larger cities you will pass through as you travel through the country. Although exchanging your Euros and USD is best done in the airport, a cash supply is always good to carry on hand! 

A pile of colorful bills of money, in the Malagasy Ariary of Madagascar.
The Malagasy Ariary currency of Madagascar, Image source: Mada Magazine

Madagascar can be unsafe for travelers who do not maintain caution with their belongings. Traveling in groups is of utmost importance, just as in any other travel destination. Saving your sightseeing for daytime hours is also recommended. Although most visitors can get by without issue, the best travel tip is to stay alert and to avoid any potentially dangerous gatherings or unfamiliar situations. With those logistical points stored away, you can be all the more prepared to spend an adventurous and exciting time in Madagascar!

An Inviting Destination   

We have explored the beauties of Madagascar, both its nature and its people. However, this just scratches the surface of all there is to do on the island. Its tourism business is one that is continuing to grow, and a visit to the country can help support the local populations and their economy. The flora and fauna (especially the famous lemurs) draw visitors in, and capture the appreciation of all that pass by. Madagascar’s history, cultural traditions, and natural wildlife make it an inviting destination for those looking for a unique experience in their world travels. So what are you waiting for? Madagascar awaits!

An aerial view of the houses in Antananarivo, with vertically stacked buildings on a hill.
A view of the city of Antananarivo in Madagascar, Image source: Lonely Planet

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