Madagascar Travel Guide
An island sitting more than 500 kilometres off the coast of Africa at its closest approach, Madagascar is lumped in with the world’s second largest continent, but its present distance and geographic origins make it different from it in many ways.
Alone in the Indian Ocean since breaking away from the Indian Subcontinent 88 million years ago, this isolation has given it a biodiversity that is unique in the world, as 90% of its species can be found nowhere else on Earth.
While there is more to this place than baobabs and lemurs, these wonders will make your trip here one of the travel highlights of your life.
Currency: Malagasy Ariarys
Languages: Malagasy, French
What To Do
While there isn’t much in Madagascar in the way of major cultural attractions, there are several that are worth seeing before you head off in search of lemurs or baobabs. The Rova of Antananarivo should be at the top of your list, as this former royal palace stands out above all other attractions in the capital region.
An imposing stone structure that housed the ruling family of the Kingdom of Imerina during the 1600 and 1700’s, and the royals of the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 1800’s, it has many architectural features that will feel out of place to those that have a misguided notion of Africa.
A highlight is its stone gate, built in 1840 by Scottish artisan James Cameron. Topped with a magnificent bronze eagle, this place will make your time in Antananarivo surprisingly memorable.
Ambohimanga is another significant sight that should find its way onto the Malagasy itinerary of visiting culture vultures. Located a short distance to the northeast of Antananarivo, this hilltop castle and fort is one of the best preserved royal properties of the Imerina kingdom on the island of Madagascar.
As such, it is one of the most treasured historical attractions in the country by locals and it has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, both of which are always great signs when one is looking for places to visit.
When it comes to iconic sights however, there is no attractions that is better known internationally than the Avenue of the Baobabs.
It is a dirt track lined with these unconventional trees, whose composure looks like it has been turned upside down, with its “root structure” dangling in the air for all to see.
Towering over 30 metres above the rough road you’ll take to get here in Western Madagascar, it is a sight that any naturalist cannot miss when visiting this African country.
Another striking natural sight can be witnessed by making a trip to Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve. A series of grey limestone karsts that resemble needles stabbing skyward, these tightly packed features appear as intimidating as they are awe-inspiring.
The northern section of this park is off-limits to tourists, in order to allow this forest of stone to provide an enclosed environment for the wildlife that calls this impenetrable natural fortress home.
Lemur hunting is another popular activity for visitors to Madagascar. While there are many parks that can be found around this island nation where travelers and their guides can seek out this peculiar primate, conducting your search in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park will yield the best results.
Carpeted by subtropical rainforest, this reserve is the home of up to 11 different kinds of lemur, including the indri, which is the largest of this species. There are also a number of other animals that can be spotted here, including terrestrial crabs, chameleons, and the leaf tail gecko.
Located only three hours by paved road from Antananarivo, this park is one of the easiest to reach in Madagascar, so save this place for your big finish before leaving the country.
What to Eat
When the time comes to eat breakfast in Madagascar, many Malagasys take to the streets and pick up some Mofo Gasy from a street stall. Mofo Gasy is a sweet cake created from rice flour.
Formed into balls or discs (that often look like a plain donut when finished) from batter and cooked over a charcoal fire, this treat is a staple for Malagasys that are looking to get their day started quickly.
At dinner, make an effort to seek out some Romazava. Considered by many to be the national dish of Madagascar, it is a stew made by simmering tomatoes, onions, spinach and garlic for up to three hours.
While there are versions made with cubed chicken, pork, or beef, this addition is usually saved as a treat for special occasions, due to the expense of purchasing meat for many families here.
Looking for something sweet after supper? When you are out and about on the streets, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for some Koba.
Koba is made by grinding peanuts, bananas, corn flour and honey together to form a batter. It is then wrapped in banana leaves before being steamed or boiled.