Guest Post by Roseanna McBain
It’s funny that I learned about the world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar, from the same-named animated movie: Madagascar. Sure, before the movie I knew it was an island off the coast of Africa, but sadly, that was about the sum of my knowledge of this amazing place.
In the movie, you’re introduced to a host of fantastical talking animals and the island’s residential lemur population. This heart-warming story showcased (in animation) some of the island’s beauty. Coming back to reality, the island is a fantastic place to visit on holiday, and not only because of the cute lemurs, though they are a large draw.
1. Wildlife — Ranomafana National Park
Set within the lush and magical rainforest on the southeastern side of Madagascar is the Parc National de Ranomafana, known in English as the Ronomafana National Park. Here you will discover the incredible cloud forest, the bountiful wildlife, and the very enjoyable hot springs that the park is known for. If you go on a pre-dawn tour you might come across the elusive bamboo lemurs, but if you choose to leave later in the day you’ll have better luck looking for the aye-aye, sportive lemur, or common brown lemur. Once you’ve finished examining the unbelievably surreal surroundings, head across a rickety bridge to the hot spring huts. The heavenly thermal waters were discovered by the French, who promptly decided to build a spa around them. Regardless of how it came about, it is a wonderful way to soothe strained muscles and feel invigorated again.
2. Culture — Royal Hill of Ambohimanga
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the finest examples of an ancient royal city and graveyard, which surprisingly, still retains great meaning and importance to the citizens of Madagascar. In fact, it is still used as a place of worship today, with pilgrimages made by tourists and locals to view the numerous sacred sites within. While here, you can marvel at the traditional building designs, as well as get a glimpse of the social and political structures that date back to at least the 16th century. There are numerous lush terraces with rare indigenous species, which were protected by the forward-thinking royal family. Several sacred bodies of water can also be seen, which include both naturally occurring ones, as well as man-made ones; and no visit is complete without a trip to the royal tombs. Take your camera and capture numerous images of the beautiful stone carvings.
3. City Life — Toliara
The city of Toliara, which is the capital city of the same-named region, is one of the best places to enjoy the local culture. You can take it easy for a day or two at the beach, or else try and learn some Malagasy before exploring. While here, make sure you stop at the Antsokay arboretum, which has over 900 flora species. Interestingly, over 80% of the flora at the arboretum has some kind of medicinal value. You’ll notice as you roam the streets that everything is laid out in quite a geometric way, and there are plenty of tamarind and flame trees around to give it an exotic air. While in town visit the only two museums, which are cared for by the local university, and pop into Chez Zazah for a bite to eat – they’ve got some wonderful cuisine. If you’re looking to buy souvenirs, the local market is your best bet, and you can often haggle to bring the price down a bit.
4. Water-lovers – Anakao
Only 40km away from the city of Toliara is the region of Anakao, which is well-known locally for its amazingly clear waters, long coral reef, and water-orientated activities. The best way to travel here is by boat, as the RN7 road is incredibly difficult to drive. While lazing about on the boat, check out the mangroves, birds, trees, and wrecked cargo ship you’ll be floating past. Once you’ve arrived at Anakao, you can dive within the coral reef, do some whale watching in season, see numerous colorful fish, and perhaps even spot some green or hawksbill turtles.
If you’ve never been to Madagascar, do yourself a favor and add it to your list of must-visit places, while you can. Since Madagascar has a wealth of trees and minerals, large corporations have been eyeing the island, and with thousands of hectares now marked for deforestation and mining, no one knows how much longer this exotic paradise, with its unique wildlife, will remain.