The oldest island on earth, Madagascar broke free from the super-continent of Gondwana over 165 million years ago. Now lying 425 kilometres off the south-eastern coast of Africa, it supports one of the most diverse ranges of flora and fauna on earth. It is of course lemurs that Madagascar is most famed for – there are an astonishing 80 or so varieties in all. The wildlife extends much more beside this though with over 200,000 species on the island and between 80 and 90 percent being endemic. The white sandy beaches tempt many at the end of their wildlife exploration, with whale watching and world-class diving on offer.
Described as the Eighth Continent and a kaleidoscope of nature thanks to the diversity of species on offer, Madagascar is a wildlife-lover’s paradise offering a safari holiday with a difference. There’s a whole host of flora and fauna waiting to be explored with lush rainforests and rich national parks teeming with lemurs, frogs, chameleons, tenrecs and endemic aye-ayes – the world’s largest nocturnal primate. The white sandy beaches to the north of the island and surrounding halo of satellite islands beckon with welcoming warm waters and fantastic snorkelling and diving. For those keen to continue the wildlife viewing, there is whale-watching on offer at Ile Sainte Marie between July and September.
For nature-lovers, Ranomafana National Reserve holds great appeal with the golden bamboo lemur – only discovered in 1986 – being the star attraction, as well as there being 11 other species including the Milne-Edwards’ sifaka. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is another major wildlife area and the best place on Madagascar for spotting the Indri indri, the largest of the lemur species.
In terms of spectacular scenery, Isalo National Park never fails to impress with sandstone canyons carved into weird and wonderful shapes, whilst the Avenue of Baobabs offers an incredible spectacle of towering Grandidier’s baobabs which offer wonderful photo opportunities, particularly at sunset. Ankarana Reserve is home to a variety of lemurs, as well as an island of tsingy formations – sharp pinnacles of Jurassic limestone which give way to deep gorges. In the northern-most reaches of the island is Amber Mountain National Park, a volcanic massif wrapped in rainforest with habituated Sanford’s brown and crowned lemurs, impressive birdlife as well as a number of waterfalls and crater lakes.
Whilst the primary reason to visit Madagascar is for the diversity of wildlife experiences on offer, it also offers pristine, white sandy beaches which are the perfect spot to spend a few days relaxing after exploring the rest of the island. Nosy Be off the north west coast is perhaps the best known of Madagascar’s beach destinations offering a picture-perfect beach stay, whilst the islands of Ile Sainte Marie, Tsarabanjina and Nosy Komba offer an unspoilt and pristine beach stay, where you can discover your very own slice of beach heaven.
Unlike many African capitals, Antananarivo holds much of interest, which is just as well as often multiple stops are needed to fit in with flight schedules and navigating from one part of the island to another. A real cultural melting point, Tana as it is often called, highlights what a completely different place Madagascar is. Built into twelve sacred hills, this vibrant and colourful city is a frenetic buzz which captivates many visitors.
Read here about Africa Specialist Anton’s experience discovering the nocturnal world that only comes to life after dark in Madagascar.
Madagascar is fast-becoming the place to go for Africa old-hands looking for something new and for those wanting an assault of their senses. Regarded as the Eighth Continent because of its diversity of flora and fauna and unique melting pot of cultures, here we give the rundown on our top 10 species from this kaleidoscope of nature.