Although the plants and animals of Madagascar aren’t quite as wacky as those in the Disney movie, there are still a large number of bizarre things to be seen on the world’s forth-largest island. In Madagascar, it is possible to roam the rainforest, explore volcanoes and lounge on orchid-scented, fine sand beaches. Although the heat and haze of the capital ‘Tana’ is easily escaped for the cooler climes of mountain rainforests, Madagascar’s roads and tourist infrastructure are most likely to drive you crazy. Luckily, the many domestic flights and tour operators offer a more relaxing way to access the country’s large number of parks, canyons, grottos, beaches and of course, the lemurs. It’s also a jolly popular for National Geographic expeditions.

In the capital and at the more popular beach resort towns like Nossi Bé, you’ll find excellent hotels, casinos, movie theaters and perhaps even a few venues with live music and traditional dancing. Elsewhere, pickings are slim, especially in the middle of the jungle. So, if you want to dance with the lemurs, who’s to stop you?

When to Go

Equatorial and hot mostly, visit Madagascar in April or May when there’s less chance of rain, but still time to enjoy the lush greenery that springs up after the monsoons. September and October are also good times to visit, just before the rain, when the lemurs are being born. November to March is the rainy season, with storms and occasional cyclones in the east and north. April to October is the dry season, with cool temperatures.

Getting There & Away

Most flights into the international airport in Antananarivo are from Africa, as Madagascar does happen to be a long way from almost everywhere else. The taxis servicing the airport charge a higher fee than usual, but Air Madagascar operates a bus into the city. If you do come into the country on an Air Madagascar flight, you will also be eligible for significant discounts on their domestic flights. Since they fly to more than 50 cities on the island, and considering the state of disrepair of the roads (in the rainy season, some roads disappear all together), flying is by far the best way to get around.

Health & Safety

Malaria is a risk throughout the country, but particularly in the coastal areas. You should drink bottled, boiled or otherwise sterilized water and avoid milk products. There is a danger of parasites in fresh water, so don’t swim in lakes and streams. Swimming and diving on the east coast is also not recommended due to the high danger from sharks. Unless you are on a packaged tour or staying in a high-end resort, you should expect at least some level of minor intestinal discomfort, if not diarrhea. If you do need a doctor, there are both public and private health facilities although both are somewhat limited.

Itineraries

One day at Antanonarivo.
Two days at Ranomafana and L’Isalo national parks.
Three days at Fort Dauphin and the Berenty Wildlife Reserve.
Four days at Nossi Bé.

Additional time
Two days at Morondava.
Three days at Masoala National Park.

Highlights

Antananarivo: occassionally called Antananananariiiiivo! You’ll often hear this French-flavored town referred to simply as Tana. It’s built on three levels, dominated by the historic Queen’s Palace, and is the center of all trips to Madagascar. It claims to have the second-largest market in the world, and if the heat, crowds and pollution of the rest of the city don’t give you a headache, the bustle of Zoma Market will.

National parks: Ranomafana and L’Isalo national parks are easily accessible, where it is possible to spot lemurs, hike, explore canyons, swim and enjoy the great bio-diversity of Madagascar. Permits are required for entry to all national parks.

Nossi Bé: on the northwest coast is the most popular beach resort, serving up a beach vacation much like any other and some above par diving. Expect a few complaining Parisians pretending to enjoy ‘Afrique’.

Ifaty: is popular for its white sand beaches, shallow coral reefs and whale-watching. Divers should mark this one on their itinerary.

Fort Dauphin: in the southeast is known for its lobsters, remarkable scenery and as a gateway to the nearby Berenty Wildlife Reserve.

Antseranana: at the northernmost tip of the island is a seaport surrounded by lakes, waterfalls and a rainforest inhabited by lemurs, crocodiles and orchids.

Ambohimanga: the citadel here, surrounded by forests, is guarded by a stone gate which once required 40 men to roll it into position. It hasn’t moved since!

Activities

Diving: the main center for diving is at Nossi Bé and the surrounding islands, you should be able to find diving facilities all along the north and west coasts.

Trekking: tours can be arranged for groups with any interest, from lemur-watching to spotting rare orchids. On such an ecologically diverse island this is the real deal. Pony-treks can also be arranged for those who want an easy ride through the rainforest.

Whale-watching: the best time to spot these massive creatures is from July through September in the Bay of Antongil.

Spas: two volcanoes feed the thermal spas at Antsirabe, where you can bathe and get a massage.