Madagascar unwrapped

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An insider’s overview, from the experts at Steppes Travel.

Why Visit?
Madagascar is a confusing, fascinating and exciting country; a world as magical and diverse as her people. Here, chameleons change colour in front of your eyes, lemurs dance through treetops, baobabs loom over paddy fields and whales calve off white beaches. And amongst this wealth of natural beauty hide pirates’ tombs, celebrations of the dead and whispered superstitions. A holiday to Madagascar will not fail to deliver a truly enchanted experience for adults and children alike.

Highlights

Northern Madagascar

  • Diego Suarez (Antsiranana), the beautiful Portuguese colonial port town surrounded by hills, with charming architecture combining influences of the Arabs, Creoles and Comorans who have settled here over the years.
  • Amber Mountain National Park offers a lush and picturesque montane rainforest; a particularly good place for a walking safari to seek out the panther chameleon.
  • The Masoala Peninsula offers a real sense of adventure, with its rugged coastline, mountain rainforests and isolated, indigenous towns. Seek out red ruffed lemurs and aye-ayes. It offers some of the country’s best whale-watching.
  • Ankarana Special Reserve is renowned for its dramatic, grey forest of limestone pinnacles (tsingy), where lemurs abound, viewed from a challenging canopy of walkways and bridges. Explore river caves and canyons full of stalagmites.

Central Madagascar

  • Andasibe-Mantadia (Perinet) is Madagascar’s premier wildlife reserve, a montane rainforest just four hours’ drive from the capital. Great for lemurs, chameleons and birding.
  • The remote Kirindy Reserve has few visitors but is one of the best places for night walks and is the best place to see Madagascar’s only large predator, the fossa. Close to the Avenue of Baobabs.
  • Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve is hard to reach but draws visitors to its dramatic tsingy forest (limestone pinnacles). Explore via canopy walkways and bridges or by pirogue to river caves.
  • Explore the colourful hill city of Antananarivo, where you can visit markets, museums, sacred tombs, experiencing the rich Merina culture.

Southern Madagascar

  • Isalo National Park offers dramatic, barren sandstone landscapes, ideal for hiking. See rare plant species and ancient Bara burial caves.
  • Berenty is famous for close encounters with ring-tailed lemurs and sifakas; great for night walks and visits to local villages.

Beaches and islands

  • With 5000 miles of coastline, Madagascar is a fantastic beach destination, offering world-class diving, snorkelling, sailing and whale watching.
  • Opt for the wild southern shores at Manafiafy, the exotic charm of Ile St Marie or Masoala in the east, or the more popular areas around Nosy Be.

Cultural highlights

  • Discover ancient haunted tombs in remote southern forests
  • Experience the buzz of a traditional weekly zebu cattle market
  • Take an urban Malagasy music tour around Antananarivo
  • Experience ancestor worship during one of the local famadihana ceremonies (the famous “turning of the bones”)

Take the family!
Madagascar is a great family destination; it is unique, with so much weirdness to really appeal to children’s imagination: snorkel over historical shipwrecks off Ile St Marie, search for pirate graves and haunted tombs in mangroves, set out on a night walk to spot chameleons, lemurs and tenrecs… or swim, snorkel, kayak and sail.

Voice of Experience
“For luck,” says my guide Justin, as he bends down to pick up a pinch of dust by the side of the road. He places it carefully in his pocket. I find out later that such is the Malagasy love of home that whenever they leave, they take a small handful of soil with them to ensure their safe return.

I’m at the start of my journey towards Andringitra National Park in south-eastern Madagascar – beginning with a four-hour drive through a wild, highland countryside. I share the ride with four: Justin, my guide, Patrick, the driver, Charles, a porter, and Grace, a cook. They talk incessantly and laugh easily as we cross crumbling wooden bridges that are more gaps than planks.

“Don’t worry,” Grace smiles, “today is maraina tsara – a good day for travelling.” It transpires that some days are more auspicious than others. “The ancestors will look after us.”

Read more of Chris Johnston’s story ‘Between Two Worlds’ here

Top tip
“Whilst September and October are thought of as the best months to go, there is much to be said for visiting Madagascar in April and May. Communities come together for the rice harvest, the temperature is still wonderfully warm and it is the perfect time for trekking. Better still, you can avoid the crowds and have the country all to yourself.”
Chris Johnston, Steppes Travel Madagascar Expert.

Next Steppes
To learn more about travelling to Madagascar, and to discuss a personalised itinerary, visit www.steppestravel.com, email travelafrica@steppestravel.com or call +44 (0)3332 223177.

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