Madagascar is unlike any other country; a bizarre and intoxicating mix of extraordinary landscapes, whose diverse habitats include rainforest, deciduous forest, high mountains, desert and coral reef coastlines.
Wildlife enthusiasts brim with excitement at the thought of its extraordinary array of wildlife, the majority of which is found nowhere else in the world.
The catalogue of endemic species is extraordinary with eight whole plant families, over 1000 orchids and thousands of succulents; 350 species of frogs; 370 unique reptiles; 200 mammals; five families of birds and an entire branch of the primate family tree.
Culturally the island is also extremely diverse and interesting, dominated by the descendants of settlers from Indonesia and Malaya, along with strong Bantu and Swahili influences from mainland Africa.
Madagascar also has some superb beach locations and excellent diving, notably on the tropical islands of Nosy Be to the north-east and Nosy Boraha to the north-west.
Travelling around Madagascar is more complicated than on mainland Africa with less reliable infrastructure. You also don’t get quite the choice or variety of accommodation although that’s changing quite quickly at the moment.
If you’re a keen naturalist or like getting off the beaten track Madagascar is well worth exploring.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
- 90% of Madagascar’s flora and fauna is unique to the island. The Madagascar periwinkle is used to treat leukemia.
- The first humans to settle in Madagascar came by canoe from the island of Borneo and arrived approx 450BC. Mainland Africans joined them almost 500 years later.
- Madagascar, a popular resting place for European pirates in the late 1700s was rumoured to be the site of the independent pirate nation of Libertalia. Pirates renounced their national identities and called themselves Liberi, making their own system of government and law. They waged war against other states releasing prisoners and freeing slaves.
- Lemurs are sacred in Madagascar. As of 2012, there were 103 living species and subspecies of lemur, almost all classified as rare, vulnerable, or endangered.
- Madagascar was home to the largest bird in the world, the elephant bird, until it became extinct in the 17th century. It is believed to have been over ten feet tall (3 metres).
- Madagascar is among the world’s main suppliers of vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang, and also a major supplier of coffee, lychees and shrimp.