Best Places to Visit in Madagascar; An Island of PassionSrinivasa Shenoy
Nearly a 1/5 of the size of India, Madagascar is small region; albeit the 4th largest island in the world. There are many fascinating places to visit across the island; however, getting from one place to the other can pose serious transportation challenges – treat it as an adventure if you will!
While listing down all the lovely places of Madagascar would make this a long discussion, some of the recommended places to visit in Madagascar would be:
The capital city of Antananarivo (Tana for short) is a potpourri of eating, shopping, culture and history. (and of course, the traffic!). The first and last stop on your visit, Tana is called “the City of thousands, referring to 1000 treasures to discover – you can visit a “rova” – a palace of the royal era, or wander through the animal parks, trek to go through the 12 sacred hills around the city, explore the various restaurant options to taste true Malagasy cuisine.
You can also take a day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga. An important cultural and historical site, visit to learn the Malagasy identity, study the architecture and view the panoramic landscape.
The Rock Forests of Tsingy of Bemahara
The Tsingy is one of the most spectacular landscapes of Madagascar with its network of rifts, crevasses, and limestone blocks that are carved in sharped blades. Roughly translated as “where you cannot walk barefoot”, the tsingy are rugged expanses of eroded limestone peaks that mask caverns and deep waterways. (the Manambolo River). The Tsingy de Bemaraha is a UNESCO World Heritage site (nature) and is the best of the Tsingys in Madagascar (others like the Red Tsingies in the north are not as awe inspiring).
The Avenue of Baobabs
Undoubtedly the most iconic photo of Madagascar (and the most touristy) is the sunset at the Avenue of Baobabs near Morondava. The weird looking bottle shaped giant trees (or the upside down tree – due to its small branches) (Grandidier’s baobab), about 20-25 in number, line up a 850ft stretch of the road. Locally known as ‘renala’ (Malagasy for “mother of the forest”), some of them are upto 800 years old!
If you have the time, go a little further to the northwest to see the Baobab Amoureux. There are two Baobab trees here (different species from the ones in the Avenue)– which have twisted into each other; hence known as the ‘Lover trees’. Ask your guide about the local legends relating to this tree!
The beaches of the North – Nosy Be
Nosy Be, a small island in the north, and its surrounding areas / islands have scenic idyllic beach resorts – deep blue skies, clear waters, golden sands and palm trees lining the beaches – good for a few days of peace in paradise. But if you want to be more active, you will be spoilt for choice – walking on the white sands, diving in pristine waters, island hopping, kite and wind surfing..
Parc National d’Isalo
A park of nearly 800 sq km of sandstone massif wildly eroded by wind and rain into bizarre ridges (known as “runiformes”) featuring wild forms, impressive gorges and canyons and tiny stalagmite pinnacles. Roam in arid zones with various colors and shapes. Occasionally, enter a forest with its lemurs and other wild animals. Walk along small streams with beautiful waterfalls and take a dip in the numerous paradisiacal pools!
The pristine island of Ile Saint Marie
Leave the touristic beaches of Nosy be behind and marvel in the beautifully unspoiled island of Ile Saint Marie on the East coast of Madagasacar. Consisting of a main island and several small islets, its lush greenery amidst small villages, the long sandy beaches set by coconut palms, its bays and coves protected by coral reefs have made this dreamy island as a great option for a tranquil getaway!
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
This small park will surprise you with its sheer variety of mammals (notably the Lemurs – quite a high concentration and six Lemur species can be found here), diversity of the flora (especially orchids – of which there are more than 200 species), reptiles and amphibians (more than 100 species of frogs!). This pocket of wild paradise is quite close to Antananarivo and can be your first opportunity to spot wild Lemurs. The early morning loud calls of the Indris Lemur will welcome you to an unforgettable experience!
Travelling to all the above places (and more!) is an adventure in itself: Take the boat trip on the River Tsiribihina and treat yourself to a “Cruise” with all the attendant scenery. Drive (and survive) the infamous RN5 on the east coast, lovingly called the World’s most dangerous road (especially after the rains), and the off-roading competition back home would be a cakewalk. Of course, there are flights to important hubs – but be prepared to be liberal with your wallet.