Top 6 reasons why one should travel to Madagascar?Srinivasa Shenoy
The thought of travelling to Madagascar brings to memory the early geography lessons in school – the 4th largest island, separated from the African continent more than 60 million years ago resulting in a wide variety of endemic flora and fauna…
To quote Sir David Attenborough: “Madagascar is a curious wonderland. It’s an unrepeatable experiment, a set of animals and plants evolving in isolation for over 60 million years. We’re still trying to unravel its mysteries.”
However, in recent times, since I started getting interested in wildlife and nature, the black and white video of Sir David Attenborough’s visit to Madagascar nearly 60 years ago, catalyzes my fascination with this mysterious island!
The episode titles of the BBC documentary (featuring Attenborough) on Madagascar (Island of Marvels, Lost World) indicate the exotic nature of this Island. The story of the Giant Egg of the Elephant (now extinct) and how Attenborough managed to piece together an eggshell, nearly 1300 years old from its pieces, is fascinating if not miraculous!
Check out this story here: (in two parts)
The stories apart, why should you go to Madagascar? Here are 6 broad reasons for you to make your plans to visit this country (or continent? – it is called the 8th Continent after all!)
1. Exotic Wildlife
The long isolation of this island has created some unique species of animals. But note that 75% of the animals on Madagascar are endemic – meaning that they are not found anywhere else on earth! The celebrity animal is of course, the Lemur – made famous by King Julien (of the animated Dreamworks movie Madagascar). With more than 100 species (5 families) of Lemurs found across Madagascar; lemurs are often revered and protected by cultural taboo.
But then marketing hype aside, Lemurs are not the only animals worth sighting on this island; it is home to many unique and ‘weird’ animals and plants; the eerie-looking fossa (a cat-like predator), colourful and camouflaged chameleons (including the world’s smallest chameleon), oddly shaped insects (hissing cockroaches and the Giraffe Weevil), vivid frogs (Tomato frog), colourful birds (Blue Coua) – the list goes on. On the marine side, you will find graceful rays and turtles, several species of sharks, and humpback whales during the winter months. Of course, the Avifauna: with ‘only’ 258 species, this place has nearly 150 endemic bird species.
2. Spectacular Landscapes
Matching the incredible specie diversity, the landscapes are equally varied within a small region. Go from rainforests (east) to the deserts (south west) – Sandstone canyons, limestone karsts, mountains, rivers cutting across gorges, forests of every kind – rain, dry, spiny and of course the spectacular coastal regions. A laterite-rich soil gives the country its nickname of ‘Red Island’.
The most iconic photograph of Madagascar has to be the Avenue of Baobabs! This is the dry landscape of the west.
3. Diverse Flora
Trees and plants are just as impressive, be they the distinctively shaped baobabs, the fanning ravinala (travellers’ palm), the hundreds of orchids, the spiny forests of the desert south or the wet tropical rainforests of the east. Remember that 83% of the floral species are endemic to this island.
UNESCO has recognized the ‘Rainforests of the Atsinanana’ as a World Heritage site noting its incredible diversity. They are fast disappearing though – these rainforests represent only 8.5% of the original forests (before the humans attacked!)
4. Pristine, Dreamy beaches
The beaches and islands in this Indian Ocean island will make the beach junkies cry! Go to the popular region northern region of Nosy Be or the less crowded island of Ille Saint Marie.
5. The Rock Forests
The Tsingy rock forests are 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). Though Tsingys are found in different parts of Madagascar, the star is definitely the Tsingy de Bemaraha (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The Wild side apart, the capital city of Antananarivo (Tana for short) is a potpourri of eating, shopping, culture and history. (and of course, the traffic!). 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.
To conclude – the not so impressive reason to go: Quoting David Attenborough again:
I go back to a place where there was forest 50 years ago when I was there and it has all been knocked down the only thing that is there is an abandoned saw mill. It was sad to go back and see that.
“It is an example of the way the island has changed over the years. There are now three times as many people living on the island since I was there 50 years ago. The only places they can live and grow food were the only places that were wild. The wild places are being taken over by people building villages on them and rice fields.
So go there, travel across, watch the flora and fauna, experience the spectacular beauty of paradise: before it all vanishes!