1. The abundance of wildlife
What gets people most excited about Madagascar is its wildlife. Thanks to millennia in splendid isolation, Madagascar evolved unlike anywhere else on Earth. It’s an ecological gem, with a thrilling selection of endemic species; 5% of all the world’s plants and animals can be found in Madagascar alone, the reason many refer to it as the ‘eighth continent’.
Lemurs are the big celebs: with more than 100 species dotted across Madagascar, these delightfully endearing primates are inquisitive, playful and easy to spot (especially with an expert guide adept in the art of lemur calls).
Of course, lemurs aren’t the only mammals on the block: from tiny tenrecs and bats to the main predator of the pack, the elusive fossa, there’s plenty to look out for, not to mention the varied collection of birds and reptiles.
Sadly, Madagascar’s wildlife is at great risk, with deforestation (mainly giving way to destructive rice paddies) and poaching the two main culprits. Go now to see as many of these species in their natural habitat before it’s too late.
The elusive fossa, Madagascar’s largest predator © Vladislav T. Jirousek/Shutterstock
2. The magnificent tsingy
The razor sharp tsingy rock formations are yet another Madagascan phenomena. Roughly translated as “where you can only tiptoe”, the tsingy are rugged expanses of eroded limestone peaks that mask caverns and deep waterways where hardy flora and fauna manage to eke out an existence.
The star of the show is the westerly Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park (also the country’s first UNESCO site), closely followed by the Tsingy de Namoroka National Park, Ankarana Special Reserve, and iron-rich red ridges of the Tsingy Rouge Park in the north.
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park © Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock
3. Memorable island escapes
In true Indian Ocean style, Madagascar serves up some of the most sensational sandy beaches going with the added bonus of being pretty crowd-free. What’s more, the waters surrounding Madagascar are as diverse as the interior. Fish of all sizes call the corals of The Great Reef (the fifth largest in the world) home, while dolphins and manta rays are easily spotted at the right time of year.
Head to Nosy Sakatia to swim with grazing sea turtles, while day trips from Nosy Be will have you face-to-face with placid whale sharks from October to December. Meanwhile, glorious Ile Sainte Marie is ideal for whale watching between June and September, when humpback whales head to the warm waters to breed. If you dive, the ocean is your oyster.
Ile Sainte Marie, Madagascar © Charles-Henry Thoquenne/Shutterstock
4. Bountiful baobabs
If ring-tailed lemurs don’t leap into your mind at the mention of Madagascar, then surely the bulbous baobab tree will. All eight of the world’s baobab species can be found in Madagascar – six of which are endemic.
With the look of being planted roots up, baobab trees are the camels of the forest, able to retain up to thousands of litres of water, making them well suited to arid environments.
The Avenue of the Baobabs in western Madagascar is rightly considered the place to see them (best viewed at sunrise and sunset), however, other species of baobabs can be found island-wide if getting there is tricky.
Baobabs, Madagascar © Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock