It’s hard to imagine a country any less spoiled by the commercialisation of tourism, even despite having a Disney Pixar animated movie based on it, but the Republic of Madagascar retains its natural beauty and diverse culture despite the hype that was created by American animators and the wild adventures they created. What will become obvious to anyone after even one visit to the country though is that the writers of these family-oriented movies really did do their homework. The landscape is every bit as beautiful in reality as it does on the animation sheets, the wildlife is every bit as colourful, and if they’d included the indigenous people in their movies, there’s no doubt they would have come across as the eclectic, resourceful and fascinating people that they are.
Despite the rave reviews and the slight increase in tourism it has experienced as a result, Madagascar remains a fairly un-travelled country by western tourists. It’s still viewed as that ‘large island off the southeast coast of Africa’, and flights to its Ivato airport are as rare as spots on a tiger. But for travellers who do venture that far past the Equator, and don’t mind a few changes on route, the country offers an enormous array of interesting sights that make the lengthy and complicated journey worthwhile.
Check out the Cities
Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar, and it lies, unusually for a capital, completely inland and without swift access to the sea. It’s small by capital city standards with fewer than a million residents, but it is the lively hub that greets tourists flying into nearby Ivato. With many of the streets given over to shanty town-style housing, as is often the way in underdeveloped African countries, there are few areas which offer the modern conveniences a holiday maker might expect, but head into the upper city or around Independence Square, and you’ll quickly come across the French designed brick homes that are a surviving reminder from their decades of rule. And you won’t be stuck for things to do here, either. The city’s museum, dedicated entirely to pirates, will take you back to their swashbuckling days, while a trip to the Lemur zoo is a must for kids and a great start to family adventure holidays.
Venture into the Wild
As you might expect, an enormous portion of the country is given over to the wilderness, although some parts have adopted National Park status and are a little more controlled and tended. Venturing unaccompanied outside the main inhabited areas is ill-advised, so if you want to get up close and personal with the local wildlife, either hire a guide and a vehicle, or make your way to one of the many nature reserves instead.
There are around 50 such areas on this one island, and they’re divided into categories according to their status and importance; strict nature reserves, National Parks and wildlife reserves, with some of these being marine based, are literally littered all over the island and make the area very attractive for scientific research trips and unusual safari holidays.
Wandering in a nature reserve is almost guaranteed to be trouble free. You won’t be meeting lions and tigers, or elephants and bears, because Madagascar has never been home to the usual species of mammals found elsewhere in Africa. Instead, it’s home primarily to Lemurs and a large number of monkey groups, as well as some interesting and unusual insects and foxes.
Fiona Galloway is a travel writer who enjoys safari holidays with her family every winter.