Country: Madagascar
Currency: Ariary (MGA)
Peak Season: April-October
Shoulder Season: April-October
Median Temperature: 18.30 C / 64.94 F
Main Languages: Malagasy, French, English
Primary Modes of Transportation: car/SUV rental, taxi, bicycle, boat
Recommended Duration of Stay: 5 days
Recommended Pocket Money: $70.00/day
Tourist Passes: Air Tourist Pass
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If there were one place on earth that gives unparalleled strength to ecologists and conservationists, that island would be Madagascar: 135 million years in the making and home to the world’s most unique (and threatened) wildlife, including the ring-tailed lemur, comet moth, flatid leaf bug, Chilean stag beetle, plowshare tortoise and many more that are yet to be docketed. And why would we just limit our senses to just animals—there are at least 12,000 registered plant species, including the spine-tingling likes of titan arum, welwitschia mirabilis, venus fly trap, rafflesia, and a slew of other exotic plants that may just be hiding the cure for cancer. If it weren’t for poachers and illegal loggers, there would still be more sifakas hopping gleefully. Then again, Madagascar’s natives—Malagasy—are now more conscious of the significance of their massive island; interestingly, they considered it an insult to be referred to as just “Africans,” albeit the island’s 743-mile proximity from Mozambique. The Malagasy themselves engage in a variety of artistic endeavor and taboo to pay homage the rarity and bountifulness of Madagascar.

Visiting Madagascar is a one of a kind experience that may first be met with aversion from the animals, but within a day, you’ll find the reserves of Berenty, Kirindy, Ranomafana, and Masoala the most charming places on earth. And it’s not just the rainforests that culminate the island’s beauty—it’s also the beaches, including that of Nosy Be, Ile Sainte Marie, and Masoala. These beaches are popular for tales of buried treasure tucked deep during the age piracy (in which Madagascar was a haven for buccaneers). Of course, you’re not allowed to do that anymore, but you’re free to roam around and see the peering lemurs strut their stuff. And if you’ve had enough animals, resorts and rainforests (which is very unlikely), go to Antananarivo to interact with the people or shop for produce and handicraft in their chaotic marketplaces.

Packing List

  • Extra cash for contingencies, impulse purchases and rentals; it’s advisable to get a personal tour guide to easily navigate the island—the opportunity cost of traveling alone is higher than one thinks
  • Hiking gear, a sleeping bag, a rucksack and a pair of sturdy walking shoes that can brave the elements; restrictions are imposed on what one can bring to the island as well the dimensions of these items
  • Casual clothing and beachwear—the country is mildly warm, but its southern region is can get unbearably arid; bring a pair of sunglasses, a hat and essentials that don’t attract too much attention
  • Essential medication (anti-histamine, anti-diarrhea, aspirin, insect repellant,) and toiletries; bring your own food and water if possible, as a few staples not be immediately available even in the city proper
  • A decent camera, plenty of film and battery—bring various lenses, a tripod and other lighting equipment if serious about nature photography; do remember to bring a GPS device and map/guide of safe regions

Things to Do

  • Visiting the sacred ruins of Ambohimanga, east of the capital; embodying the cultural identity of the locals, the Royal Hill is evocative of the island’s prevalent 16th century agriculture, beliefs and politics
  • Exploring 810-hectare Andasibe National Park—the island’s most famous; its residents are the indris, tenrecs and chameleons, while the predominant tribes are Betsimisaraka, popular for rice cultivation
  • Spending some time in beach-laden Ifaty admiring the horizon and bird-watching; most tourists are advised to spend the remainder of their stay here after long treks due to the laid-back atmosphere
  • Scouring for pirate remains and treasure at Ile Sainte-Marie, just five miles off the mainland coast; the island is great for tanning, snorkeling, and whale watching, as well as seeing burial grounds for pirates
  • Visiting Anjajavy Forest, famous for its great number of flora and fauna (albeit having less biodiversity); positioned on the western side of the island, it evokes an arid backdrop evidenced by the shedding trees

DON'T

  • Associate the country with African and don’t refer to the Malagasy as Africans—they find it an insult (even children), so know beforehand that Madagascar isn’t originally part of Africa, but in fact India
  • Take on (eastern) beaches and forests without getting prior information if they are safe for exploration; get to learn the present political situation, as there have been violent insurgencies in 2002 and 2009
  • Be afraid to defecate on the ground and board an already packed bus—if both situations need be; in Eastern Africa, there’s nothing shameful about having learn how to live with life’s inconveniences
  • Hesitate to speak and negotiate with the women—Madagascar is a matriarchal country and women take great pride in what they do and actually get things done; however, don’t be too casual talking with them
  • Yield to rackets most locals try to rub on tourists; you’ll be offered outrageous deals countless times during your stay, so try to be assertive and courteously say “no” in case you’re not interested