13 Reasons to Visit Madagascar in 2023: From Lemurs to Vineyards
By Deb | Updated August 10, 2023 | Reasons to Visit Madagascar
Madagascar is a land cloaked in mystery. It was thrust into the spotlight by DreamWorks, it is still very much off the radar of tour companies and the like.
The island lies off the coast of Mozambique in East Africa, in a world of its own.
There are countless reasons to visit Madagascar. Whether you’re a beach bum, a wine lover, or an adventure hiker, you owe it to yourself to visit.
It’s great for travellers on a budget, as it’s an incredibly affordable place to be – once you get there. Food and accommodations cost so little that you might be tempted to extend your stay.
And if you’d like to see what NYC would look like if it were in Africa, here’s your chance! The cosmopolitan capital of Antananarivo has been compared to the US’s Big Apple.
Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world, and the largest island country in Africa. Some 88 million years ago, the 592,800 km² land mass broke off and drifted away from the Indian subcontinent.
Since then, its native plants and animals have evolved along their own path. Their variety on this single piece of land is spectacular. Plus, around 85% of its species are found nowhere else.
Read on for the top 13 reasons to visit Madagascar!
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Reasons to Visit Madagascar
While not quite as colourful as the animated movie, Madagascar is just as fascinating as the film portrays it to be. Check it out!
1. For King Julien Fans – Lemurs
These primates might be what Madagascar is most widely known for. King Julien, of the animated movie Madagascar fame, was much of the world’s introduction to lemurs, and to Madagascar!
There are more than 100 species of lemur, and this island is the only place where they occur naturally. They range from the Indiri, who can grow as tall as 3 feet and weigh up to 10 lbs, to the pygmy mouse lemur.
These little guys are no more than 4.75 inches long and weigh 4 oz. Their tails, though, can also be as long as 4.75 inches.
With so many species in between these two, all with different sounds, habits, and appearances, a walk through a Madagascar forest is always an adventure.
2. For the food – Romazava & Koba Cakes!
Seafood is everywhere and it’s very inexpensive. But that’s not all.
Cuisine in Madagascar is not your typical African fare. In fact, the original inhabitants of Madagascar were not African, but Austronesian and Arabic.
Mainland Africa has little influence on the cooking here.
One delectable dish that you’re sure to run into is romazava soup, considered the national dish of Madagascar. Once something made especially for the Malagasy ruler, it is now a common and popular dish.
It’s essentially a meat stew, typically with beef, often called zebu locally, pork and chicken. Add some leafy greens and spices, and you have romazava. You’ll want to try it in as many places as possible.
And don’t leave without having Koba cake (pronounced kubǝ). Another very traditional food, koba cake is made of rice flour, ground peanuts, and honey or sugar cane. It has a moist, dense texture, and is very filling.
3. Wine! Get In Touch with Your Inner Oenophile
Rum is a fairly well-known export of the island. But a little-known fun fact is that there are hundreds of small vineyards on the island, too.
The French brought winemaking with them when they invaded the island in the late 1800s. Very few of the 7.5 million or so litres that are produced here are exported, though, so it’s a bit of a local secret.
Aside from the typical whites, reds, and Rosés, you’ll also want to try a wine particular to Madagascar called Vin Gris. Aperitif wines are also a Malagasy specialty, flavoured with coconut and a variety of fruits.
Soavitas Vineyards is well-known on the island, and a great place to go for a tasting. It’s in the large town of Ambalavao, in the southern Central Highlands off the road called the RN7.
4. You Can Let the Animal Lover in You Loose
Believe it or not, there are 219 species of land mammals in Madagascar. Around 85% of these aren’t found in the wild anywhere else on the planet.
The same can be said for the 300 species of birds, reptile species that number over 260, not to mention the 266 amphibian species. Add to that the spiders, earthworms, and insects – that’s a whole lot of unique creatures.
Keep in mind that Madagascar was never a part of the African continent. You won’t find any giraffes or elephants here. No Big 5, no Small 5, no Ugly 5.
What you will find are not quite like any animals you’ve seen before. For example, the fossa is a relative of the mongoose. However, they grow up to 6 feet long, half of that tail, even though they only weighs about 26 lbs.
Other animals include little guys like the tenrecs, shrews, moles, tomato frogs, leaf-tailed geckos, panther chameleons… the list goes on and on.
Dare I mention hissing cockroaches?
🦎Viator’s offers an amazing 2 Day Wildlife Tour of several reserves and national parks. Spend the night in a forest lodge right there among the wildlife and learn about the local ecosystem. Check out these reviews!
5. It’s the Perfect Spot for Beach Bums – Nosy Be
There is a grand total of 228 beaches on the islands of Madagascar! Often you can have the beach of your choice entirely to yourself.
Madagascar’s small surrounding islands boast some of the most beautiful and private beaches you can imagine.
Manafiafy is a small beach fringed by lush green rainforest, and the perfect place to snorkel or just perfect your sun-worshipping.
Some consider the island of Nosy Be (meaning “big island) to be the top beach destination, with many to choose from and excellent marine life.
Plage de Ramena Beach is on the far north of mainland Madagascar, near Diego Suarez. It’s an idyllic spot for swimming, and has lots of seafood restaurants and beach bars to keep you happy all day long.
You’ll find countless fantastic places to swim and snorkel, as well as some of the best diving around.
6. Hiking – Nature Lovers of the World Unite
Madagascar is the ultimate paradise for nature lovers. Six national parks on the island make up what is called the Rainforests of Atsinanana.
These are lush and exotic locations that provide homes for thousands of creatures, including lemurs, not to mention the more than 1,100 species of plants.
Aside from Atsinanana, hiking in Isalo National Park is another epic experience. It’s also known as the Malagasy Grand Canyon. It’s 800 km² of beautiful grasslands, forests, and waterfalls.
Stunning rock formations make for interesting climbs, and you may see Fossas while you’re here.
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is another fantastic reason to visit Madagascar. This nature reserve is a geographical quirk, full of limestone towers, crevasses, and canyons.
7. The Avenue of the Baobab – the Largest Succulent in the World
These enormous trees that can reach up to 30 metres tall, are not really trees at all. They’re succulents called Reniala in Madagascar, meaning Queen or Mother of the Forest.
There are 8 species of these giants, and 6 of them grow nowhere else. They are very much a symbol of Madagascar.
A great place to see them is at the Avenue of the Baobabs. There are 25 baobabs along the avenue, all about 30 metres tall. They’re estimated to be up to 2,800 years old.
If that doesn’t make them fascinating enough, the species is the Grandidier’s baobab, which grows nowhere else on the planet outside of Madagascar.
8. The Fascinating History
As with the cuisine, the influences of various nationalities are visible in the culture and history of Madagascar. The island is a mosaic of 18 individual ethnic groups.
Influences of Arabic, Indonesian, Indian, and of course French make up the culture of the Malagasy people. After all, the island didn’t cease being a French colony until 1960.
The capital city of Antananarivo is home to museums that will show you not only Malagasy ethnology and paleontology, but art and archeology, as well.
9. Whales, Whales,
Whale watching is always a magical experience, and it’s even more so in this magical place. Here you’ll get to see 2 different species of whales, humpbacks and minkes.
Whale sharks also make an appearance, though they are sharks, not whales.
The humpback whales swim up from Antarctic waters in early winter, around May or June. They’ll spend about 6 months in the warmth of the Indian Ocean.
They’ll have their babies, mate, and raise their young here until they’re ready to make the long swim again south in December.
Some time in October, Minke whales leave the frigid waters for warmer ones and arrive for your viewing pleasure. They hang around until January or so.
September through December is also prime time for whale sharks! If nothing else, swimming with these 30-ton behemoths is all the reason you need to visit Madagascar. They like to hang out around Nosy Be.
10. UNESCO Site Chasers Score!
Madagascar is the proud home of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Two are nature sites, and one is cultural.
Mentioned above, the Rainforests of Atsinanana and Tsingy de Bemahaea National Park are listed. Tsingy was chosen for its quirky rock structures, as well as its spectacular mangrove forests and varieties of birds and lemurs.
The Rainforests were listed for their biodiversity and for the endangered animals they host.
The UNESCO cultural site Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is a traditional fortified royal settlement. In the 19th century it was the home of the royalty of the Imerina, an ethnic community of that time.
It’s said that the Imerina united much of the nation, and the site remains important to the national identity of Malagasy today.
11. Real-Life Pirate History
The 17th and 18th centuries were prime pirate years around Madagascar. It is actually known as the Golden Age of Piracy.
Pirates were so active during this time that they threatened the world economy. In the late 17th century it’s estimated that some 1,500 pirates were living on Madagascar’s island of Ile Sainte-Marie.
You will still find what’s thought to be the only pirate cemetery in the world, where many notorious Golden Age pirates rest.
12. The New York City of Madagascar
Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo, known locally as Tana, has been compared to America’s New York City. Both are busy, loud, and have some of the best dining around.
This is where the past and present of the Malagasy people come together. You can visit the 17th-century royal palace and then enjoy an aperitif at one of the chic street cafés.
Wander the city to absorb its ample history, stop at one of the museums, and reserve time for a world-class meal without the world-class price. You will be amazed.
13. The Opportunity to Get Outside of Yourself and Volunteer
A really satisfying way to experience Madagascar, and contribute to its people at the same time is to volunteer. There are several local organizations that you can work with.
You may assist with environmental research, teach French or English to the children of a remote village, or aid in caring for sick kids.
As one of the world’s poorest countries and home to some of the loveliest people, you’ll have an unforgettable experience. And – you’ll be able to claim Madagascar as a second home. Sounds like a great reason to visit.
✈︎ To book flights, hotels or VRBO, travel insurance, and car rentals go to IWIF’s Resource page. You’ll also find helpful guides there to make planning, packing, and shopping for your trip so much easier.
Summing It Up – Reasons to Visit Madagascar
Madagascar is unlike any other place on earth. Whatever a vacation or an adventure means to you, you’ll find it here.
And though it’s not a cheap flight to get there, once you arrive your budget will stretch farther than you can imagine. While you have the time of your life!
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