Madagascar

Exciting and unusual Madagascar floats off the coast of Mozambique and is where bizarre animals and extraordinary plant life evolved independently for centuries.

Madagascar is the oldest island on earth and is characterised by its unique natural history. The fourth largest island in the world, this great land mass lies off the South-East Coast of Africa and is home to 5% of the world’s animal and plant species. A huge number of these species are endemic and this is most likely due to the islands incredible habitat diversity. Madagascar simply has it all; from rainforests to deserts, mountain tops to mangrove swamps and everything else imaginable in-between.

Madagascar is home to over 50 species of lemur – native to the island and found nowhere else in the world. Baobab trees are also emblematic of the island – easily recognisable with their stubby branches and swollen trunks. With the abundance of animal and birdlife on the island it is not surprising there are some top class National Parks. Three of the best are Ranomafana in the South-East, Isalo and Tsingy de Bemaraha on the Western Coast.

Ranomafana Park is made up of rainforests, cloud forests, marshes and high plateau forests, and is bisected by the Namarona River where you can swim during the summer months. The reserve is known for its wildlife spotting opportunities. The golden bamboo lemur was discovered here but also shares the space with 11 other different species of lemur. One of the highlights of the park is Mount Maharira, whose summit is covered with rare mountain top flora. Isalo National Park is notable for its strangely shaped formations of sandstone cut by deep canyons and eroded in weird shapes. The caves in some of the canyon walls are sacred to the local Bara Tribe and have been used for thousands of years as burial sites. Be sure to take a trip to La Fenetre – a natural rock formation best seen at sunset. Another place to venture to is the ‘piscine naturelle’, an excellent swimming spot on one of the circular trails.

Tsingy de Bemaraha is perhaps the most impressive of the National Parks. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has unique geographical features – the tsingy. These rocks were formed by fossil and shell deposits on the sea bed millions of years ago and have since become part of the land and been carved by rainwater over time. A series of walkways, ladders and cable ropes run between the peaks and providing stunning views. The park is also a great place to spot red fronted and brown lemurs as well as chameleons and collared iguanids. It’s true that most travellers come to Madagascar to observe the natural wonders but the beaches should not be overlooked. Nosy Be is the largest of a cluster of islands in the Mozambique channel, host to some of the finest beaches in the area, fantastic seafood and luxury accommodation.

A stay on Nosy Be wouldn’t be complete without a day trip to the nearby reef ringed island of Nosy Tamikely, where you can find a marine reserve perfect for snorkelling.  Off the East Coast of Madagascar lies Ile Sainte Marie, a tropical island with endless palm fringed beaches, white sand, luxurious vegetation and the added bonus of being relatively undeveloped. The island was a major hideout for pirates in the Indian Ocean and unusual legends are still told about them. One of the graves in the local graveyard even has a skull and crossbones carved on it! The picture perfect beaches are a great place to wind down and between May and September to whale-watch.

The island, which is the fourth largest in the world, is where bizarre animals and extraordinary plant life evolved independently for centuries.

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