Off the beaten track and in the middle of the ocean, this fascinating micro-continent has it all – from beautiful cities, fascinating people, lush rainforests, unique wildlife and tropical beaches. Many visitors come to Madagascar in search of the unique wildlife calling this island home, in particular the lemurs consisting of 50 different species. Although these beautiful creatures can be seen year-round, they are shy, so make sure to bring your binoculars.
Divers are spoiled for choice, from underwater cathedrals to rusted shipwrecks and the opportunity to share the deep blue waters with rays, whale sharks, and reef sharks. Here you can choose to snorkel among curious fish, colourful coral, and graceful turtles. And those more inclined to keep their heads above water can watch humpback whales breach on their seasonal voyage.
Apart from being one of the most visually attractive places to visit, Madagascar is a cultural melting pot of intricate beliefs and rituals in reverence of ancestors and full of ethnic spices and exotic cuisines. This microcontinent is the best destination to escape the commercial tourist hotspots and venture into a whole new world.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about visiting Madagascar
To answer this question, you need to ask yourself: Why am I going to Madagascar? Is it to experience local culture and cuisine? Then make sure you visit during May when the island celebrates the Donia festival so that you can immerse yourself in authentic Madagascan food and traditions.
Are you visiting to hike and explore the island’s vast ecosystem? Travel between June and August and make sure to see Tsingy de Bemaraha. This is the island’s busiest time, but you can escape to the shores to spot humpback whales returning to the Île Sainte-Marie coast.
Is it to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and crowds? Then September is going to be your best month to travel. Local school holidays are over, and as most international visitors travel between July and August, you’ll be arriving as they leave the island.
Is your visit centred around the Madagascan wildlife? Then visit between October and November to catch a glimpse of the newborn ring-tail lemurs or the fascinating fossa – both endemic to the large island. Fossa mating season starts around September through October, which would also be the best chance of spotting these cat-like mammals.
Do you wish to visit when you can take advantage of lower hotel rates? Go in December! But make sure you take a raincoat, as this time of year does bring out a bit of rain. Top tip: go earlier in December rather than later, unless you want to ring in the new year with a cyclone possibly!
Nosy Be is Madagascar's foremost tropical beach destination! Nosy Be means "big island" in the Malagasy language and is the go-to beach destination lying just off the north-western shore of Madagascar.
Nosy Be is home to about 60,000 people as the main island and is located just eight kilometres (almost five miles) off Madagascar's northwest coast. The Fascene Airport is close to the main town of Hellville, which, contrary to its name, is quite a pleasant place. The island spans 300 km² (186 m²) with 11 volcanic crater lakes and some beautiful beaches and luxury resorts along its coastline.
If you're looking for the ultimate deserted island experience, we recommend heading further afield. There are several smaller and more secluded islands in the similar vicinity, such as Nosy Komba, Nosy Mitsio, Nosy Sakatia, and Nosy Tanikely. These offer unrivalled snorkelling, and scuba diving and the Lemur sanctuary on Nosy Komba is well worth visiting. Some travellers opt for a dhow safari, hopping between the different islands on a traditional sailing boat.
Madagascar's unique biodiversity has given the country a reputation as a "living laboratory" and the "seventh continent". There is a network of officially recognised protected areas within Madagascar. One can only imagine that, with 90% of its wildlife being completely unique and endemic to this part of the world, there are going to be certain measures in place to make sure these areas flourish and remain consistent.
The eastern corridor of Madagascar, also known as the "green corridor", is a particularly important zone on this biodiverse island to which endemic plant life and other animals thrive, including its lemurs.
This part of the country is home to the 600-kilometre (373 miles) long Pangalanes Canal. The area is also rife with untouched rainforest with a variety of animals and plants that are best seen from the 15,500-hectare Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.
The bustling Antananarivo city acts as the gateway to this verdant region and is a cosmopolitan hub, showcasing the country's diverse history. The well-maintained road between Antananarivo and the coastal town of Toamasina, near the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, is one of the most travelled in the country.
There are many other protected areas and World Heritage Sites around Madagascar worth visiting! Chat to one of our Rhino Africa Travel Experts to narrow down the list best suited to your holiday!
Antananarivo is the capital city of Madagascar and is the place where all international flights arrive and depart. After arriving in Madagascar, most travellers immediately leave and skip this interesting city. However, it's worth adding an extra night to your itinerary to experience the essence of Madagascar and its people!
The city stands proudly on a ridge and contrasts with cobbled streets and historical buildings, sharing space with rice paddies and verdant hills. A lively and bustling city, Antananarivo will ensure that every day is filled with unusual spectacles.
The city's crowning glory, the Rova of Antananarivo, literally crowns the capital as it stands upon the highest hill. Fire destroyed the interior of this stone palace complex, but its exterior is still there. A stroll through the Andohalo neighbourhood will yield a variety of delights as visitors walk between streets lined with flowerbeds towards a large square housing the country's largest Catholic Church and oldest school.
The high elevation ensures that the city enjoys a moderate climate despite its position in the tropics.
Make sure you book a city tour with a professional guide who will act as your tour guide through these ancient streets carved by a colourful and rich history.
All international flights to Madagascar arrive in Antananarivo. Ivato International Airport is easy to navigate, with international arrivals and departures on the left and domestic on the right. Airlines with regular flights into Madagascar include Air Madagascar from Paris; Johannesburg, and Bangkok; Air France from Paris; SA Airlink from Johannesburg; and Kenya Airways from Nairobi. This makes a good combination holiday to plan the ultimate bush and beach adventure!
The easiest, most convenient way to get to some areas within Madagascar is by charter flight. However, this also comes at a price. Your other transportation option is by car or 4x4 vehicle. When booking a tailor-made itinerary with us, a professional guide and driver will take you around.
Depending on where you stay, you might also have the option to travel by boat either through waterways within the rainforest or crossing over to smaller islands off the main island's coast. At the end of your holiday, you will return to Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo to depart on your international flight.
The easiest way to answer this question is to divide the different areas according to geographical location, namely north, south, east and west. We already touched on the east, or the "green corridor", referring to the extensive rainforests covering most of this landmass.
Nosy Boraha, or Île Sainte-Marie, is an island off Madagascar's east coast and worth mentioning. It's also commonly known as Pirate Island, said to have been home to over 1,000 pirates between the 17th and 18th century. This is the best seat to watch the annual humpback whale migration between June and September.
The northern part of the island, where the forest meets the beach, is the most commonly visited area on the island as it’s the most commercial compared to the other areas on the island. The north is also known for its beaches and year-round pleasant weather – making it the ideal place for kite surfers and divers. Nosy Be, Madagascar's premier tropical island destination, is also off the island's north and where you can experience the whale shark migration.
The south of Madagascar is beautiful, but as it’s so far from everything else, very few travellers choose to visit. Fort Dauphin (Taolagnaro) is a seaside town that emerges after a long drive through the spiny forest of cacti – but the journey is worth it! If you’ve ever wanted to see a carnivorous plant, be sure to visit the Berenty Reserve or take a dip in one of the many natural cascades in Nahampoana Reserve.
The western sector of the island is extremely remote, and much of it is still undiscovered, which is the selling point for the more adventurous traveller. Tsingy de Namoroka National Park is home to the unusual geological rock formations known as the tsingy formations. Road conditions are not ideal for getting here, and it's only open during the dry months between April and October. But, if you're up for the adventure, it's sure to be an incredible one! The famous "Avenue of the Baobabs" is also on this area of the island.
Millions of years ago, Madagascar separated from the African continent due to continental shifts in the tectonic plates. After being isolated for so long, the island has become a natural phenomenon and home to various plant and wildlife species found nowhere else on Earth.
Although no one is sure exactly when the first settlers arrived on the island, Madagascar was the last major landmass on Earth to be colonised by humans. The first settlers likely encountered the island’s original inhabitants, including giant lemurs and the Malagasy pygmy hippopotamus – both of which are now extinct due to hunting and destruction of habitat due to farming.
Between the 7th and 11th centuries, Arab traders, south-eastern African migrants, and South Indian merchants inhabited Madagascar. By 1500, European contact was made by the Portuguese, who set up a settlement on the south coast of the island, west of Fort Dauphin. French trading posts were established between the 17th and 18th century, which became popular with pirates whose gravestones can be visited on Nosy Boraha, or Île Sainte-Marie.
By 1960, Madagascar gained independence but transitioned through a few revised constitutions before the new Madagascar constitution established a multi-party democracy in 2010. Madagascar is a delicious melting pot of the various cultures which helped shape the Malagasy traditions and cuisine you can experience today, including the diverse influences of Southeast Asia, Africa, India, China, and Europe.