Madagascar

Madagascar

Magical Madagascar – where the wildlife is unique, from chameleons and frogs to the 70 species of lemur which are only found on this bio diverse island. It is an eco tourist’s dream with abundant national parks and wildlife reserves in breathtaking rainforests and deserts.

Dreaming of a tropical getaway spent lounging on idyllic islands, trekking through verdant rainforests, hiking around jaw-dropping rock formations and spotting unique wildlife? Then set your sights on Madagascar. Located in the Indian Ocean, about 743 miles east of Mozambique, this African paradise is the fourth largest island in the world. Approximately 12,000 to 14,000 types of plants can be found in the country’s 42 national parks and reserves, but its one-of-a-kind animals are the main draw for nature lovers. All of the world’s 97 lemur species call this island nation home, as do 340-plus kinds of chameleons and a variety of birds.

Though you’ll likely spend some time in populous areas like Antananarivo (the country’s capital) and Nosy Be (a small island off the mainland’s northwest coast), Madagascar is filled with regions ripe for exploration. Travelers can head offshore to snorkel around Nosy Sakatia or swim at The Three Bays, and photography enthusiasts can snap breathtaking pictures of the sun rising or setting over Morondava’s Avenue of the Baobabs. Fitness buffs, meanwhile, have access to hiking trails at Anja Community Reserve, plus Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve’s towering limestone pinnacles, which are ideal for climbing. If you’d rather have a more quintessential Malagasy vacation, travel deep into national parks like Isalo and Mantadia to watch lemurs, boa constrictors and more lingering in the trees.

What You Need to Know

  • Beaches are not guarded
    Lifeguards and security personnel are rarely stationed at beaches. If you plan on visiting a beach, do not leave your belongings unattended at any time, and keep a close eye on children.
  • Bottled water is a must
    Tap water is not safe to drink at hotels, restaurants and all other locales in Madagascar, meaning you’ll need to drink bottled water at all times. You’ll also want to avoid ice in drinks unless it’s been made from filtered water.
  • Malaria is prevalent
    Local mosquitoes may carry malaria, so bring long-sleeved clothing, insect repellent with DEET (a chemical that limits mosquitoes’ ability to smell you) and anti-malarial medication, which can be obtained from your doctor.
  • Cash reigns supreme
    Few restaurants, shops and hotels accept credit cards in Madagascar, so bring Malagasy ariary with you or withdraw some from a local ATM to pay for goods and services.

Home to 18 main ethnic groups, Madagascar is a diverse island nation. Malagasy and French are the country’s official languages, the latter of which was introduced when the French colonized the region from 1896 to 1960. You may also find a few Malagasy people who speak English, but it is best to use Malagasy or French when possible. Of the two primary languages, Malagasy is more commonly used. Some key Malagasy and French terms and phrases to use while traveling in Madagascar include “manao ahoana e” and “bonjour” (hello), “Manao ahoana ny fahasalamanao?” and “Comment allez-vous?” (How are you?), “Tsy azoko” and “Je ne comprend pas” (I don’t understand), “Mahay miteny angisy ve ianao?” and “Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?), and “veloma” and “au revoir” (goodbye).

Although Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo has a population of more than 1.3 million people, the majority of Malagasy people live in rural areas, where traditional customs and practices are the norm. Men and women who live in the countryside, for example, mainly wear locally made garments like dresses with gathered skirts and oversized shirts with long pants, while wealthier individuals and those living in cities often wear a mix of Western attire and traditional items like lambas (shawls) and raffia hats. Many Malagasy people will also celebrate family-focused ceremonies, such as Famadihana (a sacred ritual that involves removing the bones of loved ones from an ancestral crypt to rewrap with fresh garments).

Music is an integral part of Malagasy culture. Western dances, lyrics and instruments are blended with Malagasy rhythms to create the bulk of the country’s contemporary music. Western musical styles like rock, jazz and hip-hop can also be heard here, but one of Madagascar’s most popular genres is salegy, an energetic style that features electric guitars, accordions, drums and call-and-response vocals. Salegy and other genres are played at various bars and clubs throughout Antananarivo, including the Hotel Glacier, Pandora Station and Espace Dera, but prostitution – which is illegal in Madagascar – occasionally takes place in entertainment venues, so exercise caution when enjoying Malagasy nightlife.

The official currency in Madagascar is the Malagasy ariary (MGA). One Malagasy ariary equals approximately $0.0003, or less than one American penny, but you’ll want to check the latest exchange rate before visiting. Euros are easiest to convert to Malagasy ariary in-country, but some currency exchange vendors will take dollars. Credit cards are not accepted at most Malagasy locales, so plan on using cash; if you need additional currency, ATMs are available in most major towns.

The best way to get around Madagascar is to hire a car with a driver or join an organized tour. Car rentals commonly come with a driver as part of their rates and give you the most flexibility with your itinerary. Tours, however, generally cover the cost of accommodations and some or all meals, but you’ll have to stick to a set schedule and travel with other visitors. Limited public transportation options are also available, but these affordable services are slow and often uncomfortable and unsafe. For longer trips between select towns, traveling by plane can be arranged. Getting to the island will require flying into Ivato International Airport (TNR) in Antananarivo or arriving by cruise ship to various Malagasy locales, including Antsiranana, Nosy Be and Tamatave, via cruise operators like Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises.

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