We’ve been dying to get our family to Madagascar for years and, this year, we finally did it! The world’s 4th largest island is full of amazing views, animals, and people. It’s undoubtedly a destination that should be on any adventure/nature lover’s bucket list of places to see. Below are some of the things that stood out to us about our recent trip.
Before leaving, we knew there were a lot of different types of lemurs, but we had no idea the breadth of this family of primates. The answer to how many types there are varied by person we asked, so let’s say there are more than 100 different types, from tiny Goodman’s mouse lemurs to the indri indri – the largest and loudest of lemurs. We missed the creepy bat-like aye-aye, but did enjoy the iconic ring-tailed lemur, the golden sifaka, the not-very-shy common brown lemur and many others. Certainly, a highlight was hearing the incredibly loud calls of the indri indri.
The coastline of Madagascar is vast and beautiful, and the number of pristine beaches, beautiful swim and dive spots and marine life are abundant. Much of the land is farmed, particularly with rice paddies, but the remaining sections of lush green forests are amazing. The landscape is more mountainous than we expected and the unique sites like the limestone tsingys – stone ‘forests’ carved by nature – and ancient baobab trees are highlights for most visitors.
Madagascar is a developing nation, so getting around the country is challenging, but not unmanageable with the right planning. The limited roads and poor condition of them made travel long and difficult. We paid extra to take a few charter flights, which saved us days of driving and from suffering on ill-maintained, clogged roads. We even enjoyed a bit of a splurge taking a helicopter to one of the islands around Nosy Be, which was quite a treat and made us feel like royalty when we landed! As you plan your Madagascar adventure, let us know what is more important: spending more money to travel in ease or saving money but spending more time getting around the country.
The amazingly different ethnic and cultural mix of people make for a unique and interesting montage of people in Madagascar. On our visit, we learned that the earliest settlers of the island were Polynesians and you can certainly see that influence. Malagasies today are comprised of these early settlers, along with Asians (Chinese and others), Indians, Middle Easterners, French and other Anglo-Europeans, and people from other African countries. We enjoyed seeing how the diversity of the people was reflected throughout the culture – from the food to the arts to how we communicated with locals. Speaking of, we expected some people would speak English and some did. However, a lot of people don’t. The main language of Madagascar is Malagasy, along with French. Malagasy can be daunting to first time visitors, and some words and names are so long they defy comprehension. Luckily for our travelers, you’ll be with an English-speaking guide who will communicate on your behalf.
We stayed in nice lodges and hotels during our trip. While Madagascar’s tourism infrastructure is not as developed as many other places, there are many basic to moderate accommodations available, and even some really lovely deluxe properties. We particularly enjoyed Mantadia Lodge in Andisibe which is a 4-hour drive from Tana and boasts fantastic lemur viewing; Anjajavy le Lodge, a Relaix and Chateau property on the northwest coast which offers beach activities, lemurs, turtles and more; and Constance Tsarabanjina on a tiny island, Nosy Mitsio, near Nosy Be. This last lodge was particularly luxurious, the snorkeling and fishing were fantastic, and there are many other activities available including seasonal whale watching.
We expected to bring home some vanilla, but it didn’t happen! Madagascar produces more than 80% of the world’s natural vanilla, which has come to be in high demand in recent years as more people prefer to buy natural versus synthetic products. Sadly, there have been many issues surrounding Madagascar’s vanilla production, including crop-killing cyclones, pricing and production/harvesting controversies, vanilla “rustlers” and vigilantes, etc. In turn, prices have soared. Whether due to these reasons or others, there was no vanilla available in any of the airport shops. And, none of the airport shops would take the local currency, the Ariary. Before you travel, check with your Journey Specialist for the most up-to-date recommendation on which currency to travel with to Madagascar. It could be the Ariary, the Euro, or some other form of currency.
“Madagascar was really cool! My favorite experience there was trekking for lemurs & having the chance to see them really up close & hearing the really loud calls of the indri indri.” - Grady Redding