Madagascar Island – full, unique features
Tropical rain forests in the east, high mountains in the center of the island, dry thorn forests with baobabs peeking out of them in the west, white beaches and the colorful underwater world of the Indian Ocean, bizarre rocky forests, red-brown river bends, villages between rice terraces, tea and vanilla, lemurs, chameleons and smiling Malagasy people. Welcome to a tropical paradise of unique beauty!
The Island of Madagascar – full of unique features
The largest island in the Indian Ocean and the fourth largest in the world is the oldest. Part of India, it was sandwiched between modern Africa and Antarctica as part of the Gondwana protocontinent and became completely independent very early, 90 million years ago, resulting in a high degree of endemism. 90% of Madagascar’s 200,000 species are found only here and nowhere else. Madagascar is a large island with very little infrastructure, so set aside enough time to visit and remember that the journey is also a destination. First, take the only reliably passable, mostly paved road No. 7 south of the capital, Antananarivo, nicknamed “Tana.”
Four hours later, tourists usually arrive in the town of Ambositra, the center of the Zafimanir tribe’s wood-carving district. Although the surrounding forests and timber will diminish markedly, one can still admire the beautiful carvings on the shutters, doors, and pavilion posts here and in the surrounding villages. On the way south it is possible to take the dirt road to Iwato, which leads to the mountain village of Antuetra, nestled amongst the lush green terraces of the rice fields. There are also other hikes, such as the village of Ifacina.
The original inhabitants of Madagascar, the Malagasy, are not from Africa but came from places as far away as Indonesia and Malaysia. They brought with them farming skills and their beloved rice. They began to build terraced fields, bringing water from mountain streams and rivers. To this day they toil from dawn to dusk for sustenance, tilling the fields with incredibly primitive tools, walking everywhere, most of them with nothing but an earthen hut. Unfortunately, throughout history there has been massive deforestation and the land is struggling with extensive erosion.
By economic standards, Madagascar ranks 11th among the poorest countries in the world. Yet the frugal and hard-working people do not starve and seem unaware of modern conveniences for which they could spend money unnecessarily. Perhaps that is why they smile and give the impression that they have enough of everything.
There are eight tribes on it, each with their own dialects and taboos, called “fadi. Although officially most Malagasy are Christian, there are remnants of a very strong ancestor cult. Burial rituals are interesting, with graves marked with stone stelae to commemorate the ancestral legacy and to embody a bond with the deceased. A local shaman helps select an appropriate site.
A fascinating ritual is the famadihana – the turning over of bones. The exhumation ceremony, where locals remove their dead from their graves, clean them, dress them up, and then throw a party with food, drink, and fun, is unique to the tribes that inhabit the central highlands. The festival is held about once every five years, but it is very private and it is real to show to tourists.
Ranomafana National Park
Just outside the town of Fianarantsoa, two hours drive from Ambositra, it is better to turn to the Ranomafana National Park. Because of its good accessibility, it is the most visited place in Madagascar. Located on the humid eastern side of the island, which is hit by monsoons coming from the east from India, it is therefore covered with mountain rainforest. This relatively small area has escaped deforestation. Trips to the mountain jungle here are very well organized. Each group is assigned a guide and an “observer” who looks for game ahead of the group.
Ranomafana National Park.
Travelers can see golden lemurs in the bamboo forest, countless waterfalls in deep gorges covered with tree ferns, orchids, and vines, the mighty Namorona River flowing through the park, colorful frogs, and chameleons. Some of the trails lead up into the hills, which offer a beautiful view of a riot of greenery. The most important thing is the opportunity to see lemurs, Madagascar prosimiums of different colors and sizes . And at night it is possible to see chameleons sleeping, clinging to the thin ends of the branches of trees and bushes so that they are not attacked by snakes. If you shine a flashlight on chameleons, they noticeably change color. Some will wake up and roll their eyes at those watching them, but surprisingly, none of them will run away.
Train Journey or “Mora mora mora mora”
Train Journey or “Mora mora mora mora”
In Fianarantsoa ends the only railroad in Madagascar, the FCE, which runs here from the port of Manakara on the east coast. It was built by the French colonizers until the 1990s as a transport artery for goods and sugar cane to the interior of the country, nothing has changed on the railroad since then. Travelling by train is very popular among local Malagasy people. Perhaps it is more convenient and reliable than transportation by truck, quite possibly a favorite pastime. On this route it is necessary to cover only 30 kilometers with a delay of several hours and an average speed of 10 km / h. At each station, the train waits until all passengers have bought and eaten the products of local producers before moving on. Breathtaking views and a very close encounter with Malagasy culture are worth it! “Mora mora” is a common phrase among the Malagasy, which means “take your time, take your time.”
Andringitra National Park: Climbing Boba Peak
The starting point for trekking in this park is the town of Ambalavao, the center of handmade paper production. Here women boil liquor in a cauldron, then grind it with sticks into a pulp that is poured into a sieve. They add tiny flowers to the wet paper to dry it. The Andringitra massif has a highland character. Vegetation gives way to bare rock, even the cold can be felt here. The highest peak of Imarivolanitra, called Boba Peak, is 2658 m and is the second highest mountain on the island. It is relatively accessible and can be reached during a three-day hike. Camping among the unspoiled landscape offers a truly remarkable experience. Isalo National Park and the western tip of the island
Andringitra National Park: climbing Boba Peak
The very accessible park is located near Route 7, about 700 km from the capital. Here hikers are in the rain shadow of the nearly three-thousand-diameter mountains in the center of the island. The western part is very dry, in some places it rains only a few days a year. Isalo has plains covered with dry grasses , open terrain with distant sunny views and sandstone cliffs erupting into incredible shapes and deeply incised canyons. It resembles the parks of Arizona or Uluru in Australia.
As a reward, after more than a week of exploring all the beauty along Route 7, travelers head down to the sea to the town of Toliara and a little north along the coast to the Ifati resort. There they enjoy snorkeling and diving on the nearby coral reef or visit the Reniala Nature Reserve, where pristine thickets of thorns, tall bushes with baobabs peeking out here and there, have been preserved. 95% of all life in Reniala is endemic, and they are so adapted to the local dryness that they can’t live anywhere else. The evenings in the west coast villages are beautiful. As the sun sets over the Mozambique Channel, local fishermen come ashore in their wooden pirogues to bring their families their catch. You get the feeling that nothing has changed here in thousands of years, even the wooden boats are still made the same way, and the unbuilt ones look like whale skeletons.
West Madagascar: Baobab Alley and Tsinga Stone Forest
West of the island from Antananarivo is the wildest, most inaccessible and most adventurous part of the island. Morondava is easily accessible by a convenient domestic flight from the capital or from Tholiara. At least in one direction. The overland journey is quite risky, even if the road is good, it takes nine hours by rented jeep from Antsirabe . You can diversify the route with a three-day cruise with locals along the Tsiribihina River from Miandrivazo to Belo Tsiribihina. The roots of the space tree rest against the sky, as if it came from another planet and stuck its top into the ground. It stands upright, its baobab branches spreading wide over its trunk, as thick as the columns of Egyptian temples.
Western Magadascar: Baobab Alley and Tsinga Stone Forest
There are six endemic baobab species in Madagascar, up to 2,000 years old, and two other species are found in mainland Africa and Australia. Everywhere they choose tropical areas with a longer dry season, to which they are fully adapted . The trunk, which has no annual rings because of its high porosity, absorbs enormous amounts of water during the rainy season to have a supply for the dry part of the year when it sheds its leaves.
On Madagascar, baobabs grow on the west side of the island, but mostly alone. A grove of about twenty trees scattered around the “main” road north from Morondava to Belo Tsiribihina provides a more interesting view. Through the famous avenue of baobabs, Adansonia Grandidieri, Malagasy people walk to and from work on the littered red dirt, only occasionally seeing wagons drawn by a pair of zebu bulls. A few local huts stand among the trees, ready to sell the occasional tourist a wooden statue.
Tsingy de Bemeraha Rock Forest: where to tiptoe
If you’ve already made it to this remote part of Madagascar, be sure to take the road from Morondava to Belo Tsiribihina and on to the village of Bekopaka (another four-hour drive on a dirt road) to see one of the most interesting geological phenomena on the planet in Tsingy de Bemeraha National Park. Massive layers of Jurassic limestone here were gradually transformed by water erosion into a unique karst system. The result is a series of gorges separated by rock spikes up to 100 meters high and decorated with deep scratches.
The Tsingy de Bemeraja rock forest: where to tiptoe
It is like a gray castle of rock, protecting the most precious things in Madagascar . Thanks to the difficult terrain, one of the best preserved places on the island, where new places and species of vegetation and animals are constantly being discovered . Here nature still reigns supreme, no wonder the Malagasy consider Tsinghi a sacred spiritual area. It is hard not to point the finger at all these wonders: a forest of stone needles and bizarre shapes, all kinds of holes and windows or caves, vegetation including cacti and aloes at the bottom of gorges, the occasional lemurs, chameleons or lizards.
Part of the huge stone forest is surprisingly well and modernly accessible to tourists, after paying the admission ticket you can take two different tours. The trails are equipped with ladders, steps, footbridges and rope bridges, often involving easy climbing, for which rented ropes are useful.
North to the sea – coral and vanilla
The northernmost town of Antsiranana can be reached by domestic flight. Already from the plane tourists observe the best part of the Montagne d’Ambre National Park . The volcanic mountain range, covered with tropical forests and teeming with all the flora and fauna of the tropics, is topped by crater lakes, the edges of which are unusually green for a volcano and covered with lush vegetation.
North to the sea – coral and vanilla
Nearly 50% of the world’s vanilla is grown in northern and northeastern Madagascar . Its brownish-black pods can be bought in whole bundles at every turn. It is the fruit of a tropical liana that was once brought to Madagascar from Mexico . It is of very high quality and its flavor is very strong.
After exploring Madagascar, stay on the island of Nosy Be. This is a world-famous resort that seems to be torn from the rest of Malagasy reality. Here you can find luxurious and beautifully decorated hotels, sandy beaches, azure seas and corals accessible by snorkeling cruise boats.