Madagascar Destination Guide
Madagascar is a huge country (bigger than France), and so offers a great range of activities and things to see and do. These range from spending some time in the cities, exploring the history and the bustling markets, to delving into the National Parks and forests, or relaxing at some of the coastal towns, perhaps doing a bit of snorkelling or scuba diving.
Madagascar is gaining international attention for its unique flora and fauna, interesting culture and friendly locals - be one of the first to see them all for yourself!
This Madagascar Destination Guide lists a number of the main highlights of things to see and do while in the country. General background information about the country is available by visiting our Madagascar Country Guide.
Things to See & Do in Madagascar
Madagascar has a number of very impressive National Parks and natural reserves around the country. At 152,000 hectares, the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve is one of the largest, and is located in the northern sector of the Anstingy region of the Bemaraha Plateau.
This reserve features untouched forests, tranquil lakes and mangrove swamps, which are home to some of the unique flora and fauna of Madagascar, including rare birds and the infamous Madagascar lemur. The only regions currently able to be explored by visitors are the southern region, known for its limestone formations, and the northern forests.
Périnet and Mantadia National Parks were joined together to create Andasibe Mantadia National Park, making it Madagascar's most visited and also most popular national park. Located relatively close to Antananarivo, it features a host of incredible flora and fauna.
Included are the world-reknowned lemurs, as well as a number of different species of birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Visits are made even more interesting by the local guides, who offer an excellent commentary on many of the plants and animals found in the reserve.
Known as Tana, the capital of Madagascar has a European feel to it, with French widely spoken and many road and shop signs in French. With a population of about 1.25 million inhabitants, it is also the largest city in the country. It is here that most international flights arrive and depart, and as such you will no doubt spend some time here.
There are numerous things to keep you occupied, from the infamous Zoma (markets), to the King's Palace, to the interesting zoo, filled with unique Malagasy flora and fauna. Built on three separate levels, the city is dominated by the Queen's Palace and the Rova (Royal Village).
Antananarivo also has good transport links to other locations around the country, and is a good base to begin exploring Central Madagascar. Further information can be found by visiting our Antananarivo & Central Madagascar Guide.
Located about 21 kilometres northeast of Antananarivo, Ambohimanga is considered to be the birthplace of Madagascar, and it was here that the monarchs of Madagascar first originated. Ambohimanga is known by many names, including 'the holy city', 'the forbidden city' and 'the blue city'. It is surrounded by forests, and this location, combined with the strength of the citadel, meant that it was a powerful Merina stronghold.
A number of ceremonial structures built in Ambohimanga can still be seen to this day. Of particular interest is the main gate, which is an enormous stone disc. It required 40 men to roll it into its position. Ambomihanga was a regular place of rest and relaxation for the kings and queens, and today it is a particularly nice picnic area.
For those interested in diving or snorkelling in Madagascar, the major centres include Nosy Bé and the nearby islands of Nosy Mitsio, Nosy Radama and Tanikely, Nosy Lava, Toliara and Ile Ste-Marie. Of these, Toliara is also known for other activities such as fishing, sailing and relaxing on the beach.
The scuba-diving centres are most centred in the north and west of Madagascar. The east coast of Madagascar is not recommended for swimming due to the amount of sharks. Due to this, many towns along the east coast have municipal pools to cool off in.
Other watersport activities available in various areas include water-skiing and sailing (at Ambohibao, Antsiralse and Ramona) and river-rafting in the Highlands.
Zomas (markets) are the best place to look for various souvenirs or gifts, and are a great place to go shopping. The biggest and most famous markets are in Antananarivo, but almost every city or town throughout the country will have their own zoma. Some of the more popular ones include Toamasina, which is the country's main port, and Fianarantsoa, which offers some of Madagascar's best arts and crafts.
Even if you're not wishing to purchase anything, they are still an interesting experience, and offer a chance to see a fascinating side of Malagasy life. The best idea is often to first visit government stores, which give a good general guide to the sorts of prices you should aim for in the markets. Bargaining in the markets is the order of the day, and can yield some great buys.