Madagascar is one of the most mysterious and attractive countries in Africa for tourists all over the world. This film-flavoured island is located very close to the mainland, but differs from it radically. It has its own nature, its own animals and plants. And the people living here are not like other nations, but they are all very open, friendly and independent. Welcome to Madagascar, the country is waiting for you!
Madagascar on the map
The island of Madagascar is located in the south-western part of the Indian Ocean in the Southern Hemisphere. The country has no land borders and is separated from Africa by the Strait of Mozambique. At its narrowest point, it is 422 kilometres wide.
Geographically, Madagascar belongs to the part of the world of Africa. But in the distant past it was part of India and broke away from it 88 million years ago. Thanks to this, the island has preserved a unique flora and fauna. There are animals and plants here that are found nowhere else in the world.
The relief of the island is predominantly mountainous. Most of its area is occupied by a high plateau, which gently descends to the ocean in the west and steeply drops to the east. To the east, a vast lowland stretches along the ocean shores.
The highest point of the island is the extinct volcano Marumukutru (2876 metres).
The island has many small but fast and rapids rivers and a number of lakes.
Safety for tourists
Madagascar ranks a high 38th place between Italy and Costa Rica in the Global Peace Index, which takes into account the tranquillity of the environment, attitude to tourists and many other factors, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to stay here.
Madagascar still has a fairly high crime rate due to the troubled political environment and poverty. The last military coup took place in 2009, but the country is still classified as a hybrid regime. That is, democratic institutions here are heavily influenced by the military.
Pickpocketing is the most common occurrence in the country, so tourists are advised to avoid crowds and keep valuables and money under control. When travelling inland, there is a high risk of falling victim to local bandits, who often use weapons.
Road traffic in the country is calm, although rules are broken, but due to the low traffic it is not very dangerous. The risk of getting into an accident is much higher due to the poor condition of the roadway. Almost 80% of the roads on the island are in poor condition.
There are many insects on the island, which are carriers of dangerous diseases, so before travelling you should make all mandatory vaccinations. There are no poisonous snakes on the island, but in the rivers there are many leeches, communication with which will not give pleasure.
Large land predators are not found here, and crocodiles have recently become very rare.
There are more dangers on the beach. From the scorching sun, which can cause burns and heat strokes, to sharks and poisonous sea creatures. In some places, the shore is strewn with sharp coral fragments.
In general, observing the elementary rules of caution and hygiene, you can have a safe and relaxing holiday on the island.
The inhabitants of Madagascar are characterized by a cheerful disposition, friendly to tourists, and rarely engage in begging. But they are very fond of dancing and music.
Official holidays in the country are divided into secular and church holidays. The former include New Year’s Day, the anniversary of the 1947 uprising, Independence and African Unity Days. Among Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter are celebrated at the state level.
In addition, there are many ethnic holidays in the country, which every tourist is obliged to visit. There are music festivals, where local ensembles perform and national instruments are played. Especially significant are the festivals of Done and Hira Gasy, which are accompanied by festive processions and fireworks.
An unusual holiday is Famadihana, a day dedicated to the dead. On this day, Aboriginal people take out the mummies of their ancestors and carry them through the streets.
What fun things to do in Madagascar
The tourism industry on the island is in the stage of intensive development, and every year the number of tourists increases. But in terms of the quality of infrastructure, the republic is still far inferior to neighbouring countries: Tanzania. South Africa or the Seychelles. Here is what Madagascar can offer to tourists:
- Beach holidays. The best beaches are on small islands, which are abundant on the eastern and northern coasts. These are the islands of Nat, Nosy-Bi, Ile Saint-Marie. All of them are characterized by the presence of tourist infrastructure and snow-white, very clean sand.
- Snorkelling. On the popular beaches of the island, the shallow water zone often extends hundreds of metres into the ocean and allows you to enjoy the underwater world without scuba diving, with only a mask and snorkel. This type of holiday is especially popular with children.
- Diving. But those who like to scuba dive will find a place to have a good time. There are excellent dive sites on Ile Sainte-Marie, Ramades and Mitsio archipelagos.
- Windsurfing. The north coast of the island is a paradise for windsurfers. From April until November, there is a constant south-easterly wind, bringing steady bouncing waves. The water temperature remains within comfortable limits from +25 to +27 degrees.
- Fishing. The waters of Madagascar are a real paradise for fishermen. Almost all kinds of fish of the Indian Ocean are found here. It is enough to hire a boat, yacht or local fishing catamaran, and you can spend the whole day doing your favourite hobby.
- Trekking, hiking. There are almost no trails for hiking in Madagascar, except for two popular routes. They start in the town of Mahajanga in the north-west of the island. One trail leads to picturesque waterfalls and the other to the cave grottoes of Andzuhibe.
- Savika. An unusual attraction that can be seen in several regions of the island. Savika is a local variant of rodeo, only instead of bulls, a zebu antelope becomes a human rival.
- Lemurs. Lemurs are found everywhere in Madagascar, but you can see them either in National Parks, for example in Masoala, or in zoos. The largest zoo with lemurs is in Antananarivo.
- Natural wonders. There are several scenic spots on the island that can rightfully be called the wonder of the world. The most recognizable and popular with tourists are Baobab Alley and Tsingy Stone Forest. In the latter, you can also go rock climbing.
- Historical attractions. Strange as it may seem, Madagascar has a lot of historical places that will interest the inquisitive tourist. Among them are the Ruwa palace complex in Antananarivo and Ambuhimanga, a fortress from pre-colonial times, which is of particular interest to the curious tourist
What is important to know about Madagascar
If you are planning to visit this state, here are some of the most important things to know:
Malagasy and French are considered the official languages of the republic. However, less than 1% of the population actually speaks French as a native language. The majority of the population only speaks Malagasy.
The country is currently home to just under 25 million people.
Madagascar is a multi-ethnic state, which is determined by the history of its settlement and colonization. There are 18 main tribal groups – nationalities. They are divided into highlanders and coastal dwellers. The customs and traditions of individual tribes differ greatly.
The indigenous population of Madagascar is about 20 million people. The French and Indian communities of the island are significant.
- More facts about the people of Madagascar, their character and local colour can be found in this article.
The national currency is the aryari. It is a relatively young monetary unit, which was only introduced in 2005. It replaced the Malagasy franc.
At present there are banknotes of 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000 ariari.
In the country itself, you have to pay in local currency. It is better to exchange dollars or euros in banks and exchange offices, but do not forget to present a customs declaration for the imported currency. The declaration will indicate how much currency you have exchanged and how much you have left for export.
The ariari exchange rate is quite volatile and prone to sharp falls. In the middle of 2023 for 1 American dollar was given 4500 ariari.
Most of the population of the country profess Christianity, according to official data supporters of this religion about 50%. Another 7% of the population professes Islam, brought to Madagascar by Arab traders.
However, according to unofficial data, almost 80 per cent of the population continue to follow the faith of their ancestors, i.e. paganism. Moreover, Australian, not African traditions of beliefs are the strongest on the island.
Madagascar lies in the region of tropical climate. On the eastern and northern coasts it is determined by monsoons, in the central regions it is temperate, and in the south-west – arid.
The tropical climate is characterized by two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season in Madagascar begins in December and lasts until early March. At this time, almost all the annual rainfall falls. The local winter period from May to September is characterized by low rainfall and frequent droughts.
The average monthly temperature varies slightly throughout the year, from +26 degrees in winter to +21 degrees in summer. However, maximum temperatures in January and February can reach +33 degrees Celsius.
The average seawater temperature off the coast of Madagascar does not fluctuate much from year to year and always remains suitable for swimming. The geographical position and the warm Mozambique Current create favourable conditions.
- Water temperature in winter, December-January: +26 to +29 degrees Celsius.
- Water temperature in spring, March-May: +26 to +25 degrees Celsius.
- Water temperature in summer, June-July: from +25 to +21 degrees Celsius. The coldest water is in July.
- Water temperature in autumn, September-November: from +21 in early autumn to +26 degrees in November.
Madagascar is located on the path of tropical cyclones of the southern Indian Ocean. They cause the most damage to the island’s economy. Several strong cyclones hit Madagascar every year, causing floods and hurricane-force winds. This is the most important natural disaster of the republic. Thus, in January 2022, a series of floods occurred in the capital Antananarivo, causing the death of 11 people.
Madagascar is located in an earthquake-prone zone, which is caused by the movement of continental plates. About 500 earthquakes are recorded here every year, but there are practically no strong ones.
There are also a number of extinct volcanoes on the island, which indicates high tectonic activity in the past.
During the dry period, the island often burns lowland forests located on the north-eastern coast. But the area of fires is usually small.
- About the most destructive disasters in the history of Madagascar can be read in this article.
Madagascar is a presidential republic. The president of the country is the head of the executive power and appoints the prime minister. The legislative power is represented by a bicameral Parliament consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate.
Administratively, the country is divided into 6 provinces.
The capital of the country is Antananarivo.
The major cities and resorts
Antananarivo is the capital of the country and its most populous city. Now it is home to 2.2 million people. It is also home to the country’s only international airport. Tourists are attracted here by the Ruwa Royal Palace, the Lemur Park, the tombs of local monarchs, and near the city there is the Ambuhimanga complex – a sacred place for Malagasy people.
Antsirabe is the third most populous city in the country. It is inhabited by 560 thousand people. Tourists are attracted here by hot baths, a beautiful Catholic cathedral and volcanic lake Tritriva.
Nusi-Be is an island off the north-western coast of Madagascar. Famous for its beaches, comfortable hotels and beautiful views. There are ancient ruins of Maruduk here. The island is home to just over 100,000 people and can be reached by ferry or via the local airport.
Nusi-Buraha or Ile Saint-Marie is an island on the east coast of Madagascar. It is the most popular island resort of the country and is characterized by a developed infrastructure. It is an ideal place for beach holidays, diving and surfing, fishing. In the past it was a base of pirates and here you can see the ancient cemetery of sea robbers. There are 16 thousand people living on the island.
Lemurs are surprisingly cute creatures that are found nowhere else but Madagascar. There are several species of them here, and they are considered the symbol of the country.
Fossa is another amazing creature of the wyvern family. This cute animal is the largest predator of the island, but is completely harmless to humans.
The zebu is a humpbacked antelope. It was introduced to the island from Africa, but has become a mainstay and a source of meat, milk and wool for the locals.
Baobab – a tree that is the symbol of the island. There are 6 species of baobabs out of 8 existing in nature.
Ravenala is the tree of travellers. It is a very beautiful palm whose crown forms a fan-like shape.
How to get to Madagascar
To get to the country, a tourist can almost exclusively by aeroplane. There is only one international airport in the republic, Ivato, located near the capital. It has two international terminals and serves about one million passengers a year.
The main flight destinations are Paris (Orly and de Gaulle airports), Istanbul, Guangzhou, Johannesburg, and Nairobi.
Madagascar’s only port of call for cruise liners is called Taumeasina and is on the East Coast. But travelling by liner is expensive and is not suitable for those wishing to spend a long time on the island.
How much money to take with you
The cost of a holiday in Madagascar can vary greatly, depending on whether you plan to holiday on your own at your own risk, or use the services of a travel company and trusted guides.
Madagascar is located in the Southern Hemisphere and is quite far from Europe. Therefore, for tourists from the EU, flying here will not be cheap. For example, a round-trip ticket to Antananarivo from Paris will cost at least 800 euros.
Complex tours in different regions of Madagascar from different operators cost from 1500 to 4500 euros and this is without the cost of air tickets.
In the country itself, tourists are waiting for the following costs:
- Food: prices for food here are much lower than in Europe. For example, lunch in an average restaurant will cost 15–20 euros per person. Fast food is even cheaper, you can eat there for 2 to 3 euros. A cup of cappuccino costs about 1 euro.
- Accommodation: the average price of a double room in a three-star hotel in Antananarivo is €50, but you can get a room in a hostel for as little as €20. Five-star hotels offer rooms from €130.
- Visiting attractions: beach facilities will be free when staying in a hotel, except for extras such as diving. Visiting parks and museums is chargeable. The price of various excursions depends on their duration and the composition of the group. It should be borne in mind that there are almost no sights on the island that can be seen in one day. Therefore, it is better to immediately decide on the choice of the route and the appropriate excursion: a tour to the lemurs, the alley of baobabs and stone forest, or something else.
- Souvenirs: from Madagascar tourists bring handicrafts and local producers: bright textiles (limbo) and clothes, jewellery with emeralds and sapphires, gold, costume jewellery, natural cosmetics, something reminiscent of Thai cosmetics. Souvenir costs are individualized and can vary considerably.
- Transport: You will have to travel around the cities by local shuttle buses. The simpler and cheaper ones are called «taxi-brusi», which is a regular minibus. A single ticket costs 15 cents. The more comfortable taxis are called taxi be, in them the price of boarding starts from 1 euro and additionally 1.5 euro for each kilometre. Transport between cities is also carried out by minibus taxis.
Thus, taking into account the reserve amount for unforeseen expenses, a holiday in Madagascar for two people will cost from 2500 to 6000 thousand euros for 7 days including flight. And of course, the maximum amount of the holiday can be much higher.
If you have already visited Madagascar, please share your impressions in the comments. Please write a few words, what you liked most of all, what moments remained in your memory forever, and what you would recommend to other tourists. We will be very grateful for your recommendations!