As the fourth largest island on earth protecting a spectacular array of wildlife and the highest biodiversity on the planet, Madagascar’s attractions lie largely in its national parks and special reserves. The habitats are wide-ranging and shelter thousands of species of plant and animal life, of which an estimated 80% are not found anywhere else on earth, due to its astonishing isolation. So important is the preservation of Madagascar’s national parks and sanctuaries and their endemic species, that the institution ‘Madagascar National Parks’ was founded in 1990 to assist in conservation of natural resources across all national parks and reserves. The parks and attractions themselves range from the popular Andasibe which almost guarantees indri lemur sightings, and Berenty Reserve with its dancing sifakas, to private islands such as Nosy Tsarabanjina and the mountainous waterfall-clad terrain of Amber Mountain.
Probably one of the best lemur experiences in the world, Andasibe National Park is the best place to spot the Indri, the largest living lemur! The park is separated into two distinct areas, Speciale d’Analamazaotra (usually known as Perinet - the old name of a French nearby town and rail station) to the south, and Park National de Mantidia to the north. Created in 1989, it encompasses the same humid lush forest throughout, covered with moss and trees, peppered with over 100 extraordinary orchid species and dotted with lakes. Being close to the capital with a good road structure means that this is a popular park, especially as it is open all year round and almost guarantees lemur sightings. The eerie, yet beautiful call of the Indri can be heard over a mile from the park, building up the excitement. Seeing them in the wild is always an exhilarating experience; their strong legs carrying them from branch to branch, feet rarely touching the floor. Andasibe is also home to some wonderful reptile and amphibian species, including the enormous Parson’s chameleon and the tiny nose-horned chameleon, as well as the majestic infamous boa manditia and a myriad of frogs. The colourful wildlife is topped off with more than 100 bird species and hundreds of insects, including some amazingly huge, brightly marked butterflies.
Nestled amidst the southwest terrains of sweeping canyons, dramatic bluffs and jutting rock formations, the Isalo National Park offers some rewarding trekking opportunities amongst natural pools and through uniquely Jurassic landscapes.The park was established in 1962 and is popular with trekkers who enjoy the agreeably warm climate, diverse colours of the scenery and some of the natural attractions you come across on the various circuits. Monkey Canyon is accessed through the dense forest shrub-land, a wonderful ravine that runs through the massif, where it is sometimes possible to see the unusual gait of the sifakas as they dance sideways along the ground, as well as ring-tailed lemurs leaping through the trees. It is possible to combine a visit to Monkey Canyon with the natural pools, and as the heat from the canyon builds, the green and inviting pools provide the perfect opportunity to cool off after a challenging hike. The Namaza circuit is another trek that can combine with the natural pools; it passes through an unusually formed canyon, past a waterfall and amongst lots of impressive flora
The private reserve of Palmarium is also known as Ankanin’ny Nofy which translates from Malagasy as ‘nest of dreams’. It is spread across 50 hectares of peninsula land in the Lake Ampitabe area on the East coast of Madagascar, nestled on the banks of the Pangalanes channel and the Indian Ocean. Separated from the latter by thin coastal sand dunes, the landscape otherwise comprises of littoral forest with relatively flat terrain and some well-kept trails for exploration. Palmarium represents one of the most beautiful areas along the Pangalanes Canal, where fishermen float by and go about their daily lives. The isolation of the reserve means it is one of the few places in Madagascar where it is possible to come close to some of the least timid, free-ranging and tame lemur species on the island, including the largest lemurs, the Indri, as well as the famous dancing sifaka. Keen photographers should seriously consider including this in their itinerary for some great opportunities to get impressive snaps of these unafraid lemurs in the wild. The area is also home to the emblem of Madagasacar, the Ravinala, as well as frogs, reptiles, orchids, palm trees and the carnivorous pitcher plant.
Known for its incredible array of biodiversity, the Masoala National Park and its offshore island reserve of Nosy Mangabe represent the largest of Madagascar’s protected land areas and some of its least visited. The habitats you are likely to come across here are wide-ranging, from flooded forest marshland and coastal forests to mangroves, which collectively teem with life and provide a fascinating look at the island’s many natural wonders. Established in 1997, the rugged landscape of the park, combined with the best known marine parks and some of the most pristine rainforest, makes it a good choice for exploration and with fewer visitors and a larger area you are likely to enjoy nature in relative isolation. The primary rainforest areas of Masoala provide sanctuary to the rare, brightly coloured and endangered red-ruffed lemur, as well as the nocturnal, aye-aye. These are just two of the primate species found here, and other wildlife is in abundance too, with chameleons, leaf-tailed geckos, tomato frogs, Madagascar red owls and serpent eagles. Many of these intriguing creatures are more easily spotted here than other parts of the ‘Red Island’.
Vibrant, alive and chaotic, Antananarivo, usually termed by its colloquial short hand Tana, is the capital city of Madagascar and its political and economical powerhouse. Located in Antananarivo Province, this commanding city is usually the first stop for visitors to Madagascar, being home to the International Airport. However, to pass through Tana without stopping to explore would be to miss out on understanding the core of Madagascar’s psyche. With a population of about 1.4 million, Tana is divided into two distinct regions; Lower Town and Upper Town. Upper Town is shrouded with purple jacaranda trees in the summer, and here you will find arts and crafts markets and intimate jewellers.
Known for its vanilla, pepper and ylang-ylang infused air, brilliantly colourful sunsets and peaceful island life, Nosy Be, meaning ‘Big Island’, has firmly set itself on the tourism map. This large, volcanic island is easily accessible and acts as the main gateway to a stunning archipelago. Here you will find some of the best beaches in Madagascar, perfect for some relaxation after exploring the mainland’s countless natural attractions. Located on the northwest coast, just 8 kilometres off the mainland, the history of the ‘Perfumed Island’ of Nosy Be dates back to the 15th Century when the first Indian and Swahili settlers were thought to have arrived. Today, the island is a popular spot for tourism with its main draw being its string of beaches, some of which are nearly deserted.
Enjoying a remote and astoundingly beautiful location on Madagascar’s northwest coastline, Anjajavy is a secluded fishing village made up of wilderness beaches and azure waters backed by deciduous forests, mangroves and tsingy limestone. Under a microscope, Madagascar offers the chance to enjoy diverse topography, blissful beaches and coves, as well as seeing some of the endemic wildlife for which this country is renowned. There is some fantastic wildlife to be found in this 8000 hectare nature reserve, differentiating it from the other beach resorts of the world. You may spot Coquerels sifaka, common brown lemurs or the tiny nocturnal mouse lemur, weighing in at just over 100 pounds. There are leaf-nosed bats, rare and colourful birds, amazing reptiles, from chameleons and Oplure de Cuvier Iguana and tortoises. You might be lucky enough to spot the country's largest carnivorous mammal, the fossa, which, with similar features to large felines, is actually part of the mongoose family. This seductive, cougar-like animal roams the forests throughout the day and night, growing up to 1.5 metres in length.