[All content and prices updated January 2013]

Why you should add Madagascar to your RTW/Indie Trip

  • Lemurs, Lizards, and Landscapes – it’s hard to see all of the different types of lemurs or varying ecosystems that exist in Madagascar, but rarely will you find rolling highlands, sub-tropical rainforest, baobab dotted deserts, rock forests, and white, sandy beaches all in a landmass the size of Texas.
  • The people – each of the country’s 18 regions is home to a particular tribe with their own variance on Malagasy tradition, music, and cuisine but no matter where you travel to on the island, Malagasy tend to be inviting and curious of foreigners.
  • It is a stepping stone between Asia and Africa – culturally speaking, Madagascar neither feels quite like Africa nor quite like Asia, but somewhere in between. The Malagasy language is of the Polynesian language family, and they are the highest per capita consumers of rice in the world, yet the music and the colorful lambas (sarongs) are reminiscent of something more African. With direct flights from Bangkok, Johannesburg, and Nairobi, travelers literally have the option of sandwiching Madagascar in between travels in Asia and Africa.
  • A rough and tumble adventure – whether you are navigating Malagasy public transportation or hiking the highest peaks, every day in Madagascar presents a new way to challenge travelers.
  • Cheap and affordable travel – national parks and hotels tend to take the most out of a traveler's budget, but if you stay away from vahazah (foreign) establishments, food and public transportation are incredibly cheap.

Indie Travel Tips

  • Get a taste of local music. All major cities host concerts and cultural events at their local Alliance Francaise, or look for performances by Malagasy musicians passing through advertised on giant banners hanging in the streets. Madagascar also publishes a free magazine, No Comment, which lists most major cultural events in Antananarivo and several other cities.
  • Challenge yourself on a hike. Madagascar has more than a dozen national parks but the canyons of Isalo (ee-sha-lu) and the multi-day treks in Andringitra are notorious for having some of the more difficult circuits.
  • Swim in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar has no shortage of scenic beaches. Travel east to Ile Sainte Marie and swim with whales, learn to surf in Fort Dauphin, or take a boat from Diego Suarez to the green seas of Emerald bay, but keep in mind that a large shark population makes swimming on some parts of the east coast ill advisable.
  • Nosh on fresh seafood. Along the coast, take advantage of fresh and affordable crab, calamari, lobster, shrimp, and fish, sometimes sold at street-side stalls as snacks.
  • Know your currency – foreigners most often get ripped off when vendors quote prices in the old Franc instead of the current Ariary. 5 Franc = 1 Ariary.
  • Give back to the community – Madagascar has remained largely untouched by large, international chains so finding locally run hotels and restaurants both helps the local economy and is easy to do. Even establishments run by expats usually involve Malagasy on some level.

Overview

The fourth largest island in the world and a center of eco-diversity, Madagascar is similar to Africa but a little bit weirder, a little wilder, more unique than the mainland.  Vast forests cover Madagascar, and in those forests you'll find the things that most travelers to Madagascar want to see. Abundant wildlife and interesting animals like geckoes, lizards, and the famous lemurs that are found only on the island.

What to see

Madagascar's current ecological fight involves the deforestation of the island. Although the forests cover large portions of the land, the current rate of cutting will leave the island without much of its prized animal habitat sooner than many travelers will be able to get to the island to see it.

Nature reserves around the island are being set up to preserve the habitat of the island. The Tsingy de Bamaraha park and Masoala preserve are both available for travelers to tour and see what's left of the unique, undisturbed environment.

To read more in depth information about what to do in Madagascar, read How to Be an Independent Backpacker in Madagascar.

Transportation

A former French colony, there are still flights from Paris to Madagascar. The main airport is in Antananarivo, the capital city in the center of the island. Flights from Bangkok, Thailand shuttle travelers to Madagascar from Asia. Travelers from North America have to take a connection from South Africa or Europe.  Check out airfare to Madagascar.

For more in depth information on overland travel once in the country, check out this article.

Accommodations

Hostels are common on the island and of a higher quality than you'll find in many other destinations.



Originally from the Washington D.C. area, Jessie Beck traveled, taught, and studied on three continents before ending up as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar. She currently lives outside the chilly, highland city of Antsirabe practicing her Malagasy and running a local English Center in between exploring the island. Although her travels have taken her everywhere from Diego Suarez to Fort Dauphin, she still has a lot to explore. She can be found blogging about everyday life and travel in Madagascar at Beat Nomad.



Photo credits:  Frontierofficial