Madagascar, the Red Island, the Rainbow Island, the Eighth Continent, there are many names for the world’s 4th largest island. Madagascar is situated in the south western area of the Indian Ocean east of the coast of Africa about 400 km off the coast of Mozambique. The island is recognized as one of the world’s top ten hotspots for biodiversity.
Madagascar is inhabited by various ethnic groups of Malayo-Indonesian, mixed African and Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry. Five centuries before the Europeans discovered the island Malayo-Indonesian seafarers arrived in roughly the first century A.D., the Arabs followed in the 6th century to establish trading posts. Since the 16th century French and British influence left its mark under colonial rule. In October 1958 the Malagasy Republic was proclaimed as an autonomous state within the French Community and gained full independence in June 1960.
The population is around 16.5 million with a steadily increasing growth rate of 2.9%. Madagascar’s population is predominantly of mixed Asian and African origin. This intermixing has resulted in 18 Malagasy tribes of different ethnic make up. About 47% of the population has traditional beliefs which tend to emphasize links between the living and the dead. A remaining 45% hold Christian beliefs although many incorporate the cult of the dead with their religious beliefs. The remainder are Muslims.
Madagascar, due to its isolation from the rest of the world, has tremendous biodiversity and high rates of endemic species: of more than 200,000 known species found on Madagascar, more than 80 percent exist nowhere else. Unique to the island are over 100 kinds of lemurs, over 300 species of frogs, and 33 species of tenrecs, miniature hedgehog-like animals. The island is home to strange animals including lemurs (a group of primates), tenrecs (similar to spiny hedgehogs), brightly colored chameleons, the puma-like fossa, and a variety of other creatures. Sadly, due to habitat destruction and hunting, many of Madagascar’s unique animals are today threatened.
The natural vegetation of this hotspot is quite diverse. On Madagascar, tropical rainforests along the eastern escarpment and in the eastern lowlands give way to western dry deciduous forests along the western coast. A unique spiny desert covers the extreme south. The island is also host to several high mountain ecosystems such as Tsaratanana and Andringitra massifs, which are characterized by forest with moss and lichens. The Sambirano region, a northern transition zone between the western dry forest and the eastern rainforest, has many endemic species.
Because of its geography, Madagascar’s climate is highly variable. Generally, Madagascar has two seasons: a hot, rainy season from November to April and a cooler, dry season from May to October. The east coast is the wettest part of the country and thus home to the island’s rainforests. This area is also hit periodically by devastating tropical storms and cyclones.
The central highlands are considerably cooler and drier, and are the location of much of Madagascar’s agriculture, especially rice. The west coast is home to dry deciduous forests. Deciduous trees lose all their leaves during the 6- to 8-month dry season.
When rains return, these forests erupt in a sea of bright green leaves. The southwest of Madagascar has the island’s driest climate. Parts of this area can be considered desert because so little rain falls.
Time & Date GMT +3
Languages: English is not widely spoken. Malagasy (which is related to Indonesian) and French are the official languages.
Food & Drinks:
At first glance, the cuisine of Madagascar can appear quite dull. Traditionally the Malagasy eat a large mound of rice, dwarfing the surprisingly small accompanying portion of meat, vegetables and sauce. Tourist establishments tend to serve meals with the rice-to-accompaniment ratio turned on its head. These dishes tend to have a French influence and fries are often offered in place of rice.
Zebu (beef) steaks are usually excellent and most commonly served with a delicious creamy green peppercorn sauce. On the coast, seafood naturally predominates, including all manner of fish, as well as lobster and shellfish. Pizza is popular everywhere. Most towns have cheap Chinese eateries, which are usually reliable and popular with independent travellers.
Note that more isolated hotels tend to offer a set menu or a very limited choice to their guests. Even restaurants with an apparently extensive menu may have a rather restricted number of dishes available outside peak tourist season. Malagasy cuisine is not usually particularly hot and spicy, but a chilli relish called sakay (in both red and green forms) is always available to liven up any dish. This ranges from merely quite hot to cataclysmically spicy, so test with caution before dolloping it on.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is essential. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities, which can include diving, motorcycling or even hiking.
Check that the policy covers an emergency flight home. This is an important consideration for Madagascar, given the cost of air tickets to most destinations.
You need a passport that is valid for at least six months on the day of departure from Madagascar and that has a minimum of two empty pages for your visa. You can buy a visa for Madagascar upon arrival. United States, UK, Australian and all European Union citizens require a visa. You must pay the visa costs (55 Euros) cash. Payment should be made in Euros in cash banknotes and the immigration officers do not accept credit cards or travellers’ cheques, so you will need to have the exact amount in cash.
International flights mainly go to Ivato airport (Antananarivo), with a few landing at Fascene airport (Nosy Be).
Currency: Malagascian ariary
Population: 24.9 million
Official languages: French, Malagasy