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Places of Interest in Madagascar

Southern Sky Adventures: Places of Interest in Madagascar

Capitol is Antananarivo


Akanin’ny Nofy

Known as the ‘nest of dreams’, this peaceful and relaxing haven is home to white sand beaches, forests, scattered orchids, strings of lakes and mangroves, all factors that have made the reserve to one of the most popular visits in the Pangalanes canal. Located on a peninsula of about 100 acres on the shores of Lake Ampitabe (which is separated from the Indian Ocean by a mere line of very thin coastal dunes, that sometimes are only a few yards wide only), this protected area is home to nearly 100,000 palm trees specific to Madagascar. Ten species of lemurs live in freedom in the reserve, as well as reptiles, amphibians and crocodiles. Visitors can watch Indri, sifakas and crowned lemurs and even the shy and extraordinary endangered Aye Aye. To visit this reserve you will need a local guide that will accompany you during two hours walk. Akanin’ny Nofy has few hotels comprising bungalows built with traditional materials which gives an authentic appearance and which inside give some luxury and comfort.


Ambositra

Ambositra’s vicinity to the forest has turned it into the centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry. Its name means “the place of the eunuchs” supposedly because the Merina tribe castrated all defeated warriors of the local tribe, the Zafimaniry. The cultural influence of this tribe can be found in the traditional motifs of the local houses with their intricately carved balconies, panels and shutters.

Today, tourists have just invaded the city center, though their presence is limited to a few hours a day. The visitor deciding to prolong his stay will be rewarded with a captivating, rustic highlands town.


Ampefy

Ampefy is a small typical borough on the banks of Itasy Lake. For those who prefer relax, resting, fresh air, far from the crowded beaches, discover this small haven of peace nested in the area of Itasy and which offers many treasures of curious forms.

Ampefy is with a little more than 60 miles in the west of Tananarive. It offers splendid volcanic landscapes, very undulating and different from the usual image of the Great Island. The area of Ampefy is situated on a volcanic substratum whose characteristics are the domes, lakes and rivers which present rapids. Because of its altitude, Ampefy offers splendid panoramic views on all the surrounding volcanic landscapes. Apart from the extent of the lake Itasy, it is also possible to see other volcanic lakes such as the lake Antohomadinika, or Andranoratsy, or ponds and many marshes, most of which are lakes of crater.


Anakoa

The village of Anakao is located nearly 40 km south of Tuléar in a desert area with an amazing turquoise sea with emerald tints. In this corner of the island, where time seems to have stopped a few decades ago, some 1500 Vezo gathered together and settled on a small portion of land that has turned now into a captivating destination among all those who accept the tiring effort to get here on boat, which is the only means of transport, as there is no bridge over the Onilahy river. Snorkelling is considerably better than in Ifaty with some diving sites with a deep from 20 to 75 feet where myriads of fish can be seen.


Andohahela National Park

Although Andohahela has been protected since 1939, it was not declared National Park and opened to tourism until 1998. It is located about 40 km northwest from Fort Dauphin and offers a perfect overview of the fauna, flora and landscapes of the East and South of Madagascar. Andohahela spreads over 300 square miles and contains the last dense and humid forests of the southern part of Madagascar. The altitude goes from 100 to almost 2,000 m at the highest point of the Anosy mountain range. This means that in one day you will be able to wander through rainforest, get familiar with the different flora of transition forest and photograph the bizarre landscapes of the semi-arid spiny forest.


Andringitra National Park

The Andringitra Mountains are a granite outcrop in south-central Madagascar characterized by high mountains, deep valleys, and ridges. Explorers in the early twentieth century recognized the ecological importance of the massif and, in 1927, the central part of the mountain range was declared a Strict Nature Reserve. However, the area was little known to outsiders until the early 1990s when the Malagasy Environmental Action Plan was introduced and the Andringitra National Park was established. Over an area of 120 square miles is subdivided into three ecosystems: low altitude rainforest, mountain forest and high altitude vegetation. The park is located in the Fianarantsoa Province of Madagascar, 30 miles south of Ambalavao.

It is also one of the most biologically diverse and endemic places in all of Madagascar; over 100 different species of birds, over 50 species of mammals including 13 of lemurs, (ring tailed lemur are quite frequent), 55 species of frogs and more than 1,000 plants are known to inhabit the park. Its highest elevation is Pic Boby, 8,720 feet high, is the second highest summit in Madagascar standing out as prominently above the barren lunar plain.


Ankarafanstika National Park

Ankarafantsika (formerly known as Ampijoroa Forest Station) is one of the largest and last remaining sections of dense dry deciduous forest in Madagascar, filled with critically endangered and endemic species. The park lies about 450km North from Tana and 65 miles South from Mahajanga covering a surface of almost 520 square miles, and it is bisected by the R4 highway. It became National Park in 2002, when the two sections separated by the main road were finally joined. The vegetation consists mainly of relatively low and scrubby deciduous forest with savannah areas and gallery forest around the Ravelobe Lake.


Andasibe National Park

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park with its 60 square miles encompasses two distinct areas: the small Réserve Spéciale d’Analamazaotra (popularly known by the old French name of the nearby town and railway station, Périnet) in the south next to Andasibe village; and the much larger Parc National de Mantadia to the north. Both parts belonged to the same humid forest, but because of human activities are now divided in two. The park was created in 1989. Due to its closeness to the capital and the good road condition all year round almost all visitors to Madagascar will choose to come here to follow the Indri call, which is the star of the park.


Anjajavy

Located about 75 miles to the east of Antananarivo along RN2, Andasibe National Park (ANP) is the most visited of the protected areas. It actually comprises two parts: the Mantadia Park and the Analamazaotra reserve of Indri, over 16,000 acres in surface area.

A real treasure in terms of fauna, ANP hosts 11 species of lemurs of which the biggest, the Indri Indri, is easily spotted because of its impressive shrieks. It cannot bear being in captivity, so it can be admired only in its natural milieu. The park also shelters several species of birds, reptiles, insects and batrachians. As for its flora, it is the luxuriant vegetation of tropical forests with several varieties of ferns, epiphytes, sacred creepers, orchids and dwarf palm trees. The park has an interpretation center as well as places laid out for picnic or camping.


Antananarivo

Antananarivo (“The City of a Thousand Warriors”) is the capital and the first stop for passengers arriving by plane. The city is built on a Y-shaped granite mountain surrounded by rice fields. The rova (“royal fort”) sits atop the highest point and houses a historical museum of the ancient Malagasy queens and kings. A jumble of houses covers the steep slopes. A maze of narrow alleys and stairs crisscross the town. One such stairway, climbing 600 feet, is named Tsiafakantitra (“Old folks can’t make it”).

The city of Antananarivo is divided into neighborhoods or quarters with names more readily used by taxi drivers and local inhabitants than street names. For instance, the US Embassy is in Antsahavola, the topographic map service in Ambanidia, and the zoo in Tsimbazaza.

In the center of town, the Zoma is the largest open air market in the world. Exotic fruits, vegetable, meat, flowers, hardware, toys, furniture, handicrafts, potteries, carved stones, clothes, etc. are laid out over a central plaza and many adjoining streets. The wares are protected from the sun by enormous white umbrellas. Hawking and haggling are animated but conducted in a dignified manner, without yelling. Many localities derive their name from the day of the week the market is held. The Wednesday market is held in places called Alarobia, the Thursday market in Alakamisy. For Friday shopping, you go to Zomà, though Antananarivo’s Zoma is now held daily.

Tsimbazaza (“They are not children”) is a botanical and zoological garden with many specimens of the very peculiar Malagasy flora and fauna: lemurs, extraordinary chameleons and insects, birds. There is a skeleton of a giant extinct bird, the aepiornis; standing ten feet tall over its nine-quart egg (an ostrich egg measures a quart and a half).


Antsirabe

Antsirabé is the third largest city on the island of Madagascar. In 1872, a Norwegian missionary discovered its cool climate, serene environs and therapeutic thermal springs and set up a retreat here. Very soon the French, who were regular visitors to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, found Antsirabé to be the ideal getaway from the din and bustle of Antananarivo. Antsirabé’s popularity grows still today, with more and more visitors discovering the beauty of Antsirabé every year. Visitors can do the same today: Just a few hours’ drive from Antananarivo, tourists can experience the thermal-spring ambiance of the town with a stay at one of the many Antsirabe hotels.


Antsiranana or Diego Suarez

Antsiranana, situated in the extreme north of Madagascar, known as Diego Suarez until 1975 and still called Diego by many, is the capital of Madagascar’s northernmost province. It has one of the world’s most beautiful deep-water harbours, complete with a photogenic sugarloaf mountain. Visitors usually love this city, which is probably the most French city on Madagascar. It has this colonial feel over it. This is the largest city of the north with a huge cosy market, a range of fine restaurants and some fantastic places and national parks to visit nearby. Diego is the perfect place to hang around and prepare for visiting the neighbourhood.


Fianarantsoa

Fianarantsoa, is an old royal city which became in 1830 administrative capital of the region under the colonial power. The name Fianarantsoa means “the place where one can learn something good” and was given by Queen Ranavalona 1st honoring the many academic institutions and reputed schools that are based here and which justify its reputation as the academic, intellectual and religious capital of the country it has the largest number of churches per square foot of the country. Like in Tana, old houses were in general built in the hills and the new ones were built in the valleys. The old upper town, the new town, where most shops are located and the train station district constitute the core of a city that has become almost unavoidable for any traveler heading to the South.


Ifaty

The quiet coastal area of Ifaty, featuring the villages of Ifaty, Mangily and Mandio Rano is only some 15 miles north of Tulear, but the road is so bad that it takes about two hours to drive there! Compared to Anakao, with almost has the same characteristics, Ifaty has an easier access (and is more beautiful too). There are numerous hotels, mainly built out of more traditional materials.

For travellers, this place is synonymous for relaxation and beautiful beaches, mostly welcomed after a long trekking tour. Indeed the beaches are beautiful and its closeness to Tulear, where most trips to the South end, make Ifaty a well worth trip to lay down on the beach and do some snorkelling. Further attractions for those missing Sainte Marie are the whales passing by in July and August.


Isalo National Park

Established in 1962, the Isalo National Park is located approximately 400 miles southwest of Antananarivo and protects 315 square miles of sandstone massif wildly eroded by wind and rain into bizarre ridges (known as “runiformes”) featuring wild forms, impressive gorges and canyons and tiny stalagmite pinnacles. The far Wild West reminiscent of the landscape, dominated by rugged massive that rises up from the flat surrounding grassy plain, attracts hikers from the whole world that gather here to admire the sweeping colours of this Jurassic scenery. The climate is dry tropical with warm temperatures all year around.

Though wildlife is here not as prominent as in other parks of the country, there are still a couple of species worth to look out: Ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, sifakas and 14 nocturnal lemurs hide in dense vegetation along the streams.


Mahajanga

Symbolized by the large baobab tree at the seaside, Majunga is also called the “city of the flowers”. It is about 370 miles from Antananarivo, in the Western North of the country by a good indisputable picturesque road. In Majunga, the climate is hot and dry, rains are rare and the temperature can reach the 100°F.

Founded about 1700 by Arabic who established there a well sheltered port and a prosperous commercial counter, it was called a long time Majunga but has never lost its Arab and Swahili seal. The strongest concentrations of Arabic, Moslem Comorians and ipso facto of mosques are found there. Change is thus much more sensitive there for the inhabitants of the Highlands than in any other coastal town. Third in importance of all the ports of the Island, Mahajanga ensures export towards Eastern Africa, Arabia and the west of Asia of the rich agricultural products of its back-country: rice from Boina, Bongolava cattle, raffia, even spices from the Sambirano region. The coastal traffic is very important there, the long distance ships also come there, except that they are obliged to anchor in the bay and to transfer the goods by barge because the silting of the port prohibits them to come to quay. At sunset, the inhabitants and the tourists are used to go on the seaside boulevard and the cornice not too far from the giant baobab tree to taste the freshness of the evening, picking grilled skewers, to drink coconut milk and to watch the population passing by. Not that the city misses distractions, but it is so much taken by its activities and people are just in seek of simple pleasures like evening walks or good restaurants.


Mantasoa

Mantasoa, which in Malagasy language means “is pleasant even raw” is located 42 miles in the North-East of Antananarivo. It is easily accessible by highway N2 which leads to the largest city port of Tamatave or Toamasina on the east coast. The place has constituted itself as an ideal holiday destination for many Tananariviens. This picturesque place has three major attractions: the artificial Lac Mantasoa, the industrial town built by Jean Laborde and his tomb: Soamandrakizay.


Maroantsetra

Maroantsetra is a Mecca for nature lovers, as well as the gateway to the Masoala peninsula, Madagascar’s largest national park, and is a showcase for Madagascar’s unique animal and plant life not found anywhere else in the world. It is located at the bottom of bay of Antongil between the sea and the humid and luxuriant tropical forest, 60 miles north from Mananara at the end of the “road” from Tamatave. From here only forest trails through the thick jungle or the coastal line lead northern to Antalaha. The city life is measured by the cycle of vanilla and other spices or aromatic plants; a cycle which is summarized by the plantation, the gathering, the processing and especially the trade. The road which crosses the city is decorated by many shops or displays arranged along the two sides and which expose a whole cluster of very mixed objects and goods. Under the murmur of coconuts tree leaves agitated by a constant sea breeze which strokes your face and the rustling of the large waves of the Indian Ocean, serenity is absolute there. The rain is always present there and it can come and go from any moment throughout the day you equipped accordingly!


Morondava

The laidback atmosphere of this coastal town is felt all over the city. The local market is well worth a visit (interesting lambaony fabrics). A usual exploration of the city starts normally at the airport, whose name, Anstakoameloky, has a weird origin and means “angry tree” (apparently an European pilot could not manage well the landing of his aircraft and crashed onto a tree, that was awaken to life and reacted in an aggrieved manner…) In Namahora Nord the second most important market of the city is held. The city centre, called Bazary Be, is a lively compound of narrow streets full of strident merchants and street vendors. Nosy Kely, on the seashore, is the actual tourist borough. To get to the village of Betania, you can hire a pirogue at the Hellot port.

Morondava has of course its own beaches, though due to the strong streams, they are not suitable for bathing. If you are in the mood, head to the beaches of Betania, Bosy and Ankevo.


Marojejy National Park

Marojejy (or Marojevy) National Park, a rugged and untamed mountainous area of 230 square miles and over 7,000 feet in altitude, is one of the most strikingly beautiful wild areas of the country. The magic of this beauty lies on its Jurassic park character: 90% of Marojejy national park is covered with original primary forests. Voluptuous hillsides, completely carpeted by a lush green rainforests, where shrubs, ferns, feathery mosses and lichens hang from the tree branches in the search of light, extend onto the horizon. The inaccessibility of the area has created a natural laboratory that hosts a unique flora and fauna. For a long time the park, created in 1952, was reserved exclusively for scientists until it finally opened to the general public.


Masoala National Park

Encompassing 900 square miles of rainforest and 40 square miles of marine parks, Masoala is Madagascar’s largest protected area. The park was established in 1997 to preserve this unique ecosystem comprising coastal rainforest, flooded forests, marsh and mangroves from the serious threatens by encroachment from the local communities that depend on the area for agricultural land and firewood, and from international logging companies seeking to harvest timber.


Nosy Be

Nosy Be is Madagascar’s most important holiday resort. An island surrounded by smaller islands lying off the northwest coast, it is one hour by air from the capital. The island of Nosy Be is easily accessible and the most popular holiday spot in Madagascar – particularly with French and Italian tourists. Drawn by its beaches, the beautiful sea and its diving and fishing, the magnificent archipelago and the prospect of island-hopping, the range of accommodation and some nightlife, visitors come to enjoy all the ingredients for a beach holiday on an exotic tropical island.

Nosy Be, which means ‘Big Island’, is a good choice as part of a family holiday in Madagascar. In addition to the sun, sea and sand, there are lemurs to watch in the Lokobe Reserve, abundant chameleons, the scent of ylang-ylang and vanilla, a market where you can bargain for spices, sacred lakes, villages and forests – all within easy reach of your hotel.


Nosy Boraha (Sainte Marie)

Ile Ste Marie, or Nosy Boraha, is a narrow granitic island 35 miles long and 5 miles off the east coast of Madagascar. It is composed of a main island and several small islets. Its lush vegetation interspersed with many small villages, the kilometrical sandy beaches shaded by coconut palms, its bays and coves protected by coral reefs have turned this tropical dream island in is one of the most popular beach spots Madagascar has to offer. An atmosphere of peace, tranquillity and pure natural beauty prevails on the island, a feeling definitely emphasized by the joie de vivre of the Malagasy. Cycling is the most popular means of transport of getting around. Another way to move further is on board of a traditional pirogue. It can take you to beautiful deserted little bays overgrown with tropical vegetation. Sainte Marie boasts numerous stunningly beautiful beaches and secluded coves, fringed with coconut palms.


Nosy Iransja

This wonder of nature made up of two small islands is surely the two most beautiful islands amongst the Mitsio archipelago. Nosy Iranja absolutely combines the peace and the beauty of the natural tropical forest. In Nosy Iranja, the water is so clear that anyone manages to see from the surface which is the ideal place for the snorkeling with a mask and a tuba with a perfect visibility and without difficulty.

Nosy Iranja is a splendid small island and a perfect place of escapade. This small island shaped like the letter “T” with a drag is moored on the north-western coast of Madagascar. Nosy Iranja is one of the five major islands which form the Mitsio archipelago, not far from Nosy Be – located in the Mozambique Channel. It is precisely an hour boat ride (30 nautical miles) in the north of the perfumes island.
The two islands which form Nosy Iranja are connected between them by a strip of white sand in contrasts with the turquoise color of the sea water at low tide. In other words, this white sand band is submerged by the sea at high tide. The edge which separates the firm ground of this island with the blue crammed color of exotic sea fish is made of marvelous beaches of fine white sand bank set ablaze by the tropical sun. The sand is so fine and of a bright white which manages to give a reflection of the glittering sunlight.


Ranomafana National Park

Ranomafana (which means “hot water” in Malagasy) is doubtless one the most spectacular National Parks of Madagascar. Due to the good access and suitable location near the RN7, great biodiversity (12 lemur species are found here) and developed infrastructures, it has become one of the most visited places of the island. Established in 1991, it expands over a mountainous terrain of over 60 square miles totally covered by dense moist primary and secondary forest area at altitudes between 2,600 feet and 4,000 feet. In 1986 the critically endangered golden bamboo lemur was discovered here by Dr. Patricia Wright, a fact that definitely pushed the government to create a national park.

The park contains twelve lemur species. Aside from the golden bamboo lemur, visitors can spot eastern woolly lemur, red bellied lemur, eastern grey bamboo lemur, greater bamboo lemur, red-fronted brown lemur, black-and-white ruffed lemur, Milne-Edward´s sifaka, Small-toothed sportive lemur, greater dwarf lemur and brown mouse lemur and the very rare aye-aye. Other mammals include 7 species of tenrecs, 8 bats and 6 carnivorous, like the Malagasy striped civet and some mongooses.


Taolagnaro or Fort-Dauphin

Situated in the deep south east of the country, with its is setting amongst crescent shaped beaches under high forest-clad mountains and atmosphere of steady decay, Fort Dauphin has an undeniable charm and it is, therefore, no wonder that it has developed into the centre of a prosperous tourist industry. The city is dominated by splendid mountain chain, the chain of Anosy and the Peak St. Louis, on the north side of the city, which offers a unique and unspoiled view of the area. On the north, east, and south the bright azure colours of the Indian Ocean take over the magnificent view. The town offers the visitor a variety of pastimes like strolling through the markets, lazing on the fine sandy beaches, enjoying the marvellous cuisine or exploring the sensational dry-forests of the surroundings.


Tsarabanjina

Located 30 miles from Ambatolampy, bordering southeast of the Imerina, near the eastern forest, Tsinjorivo is a historic site built by Queen Ranavalona 1 in 1884 where she placed a Rova and also a village of approximately 100 inhabitants recruited from Betsimisaraka, Anosibe An’Ala and Andramasina. She came here only three times in her life. It is said that the queen let this place be built only to admire the breathtaking beauty of the nearby Onive Falls. In fact, her descendents visited this place often (Ravanalona III in particular) bringing an entourage of hundreds of servants and sometimes stayed even three months. The famous falls, situated at the southwest of Tsinjorivo, are visible from far away and plunge from an altitude of 90 feet. A little further away the river flow calms and it is possible to swim or even fish (as Queen Ravanalona III used to do). The access to the falls is quite steep. The Rova built by Ravanalona I, where some objects and photographs are located, can be visited too. The road to Tsinjorivo is in a bad condition and it takes four by car to get here. It is therefore advisable to overnight at least one night there to avoid rushing back in the same day.


Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park

Tsingy de Bemaraha’s national park consists of the throat of the river of Manambolo, the intact forests, the lakes and the mangrove swamps, the dense and dry forests, and the tsingy which make the fame and the magnificence of the site. “Tsingy” is points of sharp, high and ripped limestones.

The park is located in the Western center of Madagascar. The best means to reach it is by road starting from Morondava. A 4 wheel drive is needed to face the 120 miles of dirt road before getting at Bekopaka, the Southern entry of the park. The road lasts a little long but the landscape which it offers is worth the pain.


Tulear

Toliara (or Tulear) is often called “the White” as opposition to the “Red Tana”. This nickname comes from the exceptional luminosity of the sky. In fact the town itself with approximately 60,000 inhabitants is relatively modern, just created in 1895 by a French architect, who laid a big importance in planting trees in the city, which offer now a welcome shady protection from the blazing sun. Today Toliara, the capital of the same named region, is a lively and young city with an important university, which is founded in 1970 as the second institution of tertiary education behind the University of Tana.

Antsokay is a botanical garden specialized in the flora and fauna of Southwest Madagascar that should not be missed by anyone. The Arboretum was created around 1980, on the initiative of a Swiss amateur botanist, Hermann Pétignat who died in 2000 and is located at 12 km south-east from the Toliara town.

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