A kaleidoscope of 14 million residents of African, Arabian and Asian descend, Madagascar is
the world's fourth largest island. The island's capital is Antananarivo, nestled under the massive (8,671 ft) Ankaratra Mountains.
This southern African country has been a unique meeting place for nature-lovers from all over the world. Today, the island sees tourists of many nationalities; some have come to do a classic north-south tour, others to make an adventurous trekking in a remote area of the island. With some good common sense you can travel without any problems in Madagascar.
Madagascar measures 587,040 square kilometres (1.580 km of north to the south and 580 km east to west). The coastline measures 4.828 km. The diversity of the climate is mirrored in that of the landscape : Amazonian in the Betsiboka delta, Saharan in the west, Swiss in the high plateau's of the centre and West-American in the south. From mid-September through October, the jacaranda trees are in bloom, baby lemurs are being born, and the heavy downpours that make overland travel tough have not yet started.
The island can be divided into five geographical regions: the east coast, the Tsaratanana Massif, the central highlands, the west coast, and the southwest. A central mountainous plateau with a temperate climate dominates the island of Madagascar. Partly volcanic in origin, the uplands rise to 2876 m (9436 ft) atop Maromokotro. The highest elevations parallel the east coast, whereas the land slopes more gradually to the west coast.
Madagascar has two seasons: a hot, rainy season from November to April; and dry season with a cooler temperature from May to October. There is, however, great variation in climate owing to elevation and position relative to dominant winds.
The east coast has a subequatorial climate and, being most directly exposed to the trade winds, has the heaviest rainfall, averaging as much as 3.5 meters annually. Because rain clouds discharge much of their moisture east of the highest elevations on the island, the central highlands are appreciably drier and, owing to the altitude, also cooler.
The dry season in the highlands is pleasant and sunny, although somewhat chilly, especially in the mornings. During this time, the blue skies of the central highlands are considered by many to be among the clearest and most beautiful in the world. The west coast is drier than either the east coast or the central highlands because the trade winds lose their humidity by the time they reach this region. The south-west and the extreme south are semi-desert; as little as one-third of a meter of rain falls annually at Toliara (Tulear).
The best season for travelling is in general February to December .
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What and When to see
INSERER INFOGRAPHIE SPECIAL INTERESTS
Travel Health and Vaccinations
Recommended vaccinations and other health protection measures required
What if you need emergency ?
Local health facilities vary greatly in their frequency and quality depending on the region you are travelling in, but if there is a medical emergency during your trip, your guide or driver will make it a priority for the affected person to be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Please ensure that you have adequate insurance to cover you for medical emergencies.
Benefits to Travel in Small Groups
Travel Tips and Advices from the Team
- Call your bank before you leave your home country to inform them where you are travelling to, and will be likely to use your bank cards. Otherwise the bank may freeze any withdrawals or payments you try to make on that card, thinking your card has been stolen or cloned - this can result in a very expensive phone call to rectify when overseas!
- Make a note of the emergency contact numbers for any bank cards in case your card is lost or stolen.
- Always use safes in hotel rooms where they available, and do not leave money and valuables out on show in your hotel room while you are out.
- Do not walk around with money and valuables on show, and don't take your passport out with you unless essential.
- Take at least two copies of a scan of your passport with you (and any visas that you have obtained for your trip) and carry them in separate bags just in case your passport is lost or stolen and needs replacing. Also, make sure that you email a copy to yourself before you leave your home country, so that you can always make a new printout if the copies are lost.
- Always make sure the taxi you take is safe, at evening time, try to take a picture before you get inside the taxi and send it to a friend. Negotiate and agree with the taxi driver the price of the total fare BEFORE you get into the taxi.
- Save small bottles to fill with shampoo/conditioner so you don’t have to carry large or heavy sizes and you can beat the 100 ml limit for hand luggage.
- Pack different sections of your luggage (outer clothing, underwear, etc.) into waterproof bags or bin liners just in case your bags get caught in the rain.
- Toilet paper, wet wipes and a headtorch are essential items !
- Bring a pack of cards - for train and bus journeys and creating easy camaraderie in groups.
- Remember that most hotels and guesthouses offer a laundry service, so don't feel you must bring clothes for every day that you'll be away! Many people buy t-shirts and other clothing items as souvenirs as well.
Be an ethic traveller
Always respect the traditions and laws of the country you are in. Remember that you are a 'guest' of another country, and you should avoid any behaviour that will attract negative attention. Ask for "fadys", and consult your driver, guide or tour leader in case of doubts.
Be a responsible traveller
Don't throw your trash in the nature but keep it with you and wait for a bin.
Any other questions ? Feel free to ask us !
According to one theory, people from the Indonesian archipelago migrated along the coast of south Asia, across the Arabian Peninsula into the east coast of Africa and, finally, across the Mozambique Channel into present-day Madagascar. This movement started some 1500 years ago and occurred over several generations. The Malay-Polynesian sailors eventually settled in the Central Highlands. The arrival of African peoples occurred later and was a result of normal migrational trends and the rise of the slave trade. The gradual interaction between Asian and African populations resulted in a distinct Malagasy people and culture
In 1642 the French gained a foothold on the island. However, their influence was small until 1896, when, as a result of popular uprisings, Madagascar was proclaimed a colony of France and military rule was instituted. Under the provisions of the French constitution of 1946, the island became an overseas territory of France. During the 1950s France took measures to increase self-government on the island, and in the late 1950s a congress made up of the members of the provincial councils proclaimed Madagascar, renamed the Malagasy Republic, a semiautonomous member of the French Community.
The Post-Colonial Period
On June 26, 1960, the republic became fully autonomous while retaining a cordial association with France. Later that year it was admitted to the United Nations (UN). After a decade of political stability, Malagasy experienced serious unrest in the early 1970s. On December 30, 1975, the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, and the following month Lieutenant Commander Didier Ratsiraka was named president. After massive antigovernment demonstrations, Ratsiraka promised to institute democratic reforms. A new constitution was approved in August 1992. Albert Zafy defeated Ratsiraka in a presidential runoff election in February 1993. The National Assembly voted to impeach Zafy after he promoted a 1995 referendum that expanded presidential power while it lessened the assembly's authority. In early 1997 former president Ratsiraka was victorious in presidential elections.
The People of Madagascar
The Island is a melting-pot of ethnic groups: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo), Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole and Comoran. Major ethnic groups in the interior are the Merina (Hova) and the related Betsileo. The coastal areas are inhabited mainly by peoples of mixed Malayo-Indonesian, black African, and Arab ancestry. The population of Madagascar, however, is remarkably homogeneous in terms of language. Unlike most African countries, the vast majority speak the indigenous national Malagasy language. Population: 14,061,627 (July 1997 est.)
Fady are taboos on the use of certain substances, particularly foods, or on the performance, including the timing, of certain acts. They continue to regulate much of Malagasy life. The matter of taboo is very important in the Malagasy society. Each tribe, each region have their own "forbidden" behavior, acts etc. Those fady are transmitted through generation and some are just created by the astrologer or "Ombiasa", or the respectful person in the village or area. It is then recommended to everybody to follow the advise of the native when they travel around. For example, to deny hospitality to a stranger is fady, as is the act of refusing this hospitality. According to one fady, it is wrong to sit in the doorway of a house while the rice is sprouting, since the door of the house is compared to the "gateway" of birth and by blocking it, one might impede the "birth" of the rice.There are also some sacred place or sites on the Island because people believe that some spirits of the ancestors are living there and they offer sacrifices like zebu, red " "chicken and rhum but never human sacrifice. In any traditional ceremonies, zebu and rhum are very important symbols.
It is important to remember, however, that fady, particularly dietary prohibitions, vary widely among different ethnic groups, and from village to village within the same ethnic group. To be at home in a different locality, travellers must acquaint themselves with a large number of local variations. Island Continent Tours is well aware of these customs throughout the island and can advice you about the do's and don'ts.
The turning of the bones
In the highlands, you can see the music and storytelling spectacles called hira gasy, or the lively, colourful reburial rituals known as famadihana, or "turning of the bones." From time to time, the Merina people dig up a dead ancestor to hold a family reunion. The living relatives go wild for a day or two of eating, drinking, and - quite literally - dancing with the dead to ensure a happy afterlife. The famadihana is costly, mainly because of the expense of providing food for a large number of relatives and guests. Zebu cattle are slaughtered and huge feasts are prepared for the celebration. Finally, a farewell ceremony is undertaken, and the body is showered with gifts and returned to the tomb. Since a stranger's presence is an good omen, there's a good chance you'll be invited to one if you are friends with Merina people. August or September (the Malagasy winter) is the high season for Famadihana. The Merina people are located in the central highlands, around the city of Antananarivo.
Flora of Madagascar
Cut off from the African mainland for millions of years, Madagascar's teeming forests are a naturalist's dream. They've preserved oddities and developed specialisations found nowhere else on earth, and you can get among them in a spectacular collection of accessible national parks. Sheltering more than 10,000 varieties of plants (with more discovered daily), the island is truly blanketed with one of the richest collections of flora in the world, including a thousand different species of orchids, amongst them the stunning black orchid and the rarest of all orchids: the white-flowered Angraecum Sesquipedale. You'll also find the provident plant, a water-storing bottle tree, six different species of baobabtrees, the carnivorous pitcher plant, and more. One reason for this diversity is the range of microclimates. In fact, each climatic region in Madagascar is associated with a specific vegetation type with a distinct set of plants and animals. The density of endemic plants is such that some individual mountain tops have 150-200 endemic plants found nowhere else on earth.
Madagascar is divided into roughly four major habitat types separated by a mountainchain running down the length of the island. Rainforest containing valuable hardwoods covers the eastern slopes of the mountains, at one time all the way to the eastern seaboard; savanna woodlands and grasslands predominate around remnant patches of what was once an enormous dry deciduous forest can be found along the west side of the island. Grasslands, typical of the high plateau, now dominate the island's scenery; and spiny desert is found at the southern end of the island.
Half of 486 families of plants distinguished by botanists grow here and here alone. So far some six to eight thousand species have been identified, but the specialists estimate that the total figure is twice than this number.
Like a giant Noah's ark, Madagascar is packed with every imaginable creature. Madagascar's dwindling forests are home to an enormous variety of unique animal life, including half the world's chameleon varieties, 300 species of butterflies, 28 kinds of bats, 150 types of frogs and 260 different reptiles, and 32 species of primates which are all endemic to Madagascar. Of the 201 resident bird species, half are found only on Madagascar. Apart from the scorpions, Madagascar has no beast which is dangerous to humans.
The fauna of Malagasy mammals is very remarkable by present species but also by absent groups. So, among carnivores only species of Viverridae are found. Rodents, very diversified anywhere else are represented by only one family, the Nesomyinae. This surprising imbalance of Malagasy fauna comes certainly from the earlier isolation of the island.