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Madagascar: The Forgotten Jewel

The fourth largest island in the world, and just 250 miles off the coast of east Africa, Madagascar is a largely undiscovered corner of the world. Boasting 5% of the world’s animal and plant species, the idyllic isle is a dream destination for those seeking adventure.

With natives speaking a mother tongue of Malagasy, intermingled with French, the island is not African, Asian or European and has a unique aura. Many travellers comment that Madagascar is the most fascinating and unspoilt location they have ever travelled to and a rich tapestry of culture, landscapes and wildlife makes this an understandable claim.

Accessed by just a handful of airlines including Air Seychelles, Air France and Kenya Airways, most journeys can take upwards of 14 hours due to stop-over time in a variety of destinations. Layovers can be anywhere from Paris to Nairobi and it is important to thoroughly research flights as it has been noted that Madagascar hasn’t quite got to grasps with a seamless aviation service yet.

Due to awkward flight times, many travellers choose to spend a night in the capital of Antananarivo. The capital, locally referred to as Tana, is located in the island’s Central Highlands. The city is vibrant and the main hub for day trips, history, eating and shopping. The town centre falls foul to the usual pollution and traffic of many capital cities, but bypassing Tana would be a grave mistake; it has been the home of Malagasy power for three centuries and there is a vast expanse of culture and history to discover.

Madagascar has a plethora of National Parks, which is not surprising considering the lush rainforests and multitude of wildlife. Most popular is Ranomafana National Park, located in the south east of the island. The park plays home to the endangered golden bamboo lemur, whose diet is supplemented by bamboo shoots that have lethal doses of cyanide that would be deadly to other animals.

In the North of the Island is Amber Mountain National Park. Jurassic ferns and dense rainforest blanket this region, which is also dispersed with crystal clear crater lakes and picturesque waterfalls.  The Nature Lodge is a fantastic option for those wishing to spend a night in the park, with amazing views of the majestic mountains and the Bay of Diego; a peaceful stretch of coastline adorned with vegetation and white sands.

For travellers wishing for an up close and personal encounter with Madagascar’s famous lemurs, Andasibe National Park is home to the indri, golden and dancing lemur species.  Furthermore, Aye Aye Island, a short boat ride away from the Palmarium Reserve, is the only place in the world you can see the endangered and unique looking aye-aye lemur.

Mother nature has produced some incredible sites in Madagascar. The dirt road between Morondava and Blon’I Tsiribihina, in the Menabe region, homes the countries first natural monument. The Avenue of the Baobabs is a prominent group of awe inspiring baobab trees that are eerily striking against the blue Madagascan sky.

Formed by erosion of the Irodo River in the Diana region of northern Madagascar, the Red Tsingy is a rouge stone formation of laterite and looks like the setting of a sci-fi movie.

For a slice of Malagasy history, the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga has been considered one of the most sacred spots for the past 500 years and the historical village was once home to Madagascan royalty. The great wall that encapsulates the village was erected in 1847 and constructed with a mortar made of lime and egg whites. The Mahandrihono compound includes the former home of King Andrianampoinimerina, with walls made of solid rosewood, and artifacts of the island’s great king, including drums, weapons and talismans.

The coast of Madagascar is adorned with coral clad locations for scuba diving. With untainted waters, the opportunity to absorb the aquatic wildlife of Ile Saint Marie is a must. Whale watching in this coastal nirvana is spectacular and hump back whales regularly breach the surface of the ocean, providing a once in a lifetime spectacle.

Embracing Madagascar can be galling, the roads are dismal and treks can be arduous. But for those who relish a unique adventure and want a one-of-a-kind destination (ideal for honeymoons) there is no question that the island is other-worldly. With remote resorts and national parks that only see a few hundred visitors per year, it is easy to succumb to the feeling that the island is yours alone. Activities such as trekking, diving, mountain biking, kitesurfing and rock-climbing are unavoidable treats, but there are plenty of natural pools, beaches and hammocks for recovery and relaxation too.

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