Lying just off the Southeast coast of mainland Africa, this large island country is known the world over for its unique plant and animal life, beautiful beaches, and awe-inspiring landscapes. Since Madagascar is home to multiple species (like the Lemur) that aren’t found anywhere else in the world, it seems to have been destined to end up on bucket lists. With so many options and areas to explore, I’ve been adding new destinations to my own Madagascar bucket list for years, and hope this post helps you do the same.
Andasibe & Mantadia National Park
One of the most popular parks in Madagascar, due in part to its proximity to Madagascar’s capital city, the Andasibe & Mantadia National Park is where you go to hear the peculiar calls of the Indris Lemur. As one of 14 species of Lemur (monkeys, primates, whatever) that are found in this divided national park, you don’t really need to hit peak call times here to witness the creatures Madagascar is famous for. In case Lemurs aren’t your thing, there is also a plethora of butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians to keep you occupied, as well as a sacred waterfall, and plenty of hiking trails to explore.
Ankarana National Park
Made up of eroded limestone, dense tropical jungle, forests, and the largest network of caverns and caves in all of Madagascar, Ankarana National Park is the place to go if you love to hike. With such a diverse landscape comes an equally diverse plant and animal life, including one of the largest populations of crowned Lemurs, the world’s only cave-dwelling crocodiles, and plenty of bats. Although you’re going to need to hire a guide to help you navigate the park, you should make a point to include the famous hanging bridge pictured above in whatever circuit you end up exploring.
As both the largest city on the island and the capital of Madagascar, you can’t very well visit the country without spending a little time in Antananarivo. Tana (as it’s referred to), is a unique little city composed of modern, french colonial, and wooden buildings with cobble stone roads, hills for days, and a mixture of culture said to be unique to the island alone. Famous for its many markets, Tana also has a number of interesting sites to visit including a zoo, multiple churches, and the remains of a Rova (Queens Palace/Fort). Although the city is built across multiple hills, everyone seems to recommend walking everywhere you can to get the full experience, and stumble upon hidden gems and delicious food.
Avenue of the Baobabs
Found lining the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in Madagascar, the Baobab tree is a bit like cacti here in the Southwest, since they store water within their massive trunks to survive the harsh conditions that kill off other plants. While they are usually found standing alone in the barest environments, what makes the avenue – or alley – of Baobabs in Madagascar a must see location is the large concentration of these massive trees that line one of the most beautiful dirt roads on the island. More importantly, this little stretch of road is also one of the most accessible places in Madagascar to see these magnificent tress without wandering around for days.
Isalo National Park
This national park is mostly comprised of sandstone that has been eroded over the centuries by water and wind into incredible gorges, canyons, and unforgettable formations. Although the formations are enough to inspire a visit (at least for me), you’ll also be met with natural streams, swimming holes, and waterfalls along with a fair amount of native plant life, over fifty types of exotic birds, various species of reptiles, and of course lemurs. You’re probably going to have to hire a guide to take you into the park, so be sure to account for the heat and your personal hiking experience before booking a multi-day stay.
Masoala National Park
It’s said that 2% of all the plants and animals on earth reside within Masoala National Park. While the Lemur’s are by far the most famous inhabitants of Madagascar, this beautiful national park is home to many species of chameleons, geckos, frogs, butterflies and fish, among the few more bizarre mammals you’ll encounter (and I don’t mean the humans). Apart from the unique and colorful array of creatures you’ll encounter, the lush forests, golden beaches, and bright coral reefs that make this park so unique shouldn’t be missed. To make the whole thing even better, there is an immense amount of hiking and trekking opportunities within the park to make your stay unforgettable no matter what you choose to do.
Nosy Be & The Other Beaches of Madagascar
The most famous beach destination Madagascar has to offer, goes by the name of Nosy Be, and is a small island off the North-West coast of Madagascar. While it’s worshiped for its beautiful crystal clear waters, diving, and off-the-grid feel, it’s also incredibly popular which means it’s going to be expensive. Luckily, there are plenty of other options available. Check out Sante Marie Island, Tamatave, the Pangalanes Canal, or the beaches near the villages of Ankevo and Belo sur Mer for starters.
Ranomafana National Park
Another great national park to visit if you’re interested in seeing Lemurs, Ranomafana National Park is home to 12 difference species. Since it’s located near a major thoroughfare, it’s also going to be one of the easiest national parks to get to, which means it’ll be crowded during high tourist seasons. Among its impressive mix of Lemur, you’ll find plenty of butterflies, chameleons, birds, orchids and carnivorous plants, among other reptiles and amphibians. There are 5 main treks within the park, so be sure to plan accordingly as each offers different sights and vary in length.
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
Commonly referred to as the “Stone Forest”, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 because of its needle like limestone formations. Although it might be famous for it’s rock, this national park also hosts its own impressive list of native flora, fauna, reptiles, and mammals including lemurs, and ring-tailed mongoose. Since the park is only open between April & November each year, most tourists opt to spend a few days trekking through the park to get the full experience. While shorter options are available, no matter what you choose to do, you’re going to need to hire a guide.