Madagascar itineraries & maps
Make the most of your time
Despite being an island, Madagascar is vast, and its lack of infrastructure, appalling roads, frequent rains and crazy terrain make it seem even huger. If you want to spend more time doing and less time traveling, try basing yourself in one region. Alternatively, flights link many key destinations in less than 90 minutes – but be aware that schedules are only loosely adhered to, so allow extra time in your itinerary for likely delays. The key is to relax and go with the flow!
Here are three of our top Madagascar itineraries, incorporating our favourite highlights. Click on the map points below for more information about each location.
Amber Mountain National Park
A tropical Eden filled with volcanic lakes, waterfalls, and brilliant birds, this park is enormously biodiverse and well worth the journey north. Eight lemurs and 35 bird species inhabit the forest, at 800-1,470m altitude. The nearby Montaigne de Français is a popular rock climbing spot, with incredible views across the north coast. Its caves, karsts and endemic baobabs create an otherworldly landscape.
Ambositra is the wood-carving capital of Madagascar. Detailed marqueterie (inlaid wood), carved furniture, raffia bowls and baskets are abundant in the little artisan stores scattered around the quaint, red-brick streets. Try and visit one of the traditional, wooden-house Zafimaniry villages around the city, where much of the carving takes place.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Also known as Perinet, this park protects 155 km² of primary rainforest in eastern Madagascar. 108 bird species live here, along with 11 lemurs, including the curious-looking aye-aye and the metre-long Indri. The nearby Misinjo Forest is managed by the local community and is also worth a visit - profits support community development initiatives.
Andringitra National Park is wild, rugged, and famed for its biodiversity, including 108 bird species and 54 mammals. Sweeping from 650m altitude to a breathtaking 2,658m at the crest of Boby Peak, the park encompasses lowland rainforest, highland vegetation and waterfalls. The hiking is fantastic – but prepare for some very chilly nights.
This small, community-run reserve in central Madagascar is best known for its ring-tailed lemurs. The nearby town of Ambalavao has one of Madagascar’s only vineyards; do take the opportunity to try local wine - it’s never exported. The town is also renowned for its parchment-like handmade paper, pressed with flowers, and fine, woven silk.
Ankarafantsika National Park
A phenomenal 800 species of trees inhabit this dry tropical forest, which is also home to endemic chameleons and eight lemurs – including the tiny mouse lemur. 129 species of birds can be seen in the park; over half are Madagascar endemics. The park is centred on Lake Ravelobe, and night walks here are recommended.
Ankarana Special Reserve
This park protects a little limestone plateau, which has partially eroded to create caves and spectacular tsingy karsts. Around ten lemurs can be seen here, including the strange, nocturnal aye-aye and the crowned lemur, which is only found on Madagascar’s northern tip. There are some fantastic hiking routes – keep an eye out for crocodiles, ibis and nocturnal geckos.
This chaotic, highland city is a jumble of rickshaws, beggars and some of the best crafts in Madagascar. Many of Antsirabe’s buildings date back to French colonial times, and the numerous thermal baths, cathedral and Saturday market are worth visiting. Get a local’s-eye-view of the city by touring in a pousse-pousse - a colourful, hand pulled rickshaw.
The little fishing village of Ifaty sits where the arid desert rolls into the Mozambique Channel, via palm-strewn beaches. This is Madagascar’s one-stop-shop for whale watching, snorkelling, diving and the otherworldly Spiny Forest, dotted with fat, centuries-old baobabs.
Isalo (& Randhira)
Isalo’s Jurassic sandstone has eroded into sharp ridges, wide canyons and miniature pinnacles. This bizarre landscape conceals lemurs, burial sites and natural pools, and those who venture into the park’s interior will be rewarded with waterfalls and gorges - and a break from the many tourists that visit the outskirts of Isalo.
A tropical island located 8km off Madagascar’s north coast, Nosy Be is the most developed – though least authentic – tourist destination in the region, with its own international airport and all-inclusive resorts. Beaches rival those in the Caribbean, with much fewer tourists and an idyllic climate. Try sea kayaking, snorkelling, or take a boat to a nearby desert island.
The little fishing village of Ramena has some gorgeous stretches of sand and concealed bays – it’s a fantastic place to relax after several days hiking, or bumping along Madagascar’s notoriously uncomfortable roads. There are a few small bungalows and cabins, and you can try your hand at catching dinner with a local fisherman.
Ranomafana National Park
Gazetted in 1991, Ranomafana is part of Madagascar’s Rainforests of the Atsinanana World Heritage Site. The 417km² montane forest’s varied altitudes hide rare mountaintop flora and many species of orchids, as well as 12 lemur species, chameleons and mongooses. Ranomafana offers astonishing scenery and excellent hiking through its lush green hills.
Sakalava is set on an emerald lagoon – which just happens to be one of Madagascar’s top kite surfing and windsurfing spots. This remote white-sand beach is extremely peaceful; the bay is sheltered by a reef, and the water is gloriously warm year-round.
This sun-baked, inhospitable habitat is one of the island’s most surreal. The forest is filled with cacti-like shrubs and trees, which have adapted to withstand the droughts, and are found nowhere else in the world. Smooth-trunked baobabs contrast with the spike-covered flora, and ring-tailed lemurs, tortoises and mongooses can be spotted in the thickets.
Tsingy de Bemeraha
This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes a surreal “limestone forest” where the rock has been eroded both horizontally and vertically. Guided tours lead visitors through the surrounding to scramble around and over the pinnacles. 47 percent of species in the Tsingy’s canyons, forests, lakes and mangrove swamps are found nowhere else in Madagascar, making this a truly unique landscape.
Driving times in Madagascar
The following times give you a rough idea of the driving times between the main attractions in Madagascar.
- Antananarivo – Tulear: 15 hours
- Antananarivo – Morondava: 12 hours
- Antsirabe – Morondava: 12 hours
- Antananarivo – Isalo: 10 hours
- Antananarivo – Ranomafana: 7 hours
- Morondava – Tsingy de Bemaraha: 5 hours
- Antananarivo – Andasibe: 4 hours
- Tulear – Isalo: 3 hours
- Antananarivo – Antsirabe: 2.5 hours
Flight times in Madagascar
The following times give you a rough idea of the flight times between the main attractions in Madagascar.
- Antananarivo – Morondava: 1.5 hours
- Antananarivo – Nosy Be: 1 hour