Madagascar travel guide

Having parted ways with mainland Africa over 160 million years ago, most of Madagascar's flora and fauna is found nowhere else on earth, including several species of baobabs, most of its 1,000 orchids and – of course – the much-loved lemurs.
Even the Malagasy people – descended from seafarers from Borneo and Polynesia as well as East Africans – are one of a kind, a distinction that is evident in their phenomenal, French-influenced food, infectious music, and deep respect for their ancestors. But uniqueness comes at a cost. Over 90 percent of the island has been deforested to make way for rice fields and livestock, resulting in landslides, flooding, and the extinction of megafauna, including several giant lemurs. Political instability has resulted in this impoverished nation becoming even poorer in recent years, and ever more dependent on the diminishing forests for survival.
All destinations are unique, but Madagascar is more unique than most
However, everyone who enjoys a Madagascar vacation is said to leave a piece of themselves there, having fallen in love with the landscapes, the wildlife and the warmth of the Malagasy culture. It’s well worth a visit – especially now that well-managed tourism is one of the keys to the future of Madagascar’s wildlife – and its people.
Madagascar is/isn't...

Madagascar is...

... full of cultural taboos which have protected its lemurs for centuries.

Madagascar isn't...

... like going to the zoo. You need to work for your wildlife here!

What we rate & what we don't

UNDERRATED

The ultimate fusion food

The Polynesian, African and French influences have created a taste …

Culture

To describe Madagascar as a wildlife vacation destination is to …

Giving something back

Visitors often wonder what they can do to help during …

River expeditions

Much of Madagascar can only be accessed by river; there …
RATED

Lemurs

Everybody loves lemurs. They are believed to have floated across …

Getting around on foot

A vacation in Madagascar offers world-class scenery: towering limestone pinnacles, …

Paddling your way around

The shallow, turquoise and jade seas off Madagascar’s north coast …

Tsingy de Bemaraha

Anyone with a well developed sense of adventure will be …
OVERRATED

All-inclusive resorts

In a country as poor as Madagascar, every pound you …

Antananarivo

Your Madagascar vacation is likely to start and end here, …

“Life-changing” volunteering

Volunteer organisations claiming to “change your life” are missing the …

The Nosy Be “bubble”

Madagascar’s vacation “capital” is certainly a beautiful tropical island – …

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking in Madagascar
Madagascar’s diverse, delicious cuisine has Malayo-Polynesian, East African and French influences.
Rice – called vary – is eaten at every meal, with an accompaniment known as laoka. Laoka contains seafood, pork or beef, along with veg such as shredded leaves, sweet potato, nuts or maize.
Highland laoka often has a tomato-based sauce, while coastal laoka uses coconut – seasoned with clove, vanilla, mild curry or ginger.
Zebu cattle are a Malagasy status symbol. They produce a phenomenally tasty steak.
People & language
Greet someone in a rural area: "Salama!”
Although Madagascar’s people speak one language and are all known as Malagasy, there are 18 main subcultures and numerous dialects. The Malagasy split broadly into two main groups: the highland people, typically of more Asian descent, and the coastal people, who look more East African. The main highland group is the Merina, who are descendants of Madagascar’s monarchs.
Tell your host your meal was delicious: “Matsiro be”
If you hear “Tonga sao!”: when entering a village, you are being welcomed.
The Malagasy revere their ancestors. People live in simple wooden houses, but are buried in elaborate concrete tombs. Their remains are periodically paraded around the village, and reburied in a "bone turning" ceremony.

Our top Madagascar Vacation

Small group vacations to Madagascar

Small group vacations to Madagascar

Experience the best of this enigmatic island continent

From £2495 to £2675 17 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2018: 21 Jun, 2 Aug, 11 Oct, 14 Dec
2019: 16 May, 20 Jun, 2 Aug, 5 Sep, 19 Sep, 13 Oct
Helpdesk
Hello. If you'd like to chat about Madagascar or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.
Gifts & shopping
Wood carving is highly skilled with regional specialities, including panels, ornaments, trays and furniture. Be sure not to buy illegal hardwoods, such as rosewood and ebony.
Enjoyed the zebu? Buy a bangle, spoon or cup carved from zebu horn as a souvenir.
Raffia is native to Madagascar. It is used throughout the island to weave bags, baskets and mats.
The French encouraged a rich tradition of embroidery, including colourful, intricate tablecloths, cushion covers and purses. Take a look at Stitch Sainte Luce’s online shop for examples – the project has trained embroiderers and created employment in some of the poorest communities.
Euros are the most widely exchangeable currency in Madagascar, and higher value notes obtain a better exchange rate.
How much does it cost?

Bottle of Three Horses Beer: £1.10
Zebu steak in a restaurant: £2.90
Rice dishes on the street: 75p
1kg of lychees: 25p
One zebu: £100

A brief history of Madagascar

Traditionally ruled by the Merina – highland people of Indonesian descent – Madagascar fell under French rule in the 1880s, leaving a lasting legacy on the island’s cuisine, architecture and textiles industry. After decades of discontent and rebellion, Madagascar finally gained independence in 1960. Military rule, a coup d’état, and accusations of rigged elections plagued the island, with the political elite and the army fighting it out at the top as the rest of the nation endured a lack of infrastructure, inadequate healthcare and devastating cyclones which left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Widespread and violent political unrest followed another suspected military coup. The international community imposed sanctions against Madagascar, severing trade agreements and withdrawing aid. The result on the population has been rising food prices, increasing poverty and child mortality, reduced access to education and the clearing of yet more forests, to make more space for growing food. Few outside the main cities are aware of the complexities of political events and international policy – but everyone has been severely affected by them.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: BMR & MAM] [The ultimate fusion foodv - Vanilla bean: AugustineFou] [Culture: Ryan Albrey] [Giving something back (construction): Cleo Dane Legge, Frontierofficial] [River expeditions: Pioneer Expeditions] [Lemurs (indri): Frank Vassen] [Getting around on foot: Tia Shah, frontierofficial] [Paddling your way around: Pioneer Expeditions] [Antananarivo: reibai] [“Life-changing” volunteering: Amber Goodwin, Frontierofficial] [Eating & drinking: Salym Fayad ] [People and language: Heinonlein ] [Quote - "bone turning": NH53] [Gifts and shopping: gripso_banana_prune (Antony Stanley)] [How much does it cost (lychees): THOR]
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