Lemurs and Giraffe-Necked Weevils in Madagascar

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An animated movie made it famous, but discerning travellers have known for years that Madagascar is one of Africa’s hidden jewels. Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world but is home to the kind of bio-diversity one would expect on a much larger continent. Most of the animal and plant life on Madagascar is endemic to the island and that includes its more than 40 different lemur species, the hissing cockroach, Dracula ants and giraffe-necked weevils.

The island, which boasts a halo of surrounding islets, is probably best known for its beaches and scuba diving opportunities, but it’s also a prime surfing destination and has a number of nature reserves to preserve its unique natural wonder.

The best scuba diving and snorkelling is to be found on the north side of the island, particularly around Nosy Be. Nosy Be is comprised of a number of islets on the northwest coast of Madagascar; there are a number of coral reefs and it’s these which are a diver’s paradise. Nosy Be is also famous for its plants used in perfumes – ylang-ylang, vanilla, lemon grass and patchouli. Other highlights include the ruins of a 17th century Indian village, Oceanographic museum, Lokobe reserve, the sacred tree of Ampombolava and the Waterfall of Androadroatra.

Another favourite scuba diving destination is the island of Ste Marie where, in addition to coral reefs, one can see orchids (in September) and whales (between July and October). Some of the marine life you’re likely to encounter includes rays, lobster, tortoises, pelagic fish, barracuda and grey shark. Surfing is at its best on the south end of Madagascar.

If you like trekking and hiking you should head north for Tsarantanana, which is Madagascar’s highest mountain. You should also visit the Montagne d’Arbre National Park which boasts a peak of 1500m and is orchid and lemur territory.

You’ll find more mountains to the south around Fianarantsoa. The region is an important wine and rice producer and also boasts the island’s highlands. Don’t miss out on Amabalavao where Antemora paper and lamba Aridrano silk are made and the Isalo National Park, which is located in a chain of sandstone mountains.

The Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve is another park not to be missed. It’s located in the Bemaraha Plateau, north of the Manambolo River Gorge and contains pristine forests, lakes and mangrove swamps.

If you want to shop, and quite frankly, who doesn’t want to shop while on holiday, you can’t miss the myriad markets in all the major cities on the island. The most popular market is in Antananrivo, Madagascar’s capital city, and is called the Zoma Market. Andravoahangy Market is a little more diverse with its range of masons, embroiderers, booksellers and carpenters who work while you watch.

Most people shop for the locally produced cloth called lamba, which is made using traditional patterns and methods. Metal, wood and shell jewellery are also big sellers, as are Antemore paper and reed baskets, bags and hats. The very best woodwork is found in the Zafimaniry villages in Fianarantsoa. The Zafimaniry people have passed down their knowledge of woodcraft for generations and the result is beautifully sculpted furniture, chessboards, jewellery and jewellery boxes. Take note, however, that the types of wood most often used are rare, so you are advised to follow sustainable guidelines when purchasing wooden crafts.

And still there is more to Madagascar than this. The only way to find out more is to book your flight and see all the wonder for yourself.

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