The Republic of Madagascar is an island nation lying on the Indian Ocean, East of the African coast. It is neighbored by other island nations like Mauritius and the French Territory of Reunion in the East, French Territory of Mayotte in the North East and Comoros. Madagascar measures 587,000 square kilometers which makes it the fourth largest island in the world and the 47th largest country worldwide. It is the 52nd largest country in population and 174th in population density with a population of 21,290,000 people and a density of 35 people per square kilometer. Most of the Malagasy people practice farming as a money making venture. However, the island nation is one of the world's poorest countries with about 90% of its citizens living below the poverty line. Madagascar has also been called the “Eighth Continent" due to its unique diversity in wildlife, flora and its people and culture. Madagascar has two seasons, a hot rainy season from November through to April with cyclones caused by collision of the North Western Monsoon winds and the South Eastern trade winds and a cool dry season from May to October.
The official languages of Madagascar are Malagasy and
The name Madagascar was first recorded in historical explorer, Marco Polo's memoirs where he talked about its biodiversity and other attractions. Previously called the Malagasy Republic, Madagascar had been part of the supercontinent Gondwana but about 160 million years ago, it broke off from Africa and floated away with the Indian Peninsular. It then broke off from India too, about 88 million years ago and the indigenous species of both plants and animals were allowed to evolve in isolation and become some of the rarest wildlife and plant life on the planet.
The first evidence of human existence on the island nation was archeological finds that dated 2000 years. Malagasy oral historians set the first occupation of the Island in 350 BC to 500 BC when groups of Austroasians came from South Eastern Asia sailing on outrigger canoes from Borneo. The Austroasians then practiced the slash and burn type of farming where they cut down whole rainforests, planted crops on the land until it got exhausted upon which they would seek a new rainforest to slash and burn. At around 1000 BC, Madagascar then got an infusion of Bantu tribes sailing in from the African mainland through the Mozambique Channel. Such late dates of settlement make Madagascar one of the last major land masses to be settled on by humans. In the 14th Century, the bio diverse island would be discovered by Portuguese sea captain, Diogo Diaz, which would open the door to Madagascar becoming an important hotspot in the transoceanic trade. That small island north of Madagascar called the Nosy Boroha has even been proposed by numerous historians as the legendary pirate's Utopia that was called, “Libertalia" where countless European ships were shipwrecked. The Island would then be occupied by the French in the 17th Century from whom they would get independence on 17th November 1960. All these peoples and cultures left a lasting imprint on the Island country which hence makes it one of the most culturally diverse societies on the planet, with a mixture of Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesian, Java, and African descent.
Apart from unique people, Madagascar also has very unique wildlife. Ninety percent of its flora and fauna is endemic to the island. It cannot be found anywhere else. The Hollywood movie franchise, “Madagascar" rightly portrayed the Ring Tailed Lemur as unique and regal in Madagascar. This unique lemur, which cannot be found anywhere else but Madagascar, is believed to be the ancestor of the monkey. Ninety percent of all lemurs in the world make a home in Madagascar. Everywhere else the lemurs evolved into monkeys. The lemur is highly revered and worshiped by the Malagasy. They believe it carries the souls of their loved ones with it. However, that is about all the movie got right about the island. There are no lions, zebras, hippos or giraffes, and definitely no penguins! But the Malagasy don't mind. They say they love the movie because it's very funny. The lemurs however are on the brink of extinction and have been added on the Red List of threatened species.
Madagascar has 350 species of birds, 150 species of fish, and 670 species of snails and countless other unique animals, some of which are at the brink of extinction because of human activities like deforestation. These include the carnivorous Fossa which resembles a cat and uses its strong tail for balance as it moves around in the Madagascar forests. This cat was immortalized in the Madagascar franchise but in real life, its habitat has been reduced by nearly 40%
Madagascar also has the Satanic Leaf Tailed Gecko named so because of the small horns it has on its head and what looks like a sinister smile. It blends well with its environment and when threatened it can mimic dead leaves with its tail which resembles insect-nibbled leaves.
Hissing cockroaches are also endemic to the island country. These cockroaches are Hollywood's cliché for carnivorous insects that prey on humans in the movies. However the cockroaches actually only eat fruit that falls to the ground and only crawl out of hiding from within tree trunks for fear of being eaten. They use their air holes to hiss by blowing air through them and hiss during mating and with rivals in a hissing battle to find out who hisses loudest.
Other endemic animals include the Madagascar Foddy, a beautiful lightweight bird, the Long Eared Owl, Tomato Frog, Panther Chameleon which has the widest range of colors of any chameleon on the planet, and the Darwin's Dark spider which casts one of the strongest web, ten times stronger than Kevlar.
Madagascar is also home to the famous Boabab tree which has a bloated stem in which it stores distilled water for use in the drier season. Animals also chew on the Boabab stem in the dry season to keep away dehydration. Some hollow Boababs are even used as shelter by bats snakes and birds and even humans. They are also used to make beers and juices.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN MADAGASCAR
The Tsingy de Bamahara Strict Nature Reserve:
Tsingy the Bamahara is one of the most intriguing places to visit in the world. Located in Southern Madagascar in the Melaky Region, Mahajanga Province, the UNESCO listed world heritage site is a 250sq kilometer reserve made up of tall limestone obelisks with jagged spears that were created over many centuries by the movement of water and wind. The area is also called, “forest of limestone" and “limestone cathedral". The reserve is a sanctuary for some of Madagascar's rarest animals like 11 species of lemur including the white lemur. The obelisks or lime pinnacles are able to sustain different ecosystems both at the top and at the bottom of the forest as some animals can be seen hanging from the jagged spears of the limestone icicles.
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga:
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is Madaga
scar's most sacred place for the Malagasy. The historical village was the home of the Malagasy royalty, the Medina of the central highlands. The palace consists of a traditional grass thatched palace that was the abode of the all-powerful King Andrianampoinimerina. It is built in wood and a rosewood center pole that is said to have been carried thousands of miles from the coast and cost a few hundred slaves their lives in the process. King Andrianampoinimerina is also said to have hidden among the rafters whenever he got visitors and he would drop a pebble on his wife's head to signal to her that the particular visitor was approved. You can also visit the king’s royal baths which he dipped in once a year and the water thereafter used for sacred purposes.
Next door to the King's grass thatched palace stands, in contrasting fashion, Queen Ranavalona's European style palace that was built for her by the French Engineer Jean Laborde. This palace was fitted with mirrors to help the Queen monitor her servants and prevent one of them poisoning her food.
The wall that surrounds the palace is also a marvel as it was built in mortar and 16million eggs. The Royal Hill is a marvel that will fill you with awe at man's abilities and give yo
u an insight into Malagasy culture as you witness pilgrims who even today still leave offerings at the palace.
The Ille Saint Marie:
Ille Saint Marie is a beach on the Eastern coast of Madagascar. It is very well known for having been a hotspot for pirates in the 17th and 18th Century. Shipwrecks of European trade ships that were on their way to trade across the inter-oceanic trade circuit can still be seen below from the shallow clear waters of the Baie des Forbans. The beach is also one of Madagascar's most ideal places for diving, snorkeling, and clear water fishing.
Ifaty is a combination of two dusty beach towns in the South West of Madagascar that are well known for their wonderful beach resorts. The beaches have a 60mile long coral reef that harbors the coast from dangerous aggressive waves from the Indian Ocean. This makes for calm waters at the beach ideal for snorkeling, fishing and diving. Deeper into the inland also stands the famous Boabab trees that have lived for centuries. Some Boabab trees have even been known to live for 8 centuries.
The Avenue of the Boababs:
Madagascar is home to some of the planet's most intriguing and unique trees, the Boababs. Boabab trees have bloated stems in which they store distilled water for use in drier seasons. They also have few leaves which is probably a way to reduce water loss. Animals in the dry seasons eat the tree trunk to save themselves from dehydration. The Avenue of the Boababs is a group of trees lining the dirt road from Morondava and Beloni Tsribihina in Western Madagascar. These particular trees were part of an entire forest of Boababs which however got chopped down by the locals so as to farm the land. The Avenue was protected and left intact as an attraction for tourists and has indeed pulled in countless tourists every year.
The Ranomafana National Park:
Ranomafana National Park is located in the village of Ranomafana. The most beautiful part of the park is the Eastern side which is covered in streams splashing against rocks through rainforest which makes for a scenic view that will set your heart to rest. It is the habitat of the Golden Bamboo Le
mur which, as the name suggests, lives on bamboo and a diet filled with cyanide which is dangerous for other animals but has no effect on them.
The Isalo National Park:
Isalo National Park is located in Central Southern Madagascar and is well known for its varied terrain which is rather a contrast to the rainforest of Ranomafana Park. Isalo is covered in grasslands with steep canyons, sandstone and occasional pools with palm trees.
Antananarivo Holidays Madagascar
You can also visit the city of Antananarivo which is Madagascar's capital city and economic center. It has unique sites like the Rova sitting atop one of Madagascar's highest hills and was the home of Queen Ravalona II. It also houses the royal tombs of the former Merina kings and queens. You can also visit the Muses Andafivarata which was the Prime Minister Rainilaiariviny's home. The prime minister is famous for having married three queens in succession. Queen Rasoherina, Queen Ranvalona II, and Queen Ranvalona III. He is also said to have been the power behind the throne.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADAGASCAR
Hotel Sakamanga is a m
idrange and top range hotel in Antananarivo. It has friendly atmosphere with friendly employees who will make your stay comfortable. It has a beautiful decor that is made up of many artifacts enough to fill up a museum, some of which are from Malagasy cultures. The rooms have free Wi-Fi, flat TV with cable, bathrooms with flush toilets, terraces where you can view the city. The famous Prime minister's palace, Andafiavarata is only a 10 minute drive away.
L'heure Bleue is located on the tropical island of Nosy Be and overlooks the Madirokely Bay. The Crater bay is also 20 minutes away. Both these bays are good for snorkeling, diving, fishing and generally having a relaxing feel of a tropical atmosphere. The rooms at the hotel are housed in bungalows which have a very good view of the bay and the ocean. They have a terrace for relaxation, a breathtaking swimming pool, a bar and restaurant which serves both Malagasy and international cuisines, free WiFi, and tropical decor in the lounges.
Le Karthala is a nice guesthouse in the heart of the city owned by Antananarivo local, Marianne. It is one of Madagascar's oldest guesthouses and they value the 18 year experience they have gained in catering to the needs of travelers. The guest house is homely and comfortable with beautiful rooms, a roof terrace on the roof for relaxing as you sip a drink and look over at the city. They provide breakfast and guests are free to use the kitchen at any time.
Tsara Guest House:
Tsara Guest House is a plantation-style guesthouse which is perennially popular among tourists to the capital. The communal spaces are commendable, the welcoming area, with a thriving fire; a glass-walled eatery serving appealing food and a beautiful outdoor terrace with great views. There are four categories of room from regular presidential suite.
Other good hotels to stay at are the Chez Francis which has a beautiful view of the city, and Hotel le Glaciers which has live music.