Anakao: The coastal village and lagoon of Anakao is inhabited by the famous Vezo fishermen, the semi-nomadic coastal people of southern Madagascar, who depend on the sea. They are skilled fishermen and excellent boatmen. Each canoe is a hollowed tree trunk with one outrigger pole and a small rectangular sail. Both men and women fish. They speak a dialect of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages, spoken in southern Borneo. They currently live along Madagascar’s west coast between Toliara and Mahajanga. This part of Madagascar is the driest of the Island with about only two weeks of rainfall per year. February and March are when cyclones can hit Madagascar and bring rain. The Antandroy and Mahafaly tribe living in this area make their livelihood from small farms and from charcoal production. Here, the cactus fruits and leaves become prime survival foods during the very dry season, both for people and for cattle. Guests here have opportunities to interact with the Vezo during snorkeling, diving and surfing excursions as well a visit to their village.
Antananarivo: This is the capital and largest city of this island nation. It was a major city long before the colonial era. It was founded as Analamanga around 1625 by a Merina king. It sits more or less in the central part of the island north to south, and in the eastern-central region east to west. It occupies the slopes of a long, narrow rocky ridge, which extends north and south some 4 km/2 mi. There was a long line of kings and queens, who oversaw the establishment of schools, a foundry, hospitals, schools, and infrastructure development. The French invaded Antananarivo in 1894, prompting the queen’s surrender. The former French residence serves as presidential offices and was renamed Ambohitsorohitra Palace. During the time of French rule, tunnels were constructed through two of the city’s largest hills as well as major boulevards and commercial areas. Madagascar became independent in 1960. The city has two forts, and some 5,000 church buildings in the city and its suburbs, including an Anglican and a Roman Catholic cathedral. This is the see city of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antananarivo. Highlights include the Museum of Ethnology and Paleontology, and Andafiavaratra Palace, which serves today as a museum housing an estimated 1466 objects of historical importance that were rescued from a devastating fire in 1995 fire at the Rova of Antananarivo.
Ambalavao: Ambalavao is a small town, typical of the Central Highlands. The old part of town has wooden balconies with elaborate carvings, brightly painted and tiled roofs and people carrying pails of water. Brightly painted buildings with their steeply tiled roofs and carved, weathered, wooden balconies make Ambalavao is one of the prettiest towns in the Hauts Plateaux. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, the town plays host to the largest zebu, Brahman cattle, market in the country, with herdsmen walking coming into town to sell their cattle. The town is known for its papermaking and is the home of the Malagasy ‘Antaimoro’ paper, a papyrus-based paper with wild flowers. Silk is another local product, and you can learn more about how it is produced at a silk weaver’s workshop that is run by a local association of women. Visit the community-run reserve of Anja, where you can have a close-up encounter with ring-tailed lemurs. You also have the opportunity to do some shopping for local crafts. On Thursdays, the town hosts a lively cattle market on the outskirts of town, which starts at 3 am! Later in the day, you can still see a large number of zebu and herdsmen on the roads.
Ambositra: Ambositra is the capital of the Amoron’i Mania region, and of Ambositra District. It is the center of Madagascar’s wood-carving industry. The Zafimaniry tribe live here and in the forested mountains of the surrounding southern central highlands. They are renown for their woodcarving knowledge and artistry, which has been added to UNESCO’s list of the World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. This style of woodworking was once common throughout Madagascar but has been greatly decreased due to deforestation.
Andasibe: Andasibe is a small town that belongs to the district of Moramanga, which is a part of Alaotra-Mangoro Region. It is known for the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, a 155 square kilometer/60 square mile protected area consisting mostly of primary growth forest in Alaotra-Mangoro Region in eastern Madagascar. This rainforest habitat hosts a vast number of species, including many endemic rare and endangered species, including 11 lemur species. The park’s two component parts are Mantadia National Park and Analamazoatra Reserve, well known for its population of Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri.
Antsirabe: This is the third largest city in Madagascar and the capital of the Vakinankaratra region, with a population of over 180,000. Antsirabe has a relatively cool climate and is known for both its industry and the high concentration of pulled rickshaws, pousse-pousses. The area was once part of the Kingdom of Andrantsay in the early 1600s until it was incorporated into the Imerina kingdom early in the 19th century. It was a farming region that produced rice, vegetables and fruit. The city was founded by a Norwegian missionary in 1872 as a hill station retreat center because of the cooler climate. The region also has many hot springs. Several buildings in city center date back to the first decades of the 20th century such as the thermal bath center, which opened in 1917; the Hôtel des Thermes, dating from 1922; the 1923 railway station, and a residence that opened in 1934 for French retirees. Other sights are la Stèle de l’Indépendance (the Stele of Independence) on Independence Avenue and the two public markets: Antsenakely and the larger Asabotsy. Nearby, Lake Tritriva is a volcanic lake that fills a crater in an extinct volcano.
Fianarantsoa: This is the capital of the Haute Matsiatra region. It was built in the early 19th century by the Merina people to serve as the administrative capital for the newly conquered Betsileo kingdoms. It is at an average altitude of 1,200 meters/3,900 feet. Fianarantsoa is the cultural and intellectual center of Madagascar, and is home to a university as well as some of the oldest Protestant and Lutheran cathedrals on the island, the oldest theological seminary and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Fianarantsoa. The area is considered the center for wine-making in Madagascar.
Isalo: Composed of eroded ruiniforme sandstone formations from the Jurassic era, Isalo is a semi-desert area characterised by canyons, oases and a seemingly lunar landscape that gives it you the feeling of open space and stillness. Isalo National Park has amazing figures have been sculpted by time and erosion.
Lake Tritriva: Lake Tritriva is a volcanic lake in southwest-central Madagascar, in the region of Vàkinankàratra, located near the village of Belazao. The lake occupies the floor of an extinct crater in a region notable also for the presence of many hot springs. It sits in the vent of an oval volcanic cone enclosed in vertical gneiss cliffs.
Ranomafana: The village of Ranomafana has a water springs center, where you can enjoy a massage with essential oils extracted from local plants. But Ranomafana is better known for its national park, Parc National de Ranomafana, with its 40,000 hectares/98,842 acres of misty cloud forest with spectacular scenery. The park was established in 1986 to protect two species of rare lemur – the golden bamboo lemur and the greater bamboo lemur; however, it also supports a wealth of other mammals. It is accessible by paved road (6-8 hours) from Tana. The facilities are still a bit rugged although more Western-style lodgings are developing such as a new resort and a well-organized information center. The landscape consists of odd-shaped rolling hills, thick with dark-green vegetation, and numerous small streams that turn into waterfalls as they plummet off slate-grey rocks into the rushing Namorona River. It is possible to take a short nighttime walk to observe nocturnal animals around the park.
Toliara or Toliary: Formerly known as Tuléar, this port town on Saint-Augustin Bay serves as the major import and export hub for commodities such as sisal, soap, hemp, cotton, rice, and peanuts. Within this area, there are several species of spiny vegetation that can be found nowhere else in the world.
Best Times to Travel to Madagascar
Festivals and Special Events
While each season has something to offer, the best time to visit Madagascar is probably September-November after the cool, dry winter but before the hot rainy season.
Suggested Madagascar Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Antananarivo, Madagascar
Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, is the gateway to begin discovering the world's fourth-largest island.
Day 2: Antananarivo / Andasibe National Park
Analamazaotra Special Reserve is part of the Andasibe-MantadiaNational Park, home to the largest of lemurs, the Indri, as well as chameleons, frogs and birds.
Day 3: Andasibe National Park
The park, consisting mostly of primary growth forest, is habitat for the largest of all lemurs, Indri, as well as ten other lemur species.
Day 4: Andasibe National Park / Antananarivo
The capital city has an interesting old town, religious and historical buildings, and a handicraft market.
Days 5/6/7: Antananarivo / Anjajavy
Remote Anjajavy village is surrounded by a forest that is home to nearly 1,800 floral as lemurs and many other animal species.
Day 8: Anjajavy / Antananarivo / Depart
Land price, per person, double occupancy: Approx. $400 - $500 per day.