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If you have are planning to go to Madagascar, the first thing you should know is that it is like nowhere else on earth. Most of the reasons why are due to its sheer isolation. Madagascar drifted apart from the African continent around 165 million years ago, meaning that its plant and animal life and finely tuned ecosystem have evolved away from external influences - in other words not much at all.
Madagascar culture and peoples are also different from neighbouring Africa. Native Madagascans are descendents of Asian mariners who crossed the Indian Ocean. The first settlers, from Borneo, arrived in 350 BC, followed by waves of migrants from other parts of South-East Asia. Over the centuries, the island became carved up into various ethnic fiefdoms until it was united as the Kingdom of Madagascar under the impossibly named Andrianampoinimerina, the great Merina warrior. In the late 1800s Madagascar was colonised by the French, who, after a bloody battle, packed off its rulers to Algeria. It remained part of the French empire until independence in 1960.Read more
Whilst ghosts of the French empire can be felt in Madagascar’s famed cuisine and crumbling colonial architecture, it’s the ethnic melting pot that makes it so fascinating and unique. There are approximately 18 ethnic subgroups amongst the island’s African, Asian and Arab-descent inhabitants. They are defined by their geographical origins of its richly diverse landscape; The Sakalava people from the west for example are ‘People of the Ravine’, whilst the Tanala’s name means ‘People of the Forest’. Yet over time an incredible synthesis has occurred, uniting their tradition, languages and beliefs into a uniquely Madagascan culture.
Mother Nature had a field day on Madagascar. Nearly all its species of reptiles and amphibians are unique, as are its flora and fauna. Madagascar is home to strange sounding (and often stranger looking) creatures like the aye-aye and indri – the largest living lemur who's loud, piercing cries dominate the jungles cacophony. As you probably know (at least if you have seen the Disney incarnation) Madagascar is famous for lemurs - in fact it’s the only place you’ll see these outrageously cute, wide –eyed primates outside a zoo. There are dozens of species, ranging from the mouse-sized dwarf lemur to the agile sifaka, the long-leaping lemur and the aforementioned indri. Then there are chameleons, geckoes, turtles and tortoises.
The skies are filled with exotic birds such as vangas and crested couas whilst the rice paddies that blanket the island are magnets for flamingos, ibises and herons. In short, Madagascar is a once in a lifetime destination – where natural beauty, an unparalleled array of wildlife and fascinating history converge – a sum that will make the even the most world-weary traveller weep with joy.
Places of interest in Madagascar
Anakao – or more precisely the twin fishing villages rather endearingly named Anakao A and Anakao B – is one of...
Only a few hours drive east of the capital Antananarivo, the...
The capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo is a senses-shattering mixture of high and lowbrow, new and old, poverty and...
You may need to pinch yourself in Isalo. This national park, one of the most popular on the island, has one of the...