Top events in Madagascar

May
15

This week-long carnival-cum-festival in Diego Suarez began in 2007. It brings together numerous lively and colourful outdoor entertainments...

June
04

Lasting one week, Donia is held each Pentecost in the Hell-Ville football stadium on Nosy Be. Musicians come from across Madagascar and...

July
20

This is a local cultural festival in Ambilobe combining traditional oratory, music and dance. The aim is to preserve local customs by showcasing...

Lemurs in Madagascar
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Lemurs in Madagascar

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Madagascar Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

587,041 sq km (226,658 sq miles).

Population

22.6 million (2013).

Population density

38.5 per sq km.

Capital

Antananarivo.

Government

Republic since 1992. Gained independence from France in 1960.

Head of state

President Hery Rajaonarimampianina since 2014.

Head of government

Vacant.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are generally two-pin.

A jaw-dropping, wildlife-rich hotspot, Madagascar is truly one of the most fascinating places on earth and home to some of the weirdest and rarest animal species in existence.

But it’s not just a naturalist’s dreamland: there are also splendid beaches; world-class sites for scuba diving, surfing and kitesurfing; opportunities for rock climbing and caving; river trips; and spectacular scenery, not to mention a warmly welcoming people with interesting beliefs and cultural practices.

Flora and fauna is the big draw though, with between 80% and 90% of species in Madagascar found nowhere else on earth.

It is worth dwelling for a moment on why this is the case. Madagascar is a huge island – the world’s fourth largest – but it is also the oldest. That’s to say it has been separated from continental landmasses for longer than any other island. Evolution has been at play in this tropical paradise, largely isolated from outside interference, for many tens of millions of years.

Madagascar provided a blank canvas for evolution to experiment with diverse new forms of life in the near absence of large predators. And experiment it did.

One single ancestral lemur exploded into the dozens of species we see today (not to mention many more that have already become extinct). Nowadays Madagascar is the exclusive home of around a quarter of our planet’s primates, yet there are no monkeys and no great apes – just lemurs. And they exist in glorious variety: more than one hundred different species and subspecies – big and small, nocturnal and diurnal, social and solitary, adorably cute and downright freaky.

The lemurs’ story is played out across the animal groups: there are several hundred types of frog, dozens of bats, over a hundred snakes (mostly small and all harmless) and almost half of the world’s chameleons (including the smallest and largest). And for botanists the story is similar: more than 200 different palms, over a thousand orchids, 75% of all baobab species, the list goes on...

It is not just the diversity and otherness of Madagascar’s wildlife that makes it special for visitors; the animals are also overwhelmingly safe. Tourists can freely wander in the rainforests and other habitats of Madagascar without fear of being stalked by a tiger, charged by an elephant or bitten by a rattlesnake. Aside from a few rarely encountered scorpions and crocs, there’s hardly anything to hurt you at all.

Madagascar is divided along its middle by a high plateau. Lush rainforest runs in a band down the eastern side, while drier deciduous forests lie to the west. In the far south is the unique arid spiny forest, home to the island’s wackiest plant life. Giant baobab trees populate the western regions.

A mix of influences provides telltale evidence of the Polynesian settlers, Arabic presence, Bantu tribes-folk and European arrivals of the past, all of which have culminated in a fascinating cultural melting pot that puts the icing on the cake of one of the most unique destinations in the world.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 16 April 2014

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to Andohahela National Park and against all travel on road RN13 between Ambovombe and Ihosy. Take great care and follow local advice if you are travelling in the south east of the country.

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the national parks of ‘Montagne d’Ambre’ and ‘Ankarana’ in northern Madagascar. There have been confirmed reports of armed attacks, including robberies on tourists.

On 25 January 2014 several explosive devices were detonated in the centre of Antananarivo leading to over 50 casualties including one fatality.

There has been continued political instability in Madagascar since the 2009 coup. A second round of elections, intended to return the country to democratic Government, took place on 20 December 2013 and the new President Mr Hery Rajaonarimampianina was inaugurated on 25 January.

The ongoing political situation may have an impact on security, especially in the capital and the bigger regional cities. Meetings and demonstrations can take place at short notice and the risk of public disorder cannot be ruled out. Take great care, particularly at night.

You should exercise caution throughout Madagascar at all times and avoid crowds. Following rioting on the island of Nosy Be on 2-3 October 2013, which resulted in the deaths of 2 Europeans and a Malagasy man, the situation is now calm. You should be particularly vigilant in the following areas of Nosy Be: Ambatoloaka, Hell-Ville, all beaches, and the road to the airport.

There is a low threat from terrorism.

There is widespread crime in Madagascar. Take particular care on beaches where there have been attacks and robberies.

Visitors to Madagascar should travel with established organisations or travel firms who have the capacity to monitor the local media and warn of possible trouble. Remain vigilant and maintain a low profile while moving around the country, in particular if travelling alone. If travelling independently we advise that you monitor the local media closely and keep abreast of the situation for the duration of your visit.

In 2013 there were around 8,000 British visitors to Madagascar. Most visits are trouble free.

The cyclone season in Madagascar normally runs from November to April. Coastal areas are particularly affected. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms.

Piracy is a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and has occurred in excess of 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia.

Edited by Jane Duru
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