The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar is an under-visited tourist destination. Here are ten reasons that might inspire you to go.
1. Meet a fossa and a giant jumping rat
The fossa is the largest of the islands carnivores and is neither cat nor dog. The giant jumping rat is the size of a large rabbit and retreats like a Jumping Jack!
2. Explore a pirates’ graveyard
On the island of Ile Sainte Marie is the world’s only pirates’ graveyard.
3. Learn about fady
Fady (pronounced fuddy) is the nucleus of local law and, whilst it varies from region to region and home to home, it basically commands the Malagasy to love, honour and respect their fellow people and the environment which gives them life. It is fady to sing whilst you are eating as it will make your teeth grow long!
4. Swim with turtles
I love to follow them whilst they are searching for new foraging grounds among the coral – often they glance back over their shoulder to take a curious, but superior, look at me as if asking ‘What strange small whale is that?’
5. Walk in a rain forest
The Masoala Peninsula lies in the north west part of Madagascar (in the Masoala National Park) and boasts the largest protected rain forest in the country. The canopy is 30 m high and the area enjoys an average annual rainfall of 6000 mm. That’s six metres of rain!
6. Travel on Viko Viko – the little train like no other
Another ‘only in Madagascar’ is Le Micheline’s Viko Viko. A train dating back to 1930 that runs on rubber tyres.
7. Visit a mermaid
Mermaids are not mentioned in any of the guide books simply because they are tricky to find, and no guide book writer has ever seen one. Many Malagasy folk will be happy to regale you with their own mermaid stories and will swear absolutely, without faltering, that they have seen one. The rum is good in Madagascar.
8. Hear the song of an indri and see the wink of an aye aye
Beautiful in its loneliness the song of the indri (the largest of all living lemurs) is one of the main reasons for visiting Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Another sight (if you are very, very lucky) that you will never forget is that of an aye aye. The aye aye is no longer as endangered as once thought but they are still endangered – and very difficult to find. One place where ‘very difficult’ becomes just ‘difficult’ is Nosy Mangabe.
9. Frogs’ legs and other culinary delights
Probably the only good thing left behind by the French colonists was their cuisine. Local Malagasy chefs produce meals worthy of the best French tables and include fresh crab, prawns and crayfish; sushi, pate de fois gras (from very gently fed local ducks) and surprisingly yummy deep-fried frogs’ legs. And there is chocolate! Produced from cocoa plantations in the north of Madagascar, Malagasy chocolate is to die for.
10. Make a difference
The world is vast and the problems many. When we think of ‘making a difference’ by recycling, reducing our carbon footprint or buying organic foods it often feels like cleaning up after an earthquake with a dustpan and brush. Many of us give up before we even start. But this is not the case in Madagascar. Madagascar is a living museum; home to a huge collection of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. Leaf-tailed geckos, hog-nosed snakes, the black parrot (also known as the Vaza parrot), lemurs, orchids, frogs and chameleons that are endemic to this island are all under threat as greedy outsiders destroy the forests for the precious woods and minerals. Because the country is so poor and run by an inexperienced government the people are forced to stand by with no alternative but to allow this destruction of their cherished land. Tourism is a viable option – and it is growing rapidly as an alternative source of income. Your tourist dollar really can make a difference to the lives of the people of Madagascar. Help preserve Madagascar with your tourism and you can help – in a tangible, immediate way – to preserve the earth for generations to come.