Madagascar’s landscape is a visual feast. Marvel at carved rock gorges, winding canyons and blooming oases. Spot lemurs and other wildlife in national parks. Or, visit private reserves that work with other Malagasy reserves to rehabilitate and breed endangered species.
The dramatic sandstone landscapes of western Madagascar’s tsingy are Unesco World Heritage listed. Take a walk to see how the locals live among this spiky maze of grey limestone pinnacles and needles.
1. Masoala National Park
One of Madagascar’s most enchanting natural spectacles, this wild and rugged landscape is home to a plethora of otherworldly wonders. It’s a place where the wilderness truly thrives and where the local wildlife – from endemic lemurs to rare bird species – are left free and unencumbered to roam and flourish.
A visit to this park is a truly off-grid adventure that offers a wealth of unique and memorable experiences, from canyons and refreshing mountain pools to palm trees and eclectic sandstone formations. It’s also a natural habitat for lemurs, which visitors can observe in their natural environment at the Lemurs’ Park.
As it is a very remote location, visiting this park requires some level of serious planning and preparation. This includes bringing the right clothing and gear, as well as hiring a guide. A local guide can help navigate the challenging terrain and take you to lookouts that showcase tremendous panoramic views of this remarkable park.
Western Madagascar may not be blessed with picturesque beaches or interesting towns, but its weird and wonderful natural spectacles are more than enough to draw visitors. From the Allee des Baobabs at Morondava, a mesmerising vista of 300-plus giant looming limestone pinnacles, to the pristine rainforests of Ranomafana, where you can track down ring-tailed lemurs and the rare golden bamboo lemur, this remote region is brimming with wildlife.
Those seeking peace and tranquillity can spend their days hiking through the dense forests, soaking up the sun on a beach or simply enjoying a refreshing glass of wine at a cafe. For the more adventurous, a visit to this remote part of the island can be an opportunity for some adrenaline-pumping activities, such as driving on the edge of the cliffs at Tsingy de Bemaraha or descending into the depths of an underwater cave.
2. Tsingy de Bemaraha
The otherworldly rocky pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemaraha – also called the “Stone Forest” – are unlike anything else on the planet. The tsingy, as the locals call them, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site in western Madagascar. A visit to the national park and surrounding reserve is a once-in-a-lifetime trip into a landscape of towers, canyons, and rifts carved out of limestone cathedrals.
Located just over 100 miles from the coast, this sandstone plateau of craggy spires is a hiker’s dream and the perfect place to see endemic wildlife. Look for the Madagascar fish eagle, the ground boa, and various types of chameleons. The reserve’s craggy rocks are the perfect habitat for some of Madagascar’s most endangered species, including the rare fossa – a ferocious puma-sized creature that resembles a cross between a cat and a mongoose.
Be sure to visit Tsingy at sunrise or sunset. The warm light bathes the silhouetted baobab trees in a golden glow. It’s the best time to capture incredible photos and witness the mesmerizing phenomenon that is the Avenue of the Baobabs.
A day trip to the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga offers an enriching glimpse into Malagasy culture and history. This UNESCO site was once home to the kings of the Merina Kingdom, and now is an architectural museum featuring ancient royal palaces and tombs. You can also explore a series of traditional houses and admire the intricate timber and stone rova (settlement) architecture.
April-December is the best time to visit Tsingy de Bemaraha as you’ll avoid the rainy season. Visiting at this time will also ensure you’ll have the most chance of seeing baby lemurs and migrating humpback whales.
3. Nosy Iranja
The most famous of Madagascar’s white-sand beaches, Nosy Be is a palm-lined strip where luxury resort hotels and expensive restaurants dot the coastline. There are a few quiet coves, but most beach goers will want to linger on the powder-soft sands at Ambodifotatra and the neighbouring beaches where stingrays tuck themselves under the waves. The pristine waters here are excellent for snorkelling and diving.
On a day trip from Nosy Be, take the short boat ride to Nosy Iranja, an enclave of two islands that are joined by a sandbank that emerges or disappears with the tide. Despite its relative obscurity, this pristine paradise has many highlights. On Iranja Be, you can visit the colonial lighthouse designed by Gustave Eiffel, while the smaller island of Iranja Kely is home to a lodge that is an important breeding site for hawksbill turtles.
Back on Nosy Be, there is more to explore if you can tear yourself away from the beach. The island’s interior is dominated by dense, mountainous rainforest, and the lush highlands are dotted with traditional villages. It’s possible to visit a lemur park and learn about Malagasy culture at the Rova (old palace).
A highlight of this region is the Avenue of the Baobabs, an incredible vista of the country’s iconic trees. They are best viewed at sunrise and sunset, when the colours of the sky and earth make for striking photos. On a day tour from Nosy Be, you can also head to the Reserve Villageoise Anja, which is home to ring-tailed lemurs, or the rugged Parc National de Ranomafana, where the rainforest conceals rare golden bamboo lemurs. This park was one of the first to be protected in Madagascar, and its lava lakes, waterfalls and deep gorges are spectacular.
Located on the west coast, Morondava is most famous for the Avenue of the Baobabs, which entices visitors with its incredible silhouettes. This road is lined on both sides with Grandidier’s baobabs – up to 800 years old – that look like stumpy wind turbines. The trees are particularly stunning at dusk, when their shiny bark reflects the orange-red sunrays.
A fisherman’s town, this is also a gateway to the west-facing beaches of Nosy Iranja and Nosy Kely. It’s also the launching point for excursions into the Kirindy Private Reserve, where there’s a near-guarantee of sighting a fossa – a ferocious puma-sized creature that looks a bit like a cross between a cat and a mongoose.
The most popular way to get around in Morondava is by taxi or pousse-pousse (rickshaw), but buses and vans can be hired for longer journeys and group travel. You can also walk or cycle on short distances within the city, but the rough roads and potholes can make this a challenging option.
Another highlight of a trip to Morondava is the earthy, intriguing town of Ambatolampy, which was once the centre of Madagascar’s iron-smelting and forging industries. Clusters of craft-sellers line the roadside with raffia-ware, basketry, brightly painted metal toys and other souvenirs.
In the capital, Antananarivo – known locally as Tana – you’ll find plenty of historical and cultural attractions to explore, along with markets, shops and restaurants. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ambohimanga is a must-see for history buffs, while there are some great natural sights to enjoy too. Coastal spots such as Ifaty and Mangily offer ideal conditions for snorkelling, diving and swimming. In addition, both offer some amazing whale watching opportunities.
The imposing, tree-lined avenues of Antsirabe are one of the highlights of Madagascar’s highland region, but it’s a much more diverse destination than that would suggest. The town is renowned for its spa resorts that offer thermal baths and wellness treatments – a place where travellers come to unwind and find some peace. Known for its soulful aura, the town is also a great shopping spot where you can pick up traditional Malagasy handicrafts at the local markets.
From the gaunt sandstone plateau of Parc National d’Isalo to the spiny forests of Parc National de Ranomafana, southern Madagascar is home to a wealth of compelling attractions. But it’s a wilder and rougher region than the rest of the island, with cattle rustling and highway banditry commonplace in this remote and rugged part of Madagascar.
Morondava sits in the heart of this wild and rugged landscape, with a handful of compelling assets that draw tourists in. The most obvious is the iconic Avenue des Baobabs, where tall and strangely shaped baobab trees resemble stumpy wind turbines lined up symmetrically along a small stretch of road between Morondava and Belo-sur-Tsiribihina. It’s a mystical and unforgettable sight, especially at sunset.
Further north is the UNESCO-listed Tsingy de Bemaraha, where dramatic rock formations and sculpted buttes rise out of a sandstone desert landscape. A truly dramatic, awe-inspiring natural treasure, it’s a karst wilderness that’s unlike anywhere else on the planet.
Madagascar’s west coast is the most famous beach destination, with pristine white-sand beaches shimmering in hues of alabaster in resort towns like Nosy Be and surrounding little fishing villages. Here you can enjoy some of the best snorkeling, diving, and fishing in the world.