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See the best of Madagascar on this photo tour

10Best logo 10Best 3/9/2021 Lydia Schrandt, Special to USA TODAY 10Best
a close up of an animal: Lemurs © iStock / Enjoylife2 Lemurs

Welcome to Madagascar

Some five percent of the world’s species of flora and fauna can be found in Madagascar and nowhere else. That staggering biodiversity, paired with an equally diverse geography of beaches, deserts, rainforests and barrier reefs, make this island nation in the Indian Ocean a favorite among outdoors enthusiasts. Explore some of its highlights through these photos.

a house with a mountain in the background: Antananarivo, Madagascar: roofs of the upper town and mountains © iStock / mtcurado Antananarivo, Madagascar: roofs of the upper town and mountains

Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital city

Antananarivo (Tana for short) is the capital of Madagascar, and it would be a mistake to overlook this colorful, charming city. Spend a day or two admiring the colonial architecture, shopping in the busy markets or enjoying the modern dining scene where French, Indonesian and African flavors come together.

a group of palm trees on the side of a road with Avenue of the Baobabs in the background: Baobab trees line the road as they tower over people passing by © iStock / Court Whelan Baobab trees line the road as they tower over people passing by

Avenue of the Baobabs

Perhaps no image captures Madagascar as iconically as that of the Avenue of the Baobabs. These trees, some of them more than 800 years old, line a modest dirt stretch of RN8 between Morondava and Belo-sur-Tsiribihina.

a large stone building with a mountain in the background: Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve in Madagascar © iStock / dennisvdw Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve in Madagascar

Where one cannot walk barefoot

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, features a series of serrated peaks and boulders created by erosion over thousands of years. The word “tsingy” in Malagasy translates loosely to "where one cannot walk barefoot" – an apt description of this forest of limestone needles.

a lizard on a branch: Chameleon Furcifer pardalis Ambilobe, panther chameleon on a tree © iStock / romrodinka Chameleon Furcifer pardalis Ambilobe, panther chameleon on a tree

The colorful chameleon

Nearly half the world’s species of chameleons live on Madagascar, and 59 of them can be found nowhere else. These reptiles are best known for their ability to change colors as a way to defend their territories, attract mates or hide from predators. You can spot them throughout the island, including within Montagne d'Ambre National Park.

an island in the middle of a body of water: Sainte Marie Island © iStock / javarman3 Sainte Marie Island

A tropical escape

Île Sainte-Marie (Sainte Marie Island) sits just off the northeastern coast of Madagascar. This thin strip of land offers an idyllic vacation opportunity in the form of white sand beaches, coral reefs and quiet fishing villages. Once a base for pirates plundering in the Indian Ocean, the waters here are now known for visiting humpback whales.

a large waterfall in a forest: The sacred falls in the Amber Mountains park, Madagascar © iStock / pierivb The sacred falls in the Amber Mountains park, Madagascar

Montagne d'Ambre National Park

Montagne d'Ambre National Park protects one of the most biologically diverse areas of Madagascar in the Diana Region to the north. Park visitors have the chance to spot 75 species of birds, 25 species of mammals and 59 species of reptiles, as well as numerous lakes and waterfalls.

a bicycle parked in front of a house: Railway station of Antsirabe © iStock / pierivb Railway station of Antsirabe

Say "ahh" in Antsirabe


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In the 1800s, Norwegian missionaries to Madagascar established a health retreat around the thermal springs in Antsirabe. French colonists continued developing the area, which is still known as a spa town today.

a frog sitting on the grass: Ranomafana National Park © iStock / Massimo_S8 Ranomafana National Park

Rainforest wildlife

Six different areas make up the UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforests of Atsinanana. Parc National Ranomafana ranks among the most popular thanks to its abundance of wildlife – lemurs, reptiles, frogs and birds. The forests of Madagascar provide a habitat to more than 300 species of frogs, the only amphibian found on the island.

a body of water with a mountain in the background: The Andringitra Massif from afar © iStock / guenterguni The Andringitra Massif from afar

Andringitra Massif

The Andringitra Massif inside Andringitra National Park is the highest accessible mountain in Madagascar (the second highest overall). This region attracts hikers and mountain climbers to its high-altitude granite peaks and scenic trails.

a wooden bench sitting in front of a house: The palace Mahandrihono and royal tombs on the Royal hill Ambohimanga in Madagascar © iStock / dennisvdw The palace Mahandrihono and royal tombs on the Royal hill Ambohimanga in Madagascar

Royal Hill of Ambohimanga

Ambohimanga served as the original capital for the Merina royal family, and while the capital has since moved to Antananarivo, this “Royal Hill” remains an important cultural landmark and pilgrimage point. This UNESCO site includes the former royal city and burial site.

a rocky shore next to a body of water: The beach of Tsarabanjina island near Nosy Be, north of Madagascar © iStock / pierivb The beach of Tsarabanjina island near Nosy Be, north of Madagascar

Sun, sand, sea

The coast of Madagascar and some of its smaller islands are dotted with world-class beaches including white sand and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Nosy Be (Big Island) offers the most developed beach escape, though its possible to find your own stretch of sand, like the beaches on the desert island of Tsarabanjina (pictured).

a view of a canyon: Red Tsingy in Madagascar © iStock / atosan Red Tsingy in Madagascar

Tsingy Rouge

Come to Tsingy Rouge Park in northern Madagascar for the isolation and for the dramatic red rock pinnacles. Visitors who make the 4WD journey to this remote park are rewarded with some of the island’s most inspiring scenery.

a herd of cattle standing on top of a sandy beach: Seascape of Ifaty, southwestern Madagascar © iStock / pierivb Seascape of Ifaty, southwestern Madagascar

Ifaty and Mangily

The small fishing villages of Ifaty and Mangily on the southeastern coast serve as gateways to Ifaty Beach, with its coconut palm-lined beaches and snorkeling opportunities in the Mozambique Channel.

a tree surrounded by water: Isalo National Park, Madagascar © iStock / Photogilio Isalo National Park, Madagascar

Isalo National Park

Isalo National Park, one of Madagascar’s most popular natural attractions, protects a collection of high plateaus, arid regions and lush forests filled with cooling swimming holes. It’s also an excellent spot for birdwatching with 77 species able to be seen (well over half are endemic).

a dirt path in a forest: Lokobe Nature Special Reserve © iStock / Reiner Lokobe Nature Special Reserve

Lokobe Special Reserve

Lokobe Special Reserve on the island of Nosy Be protects the only remaining lowland rainforest on the island. Take a guided hiking tour here for the chance to spot a rare black lemur or panther chameleon.

a panda sitting on a branch: Endemic Coquerel's sifaka (Propithecus coquereli), Ankarafantsika National Park © iStock / Artush Endemic Coquerel's sifaka (Propithecus coquereli), Ankarafantsika National Park

Lemurs of Madagascar

Of all the creatures that call Madagascar home, none is quite so famous as the lemur. These primates are unique to the island. The 112 species range from the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur to the indri lemur, which is the size of a human child. They’re classified as the world’s oldest primates (and the only ones besides humans to have blue eyes).

a canyon with a mountain in the background: Panoramic view at Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar © iStock / Photogilio Panoramic view at Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar

Anja Community Reserve

Madagascar has several places to spot lemurs, but the Anja Community Reserve is considered one of the best. Two hiking trails lead visitors through the park, where it’s possible to spot ring-tailed lemurs sitting on boulders soaking up the morning sun.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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