Madagascar is one of a handful of large islands – in this case the world’s forth largest, and presumptuously regarded in certain circles as the world’s smallest continent – whose long term geologic isolation has allowed for the development of a high degree of natural endemism. It is estimated that the island is home to 5 percent of all global plant and animal species, of which 80 percent are endemic.
Situated off the east coast of Africa, some 500km at its nearest point from Moçambique, Madagascar is an ecological jigsaw puzzle as well as something of a human mélange. The Island is principally French speaking, although the main indigenous language is Malayo-Polynesian in origin, and oddly shares 90 percent of its vocabulary with languages spoken in southern Borneo. The population is drawn from both the African mainland and the South Pacific, which is reflected in fairly heterogeneous divisions, with influences of Arab, Indian and European added to the general mix.
The topography of the island is dominated by a ridge of central highlands, east of which is an area of higher rainfall with a tendency to tropical rainforest conditions, while to the west the rain shadow causes dryer conditions of deciduous woodland, deserts and shrub-lands. Madagascar is a land of eclectic and unusual landscapes. Some parts of the country resemble the orthodox savannah woodlands or rainforests of mainland Africa, while others seem surreal and at times bizarre. Expect to encounter otherworldly baobab forests, or oversized rainforests populated by a staggering diversity of reptiles, birds and animals, including amongst them both the apparently normal and the unabashedly peculiar. The many sizes and shapes of endemic lemurs are not least among these.
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Travel To & Around Madagascar
Why Travel to Madagascar
Thanks in part to this extraordinarily diverse and unique ecology, Madagascar has an impressive list of nature conservancies, national parks and wildlife reserves – some 45 in all – among which six have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Many of these are concentrated along the eastern seaboard in deference to the fact that this is the area of greatest ecological diversity, and the area most immediately under threat. The government of Madagascar recently announced a bold initiative to triple the area of the country under some sort of government protection, which is excellent news for one of the most specific and unusual ecologies on the planet.
For dive enthusiasts the coasts off Madagascar, comparable to any other among the Indian Ocean coasts and islands, are a must see. The waters around the island are still being explored, and according to National Geographic, recent surveys have more than doubled the number of corals previously thought to exist in island waters, and identified several new fish species as well as some nine new corals.
When to Visit Madagascar
Madagascar lies directly in the line of approach for cyclones moving inland from the Indian Ocean. This is an annual phenomenon that occurs usually between January and March, and is definitely a time to avoid, especially if you intend to visit the parks, beaches and dive sites along the east coast. During this period high summer temperatures and general humidity also have the tendency to make travel on the island extremely uncomfortable. As with all the coastal regions of east Africa, the period between mid March and September is the most comfortable and pleasant time to visit. It is then that temperatures are cooler with a fairly limited chance of substantial rainfall.
Although it has had its fair share of local unrest, Madagascar has never been known as a particularly volatile corner of the world, and is not regarded as an area of high terrorist risk. The risks of travel are due mainly to rare incidences of petty crime and muggings, particularly within and around the cities, and tropical diseases, with which Madagascar is extremely well endowed. These include Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis), tuberculosis, rabies, plague and, of course, malaria. Precautions against all of these, and in particular malaria, are necessary before leaving home. For more information.
Madagascar does not share the same catastrophic HIV AIDS statistics as the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, but no chances should be taken at any time with unprotected sexual activity.