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Central Madagascar/Madagascar

Introducing Central Madagascar

Driving the thousand odd kilometres between Antananarivo and Toliara on the famous Route Nationale 7 (RN7; Route du Sud) takes you straight through Central Madagascar, where the scenery is as stimulating and surreal as the culture. The RN7 might be Madagascar’s busiest highway (not to mention tourist trail), but to the barefoot Bara herdsmen, walking from as far as Toliara with nothing but a stick and the clothes on their back, it’s just a footpath useful for herding hundreds of zebu to market in Antananarivo.

Some parts of Central Madagascar feel as far removed from the conventional vision of Africa as possible. Glassy, terraced rice paddies juxtaposed against cool, misty mountains and thick-walled red huts constructed from crimson soil, make you think you’ve been transported to Southeast Asia. Meanwhile the expanses of green rolling hills and golden fields dotted with medieval villages and tidy rows of grapes look European. Hit a city, however, and you slam back into chaotic Africa. Brightly painted pousses-pousses (rickshaws), their drivers hustling hard for fares, compete with zebu carts and overpacked buses for space along rutted streets where touts hawk everything from price-guns to strawberries.

To really experience Central Madagascar’s chameleonlike ability to change, you’ll have to get out of your car. There is fantastic trekking through cloud forests and volcanic craters in the region’s stunning national parks, home to vegetation and animals (lots of lemurs) found nowhere else on earth. For a more cultural experience, spend three days trekking through Betsileo villages. Central Madagascar is also famous for its beautiful handicrafts. Best of all, it’s one of the cheapest, and easiest, places to travel in Madagascar.