Antananarivo & Around
Antananarivo is a bustling place with activity on every corner. Here people flood the streets, walking down the middle lanes between traffic, knocking on taxi windows, selling everything you can imagine – fruit, sunglasses, flowers, cell phones, calculators, bamboo, even live animals.
Pirates aren’t stupid. They figured out how juicy Eastern Madagascar’s treasures were and looted its coastline centuries before the rest of us caught on. A couple of hundred years later the real pirates are gone and the secret is out: there’s plenty of leftover booty in the form of dazzling pearl beaches, sparkling sapphire water and lush jade rainforests.
Hot, weird and wild, Southern Madagascar is a cinematographer’s wet dream. Filled with the world’s most exotic flora and surreal landscapes, the countryside looks like no other place on earth. This is the Madagascar of the Discovery Channel, and the country’s most visited region.
Mada’s second city, Toamasina (often still known by its French name Tamatave) was developed as a resort during colonial times. Photographs from a hundred years ago show French holidaymakers posing in long bathing costumes in front of wooden beach huts. These days, the town is a popular holiday destination among the more affluent Malagasy.
The ‘wild west’ attracts two types of cowboys – those in search of tough travel in rough country and ones looking to charter a private plane to the ultimate hidden paradise. Madagascar’s hard-to-reach western region – divided in two, with no roads linking the south and north – looks like it fell off another planet. It is pockmarked with trippy natural attractions.
Slightly grimy and definitely sweltering against the humid backdrop of the Tropic of Capricorn, the ‘white city’, so-called by central highlanders because of the light-coloured buildings, is becoming southern Madagascar’s leading town. The approaching views are outstanding: you can see vast sand dunes which run along the coast.
Ile Sainte Marie
Said to resemble a mildly pregnant woman lying down, the slender 57km-long island of Île Sainte Marie lies 8km off the coast. It’s been popular with Europeans ever since the days when it was inhabited by pirates, and even now its Malagasy name, Nosy Boraha, is rarely used.
Despite being Madagascar’s number-one beach destination, attracting thousands of sunscreen-slathered tourists from across the globe year round, Nosy Be and its surrounding islands remain paradise in the buff. Luxury doesn’t always mean electricity or even a good mattress, but it’s this exact lack of 21st-century fluff that makes it so appealing in the first place.