The south of Madagascar narrows to a wild cape and the sense of isolation here is palpable. This feeling only grows the further south you go, until you finally reach the cliff at Cap Sainte Marie, where there's nothing between you and Antarctica. Then it’s back to civilisation – sort of.
Two fine national parks and a sapphire boom town provide many reasons to linger in southern Madagascar's cauterised interior. Parc National de l'Isalo is one of Madagascar's best, with good wildlife and even better landscapes. Parc National de Zombitse-Vohibasia is a little-known jewel for birdwatchers. In between the two, Ilakaka feels like Madagascar's wild west.
Parc National de l'Isalo
Parc National de l'Isalo is like a museum dedicated to the art of the desert canyon. Gorges here are filled with yellow savannah grasses, sculpted buttes, vertical rock walls and, best of all, deep canyon floors shot through with streams, lush vegetation and pools for swimming. All of this changes with the light, culminating in extraordinary sunsets beneath a big sky.
St Augustine lies at the mouth of the Onilahy River, on the other side of the cliffs from Sarodrano, along a good road. It’s an excellent drive through switchbacks over the ridge and down into the lost valley – the site of the very first English settlement in Madagascar in 1645 – beyond. Only 12 of 140 people survived that brief stay.
Ifaty & Mangily
Ifaty and Mangily, 27km north of Tuléar, are two separate villages 3km apart that share the same beach, confusingly known as Ifaty Beach (the Dunes d’Ifaty, for example, is in Mangily). Ifaty is by far the smaller tourist destination, even while its name continues to usurp the latter.
Strung out along a series of perfect semicircles of white-sand beaches and looking out over turquoise waters, Anakao is laid-back in the finest tradition of small seaside Malagasy settlements. It's our pick of the options along the Southern Reef coastline. Excellent sleeping and eating options round out a fine all-round destination.
Réserve Privée de Berenty
This well-known private reserve contains nearly one-third of the remaining tamarind gallery forest in Madagascar, nestled between the arms of a former oxbow lake on the Mandrare River. It was one of Madagascar’s first ecotourism destinations and it has an international reputation, helped along by the friendly ring-tailed lemurs that greet you in the parking lot.
Ilakaka is the perfect setting for a James Bond movie. Driving through the middle of nowhere about half an hour west of Ranohira, you come upon a sapphire boom town that has spontaneously erupted astride the RN7. The main street is lined with ramshackle structures selling provisions for the miners, from shovels to mobile phones.