Madagascar is the world’s fourth-biggest island, and with its huge size comes a huge amount of diversity.
Central Madagascar is the most popular part of the country, and the most accessible. The coastal regions are the realm of the 4WD and can be challenging to travel in (the northwest being the exception).
Southern Madagascar will appeal to divers and snorkellers, while beach bums will be better off in Île Sainte Marie in the east or Nosy Be in the north.
Western Madagascar will delight those in search of something a little different, while activities enthusiasts will be at home in northern Madagascar.
Eastern Madagascar is the most remote region, but those who make it there will be rewarded with pristine environments.
History & Culture
The development of a Malagasy identity is intimately linked to the emergence of Antananarivo (Tana) as a capital: this is the home of the kings who brought together the island’s tribes.
Foodies of the world, rejoice; Tana’s got fusion cuisine down to a T. Imagine French gastronomy, prepared with the freshest Malagasy ingredients, add a soupçon of Creole, a smidgen of Indian and voila!
Tana is a potpourri of arts, crafts, clothes and deli shops. Hard-nosed bargain hunters head for the markets, while more conventional shoppers love the well-stocked boutiques.
Travellers often start their trip in Madagascar with the highlands, and what an introduction to Malagasy life: accessible homestays, colourful markets (including the country's biggest zebu market) and colonial architecture.
Massif d’Andringitra is in a trekking league of its own. The trails are challenging, the views breathtaking and there's good infrastructure.
Arts & Crafts
Much of Madagascar's signature arts and crafts – raffia work, woodcarvings, miniatures, silk weaving – originate from the highlands and visiting artisans' workshops and purchasing unique souvenirs is part and parcel of the destination.
It is the world’s fifth-largest coral reef, ergo one of the world’s finest diving destinations. There are multiple dive sites all along the reef and many professional outfits to choose from.
Malagasy beaches rarely suffer from overcrowding, but many southern beaches are so off the radar that the likelihood of your having the beach to yourself is actually quite high.
Madagascar's southern hinterland is a paradise for hikers. Parc National de l'Isalo offers numerous circuits, including via ferratas, in its scenic desert canyons. For more of the same, but with even fewer crowds, head to Massif du Makay.
The Malagasies call them ‘roots of the sky’, after their crooked branches, and in western Madagascar they come in all guises: in majestic avenues, intertwined, straight or bottle-shaped.
Foodies will rate the region for its cheap and outstanding seafood, including lobster and crayfish as well as fish, often prepared with a divine blend of local spices.
From meandering rivers to immense beaches, arid plains to deciduous forests, serrated peaks to undulating sand dunes, western Madagascar is easy on the eye.
Diving & Trekking
Adrenalin junkies, look no further. Here, you can trek in mist-shrouded rainforest, scale rock cliffs on deserted islands, kitesurf along unspoiled beaches and dive with whale sharks and rays. Oh, and beachcombing counts, too.
It’s a cliché but the islands around Nosy Be more than live up to it. Sadly, paradise doesn’t come cheap.
Vanilla & Spice
If you’ve ever wondered where the delectable vanilla comes from, what a pepper plant looks like, or how fruity cocoa beans become chocolate, visit one of the country’s beautiful plantations to find out.
Île Sainte Marie (Nosy Boraha) and Baie d’Antongil have been the nursing and mating grounds of humpback whales since time immemorial. Take to the water to admire these endangered giants in all their breaching glory.
Eastern Madagascar is one of the last areas in the country where huge tracts of rainforest remain. Explore it on foot or by boat on the Masoala Peninsula.
For sheer escapism, you can’t do better than idyllic Île Sainte Marie and Île aux Nattes. Both cater admirably to those in need of R&R, but Sainte Marie also holds the promise of adventure in the north.