The Great Reef
A reef stretches over 450km along the southwestern coast of Madagascar, making it the fifth-largest coral reef in the world. Running from Andavadoaka in the north to Itampolo in the south, it's the main attraction in the region, with its own changing personality.
The Great Reef comes in three forms: a fringing reef close in, a patch reef of coral heads and an outer barrier reef. The last creates very broad and shallow inshore lagoons and makes for dramatic scenery, with large waves crashing in the distance, forming a vibrant line of white. The beaches range from broken coral to spectacular white powder. There are many activities to pursue here: sunbathing, snorkelling, diving, fishing, whale watching (mid-June or early July to September), surfing and sailing among them.
Resort towns and ramshackle fishing villages line the shoreline, while the city of Tuléar is the gateway to both the Northern and Southern Reef.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Great Reef.
This is a 0.6-sq-km spiny forest full of baobab trees and some birds. There are two circuits, one of 45 minutes to an hour and the other of 1½ to two hours. The Arboretum in Tuléar is better, but this one's still worth supporting and worth a visit. There's also an on-site lemur rescue centre, with some in cages, others in semiwild enclosures in readiness for their release into the wild. If you're here for the birds before opening time, there's usually a guide who'll show you around; a birding tour costs Ar44,000.
Southwest of the RN7 from Andranovory, the Réserve Spéciale Beza-Mahafaly is better known as a scientific venture rather than a tourist destination, but travellers are welcome to explore its six hiking circuits (750m to 12km). The spiny and riverine forest here harbours four species of lemur (ring-tailed, white-footed and mouse lemur, as well as Verreaux's sifaka), four species of tenrec (including the large-eared tenrec), fossa, radiated tortoise and more than 100 bird species.
Near Reniala Nature Reserve, this 70,000-sq-metre park protects over 1000 radiated and spider tortoises. A guided tour of the grounds (in English) tells you the full story of these endangered animals and how they are being conserved. It takes less than an hour, so it's a worthy break from the beach.