Madagascar – Family holiday guide

If movie connections are strong in young imaginations, the wildlife won’t disappoint. Encounters with lemurs are extraordinary and amazingly close. And an immense landscape of rainforest, tropical jungle, dry grass plains and gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches is a backdrop for endless extraordinary experiences. Eco-tourism is where the focus lies in Madagascar today, so centring family holidays around one (or several) national parks and including beachy islands in the mix is easily the best way to plan a family holiday. Whatever you decide to do, the climate can be challenging and rugged walking’s always going to be involved to some extent, so this is definitely an adventure for older kids and teenagers rather than under 8s.


Why go on holiday in Madagascar

  • Over 90% of plant and animal species in Madagascar are indigenous and the country’s often referred to by ecologists as, ‘the eighth continent’.

  • Madagascar has the world’s only native population of lemurs. The largest, Indri, can grow to 120cm and tiny Mouse Lemurs seldom reach more than 10cm.

  • Protected land covers more than 2 million hectares, divided into 43 national parks, three UNESCO World Heritage sites and three UNESCO World Bio-spheres.

  • Madagascar has 250 satellite islands, 450km of coral barrier reef and a coastline 5000km long.

  • In the Indian Ocean, off the south east coast of Africa, Madagascar has temperatures between 25 and 30˚ year round. Driest months are from April to October and busiest months are July and August.

  • Madagascar has three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Tsingy de Bemaraha petrified fields of limestone karsts; the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga and the Rainforests of the Atsinanana.

  • The traditional woodworking skill and style of the Zafimaniry are on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. There are over 100 Zafimaniry villages in Madagascar’s south central highlands.



Where to go

Andasibe-Montadia National Park

One of Madagascar’s most accessible national parks, Andasibe-Montadia is about three hours’ drive from the capital, Antananarivo. Covering an area of 15,500ha, guided walks and 4×4 tours are available and several lodges and hotels nearby are good bases for two or three days’ exploring here.

  • Try Feon’ny Ala Lodge for Zafimaniry style wooden cottages right on the edge of the park. Andasibe Hotel has modern family bungalows, a pool and is about five kilometres from the park.
  • The park records over 100 animal species and 14 different types of lemur including Indri, Woolly and Ruffed lemur.
  • Trails are well-marked and local guides are friendly, knowledgeable and happy to modify the pace to suit kids. There’s still quite a bit of walking involved and the terrain can be hard going for younger children.
  • Night walks are a highlight of any stay at Andasibe but, even if you don’t venture out after dark, the noisy rainforest residents can be heard everywhere.

Ifotaka Community Forest

This magnificent 22,000ha forest is sacred to the Antandroy tribe and, as a result, has remained wilder than almost anywhere else in Madagascar. It’s home to hordes of wildlife, ringtailed lemur by the pack-load, hundreds of plant and tree species, imposing giant baobabs and fascinating local communities.

  • Stay at Mandrare River Camp: Madagascar’s first luxury safari-style tented camp. Very family-friendly, with a spectacular waterfront setting and everything from night-treks, forest hikes, history tours, wildlife encounters and outdoor activities as part of the experience.
  • Expect to see and hear: ringtailed lemur; chameleons; mouse lemur; sifakas; sportive lemur and a host of incredible nocturnal forest creatures.
  • Visit Fort Dauphin on the south east coast for beaches and the stunning view of Pic Louis.

Manafiafy, South East Coast

Manafiafy has beautiful Indian Ocean beaches, great swathes of rainforest, mangrove swamps and marine reserves. It’s a wonderful location for wildlife and lots of lemurs but far less demanding than some wilder national parks and reserves.

  • Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge has a choice of family villas and the entire resort’s solar powered. Guests have access to everything from beach barbecues and sailing expeditions to snorkelling, diving and island hopping
  • Highlights: canoeing in mangrove swamps; whale watching from June to September; rainforest guided tours; night walks; snorkelling; fishing and swimming.

Nosy Be

The largest and most visited of Madagascar’s islands, Nosy Be’s 12km off the northwest coast and good for beaches, humpback whale spotting, a relaxed atmosphere, fun water sports and wildlife.

  • Look for family-friendly hotels and eco-lodges on the west coast.
  • Highlights: pirate heritage; dolphin and whale spotting; archipelago cruising; wildlife tours; Domaine de Florette hiking; whale shark expeditions; horse riding; snorkelling; swimming with turtles.

Nosy Boraha (Île Sainte-Marie)

Long, thin Nosy Boraha sits off Madagascar’s north east coast. Its wonderful beaches and relaxed, lazy atmosphere (bikes are best here) make this the favourite island to spend a few days at the end of an active holiday adventuring round reserves and national parks.

  • The sheltered west coast round about the island capital, Ambodifotatra, is best for pretty lodges, resorts and family villas.

What to do

  • Lokobe National Park, Nosy Be
    This 900ha primary forest park on Nosy Be is dense with wildlife, birds and plants. Not huge scale, so fun for self-guided walks and hikes.
  • Whale Watching, Nosy Boraha
    Migrating Humpback Whales are a familiar sight off the coast of Nosy Boraha between June and September.
  • Andasibe-Montadia National Park
    One of the country’s most accessible parks and the best place to get up close to large Indri Lemur and spot their tiny opposite number, Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur, on nocturnal guided walks.
  • Lemurs’ Park, Antananarivo
    A short drive from noisy and hectic Antananarivo (Tana), Lemurs’ Park is a peaceful haven protecting nine species of Madagascar’s legendary primate.
  • Berenty Reserve, South East
    One of the most popular parks in Madagascar, Berenty’s known for easy hiking trails and huge population of people-friendly ringtailed, sifaka and brown lemur.
  • Kirindy Mitea National Park, Morondava
    The little park to get close to ‘dancing’ Verraux sifaca lemur and see the famous Avenue of Baobabs.
  • Horse Riding, Nosy Be
    No experience necessary to see the beaches and beautiful Nosy Be countryside on horseback.
  • Snorkelling, Nosy Tanikely
    Close encounters with Hawksbill, Green and Leatherback turtles round Madagascar’s pristine coral reef.
  • The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, Antananarivo
    The royal palace complex, 25km from the capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Madagascar’s best preserved monuments.
  • Grotte d’Anjohibe, Mahajanga
    There are countless caves on Madagascar but the majority are inaccessible or dangerous to visit (high-risk of crocodiles). Anjohibe is the country’s only show cave and can be seen as part of a guided tour with older kids.


Educational value for kids

  • Madagascar’s geographical evolution is unique and it’s one of the very few country’s in the world where almost all plant and animal species are indigenous.
  • Superior primates wiped out native lemur everywhere except Madagascar, so this is the only place to see these charismatic creatures in their natural habitat.
  • National Parks all over the country have well-marked hiking trails and taking at least one guided walk is fascinating for kids.
  • Older kids love rainforest night walks and most lodges on the edge of national parks can arrange these for you.

 

  • Many Malagasy tribes all over the country still live in traditional communities and benefit directly from eco-tourism. Appropriate and sensitive visits to villages, local markets or cultural events can be arranged by most recommended hotels and lodges.
  • Madagascar’s a good country to get to know on a family volunteer holiday.
  • Visit London’s Natural History Museum before you visit Madagascar for some background on the country’s unique environment, indigenous species and evolution – more involving than online research.

 

Getting about with kids in Madagascar

If any country in the world needs visitors to tread lightly, it’s Madagascar. Best seen and enjoyed safely and responsibly with guides and recommended operators, this is not the holiday for self-drive. Roads are notoriously bad, sometimes non-existent during the rainy season from November to March; wildlife’s wild and so are most of the national parks; and the world’s fourth largest island is just as enormous as it sounds.

Most UK specialists understand this is a once in a lifetime experience and work imaginatively to keep the adventure intact. They also make sure you stay safe, travel carefully and don’t impact negatively on an environment where tourism and conservation are so delicately balanced.



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