Bellavista (Natiora Green Lodge, Petite Anse, Loukintsy, Nosy Boraha 515) – located within one of Île Sainte Marie’s resorts, this seaside bar & restaurant serves Italian dishes and cocktails that can only be found at an exotic place like Madagascar. There is also local entertainment (in which musically talented visitors can join in).
Analakely Market (Arabe Rahezavana, Antananarivo) – Tana’s main marketplace is not a tourist attraction, but a bustling, chaotic destination full of local vendors selling everything from traditional fabrics to household items and souvenirs. Discover stalls overflowing with mountains of colorful fresh produce, including exotic fruits, pungent seafood and local delicacies such as grilled lizard. If you can speak French or Malagasy, you’ll be able to wangle some exceptional discounts – but be aware of pickpockets at all times. Don’t take valuables with you, though, and you should be perfectly safe.
Chez Madame Chabaud (off Ave. du Général de Gaulle, Mahajanga) – located in a small town on the north coast of the island, this restaurant has been highly recommended by visiting foreigners. Dishes are prepared with care and the restaurant is especially well-regarded for its seafood dishes. The restaurant is tucked away in a little side street and from the outside may not appear to be a top-notch restaurant, but the inside is beautiful with a cuisine that’s a mix of classic French cooking with local produce. The Caiprinhas alone may well be the best in the whole of Madagascar.
Andafiavaratra Palace (9 Lalana Printsy Ratsimamanga, Antananarivo 101) – this pink-walled turreted palace, located on the highest hilltop of the capital, was the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony of Madagascar, who governed the island kingdom in the late 19th century.
The Palace is now a museum. Most of the museum’s collection comprises artifacts rescued from the 1995 Rova palace complex fire. A series of royal portraits, photos and gifts give visitors an insight into the lives of the Merina monarchs, while other highlights include ethnic paintings of tribal leaders and 19th-century photographs of Tana street scenes. Keep an eye out for the fossilized skeleton of a Majungasaurus, discovered near Majunga. Admission: 10,000 Ar. per person. Hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (Saturday – Thursday), closed on Fridays.
Andovoke Bay (Anakao 602) — on the southwest coast of Madagascar lies the small fishing town of Anakao (19-hour drive from the capital, or a one-hour flight to nearby Toliara Airport). This beachside town and its surrounds make the perfect tropical holiday getaway. Resorts such as the Anakao Ocean Lodge situated on Andovoke Bay hosts a wide range of tourist activities such as surfing, kite-surfing and jet-skiing. What visitors love about this particular beach is that it’s of the beaten track, and displays a kilometer and a half a near perfect half-moon white sandy beach.
Madagascar, an island nation located off the coast of southeast Africa, stands out because of its people, as well as its unique eco-system. The local population is a mix of African and Asian descent (mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia, who were said to have migrated to Madagascar via canoe as far back as 200 BC).
The disparate communities that existed for centuries initially had limited contact with European powers, including the Portuguese (who started colonizing Mozambique – which faces Madagascar, back in 1498), and later on the British and the French. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, there was European pirate activity on Madagascar’s coastal areas. For a time, a pirate colony called “Libertatia” was set up on Île Sainte-Marie (an island off the country’s northeast coast), reportedly led by French pirate, Captain James Misson, and cohorts from various European countries, as well as former African slaves.
By the early 19th century, the pre-existing Kingdom of Merina (located in the island’s central highlands, whose population was the Asiatic Merina people) united the rest of the island, and formed a kingdom that ruled over all of Madagascar. The island’s rulers began a process of modernization through close diplomatic ties to Great Britain that led to the establishment of European-style schools, government institutions and infrastructure. That process was interrupted during the reign of Queen Ranavalona I (who ruled over the island from 1828 to 1861), when she banned the practice of Christianity and any missionary activities that promoted it. She also stopped commercial activities with European powers, including the French. Nicknamed the “Mad Queen of Madagascar”, Ranavalona I imposed autocratic rule during her reign, which resulted in the deaths of many locals, including her own relatives. A subsequent monarch, Queen Ranavalona II (1868-1883), made Christianity the state’s religion (with encouragement from British missionaries).
By 1882, Britain and France reached an agreement, where the British recognized French claims to Madagascar, in return for their recognition of British claims over the East African island of Zanzibar. After the country’s monarch rejected French demands to control the island’s trade and foreign affairs, the French invaded the capital (Antananarivo) in 1895 – capturing the island’s queen (Ranavalona III) and prime minister. By 1897, Madagascar officially became a French colony. Slavery in Madagascar was abolished by then – with nearly 500,000 slaves being freed. The capital went through another process of modernization – with basic services like schools and clinics extending to isolated coastal areas for the first time.
Madagascar was caught up in World War II, when the island was under control of the pro-Nazi Vichy French government. The “Battle of Madagascar”, a series of British forays into the island in 1942, with battles against Vichy French forces, resulted in the latter’s loss over the territory, and with it the possible use of Madagascar as a base for the Japanese Navy and its submarines.
By the early 1960s, amidst a wave of decolonization happening elsewhere in Africa, the French granted Madagascar independence in 1960, with the island’s first president, Philibert Tsiranana, setting up a French style democratic system and economic relations with Paris under a post-colonial model of “Françafrique” (with French corporate presence in the country). Still, a peasant & student led rebellion in the 1970s resulted in the establishment of the socialist “Democratic Republic of Madagascar” under the rule of Admiral Didier Ratsiraka (1975-1992), where the country followed a policy of economic isolationism and fostering relations with pro-Soviet countries. With such policies resulted in more local uprisings, the Ratsiraka regime collapsed and a pro-democratic Third Republic was established after the island’s 1992 multiparty elections were held. Since then, the country has gone through a series of political and economic ups and downs (complete with occasional coup attempts and protests over the government’s failure to stem poverty and corruption).
For these reasons, foreigners who have visited Madagascar speak of its potential –especially in terms of tourism and overall business development, referring to progress made by geographically smaller Indian Ocean countries, such as Mauritius (1.3 million tourists in 2018), the Seychelles (361,844 visitors in 2018), and even Reunion (574,000 visitors in 2018) – which is still under French control). In 2016, Madagascar received just 293,000 tourists, a number that can be far higher, if its government invested more in tourism infrastructure, international marketing, and most of all, a better highway system that could connect the various parts of the island. Ironically, the island got an unintended international marketing boost when the Hollywood film company Dreamworks released a commercially successful animated film “Madagascar” in 2005 involving the island’s legendary wilderness (with Dreamworks releasing other “Madagascar” movie spinoffs since then).
Hollywood’s promotion of the very name Madagascar touches upon the main reason why foreigners consider visiting the island: its reputation as an eco-tourist paradise. The country is not only geographically isolated from mainland Africa and the rest of the world, but culturally as well. It has a unique and gorgeous eco system, in which 85% of the flora is typical to Madagascar, including more than 1,000 varieties of orchids, and seven species of baobab trees (while there is only one baobab species in all of continental Africa). The island’s fauna is rich in endemic species, and 3/4 of all the world’s chameleons live here as well as more than 30 species of lemurs (now extinct in the rest of the world).
This continent-island is set, like a precious stone, in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by Mauritius and la Réunion island to the east, the Comoro Islands and the Seychelles to the north, and to the west the African continent (which is separated by the narrow Mozambique Channel, only 400 km wide). To the south, there is an open ocean, all the way to Antarctica. According to geologists, Madagascar broke off from the African continent 150 million years ago. Since then this new continent-island has developed
Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island (a little bigger than Kenya) but, more than a big island, it should be considered a micro-continent. Its territory has a wide range of different climatic and physical features and includes a great variety of regions, ecosystems and people. All that drives continued curiosity among globetrotters, including the American TV chef Anthony Bourdain, who visited the island’s capital and isolated parts of the country a few years ago for his famed CNN show “Parts Unknown”.