Sometimes called the 8th continent because of its size and endemic flora and fauna, Madagascar is a land of diversity and uniqueness. In this series of 18 photos I am trying to show  the different aspects of this magical island.

 

Lemurs
Lemurs

Tell someone “Madagascar” and the first thing that comes to mind is lemours. Lemurs are primates that arrived in Madagascar around 62 to 65 million years ago by rafting on mats of vegetation. Since that time, lemurs have evolved to cope with an extremely seasonal environment and achieved a level of diversity that rivals that of all other primate groups. Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla. The ring-tailed lemur is the iconic Madagascar species. This one lives in Anja reserve, a small private reserve for ring tailed lemurs, close to Ambalavao.

Nature
Nature

The grand canyon in Isalo National Park. The park is known for its wide variety of terrain, including sandstone formations, deep canyons, palm-lined oases, and grassland and is home to rare endemic plants. Throuhout Madagascar nature is at its best, presenting a wide variety of settings from ultra dry terrain to tropical rain forests. One of the most spectacular is the Tsingy de Bemaraha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its unusual rock formations.

The Malagasy  People
The Malagasy People

A mother and her baby in Manampatrana, a small village along the FCE train line. People in this isolated area live in poverty. If you have been around Africa, you will be pleasantly surprised by how friendly people are here. They always greet and smile back whenever you make contact by saying “salama”. And they rarely deny a photo opportunity. It might be that there haven’t been any wars for the last century or that the island is a cultural fusion point. "The Malagasy are the ethnic group that forms nearly the entire population of Madagascar. They are divided into two subgroups: the "Highlander" Merina, Sihanaka and Betsileo of the central plateau around Antananarivo, Alaotra (Ambatondrazaka) and Fianarantsoa, and the "coastal dwellers" elsewhere in the country. This division has its roots in historical patterns of settlement. The original Austronesian settlers from Borneo arrived between the third and tenth centuries and established a network of principalities in the Central Highlands region conducive to growing the rice they had carried with them on their outrigger canoes. Sometime later, a large number of settlers arrived from East Africa and established kingdoms along the relatively unpopulated coastlines." (wikipedia) For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malagasy_people

Poverty
Poverty

A zebu carriage in southern Madagascar, the poorest area of the island. Accoring to the UN Human Develpment Index of 2003, which measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, Madagascar is ranked #149 out of 175 counties. The average Malagasy makes around $1 US per day and 70% of Malagasy suffer from malnutrition. Madagascar has seen its inhabitants' standard of living decline dramatically over the past. Between 1970 and 1995, per capita income fell by 40 per cent, while the population doubled. The poor in Madagascar are basically members of farming families in rural areas. Malagasy farmers practise subsistence agriculture, producing barely enough to feed their families. Why is Madagascar so poor? Madagascar is among the world's poorest countries despite its biological and cultural richness due to kleptocractic rule, economic colonialism, lack of infrastructure, geographic isolation, relatively small population, educational system and environmental degradation. Sources and more information: http://www.wildmadagascar.org/overview/FAQs/why_is_Madagascar_poor.html and http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/country/home/tags/madagascar

The Dead
The Dead

A tomb in southern Madagascar. The burial tomb, a prominent part of the island landscape in all regions, is the primary link between the living and the dead among the Malagasy. It is built with great care and expense, reflecting the privileged position of the dead, and is often more costly and substantial than the houses of the living. The land upon which a family tomb is situated--tanindrazana (land of the ancestors)--is inalienable, and social and economic practices are designed to guarantee that tomb lands are kept within the family. A firm belief in the existence of close ties between the living and the dead constitutes the most basic of all traditional beliefs and the foundation for Malagasy religious and social values. All the Malagasy peoples have traditionally accepted the existence of a supreme God, known commonly as Zanahary (Creator) or Andriamanitra (Sweet, or Fragrant, Lord). The dead have been conceived as playing the role of intermediary between this supreme God and humankind and are viewed as having the power to affect the fortunes of the living for good or evil. Source and more information: http://www.wildmadagascar.org/overview/loc/28-beliefs.html

Fauna
Fauna

A Madagascar Buzzard eating a snake in Kirindy National Park, north of Morondava. Kirindy forest, home of the famous cat like Fossa lemur forest is dry and dense, very different from the rain forest on the east coast. There is a lot more to lemurs on the island. Madagascar has been isolated for about 70 million years, breaking away from Africa around 165 million years ago, then from India nearly 100 million years later. This isolation led to the development of a unique endemic fauna. About 280 species of bird have been recorded on Madagascar and about 200 of these breed. Although these are relatively low numbers for a large tropical island, there is a high degree of endemism. Over 100 bird species are endemic and 49 of these are restricted-range endemics. Relatively few families and genera of reptile have reached Madagascar but they have diversified into more than 260 species, with over 90% of these being endemic. The chameleons are very well represented with two-thirds of the world's species found there. Source and more information on Madagascar's fauna: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fauna_of_Madagascar

The Kids
The Kids

This young girl was selling bananas on the train from Fianarantsoa to Manakara, in order to help support her family. Kids are everywhere in Madagascar. In a fast growing population of 20,7 million (2010), compared to only 4 million in 1950, the proportion of children below the age of 15 is 43%. A casual tourist will notice that most of the children look happy, but the reality is that they have to face extreme poverty, lack of education and a growing trend of sexual exploitation by sex tourists. One in four children aged between 5 to 17 have to work to support their families and 84 out of every 1,000 children die before the age of 5. Source and more information on the conditions they live: http://www.humanium.org/en/madagascar/

Pousse Pousse
Pousse Pousse

A pousse pousse in Antsirabe, the largest city south of Antananarivo, with a population of 180’000. It is also known as the pousse-pousse capital of Madagascar. A pousse-pousse is a rickshaw, the word comes from the French verb “push” and here has the form of a colorful two wheeler, two sitter car that is dragged rather than pushed by its owner. It is a common mean of transportation for locals in Madagascar and a great way for tourists to tour the cities. Despite feeling like a colonial baron, tourists should realize that the fair for a pousse pousse ride helps the drivers earn an income to support their families. After all locals use them extensively.

Fishing
Fishing

A family gathered around the father who has just returned from fishing in the Indean ocean, in Manakara. There were times that the Canal des Pangalanes had enough fish, but nowadays the fishermen have to enter the ocean on their piroques, without any boat engines. If they are lucky, they can catch 5-10kg of fish and sell it for €1/kg. They are hoping for the government to offer some subsidy to buy engines but it does not seem it will happen any time soon.

Beaches
Beaches

A stretch of sand on one of the sandy islands formed by the low tide in Belo sur Mer, near Morondava. Madagascar has plenty of beautiful beaches and unspoiled coral reefs which attract many diving and snorkelling enthusiasts. There a popular resorts in the north like the island of Nosy Be or the less touristic Sainte Marie Island on the west. The south and east coasts present a more authentic experience.

Flea Markets
Flea Markets

Spices for sale. The chaotic Asabotsy market in Antsirabe, is home of the Saturday bazaar where everything is on sale: fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, spice, clothes, electronics, livestock, car parts, tools, flowers, cooked food and then some more. The small booths are covered with tents, the colors are rich and the smells overwhelming. Hygiene is not priority one and a quick look at the butcher booths would suppress any desire for lunch. Local markets in Madagascar is an excellent way to mingle among locals and better understand their everyday life. Life is not easy for the vendors in these markets, as in some cases they may have to travel for 12 hours a day to source their goods, but it provides an income that enables them to escape poverty and raise their families.

The FCE Railway
The FCE Railway

Locals selling food to train passengers in Andrambovato, a small village along the FCE railway. The Fianarantsoa-Côte Est (FCE) railway is a colonial-era built railway in southeast Madagascar that connects the high plateau city of Fianarantsoa to the port-city of Manakara. It is 163 kilometers long and was built by the French between 1926 and 1936 using the forced-labor program SMOTIG. The French used rails and ties taken from Germany as World War I reparations to build the line. Many of the railways still have the date of manufacturing on them dating back to 1893* The theoretically a 7-hour journey, in reality can last up to 15 hours. The train rides on the poorly maintained line through a narrow corridor of jungle vegetation, plantations, waterfalls, bridges and tunnels. There are 16 train stations along the way that present a unique opportunity to get in touch with the local people. The FCE train is really a lifeline to those villages, their only connection to the rest of the world as some of them are located as far as 200km away from the nearest road. In every station a big crowd – mostly kids – gathers to sell food, handicrafts, even livestock.

A French Colony
A French Colony

A street in Ambalavao, a town featuring colonial architecture in south-central Madagascar. The French invaded Madagascar in 1895 and ruled the country until 1960. French is the second official language on the island, after the Malagasy. There are great differences between the former British and French colonies that have to do with how the two empires exercised their rule. The British were more interested in trade rather than holding land and therefore developed better infrastructure in their colonies. Madagascar falls behind most other African countires in infrastructure development but has a much richer cultural foundation and diversity.

Antananarivo
Antananarivo

A street in the center of Antananarivo. Antananarivo was founded in the begining of the 17th century. The city of more than 2 million is home to 10 percent of the island's residents. Rural migration to the capital propels this growth. The city's history as the island's major center for politics, culture and trade has ensured a cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups from across the island and overseas. Source and more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antananarivo

The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace

The back side of the Royal Palace in Antananarivo. The Manjakamiadana royal palace is located at the summit of three hills and is visible from every part of the city and the surrounding hills. Its stone structure is the only remnant of the royal residences that survived a 1995 fire. For 25 years, the roofless shell dominated the skyline; its west wall collapsed in 2004. In 2009, the stone casing had been fully restored and the building was re-roofed. Source and more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antananarivo

Canal des Pangalanes
Canal des Pangalanes

Two young boys rowing in the Canal des Pangalanes. The canal consists of a series of natural rivers, waterways and man-made lakes that extends for over 645 km and runs down the east coast of Madagascar from Mahavelona to Farafangana. It is used primarily for transportation and fishing, and it also has unspoiled natural beaches that are visited by tourists. Many local people rely upon the canal as a means of travel, and for some of them it is their only means of travel. Construction efforts began during the era of the Merina monarchy, with major expansion during the French colonial period between 1896–1904, and additional expansion during 1949–1957. Source and more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_des_Pangalanes

At the End of the World
At the End of the World

Early morning in Belo sur Mer, a pirogue slowly floating against a sandy island formed by the low tide. Belo sur Mer is a magical place, a fishing village, south of Morondava, with an eerie ambiance. With a population of approx. 10’000, built on white sand, it is well known for its dhow and pirogue shipyards. Madagascar is one of those places where you can still feel like you are at the end of the world.

Baobabs
Baobabs

Allée des baobabs, right before sunset, Madagascar's iconic place where some 20-25 trees, of the endemic species Adansonia grandidieri, tower 30m over both sides of the 250m stretch. It is located a short 15km north-west of Morondava. Baobab trees, up to 800 years old, known locally as renala (Malagasy for "mother of the forest"), are a legacy of the dense tropical forests that once thrived on Madagascar. The trees did not originally tower in isolation over the sere landscape of scrub but stood in dense forest. Over the years, as the country's population grew, the forests were cleared for agriculture, leaving only the baobab trees, which the locals preserved as much in respect as for their value as a food source and building material.[ Source and more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avenue_of_the_Baobabs

 

All the pictures are from my 2013 trip to Madagascar. If you want to find out more it, follow this link.

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