Madagascar: A Red Island Love Affair

I’ve traveled a bit, seen a few countries, and tried to take advantage of all opportunities whenever I could when spending time in a country. With all that I’ve been so fortunate to see, do, and experience, I could not help but fall madly in love with Madagascar, the amazing “eighth continent.”

What made me love it so much?

First off, I’m a nature nut. Throw me outdoors and let me run free. Let me interact with both the flora and fauna and let me trek and scuba dive all over the place. In Madagascar I got to sleep on sandbars next to rivers, dive amazing reefs, trek through pristine national parks, and most incredibly of all, I was able to see some of the most fantastic endemic species in the world. Over 90% of the plants and animals living on this special island are endemic; that’s roughly 12,000 different species. From famous Baobabs and orchids, to lemurs and fossas, the list goes on with regards to the fantastic species only found here.

Fuzzy little lemurs are just one of a plethora of amazing endemic species on the island.

Fuzzy little lemurs are just one of a plethora of amazing endemic species on the island.

Madagascar is a bit off the beaten path, so getting here is your first challenge, but one that is manageable and rewarding as very few tourists visit the country. It’s an island off the East coast of continental Africa and about a four hour plane ride from Johannesburg, South Africa. The flights are a little expensive and you may need to obtain a visa in advance depending on your home country (I was able to obtain a free 30 day visa on arrival). This also leads into the second challenge, which is the fact that tourism hasn’t taken off in most parts of the country, but is also why I loved it so much. There is a fine line with tourism and it benefiting a culture and country and it being detrimental in that it changes the local’s perspectives and customs. I prefer to travel in countries where the locals are still curious, friendly, and genuine as opposed to where they have become jaded by “rich, white, foreigners” swooping in and throwing money around like it means nothing (however, I did find that this was the case in the most touristy area in Northern Madagascar, Nosy Be Island).

The information I had researched on the country in advance was quite negative: hard to get around as road infrastructure isn’t a priority, there is a real concern of sex tourism in the North, major language barriers as I don’t speak French or Malagasy, and the fact that domestic flights are expensive and the domestic airline isn’t always reliable. It seemed like a very daunting list of issues to overcome on my own, but for me, it didn’t seem to matter much as the benefits of traveling in such a beautiful country with friendly people who were always willing to help in any way far outweighed any issues I came across.

I traveled by myself and didn’t meet many travelers, but the ones I did come across, were usually on the same mind-set as me of getting off the beaten path and exploring somewhere truly exotic. With incredible national parks that see less than 1000 visitors a year to untouched beaches you can hang out on by yourself, it’s the perfect place for grand and authentic adventures.

Spending three days floating down the Tsiribihina river in a "pirogue" is one way to experience a small part of the country.

Spending three days floating down the Tsiribihina river in a “pirogue” is one way to experience a small part of the country.

I was able to happily navigate myself around on the local taxi-brousses (bush taxi’s) and found everyone was very curious and helpful, often wanting to practice English with me. Never did I feel worried for my safety as there were enough kind people around to help me when I needed it. I was even able to show up at 10 p.m on a stormy night to a town with no accommodation booked and no one out on the street, but it was no problem for my taxi-brousse to drive me to a hotel and wait until someone answered the bell.

So if you are considering visiting the red island but are deterred by all the negative press on the internet and from others who have not been here, do not listen to it. Come and visit the country and see for yourself what an amazing place this is. A month was most definitely not enough and I will be back to continue my exploration of this amazing island one day soon.

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