Do an image search for “Madagascar” and (among all the ads for the Disney animation) it’s a magnificent stand of Grandidier’s baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri) that appears first on your screen. Just 20km out of Morondava, this iconic 2km natural avenue forms the central focus of the Aire Protégée Monument Naturel Allée des Baobabs, a 3-square-kilometre area managed by the Malagasy organization Fanamby to protect more than three hundred of the species. Known as renala (“mother of the forest”) in Malagasy, the lofty baobabs reach heights of more then 20m, towering above the mix of scattered bush and farmland that makes up the present-day landscape. Fifty years ago, indigenous dry forest was the natural vegetation here: nearly all of that has been cleared or burned, leaving the resilient baobabs like sentinels standing on the plain. Close-growing pairs of baobabs tend to wrap around each other, creating delightful baobabs amoureux, or “baobabs in love”. There’s a famous pair just fifteen minutes’ drive north of the ticket office.
The best time to visit is sunrise or sunset, when the slanting light shows the baobabs at their best and you can often photograph their reflections in the neighbouring shallow ponds. Although including the visit en route to or from Kirindy Private Reserve seems a good idea, you can only achieve that by missing the evening or dawn walk in Kirindy. Most people therefore make a special trip to the baobabs from Morondava. Indeed some visitors fly in just for these photos, and it’s rare to have the place to yourself, especially in the evening when a crowd of several dozen visitors, local craft sellers and children is quite normal. If you’re looking for a more personal communion with the trees, a pre-dawn raid in the rainy season offers a better chance.