Best things to do in Madagascar

Mani Ramaswamy

written by
Mani Ramaswamy

updated 26.04.2023

Idyllic tropical beaches are what first draw many visitors to Madagascar. Still, this immense island also hosts a fascinating assemblage of exotic wildlife and a unique fusion of African and Asiatic cultures. Explore our list of the best things to do in Madagascar and see why you should consider this country as your next holiday destination.

This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.

1. Visit the picturesque Fianarantsoa

Fianar’s hilltop old town is one of Madagascar’s most picturesque, with narrow lanes and views across the modern city and its rice fields. Fianarantsoa, the historic capital of Haute Matsiatra Region, is Madagascar’s fifth-largest city, with a population estimated at around 200,000. Fianarantsoa’s main point of interest is HauteVille, whose characterful assemblage of sloping cobbled alleys and 19th-century buildings.

The old town’s main square is overlooked by the Cathédrale d’Ambozontany, an imposing brick-faced Catholic edifice. A popular overnight base or lunch stop in the vicinity of Fianarantsoa, Lac Sahambavy, is a pretty artificial lake surrounded by pine plantations and overlooked by the legendary Lac Hôtel.

This tailor-made trip to Wild Madagascar discovers dusty desert canyons, and lush rainforests teeming with wildlife and trek through national parks. Explore the bustling capital Tana, then stop by the beach at Ifaty where you'll encounter forests of baobab trees and wandering tribesmen.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Fianarantsoa


Fianarantsoa, Madagascar © Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock

2. Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia

The Parc National Andasibe-Mantadia ranks among one of the best things to do in Madagascar for wildlife, boasting a good selection that collectively attracts more than 20,000 foreign visitors annually in recent years. The rainforest here is the main stronghold of the indri, which is renowned both as Madagascar’s largest lemur.

The park also ranks as one of the country’s key ornithological destinations, with more than 110 species recorded, and it supports a wide variety of colourful orchids. Popular night walks along the main road through the forest offer a great opportunity to see nocturnal lemurs, chameleons and an array of colourful tree frogs.

Madagascar: Coquerel's Sifaka (Lemur) in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park © worldclassphoto/Shutterstock

Lemur in Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia © worldclassphoto/Shutterstock

3. Île Sainte Marie for swimming and snorkelling

Île Sainte-Marie is a 222-sq-km (86-sq-mile) granitic island situated 7km (4 miles) offshore of the closest mainland peninsula. Officially known but seldom referred to as Nosy Boraha, the sliver-like island stretches almost 60km (36 miles) from north to south. It is nowhere significantly more than 5km (3 miles) wide, and its maximum altitude is a relatively modest 114 metres (374ft).

As is the case with Nosy Be, Sainte-Marie offers great swimming, snorkelling, diving and whale-watching opportunities. While it lacks the spectacular volcanic scenery and lemur-filled forests of its western counterpart, it compensates by being less overtly touristy and considerably more affordable.

Tropical island beaches, lush rainforest, stunning wildlife, and the bright red clay houses of Antananarivo await you on this tailor-made trip to Madagascar. Get your fill of culture in the capital Tana, snap beguiling wildlife, and revive and reboot on stunning white-sand beaches.

Find more accommodation options to stay on Île Sainte Marie


A trip to Sainte Marie Island is one of the best things to do in Madagascar for diving and snorkelling © Charles-Henry THOQUENNE/Shutterstock

4. Réserve Spéciale de Nosy Mangabe

Réserve Spéciale de Nosy Mangabe protects Antongil Bay’s largest island, a lovely forested protrusion that rises to a summit of 332 metres (1090ft) above the surrounding turquoise waters.

Visiting the island between July and September is one of the best things to do in Madagascar for whale watching. During this time several thousand humpback whales gather in Antongil Bay to breed, and they can frequently be seen breaching and lob-tailing. Day visits or overnight camping trips to Nosy Mangabe must be arranged through the national park office in Maroantsetra.

Giant gecko in Madagascar's rainforest © Artush/Shutterstock

Gecko, Nosy Mangabe, Madagascar © Artush/Shutterstock

5. Parc National de Masoala

The main attraction close to Maroantsetra, situated about 20km (12 miles) further east, is the Parc National de Masoala which protects the forests and mountains on the spectacular Masoala Peninsula. Unbreached by roads, Masoala is Madagascar’s largest national park, with a total area of 2,400 sq km (927 sq miles), and a key component of the Rainforests of the Atsinanana Unesco World Heritage Site.

Rising from a succession of stunning uninhabited beaches to a series of tall peaks, the park protects an extraordinary diversity of wooded and wetland habitats. It is an important stronghold for several localised birds.


Beach in Masoala National Park, Madagascar © Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock

Madagascar’s most popular beach destination, Nosy Be is a lush tropical island renowned as one of the best things to do in Madagascar for its relaxed ambience, agreeable year-round weather, superb diving and cuddlesome black lemurs.

Nosy Be’s reputation as a tourist trap isn’t entirely unjustified, and things do tend to come across as pricey by comparison to the Malagasy mainland, but there is far more to the island than just another stock tropical beach resort.

Scenically, it’s a fantastic place, with a backdrop provided by the volcanic cones of the Mont Lokobe and Mont Passot.

Find more accommodation options to stay on Nosy Be Island


Nosy Be, Madagascar © Roel Slootweg/Shutterstock

7. Allée des Baobabs and Kirindy Private Reserve

Arguably the most iconic scenic landmark anywhere in Madagascar, the Allée des Baobabs, 30 minutes drive northeast of Morondava. It is a short stretch of road lined on either side by around two dozen Grandidier’s baobabs, the highest of which stands about 30m (98ft) tall. The avenue is best visited at dusk when the smooth trunks of the trees glow orange-brown in the golden light.

Not to be confused with the Parc National de Kirindy-Mitea, the Réserve Forestière de Kirindy is a small privately-managed conservancy and research centre that runs about 65km (39 miles) north of Morondova. Kirindy is renowned as the most reliable site for seeing the fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore.

Unidentified boy walking on the sandy path in the famous Avenida de Baobab near Morondava in Madagascar ©  Pav-Pro Photography Ltd/Shutterstock

Allée des Baobabs and Kirindy Private Reserve © aaabbbccc/Shutterstock

8. See the limestone pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemaraha

Hard to get to, but worth every ounce of effort for the extraordinary expanses of weirdly eroded limestone pinnacles, cut through by winding rivers. Parc National des Tsingy de Bemaraha was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, together with the bordering Réserve Naturelle Intégrale des Tsingy de Bemaraha.

The centrepiece of this vast protected area is the world’s largest ‘stone forest’, the so-called Grand Tsingy, a labyrinthine karstic formation that stretches almost 100km (60 miles) from north to south. Its jagged black limestone pinnacles are incised with neat linear valleys to resemble endless rows of city blocks when viewed from the air.


Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar © T.Sahl/Shutterstock

9. Parc National d’Isalo

The evocative rockscapes of the Parc National de l’Isalo include all manner of otherworldly eroded strata and spine-like formations dotted with jagged peaks and balancing rocks and support a wealth of suitably bizarre succulents. The park is also a stronghold for the Bismarck palm, a tall, fire-resistant, large-leafed endemic, while the streams that run through its deep shady canyons feed ribbons of riparian woodland.

A short dirt track runs north to La Fenêtre de l’Isalo, an elevated rock arch that offers spectacular and very photogenic views, especially at sunset. Heading on towards Toliara, dusty Ilakaka past Ranohira has mushroomed from a hamlet of half-a-dozen houses to a bona fide boomtown since the discovery of sapphires there in 1997.


Parc National d’Isalo, Madagascar © Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock

10. Sainte Luce Reserve (or Manafiafy)

The Baie de Sainte Luce, also known locally as Manafiafy, is one of the most beautiful and isolated stretches of coastline anywhere in Madagascar. This remote bay’s main terrestrial attraction is the Sainte Luce Reserve an Australian-initiated community-based project founded in 2009 to conserve one of the rarest habitats in Madagascar.

Also known as the Ambatoatsignana Forest Zone, the reserve incorporates 17 pockets of east-coast littoral forest. Guided walks into the largest of the reserve’s forest blocks (Sector 9) can be arranged out of the rustic Antanosy village of Manafiafy, which is also renowned for its powerful local shaman and as a centre of traditional mangaliba music.


Canoes in Sainte Luce, Madagascar © Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock

11. Parc National de la Montagne d’Ambre

The Parc National de la Montagne d’Ambre is Madagascar’s oldest national park, established in 1958. Swathed in a liana-draped tangle of rainforest, the park is also studded with ancient volcanic craters, six of which enclose small emerald-green lakes, and are traversed by several mountain streams and associated waterfalls. It can be explored along a trail network offering several day-hiking variations.

One of the best things to do in Madagascar is to hike one of the shorter trails in the park. They are more rewarding for wildlife, simply because they leave more time to stop and search for smaller species, but the longer trail takes you to some worthwhile scenic spots.

Waterfall Amber Mountain National Park, Madagascar © Shutterstock

Amber Mountain National Park, Madagascar © Shutterstock

12. Diving - one of the best things to do in Madagascar for witnessing the marine life

Although lemurs and other terrestrial endemics tend to hog the limelight, Madagascar – as might be expected of a tropical island surrounded by myriad coral reefs. It holds the world's third largest coral reef system. Coral reefs off the coast of Madagascar are renowned among snorkellers for supporting a dazzlingly kaleidoscopic menagerie whose numbers include surgeonfish, damselfish, clownfish, parrotfish and devil’s firefish.

Nosy Be is widely regarded to be the best place in Madagascar for viewing marine wildlife, thanks to its profusion of offshore reefs and a wide choice of well-equipped dive and boat operators. Other good sites include the reefs on either side of Toliara, Île Sainte-Marie, Baie de Sainte Luce and Plage de Ramena near Diego Suarez.


Whitetip reef shark © Shutterstock

13. Watch for endemic birds

Madagascar ranks among the world’s most alluring ornithological destinations. True, the national checklist of almost 290 species is relatively modest for a tropical island of considerable size. Furthermore, by comparison to most parts of mainland Africa, Madagascar’s birdlife seems to maintain a strangely low profile, partly because most species are unusually silent.

Amply compensating for these caveats, however, is the island’s unusually high level of endemicity, which embraces at least four families. 36 genera and 105 species were found nowhere else in the world, along with another two families and 20 species shared only with the islands of the Comoros or Seychelles.

Weaver bird, Madagascar © Pixabay

Weaver bird, Madagascar © Pixabay

14. Visit a crocodile farm

One of the most exciting things to do in Madagascar is to visit the Croc Farm. Set on an attractively landscaped slope run through by a clear paved footpath, this active crocodile farm supports free-ranging populations of Coquerel’s sifaka and several aquatic birds. Open-air cages house a variety of tortoises, snakes, chameleons and other reptiles, as well as a rather unhappy-looking fossa.

The footpath ends at a small lake overlooked by a stilted wooden viewing platform from where you’ll see some fearsomely ginormous Nile crocodiles showing off their daunting dentition. Amenities include a restaurant specialising in crocodile-meat dishes, and a good craft shop.


Crocodile Farm © Shutterstock

15. Réserve d’Anja for ring-tailed lemurs and more

Réserve d’Anja was designated by the government in 1999 and opened to visitors two years later. Protecting a pocket of natural forest and a small heart-shaped reservoir at the base of an imposing domed granite inselberg, this community reserve was created to protect a population of ring-tailed lemurs.

Guided walks are best undertaken in the early morning or late afternoon, when these enchanting monkey-like creatures tend to be most sociable and active, often sunning themselves on the rocks or coming to the reservoir to drink.

Anja Community Reserve in Madagascar © Shutterstock

Anja Reserve in Madagascar © Shutterstock

For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books.

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Mani Ramaswamy

written by
Mani Ramaswamy

updated 26.04.2023

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