Far from Antananarivo and far from each other, the towns and natural attractions of western Madagascar take a little perseverance to reach. This is a vast region, amounting to almost a third of the island’s land area, stretching from Majunga in the north to Morondava in the south, and covering the traditional regions of the Sakalava people: Boina or Boeny to the north and Menabe to the south. Much of it is broad, rolling savannah and farmland, with scattered patches of much-reduced dry forest, featuring huge numbers of baobabs, and large mangrove swamps towards the coast. Dozens of streams and rivers meander westwards from the interior, flooding and shrinking with the seasons.
The great wildlife and landscape draws of the west are the easy-access deciduous dry forests of Parc National d’Ankaranfantsika, the remarkably animal-rich Kirindy Private Reserve, reached via the famous Allée des Baobabs, and the otherworldly “stone forests” of the vast Tsingy de Bemaraha plateau. The Bemaraha plateau is cut through by the snaking gorge of the Manambolo River, which opens up a dramatic landscape of limestone formations rising sheer from the river valley. Like the Tsiribihina River, further south, the Manambolo is navigable by kayak and riverboat, and both rivers are popular for multi-day river trips. The west also has some seductive and expensive coastal hideaways, combining tropical beach allure with wildlife attractions – the best-known being the exclusive Anjajavy l’Hôtel, north of Majunga.
The climate in the west follows Madagascar’s familiar pattern of a hot, rainy season roughly from December to April, and warm, dry weather from May to November. While most of the island’s rain falls on the east coast, meaning the west is overall much drier, travel is still difficult here during the rainy season as roads turn to mud baths and river ferry docks are submerged. Most tourist hotels and wildlife lodges are closed from December to April. The early part of the rainy season in November is, however, a popular time to visit: greenery sprouts everywhere and the warmed-up wildlife is in reproductive mode.