The best time to travel to Madagascar depends on which parts of the country you want to visit and your interests. With its climate dominated by the Indian Ocean’s southeastern trade winds, the island has a clear seasonal cycle. In general, the austral winter (April to October) tends to be dry and warm, with higher temperatures at sea level and further north or along the west coast. This season – pleasant but cooler than summer – is great for sightseeing, though many animals are less active and some species hibernate. However, on the other hand, June to September is when to visit Madagascar for whale-watching, with pods of humpbacks gliding along the east coast on their northerly migration. From November to March, a hot, wet summer sees heavy rains lash the eastern slopes and highlands, and ferocious cyclones batter the east coast. At the start of the summer, when showers are light and infrequent, November is often recommended as the best month to visit Madagascar for wildlife-watching.
Here is our month-by-month guide to visiting Madagascar. We look at detailed weather patterns and suggest how these might affect any sightseeing plans, getting around, outdoor activities, and festivals taking place throughout the year. All this will help you to work out when to go to Madagascar.
At a latitude stretching from 12° to 25° south, Madagascar is well inside the tropics at its northern end and just outside the Tropic of Capricorn in the far south. Mexico and Queensland lie on similar latitudes.
Dictated by the Indian Ocean’s southeastern winds, the island follows a distinct seasonal cycle. A hot, wet summer from November to March brings anything up to 4m of rain to the eastern slopes and highlands, roughly four times the UK’s typical annual rainfall in the space of a few months. This is the season when ferocious cyclones hit the east coast and ravage their way inland – busting bridges, sweeping away roads and riverbanks and making travel extremely difficult.
The rains are still heavy, but much less voluminous, in the west and southwest of the island. Down in the semi-desert of the far southwest they don’t always do much more than spatter the parched earth. For the rest of the year, roughly from April to October, Madagascar experiences a dry, cool season – what naturalists call the austral winter.
When considering when to go to Madagascar, you need to take into account the country’s distinct climatic zones. It can rain at almost any time of year in the highlands, for instance, and nights at elevated points on the island can be bitterly cold. If you’re doing some hiking or climbing, you will need warm layers. It also tends to rain heavily most months in the northeast of the island, with the Masoala Peninsula and Baie d’Antongil like a greenhouse most of the year.
April to October are, in general, the best months to visit Madagascar. This dry, cool season is what naturalists refer to as the austral winter. Overall, this is a good time to travel: days are bright and usually warm to very warm and nights mild. Temperatures are highest at sea level and also higher in the north and on the west coast. The south can be much chillier: July in Fort Dauphin will have you glad of a fleece and an extra blanket at night.
Madagascar’s summer typically falls between November and March, but don’t expect dry days. This unpredictable season can see up to 4m of torrential rain slam the eastern slopes and highlands, with many roads closing and trails becoming impassable as a result. It is peak cyclone season, with storms hammering the east coast of the island. Travel can be difficult in these months, with severe weather and burst riverbanks often cutting off bridges and damaging roads. To the west, the rains aren’t as voluminous and as you reach the semi-desert of the far southwest, barely a drop spatters the arid landscapes.
December through February is hot across much of Madagascar, with average monthly temperatures hovering between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. However, it is also rainy and stormy, with cyclones wreaking havoc on the east coast. This might, however, be when to visit Madagascar if you’re heading west or south, with the usually parched semi-desert at its most lush.
Party animals might want to visit Madagascar over New Year, when the occasion is normally marked with a three-day extravaganza of ceremonies, song and dance, though don’t expect many offices to be open.
The rain showers start to ease off in March, as summer draws to a close. April to May fall within Madagascar’s austral winter: a season of dry, pleasant days and mild though sometimes chilly nights. Many people consider this to be the best time of the year to visit Madagascar.
April and May tend to be bright and dry, with days that are pleasantly warm but cool enough to go hiking and sightseeing. The west coast and north of Madagascar tend to be hottest, with the mercury dropping the further south you head.
However, April also sees leaves start to fall from the trees, animals shift down a few gears and some species hibernate for winter. If your main interest in natural history then April and May might not be the best time to visit Madagascar.
However, May is a good month for festivals: Zegny Zo is a lively festival of culture and arts in Diego Suarez, while Donia hosts a week-long programme of traditional music and dance shows across Nosy Be.
This is the best time to visit Madagascar if you want dry, pleasant days. It is also optimum whale-watching season, though the downside is the wildlife back on land is sleepier.
June to August are great months to visit Madagascar. Though this cooler season is what naturalists call the austral winter, the weather remains clement. Temperatures are highest at sea level and also in the north and on the west coast. Nights can be a little chillier, particularly if you’re heading south.
From June through September, the central highlands celebrate Famadihana with hundreds of two-day family exhumation and reburial ceremonies. Expect lots of feasts, music and dancing, but take a jumper to ward off the chill.
This isn’t the best time of year to visit Madagascar for flora and fauna though, as the island is in the thick of winter, when trees are bare and many animals hibernate. Saying that, from June to September, whale-watchers can enjoy a continuous regatta of humpbacks up the east coast (and to a lesser extent the west) during their northerly migration past the island.
August is a great time to go snorkelling and diving, when the waters are clear and the visibility is at its optimum. This month also sees Festivanille Satrahagna Sambava kick off with a vanilla-flavoured series of weekend festivals in the Sava region (Vohémar, Andapa, Antalaha and Sambava). Celebrations include sporting contests, music and dance.
Fall is the best time to travel to Madagascar for diving and snorkelling, when the sediment brought down by the rivers during the rains has had time to disperse and settle. It’s not such a win for nature enthusiasts though; you won’t see much wildlife and the trees will be stripped off their colour. On the other hand, this is prime whale-watching season and a great chance to see humpbacks in their natural habitat.
The austral winter is drawing to a close in September and October, and these remain good months to visit Madagascar. There is hardly any rain, just long dry, bright days that are warm but not too hot. Bring a few layers if you’re visiting southern Madagascar because there’s a noticeable drop in temperature as you travel down the island from the northern tip. This is when to go to Madagascar if you’re visiting the west coast, as temperatures across the islands peak along this stretch.
Many tour operators run diving and snorkelling excursions throughout September and October, when the water is clear and calm. In September, you might also catch a glimpse of the final few humpback whales migrating north past the island (your best chances are on the east coast). Music lovers should coincide their trip with the Madajazzcar Antananarivo, an annual international jazz festival held every October.
The ideal time to visit Masoala is October or November. Though it still rains frequently during these months, the dry spells are much longer and the sea calmer.
While September and October may remain a little slow on the ground for wildlife action, November is the best month to visit Madagascar if you want to see the island’s curious critters. The first rains bring out an explosion of courting, mating and spawning among amphibians, reptiles, birds and the fabulous fossa.