Madagascar is undoubtedly one of Africa's most fascinating countries, and certainly one of the continent's most unique. An island nation surrounded by the crystalline waters of the Indian Ocean, it's most famous for its incredible flora and fauna - from its charismatic lemurs to its towering baobab trees. Much of the country's wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth, and as such eco-tourism is one of Madagascar's key attractions. It is also home to unspoiled beaches, breathtaking dive sites and a colourful kaleidoscope of local Malagasy culture and cuisine.
The fourth-largest island on the planet, Madagascar is surrounded by the Indian Ocean and situated off the east coast of Africa. The country's closest mainland neighbor is Mozambique, while other islands in the nearby vicinity include those of Réunion, the Comoros and Mauritius.
In July 2016, the CIA World Factbook estimated Madagascar's population to include almost 24.5 million people.
French and Malagasy are the official languages of Madagascar, with various different dialects of Malagasy spoken throughout the island. French is generally spoken only by the educated classes.
The majority of Madagascans practice either Christian or indigenous beliefs, while a small minority of the population (around 7%) are Muslim.
The official currency of Madagascar is the Malagasy Ariary. For up-to-date exchange rates, check out this helpful conversion site.
Madagascar's weather changes dramatically from region to region. The east coast is tropical, with hot temperatures and plenty of rain. The highlands of the central interior are drier and cooler, while the south is drier still. Generally speaking, Madagascar has a cool, dry season (May - October) and a hot, rainy season (November - April). The latter brings frequent cyclones.
When to Go:
The best time to visit Madagascar is during the May - October dry season, when temperatures are pleasant and precipitation is at its lowest. During the rainy season, cyclones can be a threat to visitor safety.
Parc National de L'Isalo offers more than 500 square miles/ 800 square kilometers of breathtaking desert scenery, complete with fantastic sandstone rock formations, canyons and crystal clear pools perfect for swimming. It is one of Madagascar's most rewarding destinations for hiking.
The shores of this idyllic island are washed by clear turquoise waters and the air is fragrant with the scent of exotic blooms. It's also home to many of Madagascar's most exclusive hotels, and is the destination of choice for wealthy beachgoers wishing to indulge in snorkelling, sailing and scuba-diving.
In Western Madagascar, the dirt road that connects Morondava and Belon'i Tsiribihina is home to a rare botanical spectacle, comprised of more than 20 giant baobab trees. Many of these magnificent roadside trees are several hundred years old and over 100 feet/ 30 meters high.
Parc National d'Andasibe-Mantadia combines two separate parks, which together provide one of the best opportunities for a close encounter with Madagascar's largest lemur species, the indri. The lush rainforest habitat is also home to an incredible array of endemic bird and mammal species.
Fondly referred to as 'Tana', Madagascar's capital city is busy, chaotic and well worth a few days' visit at the beginning or end of your trip. It is a hub of Malagasy culture, known for its colonial architecture, vibrant local markets and surprising number of high-quality gourmet restaurants.
Madagascar's main airport (and the port of entry for most foreign visitors) is the Ivato International Airport, located 10 miles/ 16 kilometers northwest of Antananarivo. The airport is home to Madagascar's national airline, Air Madagascar. From the United States, most flights connect via Johannesburg, South Africa, or Paris, France.
Non-nationals need a tourist visa to enter Madagascar; however, these can be purchased upon arrival at all international airports or harbours. It is also possible to organise a visa in advance at the Malagasy Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Check the government's visa information page for more information.
There are no compulsory vaccinations for travellers to Madagascar, however, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends certain vaccines including Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Polio. Depending on the region that you're planning on visiting, anti-malaria medication may be necessary, while visitors travelling from a Yellow Fever country will need to carry proof of vaccination with them.
This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on September 26th 2016.