Madagascar is one of the most unique spots in the world

  • Panther chameleon, Andasibe National Park

    Madagascar is a land of the unique and diverse

    Madagascar is a world unto itself. A massive island, with vastly different microclimates, remote areas, poor roads and infrastructure, and it's teeming with wildlife. Most visitors come for the cute lemurs, but the smaller creatures are just as magical, and in the case of the chameleons, certainly more colorful.  

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sakalava woman selling crabs on the beach

    Selling crabs

    In addition to all the rare wildlife and cool landscapes, the local Malagasy are extremely friendly and unique as well. The Sakalava women in the southwest of the country use a sandalwood paste to paint their faces.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • A Sakalava woman with face paint in Morondava

    Sakalava woman with face paint

    Tabaky is a paste made from sandalwood that is used by the women in western Madagascar to cover their faces. Similar to the Burmese thanaka, it is used both as a beauty cosmetic and a way to protect from the strong tropical sun. As this side of the country is arid, hot and dry in the winter season, you'll only see it here, and not in the tropical east and north of the island.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • The Sakalava live by the sea and engage in fishing and boat building

    Sakalava women cleaning fish nets

    Living by the sea, the Sakalava are mainly engaged in fishing and boat building, with the beaches a hub of activity every morning. Men go out in small handcrafted sailing pirogues and bring back the catch of the day, which the women then sift through and help clean the fishing nets.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Indri, the largest lemur, Mitsinjo Reserve

    Treebound indri

    Into the forests, you'll find loads of lemurs. The indri is the world's largest lemur and is critically endangered. It stays high up in the trees and rarely comes to the ground. Compared to other lemurs, it has a very short tail, but it makes up for this by having huge muscular legs and arms, which it uses to leap from tree to tree and get around the forest. They are known for their extremely loud wails, which makes it easy for guides to find them. The indri is mainly spotted in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park and its adjoining Mitsinjo Reserve.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Black and white ruffed lemur, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

    Curious black and white ruffed lemur

    Also found along the east coast in the rainforests of Andasibe-Mantadia is the black and white ruffed lemur, a favorite amongst tourists for its photogenic black face framed by a white mantle of fur. It's also highly endangered, with slash-and-burn agriculture and the illegal pet trade helping to decimate its dwindling population. You can find these lemurs in Parc Ivoloina and also in Mantadia National Park, and they are active by day, so they're fairly easy to spot.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Bamboo or gentle lemur, one of the most adored and friendly lemurs

    Cute bamboo lemur

    Small, playful and friendly, the bamboo lemur is one of the cutest of the lemur species. Many of them live in reserves and are used to human visitors, coming close in the expectation of being fed and curious to see the cameras clicking away. They exist almost entirely on bamboo and have amazing digestive systems that can detoxify the excessive amounts of cyanide found within, which makes it inedible for most other forest dwellers.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • The large and colorful diademed sifaka is one of the most striking members of the lemur family

    Diademed sifaka

    The endangered diademed sifaka is another hugely popular tourist favorite and must-see when visiting Madagascar. They are large and colorful, with a golden silky coat. Sifakas are named after their call, which is a loud screech that sounds like "shee-faak." You can see these beautiful sifaka in all of the parks and reserves around Andasibe, in the highland rainforest of eastern Madagascar.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Red-fronted brown lemur peers out at the world, Kirindy National Park

    Red-fronted brown lemur

    The red-fronted brown lemur is found in the dry semi-desert forests of western Madagascar in Kirindy National Park. As lemurs cannot swim, they are limited by river systems so their territory is decidedly marked. One reason that lemurs have thrived in Madagascar is due to the lack of other predator primates. The fossa, a mongoose relative, is the only real predator found in this part of the world that threatens the lemurs (other than human-caused dangers, of course).

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • One of Madagascar's smallest and nocturnal lemurs, the red-tailed sportive lemur

    Red-tailed sportive lemur

    This extremely tiny and cute lemur also lives in western Madagascar in the dry forests of Kirindy. They are only active at night, but guides often can spot them sleeping in tree holes during the day. They inhabit a pretty small area, never ranging more than a kilometer, making their habitat easy to find.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Sunset along the Avenue of the Baobabs

    Avenue of the Baobabs

    Just like the fauna, much of the flora is endemic to the island as well. There are nine species of the tree known in Latin as Andasonia, with six of them being native to Madagascar. The aptly named "Avenue of the Baobabs" is perhaps the country's most noted landmark, and despite its remote location in the southwest of the island, accessed by a 15-hour drive from the capital Antananarivo, it's still a most coveted tourist calling card.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Stunning silhouettes at sunset along the Avenue of the Baobabs

    Dusk on the Avenue

    The baobabs are best appreciated as the sun goes down, when they are silhouetted against the setting sun. Adventure tours heading out to the Tsingy or Kirindy national parks make it a point of arriving here right at sunset on their way back to Morondava.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Life along Avenue of the Baobabs

    Avenue serves as a major road

    Not only is the Avenue of the Baobabs a tourist attraction, the road is a lifeline for the local population. People use it for transporting crops and other goods into Morondava, the sea port town some 40 minutes away. The actual "avenue" is not very big, just several hundred meters worth of trees, but the fact that they are grouped together so tightly here makes them super photogenic. 

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Panther chameleon on the move

    Colorful panther chameleon

    Perhaps even more captivating than the lemurs are the vast array of chameleons to be found throughout Madagascar. There are over 150 species here, which is more than half of the world's population. Someone once described Madagascar as "Noah's Ark adrift in the Indian Ocean," which is about as apt a label as it gets.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Close-up of a Parson's chameleon

    Parson's chameleon

    Found in eastern and northern Madagascar, the Parson's chameleon is the heaviest of all chameleons. Males are glowing green or turquoise, but females can also be yellow or brown in addition to having green coloring. They only reproduce every two years and are an endangered species. Chameleons' eyes rotate, allowing them to have 360-degree vision.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Uroplatus lineatus gecko with his tongue sticking out

    Uroplatus lineatus gecko

    Some of Madagascar's most unique creatures are its geckos, most of whom rely on extreme camouflage for survival. They sleep with their heads downward and tend to be active at night, surviving on insects. There are over ten genera of geckos that are endemic to Madagascar. 

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Mossy leaf-tailed gecko using the art of camouflage

    Mossy leaf-tailed gecko

    Found mostly in the tropical rainforests along the east coast and north of the country, the leaf-tailed geckos look like something out of either the age of dinosaurs or a sci-fi movie. You'll be thankful for the mandatory guides assigned to you in national parks, since they're almost impossible to spot for a novice. The geckos have an impressive ability to blend in seamlessly with tree trunks and moss or on rocks. This camouflage protects them from their greatest predator, birds, which swoop from overhead looking for prey. 

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Madagascan flying foxes, better known as fruit bats, hanging upside down

    Madagascan flying fox (fruit bats)

    There are three species of fruit bats endemic to Madagascar, and the largest one is known as the Madagascan flying fox, named so because its face resembles that of a fox. These caped crusaders exist almost solely on the juice of fruits, which they suck out of the fruit and seeds they find. Like the lemurs, the fruit bats are also threatened, being listed as a "vulnerable" species due to being hunted for meat.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Suspension bridge across the top of the Tsingy

    Bridge across the Tsingy

    Madagascar also features some beautiful and remote national parks. For instance, the Tsingy de Bemaraha is home to a landscape of karst pinnacles, accessed by via ferrata iron cables, an adventure taken after a 15-hour drive on 4WD roads, crossing crocodile-infested rivers just to get there! 

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Via ferrata route through the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

    Via ferrata route in the Tsingy

    The only way to get on top of the tsingy is to climb, and the park has a well-maintained via ferrata system (as is found in Europe), where you don a harness and guides lead you up metal cables and across suspension bridges to view the spiky pinnacles from above.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • View from above, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

    Above it all in the Tsingy de Bemaraha

    The word tsingy in Malagasy means "place where one cannot walk barefoot" and there are two parks in the country which feature this bizarre, otherworldly landscape. Getting here is half the fun, as your 4WD jeep has to be put atop a makeshift ferry made out of local pirogues (dugout canoes) to get across two major rivers. The area is only open half the year, as it is impossible to reach during the rainy season.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • The arrival of sunset along the atmospheric Avenue of the Baobabs

    Seclusion of Madagascar

    There are few countries in the world that combine such an exotic mix of unique endemic sights as Madagascar, and its position out in the middle of the Indian Ocean keeps it far from the maddening crowds. Compared to tourist-heavy destinations such as Thailand, with some 30 million tourist arrivals each year, Madagascar's 225,000 yearly visitors make it easy to find solitude and plenty of adventure.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis


×