by Lydia Schrandt for USA TODAY 10Best

See the best of Madagascar on this photo tour

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Staggering biodiversity, paired with beaches, deserts, rainforests and barrier reefs, make this island nation in the Indian Ocean a traveler favorite. Explore its highlights on this virtual tour.

Antananarivo (Tana for short) is the capital of Madagascar, and it would be a mistake to overlook this colorful, charming city.

Perhaps no image captures Madagascar as iconically as that of the Avenue of the Baobabs. These trees, some of them more than 800 years old, line a modest dirt stretch of RN8.

UNESCO-listed Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park features serrated peaks and boulders created by erosion. The word “tsingy” in Malagasy translates loosely to "where one cannot walk barefoot.”

Île Sainte-Marie (Sainte Marie Island) sits just off the northeastern coast of Madagascar. This thin strip of land offers an idyllic vacation opportunity in the form of white sand beaches, coral reefs and quiet fishing villages.

Nearly half the world’s species of chameleons live on Madagascar, and 59 of them can be found nowhere else. These reptiles are best known for their ability to change colors.

In Montagne d'Ambre National Park, visitors have the chance to spot 75 species of birds, 25 species of mammals and 59 species of reptiles, as well as numerous lakes and waterfalls.

Six different areas make up the UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforests of Atsinanana. Parc National Ranomafana ranks among the most popular thanks to its abundance of wildlife – lemurs, reptiles, frogs and birds.

The Andringitra Massif inside Andringitra National Park is the highest accessible mountain in Madagascar (the second highest overall). This region attracts hikers and mountain climbers to its high-altitude granite peaks.

Come to Tsingy Rouge Park in northern Madagascar for the isolation and for the dramatic red rock pinnacles. Visitors who make the 4WD journey to this remote park are rewarded with some of the island’s most inspiring scenery.

The coast of Madagascar and some of its smaller islands are dotted with world-class beaches, including white sand and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.

The small fishing villages of Ifaty and Mangily on the southeastern coast serve as gateways to Ifaty Beach, with its coconut palm-lined beaches and snorkeling opportunities in the Mozambique Channel.

Isalo National Park, one of Madagascar’s most popular natural attractions, protects a collection of high plateaus, arid regions and lush forests filled with cooling swimming holes.

Of all the creatures that call Madagascar home, none is quite so famous as the lemur. These primates are unique to the island and are classified as the world’s oldest primates.

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