Top 5 things to do in Madagascar

From wide-eyed lemurs to an avenue of upside-down trees: there's no denying Madagascar has an otherworldliness not matched by many other destinations in the world. Here is our selection of what not to miss on this truly unique island
Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Photo: Shutterstock
Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Photo: Shutterstock

Ring-tailed lemurs are a must-see on your Madagascar holiday. Photo: Shutterstock

If lemurs are the undeniable rock stars of Madagascar read on for more to do and see in this dream destination of an island

1. See lemurs

Without a doubt lemurs are the star attractions of Madagascar and appear on the cover of countless brochures and travel guides. The wide-eyed primates are endemic to the island and there are over 1,000 species on record (and new ones are still being discovered today). Lemurs are nocturnal so the best way to see them is on a nighttime walk. Insight Guides' Wild Madagascar trip includes a night walk within the private reserve at the Vakona Forest Lodge, home to chameleons, crocodiles, exotic birds and an island full of habituated lemurs so you are guaranteed a close encounter. You'll get plenty more opportunities for lemur spotting, with excursions to the Réserve Spéciale d’Analamazaotra, the Parc National de Ranomafana and the Réserve d'Anja

2. Whale-watching off Sainte-Marie

Sainte-Marie is a paradise of an island: think azure-blue waters, white-sand beaches, lush vegetation and some of the best whale-watching in the world to boot. Snorkellers and divers will head to La Crique or the Ile aux Nattes, off the southernmost tip, where the coral reefs teem with multicoloured fish. 

Travel to Madagascar between July and September and you'll be in for a treat, as whales migrate from their summer playground in Antarctica. You can join an excursion boat or simply relax on the beachfront to admire the spectacle. Stay at the Princesse Bora Lodge & Spa on Insight Guides' Dreaming of Madagascar trip and you'll be in the heart of the action as this luxurious hotel is also home to a whale research centre.

3. Trekking to the Blue Waterfalls

Isalo is Madagascar's most popular national park and it's easy to see why with its strangely hypnotic rock formations, unique flora and compelling waterfalls. The best way to explore Isalo is on foot along one of the signed circuits. On Insight Guides' Wild Madagascar tour, you'll enjoy a morning of hiking through a scenic canyon trail to the Cascade de Nymphes, where you can choose to swim in either the black or blue natural pools. If you're feeling more adventurous, opt for the more challenging hour-long trek to a palm-fringed pool and mini-waterfall. You may even encounter a lemur or two on your way...

Baobab trees after sunset at the avenue of the baobabs in Madagascar

Baobab trees after sunset at the avenue of the baobabs in Madagascar. Photo: Shutterstock

4. See the Allée des Baobabs at sunset

This avenue of Grandidiers baobabs is an iconic image of Madagascar. And it is a sight to behold: with their gnarled branches reaching out from the top they look like upside-down trees, hence their nickname the 'roots of the sky'. The best time to witness this spectacle is just before sunset, when the red hue of the trees' bark truly stands out and the shadows are at their longest – making for the perfect photo opportunity.

5. Paddle down the Canal des Pangalanes on a pirogue

The Canal des Pangalanes is a 645km- (400 miles) long network of waterways, rivers and lakes stretching down from Mahavelona to Farafangana on the eastern coast of Madagascar. As part of Insight Guides' Wild Madagascar holiday, you'll cruise down the canal in a traditional pirogue (canoe made from a single tree trunk), admiring the extraordinary flora and stopping at one of the traditional villages along the banks to sample local life and traditions – and bring back a souvenir or two.