TM: What makes Madagascar’s nature so special?
Margherita: Madagascar is sometimes called ‘the eighth continent’ because its nature is so unique. The island separated from mainland Africa millions of years ago and nature has since evolved in total isolation. In Madagascar, you’ll find native animals and plants that cannot be found anywhere else, like lemurs, the fossa, lots of geckos, chameleons, and birds.
The country also offers a variety of natural landscapes in a reasonably small area. For instance, following RN 7 between the center and the southwest of the country you’ll cross mountain ranges, rainforests, spiny forests, and even canyons before reaching the stunning tropical beaches near Tulear.
What is your favorite thing about being among nature in Madagascar?
One of the best things about nature in Madagascar is that you’ll often be alone. The country still sees relatively few tourists and national parks are usually quite big. Most tourists on organized tours only spend a few hours in the morning in national parks, so if you stay the whole day you’ll have the place to yourself!
What is “ecotourism”? How do you practice it when you travel?
Ecotourism, in my opinion, means paying respect to nature and the communities you visit. Madagascar has a serious garbage problem, so we made sure we didn’t add to it, and even cleaned up a little when we could.
We also decided to travel by public transport to minimize our carbon footprint and stay in close contact with locals. However, public transport is only recommended for experienced travelers, as it’s very uncomfortable and difficult to navigate.
Using a local guide is another way to get in touch with local culture, and learning a little bit of French will definitely help you if you head off on your own.
How much of a threat is there to Madagascar’s forests? What is being done to help?
The situation of Madagascar’s forests has definitely improved since the 20th century, when it was estimated that over half of the country’s forests had been lost to illegal logging. The country has established a network of national parks. Access is only allowed with a local guide, and rangers patrol the protected areas. Some instances of logging still occur. The system is far from perfect, but at least the first steps are being made.
How does local life and nature intertwine in Madagascar?
The most locals in Madagascar still live in rural areas. Farming is a lot more common than hunting and gathering, although the latter still happens in remote communities. Malagasy (people from Madagascar) believe in spirits, and have fascinating tales and legends to explain the origin of the world and of nature.
They are at ease around nature, and our local guides knew nature in a way that we as Western city dwellers cannot imagine. They knew the name of every animal, every tree, and every shrub. They were able to identify even those that looked identical to us.
What has been the most profound impact Madagascar has had on you?
Madagascar is a very poor country. Witnessing how corrupt politics halted the development of the country really broke my heart.
Since 2009 there have been a series of coups d’etat in the country and as a result, foreign investment has stopped, tourism has dried out, and the conditions of the local population worsened. Several people rely on tourism to support themselves, and for this reason I recommend either traveling independently or with an operator that gives back to local communities.
Madagascar is a fascinating country with a huge potential in terms of ecotourism. Personally, I hope conditions for locals will improve with the arrival of more tourists.
Picture Credits: The Crowded Planet
Margherita is a cat lover and mountain junkie, and the creator of The Crowded Planet, a nature and adventure travel blog. Coffee, sleeping in and eating are some of the things she loves.