visiting Madagascar

Things to know before visiting Madagascar

Visiting Madagascar and wondering what are the most important things to know before you go?

The island was named by Marco Polo, who was the first European to report its existence. Although the Portuguese arrived next in the 1500s, it was the French who colonized the island and declared French the official language.

Madagascar is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna of which almost 90% cannot be found anywhere else in the world, including the famous lemurs which are only found in Madagascar.

Despite being close to the African continent, the first settlers of Madagascar were actually of Malayo-Indonesian descent – migrating from Indonesia, Sumatra, and Java.

Eventually, people began emigrating from Eastern Africa and are now well dispersed throughout the country, but Malagasy typically don’t consider themselves to be African.

This guide from visa regulations for Madagascar to how to get to Madagascar, facts about the island, and important laws to know before you go!

Where is Madagascar

Madagascar is located in the Indian Ocean near Africa. Madagascar is located in the Indian Ocean 250 miles (400 km) off the eastern coast of Africa across the Mozambique Channel, just south of the equator.

The Island national originated as part of the Gondwana supercontinent (which included Africa, South America, Antarctica, and Australia). Its west coast was formed when Africa broke off from Gondwana around 165 million years ago. Madagascar eventually broke off from India about 88 million years ago. It is geologically located within the Somali plate. That separation has resulted in fauna and flora found nowhere else on the planet.

Madagascar consists of 5 main geographical regions: Central Highlands, the Massif in the north, the east coast, west coast, and the southwest. Sixteen rivers snake throughout the landscape, ranging from 100 to 350 miles in length.

However, there are few lakes – the largest lake is LacAlaotra which is surrounded by ecologically critical marshlands that are facing severe pressures due to human activity.

What continent is Madagascar in

Sometimes referred to as the “Great Red Island” because of its iron and aluminum-rich soils that produce brilliant red colors. Madagascar is situated on the Southeast Coast of Africa.

How big is Madagascar

The Island is just over 1000 miles (1580 km) long and 350 miles (570 km) wide and known for one-of-kind plant and animal species, but is also home to many unique customs and beliefs.

What is the capital city of Madagascar

Formerly known as Tananarive, Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar.

How to travel to Madagascar

The best way to travel to Madagascar is by air (Ivato International Airport at Antananarivo). There are direct flights from Johannesburg to Madagascar. South Africa is one of the best connection hubs for travelers from the US, Asia, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

The most popular airlines serving Ivato are Air Madagascar, Air France, South African Airways, South African Airlink from Johannesburg.

Interesting facts about Madagascar country

What language does Madagascar speak

Madagascar’s official languages are Malagasy and French. The island nation has over 18 Malagasy tribes, as well as groups of French, Indian Comoran, and Chinese people.

World’s 4th Biggest Island

At a whopping 226 658 square miles), Madagascar is the worlds 4th biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. The Island is bigger than France, Spain, Thailand, Sweden, and Germany.

90% Exotic Wildlife

The only animals in the Madagascar Movie that Actually Live in Madagascar are the Lemurs and Fossa. Zebras, lions, or penguins don’t live in Madagascar – even though they were featured in the movie.

It’s not just lemurs, that are unique to Madagascar. Of the world’s ~ 150 species of chameleons, more than half of them can be found in Madagascar.

And an impressive 59 are endemic to Madagascar. Many are endangered and one factor is the pet trade. So please do not buy a chameleon as a pet. See them in the wild where they belong.

Are there lions in Madagascar

Madagascar does not have any lions, apes, monkeys, elephants, zebras, giraffes, hyenas, rhinos, and antelopes.

Home to 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Madagascar is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites namely Ambohimanga Royal Hill, Atsinanana Rainforests, and Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve.

Many of the world’s most high-quality sapphires have been found in Madagascar.

Important Madagascar laws to know

  • Madagascar abolished the death penalty in 2015.
  • Removing protected plants (especially rosewood) and animals and animal products is illegal.
  • Paying for sex is punishable by 5 to 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $1700 (ZAR 29,000) to $7900 (ZAR 135,000).

Travel Insurance for Madagascar

Use travel insurance while visiting Madagascar so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous activities to do in Madagascar, and it’s best to have peace of mind while driving, hiking, and trying some of the best food in the world.


Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a booking after clicking on a link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!

6 thoughts on “Things to know before visiting Madagascar”

  1. this was a super useful article about the basic of Madagascar. This is a great place to start when tryin g to plan a trip here. thanks for these facts!

  2. This is an awesome and very thorough guide. Madagascar looks like a beautiful place and I’d love to visit it someday!

  3. This was interesting. I havent read much about Madagascar and I know very little. When I hear Madagascar the first thing that comes to mind is Africa. I imagine it would be a very cultural place to visit with the various tribes there.

  4. Madagascar sounds so incredible. I had no idea that 90% of their flora and fauna is not found anywhere else in the world. That is so astounding!

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