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Overview

The bulk of Madagascar, a vast island set in the Indian Ocean 220 miles east of the African mainland, supports a relatively moist habitat of tropical forest (at least where it hasn’t been stripped for cultivation). More intriguing ecologically, however, is the island’s arid and succulent-rich far south, which supports a cover so bizarre it is referred to both as "spiny forest" and “spiny desert.” Home to innumerable endemic plant genera, not to mention a variety of different baobab trees, the far south – like the rest of the island – also hosts a fascinating cast of oddball creatures unique to the region. These include the sociable ...

The bulk of Madagascar, a vast island set in the Indian Ocean 220 miles east of the African mainland, supports a relatively moist habitat of tropical forest (at least where it hasn’t been stripped for cultivation). More intriguing ecologically, however, is the island’s arid and succulent-rich far south, which supports a cover so bizarre it is referred to both as "spiny forest" and “spiny desert.” Home to innumerable endemic plant genera, not to mention a variety of different baobab trees, the far south – like the rest of the island – also hosts a fascinating cast of oddball creatures unique to the region. These include the sociable ring-tailed lemur, which looks like a cross between a mongoose and a monkey, and Verreaux’s sifaka, a furry lemur distinguished by its unusual "dancing" mode of locomotion across the ground. The spiny desert doesn’t boast the avian variety of the moist forests, but several of the country’s most localized endemic birds are confined to the region, while other inhabitants include the world’s largest chameleon (adult males can be more the two feet long). There are also some lovely beaches in the region, most famously around the sleepy resort town of Fort Dauphin, which is also the springboard for trips to the Berenty Reserve, the most accessible and upscale place to see a selection of spiny desert "specials."

Philip Briggs
About the Expert

Philip Briggs has written or contributed to 50-plus editions of Bradt, Insight, AA and Berlitz guidebooks to African destinations.

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Philip Briggs for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Madagascar, officially the Republic of Madagascar and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Southeast Africa.
  • Language: Malagasy, French, English
  • Currency: Malagasy Ariary
  • Research: Madagascar | Sahamandrevo | Madagascar | Madagascar Spiny Thickets
  • Weather: Rainfall
  • Current Time:

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    November to April is the peak birding season, but is otherwise best avoided due to the extremely high rainfall and risk of cyclones.