More and more travellers are heading to Madagascar this year – here’s why
The world’s second-largest island country, Madagascar is one of the world’s most unique destinations, thanks to its incredible biodiversity that comes as a result of its relative isolation. Diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are found in Madagascar that are not found anywhere else on Earth, and over 21 million people live on the island, which comprises 20 ethnic groups that are inspired by African, Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian traditions.
Located 400 kilometres from the coast of East Africa, Madagascar’s popularity as a holiday destination appears to be growing exponentially. The island has been experiencing an upswing in tourist arrivals since 2013, and demand for Jenman Safaris‘ Madagascar trips has doubled that of 2019 inquires in January 2020 alone. The destination has also made it onto various must-visit travel lists for 2020, including that of G Adventures. According to a study by Forward Keys, Madagascar’s international arrivals during the first half of 2019 were up by 19% as compared with all of 2018; international arrival bookings for the period between June and August 2019 increased by 34% as compared to the same period in 2018; 77% of international visitors arrive in the country for leisure activities and visitors who stay less than a month spend an average of 13.2 nights in Madagascar.
It seems international visitors are not only arriving more frequently on the island but are also spending more time exploring and investing in the country’s local market. Jenman Safaris CEO and Madagascar expert, Katja Quasdorf, attributes this spike in interest to a few key factors, with the country’s wildlife and nature a key driver.
“The world’s oldest island, Madagascar may be well known as the land of the lemurs, but it’s also home to hundreds of species of other mammals, birds, reptiles and insects; and more than 15,000 species of mostly endemic plants,” says Quasdorf.
“In addition to the wildlife and spectacular landscape – made even more special by the majestic baobab trees – the Malagasy people and their culture also add to the richness,” Quasdorf adds. “The 20 ethnic groups in Madagascar give rise to the unique Malagasy culture, where African, Asian, Indian and Arab roots are quite prominent.”
The capital city of Antananarivo has a growing population of over 3.3 million people leading to a concentration of Madagascar’s unique cultures. This also means that visitors who would like to discover the nation’s varied ethnic groups in one place can do just that – all from the comfort of a bustling metropolis.
Rising out of the dust of the dirt road that connects Morondava to Belon’i Tsiribihina stand the famed trees that line the Avenue of the Baobabs. This stretch of road is one of the most easily recognisable destinations on the island, and makes for stunning photographs that are well worth the road trip. Plus, the Avenue of the Baobabs lies just south of the Andranomena Reserve, so visitors can see the picturesque trees and explore a wildlife reserve all in one day.
In addition to the nationally protected lands, travellers to Madagascar can visit three UNESCO World Heritage sites. From Madagascar’s preserved Atsnana Rainforests and Tsingy de Bemeraha Strict Nature Reserve to Ambohimanga Royal Hill, visitors to one or all three of these sites are sure to be immersed in the island’s diverse ecosystem and history.
Ambohimanga Royal Hill is home to the remains of the royal city once led by the queens and kings that first brought Madagascar to international appeal. Today, it remains a burial site and pilgrim destination that beckons visitors to weave between the wooden houses of the living and the stone dwellings of the deceased.
An increase in flight connections is also contributing to the country’s tourism growth, with a greater availability of international flights to the island meaning visitors who have been longing to view the island now have a better chance of planning a trip that works for their busy schedules. The increased seat capacity has led to, as Quasdorf states, “the fact that more travellers are now choosing Madagascar as their end or main holiday destination instead of hopping over from the continent for just a brief few days.”
Airlink and Air Mauritius offer daily flights to Antananarivo from Johannesburg and Mauritius respectively, while Kenya Airways offers two flights daily from Nairobi. Direct flights to Madagascar are also available from Paris, Addis Ababa, Istanbul and Bangkok on seven different carriers.
The Malagasy government, too, is making sure Madagascar will continue to be a worthy tourism destination for generations. Earlier this year, Madagascar’s government pledged to plant 60 million trees by April 2020. In the century that followed the island country’s colonisation by the French in 1896, as well as more recent deforestation for agriculture, the density and diversity of Madagascar’s ecosystem has been at risk, with about one-fifth of its tree cover lost between 2001 and 2018, according to Global Forest Watch. Paired with legal repercussions for deforestation of protected lands, the Malagasy government’s 60 million saplings are being planted in the hopes of combatting such destructive actions, offering a seedling of hope for rejuvenating the already verdant ecosystem. The number of trees was chosen as a commemoration to this year’s 60th anniversary of independence from colonial rule – giving you yet another reason to visit this memorable country. So what are you waiting for?