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  • Best cities in Madagascar

    Madagascar beach view

    Madagascar beach ©Frontierofficial/Flickr

    Madagascar is probably better known as the setting for the eponymous animation films than for anything real connected to it. Universally known facts about Madagascar: fourth largest island in the world, home to some unique species of plants and animals, former French colony. But what is unfortunately not very well known about Madagascar is that is has immense touristic potential, which is not entirely exploited by the country.

    Madagascar is not a tourist paradise where everyone goes out of their way to please tourists, because tourism is very underdeveloped. Most of the visitors are French, and many people come for eco tourism, but there are many aspects of Madagascan culture that are worth being explored. For example, here are some of the most visit-worthy cities on this amazing island.

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    Antananarivo

    The capital city, which you cannot avoid passing though if you are traveling to Madagascar by plane. Truth to be told, there is not much to see in Antananarivo in terms of classic tourist attractions. There are some museums in the city and some impressive buildings, as fit for a capital, but that is mainly it.

    However, that does not mean that you should leave Antananarivo as soon as you get there. You can visit the ruins of Queen’s Palace (Rova), which was the home of the Merina royal dynasty since its construction in the 17th centure, but which was burnt down in the 90’s and is subject to ongoing restorations ever since. Local students who speak English will take it upon themselves to tell you the history of the place for a small fee. The ruins are on the highest hill of the city, so the view is beautiful from there.

    Antananarivo view, Madagascar

    Antananarivo view ©Francesco Veronesi/Flickr

    If you are willing to take a short trip, you should walk up to the Antononga, one of the sacred hills of Madagascar. On one hand it is an archaeological site with a small museum you will surely like, on the other hand it provides an amazing 360 degree view over the vast rice plantations of the area.

    If you want to go shopping in an authentic island atmosphere, you should visit the largest market of Antananarivo, the Andravoahangy market. This is a great place to buy craft products, lots of them made by hand, that are perfect for souvenirs. If you want to buy fresh food, you should take the time and go down to the Petite Vitesse located next to the old railway. You can find all sorts of exotic fruits and vegetables you may have never heard of and you should try while you are on the island.

    Mahavelona (Foulpointe)

    Mahavelona is a pretty little beach resort town surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches, probably one of the most touristy locations in the country. There are several decent hotels around, and the beaches are nice, but beware of the sharks swimming offshore (despite the coral reef around the coast, swimming can be quite dangerous).

    Mahavelona - old buildings

    Mahavelona – old buildings ©Hery Zu Rakotondramanana/Flickr

    The town is small, and some might say nondescript, but it has some good features, for example the remains of Fort Manda, surrounded by walls made of coral, eggs and sand. The fort was built in the 19th century by Radama I and it is a nice afternoon trip destination.

    You can find the best beaches on the southern part of the town as well as some hotels and restaurants. Tourists are offered boat trips, all sorts of souvenirs and other services around here, but note that if you drive a hard bargain, you can get everything for a lot less than the initial price.

    Toamasina

    The second largest city in Madagascar, Toamasina has been a resort town since the days of the French colonists, but don’t expect much glam in the city. The old colonial buildings are still standing but they are quite decrepit, and the entire town has a somewhat dilapidated atmosphere. But  this only makes the town more interesting, especially coupled with its lively crowd and nightlife. Also, Toamasina has some nice enough beaches which are usually populated by the local youth.

    As the city gives home to the largest post of Madagascar, it is also an important economical hub. You can also take a nice trip to the post and see the many cargo ships from all over the world docking there. The long and wide streets with the beautiful palm trees are great for long evening walks and even the not so well maintained colonial buildings give a special, romantic atmosphere to the place. You will find many restaurants and shops on the Boulevard Joffre.

    The view is nice from the beaches – you should check out the area between Pointe Tanio and Pointe Asti, but do not forget that swimming in the ocean is very dangerous and forbidden!

    Joffreville

    Joffreville used to be quite the bustling little colonial town, a favored vacation spot for the French military, although in the present day its pomp is somewhat diminished. The town is quiet and relaxing, and some parts of it look more like a villages than the colony it used to be. There are some very nice landscapes in the surrounding areas, nice bays and beaches you would surely like.

    Leaf chameleon native to the Montagne d'Ambre

    Leaf chameleon from Montagne d’Ambre ©BingoBangoGringo/Flickr

     

    You can also find some really nice hotels hear and another big plus for the town is that it’s close to the most visited natural attraction of Madagascar, the Parc National de Montagne d’Ambre. The park is beautiful and very pleasant despite the fact that is rains here every day. Wildlife is thriving and the mountain also gives home to some endemic species. But that is not a surprise as most of the species living on Madagascar are endemic, meaning that they are native only to this island.

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