Madagascar is a truly unique destination like no other. And as the fourth largest island in the world, it’s full of picturesque landscapes and animals like lemurs you can’t find anywhere else. But before you set off, here are 10 things that you should know before you travel to Madagascar.
You’ll Have Plenty Of Peace And Quiet
Madagascar doesn’t get near the amount of tourists as other popular African countries like South Africa or Morocco. This means you’ll be able to traverse many of the incredible landscapes all by yourself. Some of the national parks in the country get less than 100 visitors per year.
Brush Up On Your French
We’ll assume you probably don’t know Malagasy, but there’s a good chance you took a few French classes. If so, it will pay to brush up before you go, as many of the people in the country speak French. A lot of the French culture is also present in the cuisine, so even if you can’t hold a conversation, you’ll at least know what you are ordering.
Most people don’t consider themselves African
Madagascar is geographically closer to Africa than Asia, but the people on the island refer to themselves as Malagasy, not African. The people on the island have descended from Indian and Malaysian seafarers who discovered the island 2,000 years ago and never left.
Most of its flora and fauna are unique
Around 90% of the flora and fauna found on the island isn’t found anywhere else in the world, including the famous lemurs. There are also 346 reptiles that aren’t found anywhere else except the island. Be sure to bring the binoculars!
Be Aware Of Taboos (Fady)
Madagascar is a culture that has many taboos (fady). These vary by region and even down to individual families. It’s important to find out what rituals are normal in the area and respect them. One huge taboo in the country is harming or killing lemur (not that you were going to). But people all over Madagascar believe the lemurs are reincarnations of their ancestors. This is actually a helpful view, as it keeps the lemur population thriving.
Expect To Tip
Madagascar is one of several countries in Africa where you should expect to tip pretty much everywhere you go, as many people here make their livelihood from tourism (as limited as it may be). You should expect to tip in restaurants, hotels, taxis, and even for small purchases at markets.
Roads Vary A Lot
The quality of roads in the country can vary a tremendous amount, and if you’re renting a vehicle (which many people do), it’s something to look out for. The Route du Sud is generally okay, but other roads can take you on long and winding bumpy paths that are riddled with potholes and washouts.
Get Over Your Fear Of Bugs
You know that hissing cockroach you have seen on reality TV shows that scared you senseless? Well, they are from Madagascar. But cockroaches aren’t the only thing you’ll find on the island, there are plenty of other strange bugs that have developed over the centuries that might startle you. Just get over your fear now, they won’t bother you.
Get Ready To Dance
The Malagasy love to dance and at some point will probably ask you to join in with the festivities. Most of the bars and clubs also feature dancing that goes late into the night. So prepare to get off the bar stool and boogie!
Don’t Forget Health Precautions
Last but not least, you definitely need to take some proper health precautions before going to Madagascar. Typhoid and malaria are both prevalent in the country (especially in rural areas) — so be sure to check with your doctor or a travel clinic before you head out.
This article was originally published on June 29, 2015.