Southern Africa – Madagascar: endearing and famous for wildlife

If you type in “Madagascar” into a search engine and click on images, you will likely see pictures of the country and also images from the animated movie “Madagascar” – a popular movie, w

Southern Africa – Madagascar: endearing and famous for wildlife

If you type in “Madagascar” into a search engine and click on images, you will likely see pictures of the country and also images from the animated movie “Madagascar” – a popular movie, with four delightful main characters; Alex the African lion; Marty the zebra, Florrie the hippo, and Melman the giraffe.

Madagascar

In real life, Madagascar is like no other place on Earth. A hundred and sixty-five million years ago, during the break-up of the prehistoric super-continent, the island of Madagascar was left isolated. This isolation allowed the island’s prehistoric fauna and flora to evolve in their own unique way. There is just something about this special island country and its fauna, not to mention its flora and inhabitants, that one finds naturally endearing.

Perhaps the most familiar of Madagascar’s endemic creatures are the lemurs, one of the first primate families to evolve and one that is now restricted to Madagascar. They display a range of interesting behaviors, from singing like a whale to sashaying across the sand like a ballet dancer. Lemur-watching tours take visitors to the very best wildlife reserves the island has to offer, such as Berenty, Isalo, Ranomafana and Andasibe.

The thriving capital of Antananarivo has caught up with modern times, while retaining its natural charms. The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga and the Queen’s Palace are but a few of the attractions worthy of a visit. There are incredible limestone landscape hikes in Tsingy de Bemaraha and canoeing along the spectacular canyon of the Manambolo River which is inhabited by rare and endangered species.

There are many reserves and parks to explore in Madagascar. The Ankarana Reserve is a small plateau with elevations exceeding 1,220 meters above sea level, and limestone up to 150 million years old. An ideal place to rest between lemur viewing and mountain hiking is Ifaty which is composed of several Vezo villages.

Madagascar boasts many World Heritage Sites from the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve to Ambohimanga, a hill topped by a traditional fortified royal city of the same name. The Rainforests of the Atsinanana became a World Heritage Site in 2007 and consists of 13 specific areas located within six national parks in the eastern part of Madagascar.

But let’s not stop there

It would be worth one’s while to plan a trip to Madagascar that includes other nearby Southern Africa countries, such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Just across the way is the eastern coastline of Mozambique, with Zimbabwe bordering Mozambique on the west.

Mozambique

Mozambique is fast becoming one of Southern Africa’s premier holiday destinations, and for very good reason. This country is home to thriving wildlife, and is a natural beauty with exquisite beaches and a historic heritage.

With its spectacular coastline, washed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, Mozambique offers beaches and pristine coral reefs with a wide range of activities from sailing to horse riding, snorkeling to diving. The white silky sands and balmy waters are teeming with exotic fish species, making it a definite favorite among divers from across the world.

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On the Bazaruto Archipelago, small antelope roam the islands alongside fresh-water crocodiles and samango monkeys, while flamingo nest on the freshwater lakes. The islands are also home to over 240 species of birds. The entire archipelago forms part of the Bazaruto Marine Park, making this reserve one of the largest in the Indian Ocean. In addition to humpback whales, dolphins, manta rays, and five species of turtle, some 100 dugongs survive here.

Moving inland, the Gorongosa National Park stretches along the southern edge of the Great Rift Valley, covering vast areas of savannah, woodlands, and rainforest. Visitors are treated to sightings of lion, leopard, and other large cats, along with buffalo, elephant, warthog, zebra, hippo, crocodile, and a variety of antelope. The bird-life is also quite prolific, with over 200 species having been identified, including the rare green-headed oriole.

Zimbabwe

Keeping with the theme of creatures one may encounter on a vacation in Southern Africa, and hopping over to Zimbabwe, one cannot miss a visit to Hwange National Park – home to vast herds of elephant, buffalo, and zebra. It is also a haven for many endangered species, and the only area where gemsbok, brown hyena, and wild dog occur in reasonable numbers. Here, visitors may view game by car or on walking or horseback safaris.

Dubbed as the world’s greatest animal kingdom, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park links the Manjinji Pan Sanctuary, Malipati Safari Area, and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, as well as two areas between Kruger and Gonarezhou – the Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe, with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, along with the Makuleke region and Kruger National Park in South Africa. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park presently covers 35,000 square kilometers but will eventually expand to a staggering 100,000 square kilometers.

Getting from place to place

Any tourist from any nationality can enter Madagascar with an initial tourist visa if staying no longer than 30 days and if your passport does not expire within six months after your final date of stay. This type of visa can be obtained on arrival. Probably the simplest way to get to the island is via its national carrier, Air Madagascar, which provides long-haul flights from other countries as well as links with other airlines to the island.

All visitors, except citizens of Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius and Zambia will need a visa to then get into Zimbabwe, which can be obtained on arrival at some airports (Maputo, Vilankulo and Pemba), at some land borders and at Mozambican (and some British) embassies/high commissions/consulates. Again, the easiest way to get here is by plane with a number of airlines flying in from various places.

ABOUT RETOSA

The Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) is a Southern African Development Community (SADC) institution responsible for tourism growth and development. In part, the aims of RETOSA are to increase tourist arrivals to the region through sustainable development initiatives, improved regional competitiveness, and effective destination marketing. The organization works together with Member States’ tourism ministries, tourism boards, and private sector partners. For more information about RETOSA, go to www.retosa.co.za

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