The capital and international airport hub of Antananarivo is definitely worth checking out, although I don't feel you need to dedicate too much time there. Tana offers the hustle & bustle of an African capital, as well has pretty good infrastructure. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral is beautiful inside and out with a gothic style design dating back to 1890. There's also a couple of great viewpoints nearby where you can see the National Stadium and Lake Anosy, as well as the war memorial in the centre of the lake. Analakely Market is worth a look to catch a glimpse into everyday life, as well as The Queen's Palace (under renovation July 2022). If capital life gets too much, then pop into Au Bois Vert for a bite to eat and some green tranquility in the heart of the city.
A 4 hour drive south of Tana and you can reach the city of Antsirabe, which is a worthwhile stop en route to the west coast. This popular town in the central highlands is know for its colourful rickshaws, thermal springs, and French colonial buildings. I'd recommend renting a rickshaw and spending an hour covering the key points in this order... Hotel des Thermes, Antsirabe Cathedral, onwards to the central square for the Fahaleovatena tribes monument, pass the local market, then finish up at the colonial gem of Antsirabe train station.
One of the absolute highlights of my trip was definitely Baoab Alley. When I think of Madagascar, two things come to mind... baoab trees and lemurs. The towering height of the baoab trees across a vast landscape is so mesmerising, that it's worth visiting twice! During the day, the crowds are minimal, so you can get your picturesque postcard shots and integrate with the locals, but definitely return for sunset. There's coffee shops, souvenir stores, and plenty of space to stand patiently and gaze at the sunset dropping behind the baoabs.
Tsingy National Park
Tsingy is a slog of a journey to reach, but also very rewarding. One thing I will say is that this is a very dusty pot-hole filled route, combined with two car ferries, so patience is required. Fully deserving of its UNESCO status, this unique landscape of limestone karst formations go as far as the eye can see. The entire National Park covers 579 square miles, but tourists will likely focus on the two plateaus of Great Tsingy and Little Tsingy. The excursion will consist of basic hiking, crawling through tunnels, climbing pre-defined rock steps, and crossing sturdy steel cable bridges. The landscape is dry forest with pockets of green mangrove, and many razor-sharp limestone spires. When the excursion is nearing the finish, you'll walk through a forest area where wildlife spotting, such as lemur is possible.
For my wildlife hotspot, I chose to visit Kirindy due to its close proximity to Baoab Alley and didn't regret it. The forest itself does lack a bit of colour due to the dry climate, but the local local wildlife residents definitely make up for it. The main advice I would give is to definitely use one of the park guides that are available at the entrance. These are trained professionals that are in the forest every day and night, so their spotting skills were incredible. Whereas I was regularly walking straight past wildlife completely oblivious. I saw multiple lemur species, including the grey mouse lemur inside a tree trunk, as well as owls, birds, and small reptiles. Overall, the wildlife I saw far exceeded my expectations.
If you're heading back to Antananarivo after covering off the main sights on the west coast, one option is a twice-weekly flight from Morondava. This 1 hour flight saves 14-16 hours of driving, so is definitely worth considering. Morondava itself, is a nice coastal town where you can spend a day or two relaxing after some fast-paced excursions. The local beach has a really chilled vibe, combined with calm water, and white sand, lined with local restaurants and ice cream vendors. The easiest way to move around this small compact city is via tuk-tuk for a small fee of $2 USD. There's some great street art and a colourful market just off the main high street.
Depending on the time of year, Madagascar can be a great location to spot humpback whales. Majority of tourists head to the island of Nosy-Be in the north, however, there's also Sainte-Marie on the east, which was my chosen destination. This is a beautiful island with white sand beaches, chilled boutique resorts (would recommend Maningory), and plenty to see. I'd recommend checking out the natural pools in the north, along with the rusting Fanilo Albrand lighthouse designed by Gustave Eiffel back in 1931. If you're into unusual sights, then you can also do a 45 minute tour of the pirate cemetery, but the absolute highlight was of course the humpback whale watching (season is June-September).
I stayed in some beautiful accommodation during my Madagascar trip, but the highlight of all was definitely Maisan Galieni in Antananarivo. The building is the former residence of the Consulate General of Monaco and retains much of its charming features. The rooms were a high standard, in addition to further facilities of a library lounge, outdoor seating area, and an upper level dining facility (3-course meal at 19 Euro). For those that work remotely, the WiFi was the fastest I found across the whole country. Combine the facilities with helpful enthusiastic staff and it really is a winner!
I'd definitely say that the restaurants I sampled across the country were hit & miss, but one I'd definitely recommend is Mad Zebu, located in Belo Sur Tsirihina. You'll pass this restaurant in the main town between Tsingy and Baoab Alley. Not the biggest portions, but the quality of dishes was very high. Would definitely recommend the fish fillet, as well as noting multiple vegetarian option.
Prior to my trip, I spent many hours researching various tour companies via Google as well as conversing within my travel circle. After narrowing down, I chose Sense of Oceans based on their prompt reply speed, as well as full taking on board my own focus points within the country. We reverted to Whatsapp and patiently mapped out the route and pricing, whilst comfortably answering all of my questions/concerns. My assigned guide was Zo, who's been guiding tourists for 10 years all across the country. Vehicle was a high quality Toyota Fortuner, so very comfortable when handling the roads, as well as air-conditioning. You can converse with Sense of Oceans via their website, or Whatsapp on +261 34 49 356 07.