Madagascar is an island located in the Indian Ocean, 250 miles off the Southeastern coast of Africa, across the Mozambique Channel at the southern part of the equator. Over 1000 miles (1580 km) long and 350 miles (570 km) wide. Madagascar is considered part of the African continent, though it is many miles away from Africa. Madagascar came into being about 88 million years ago when it broke off from India. It is regarded as the fourth largest island in the world. Its most prominent feature would have to be the steep mountain range paralleling the entire eastern coast.
Initial human settlement of Madagascar occurred between 350 BC and AD 550 by Austronesian people from Borneo. These were joined around AD 1000 by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel from East Africa. The Malagasy is the ethnic group that forms nearly the entire population of Madagascar, and it is divided into eighteen sub-ethnic groups. They are of mixed Malayo-Indonesian and African-Arab ancestry.
Malagasy and French are both official languages of the state; English is rarely used. The majority of the population adheres to traditional beliefs, Christianity, or a combination of both. King Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810) ruled the major kingdom on the island, and his son, Radama I (1810–1828), unified much of the island. The French made the island a protectorate in 1885, and then, in 1894–1895, ended the monarchy, exiling Queen Rànavàlona III to Algiers. A colonial administration was set up, to which the Comoro Islands were attached in 1908, and other territories later. During World War II, the British occupied Madagascar, which retained ties to Vichy France. The current system of government practiced in Madagascar is a Unitary semi-presidential republic and Hery Rajaonarimampianina is the incumbent president.
Hery Rajaonarimampianina, President of Madagascar.
The backpackers and seasoned travelers who make their way here usually aren’t surprised by 40-hour bus rides over potholed roads and hotels that double as brothels. Poverty is rampant, as in 2012, the population of Madagascar was estimated at just over 22 million, 90 percent of whom live on less than two dollars per day. Meanwhile, the landscape is one of contrasts: nature reserves with dazzling wildlife (including 3,000 butterfly species, the famous lemurs, and some of the world’s rarest birds) sandwiched between vast areas ravaged by logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. Madagascar Island is where travelers seeking exotic wildlife in a remote tropical setting should give a thought as over 90 percent of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. However, the island’s diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are currently being threatened by the encroachment of the rapidly growing human population and other negative environmental factors.
As you might suspect, you’ll find great hiking (and mountain biking), white sand beaches (though sharks can be a problem) and classic coral reefs for divers. The Island has several street markets, botanical gardens, a zoo, and museum. There’s even a resort island (Nosy Be) with restaurants and nightspots, but that’s probably not what will bring you here. What will draw you is an interest in Malagasy culture (the music has topped world charts) and a desire to walk into rain forest on a misty dawn to hear the eerie, wailing calls from troops of indri lemurs.
See also: 10 Super Delicious Madagascar Foods