Madagascar is one of those destinations that everyone seems to know about, but relatively few have visited. To be fair, it isn’t the kind of place most people would just jump on a plane to go check out by themselves, but those who do make the journey quickly realise that this island is a very special place. In economic terms Madagascar is not a rich country (only 20% of the population has running water and electricity!), but in terms of culture and natural beauty Madagascar is one of the wealthiest countries on earth.
This past September I was fortunate enough to visit Madagascar and Mauritius with Tours Direct as a co-leader and semi-official tour photographer. Our three-week-long journey took us first to the island of Mauritius – a real gem in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Here we learned about how one million culturally and religiously diverse people coexist peacefully on this dramatically beautiful and fertile island.
From Mauritius it was a short two-hour plane ride to the west to reach Madagascar. We arrived late at night and even though it was dark everyone in the group could sense how different this leg of the tour would be from the tropical island we had just left behind. I woke up at sunrise the next morning and threw open the curtains, eager to see what the capital city of Antananarivo looked like. Our hotel on the hill provided a great vantage point to the bustling city below. The air was surprisingly cold due to the high elevation of the city, and smoke from charcoal-fueled cooking fires billowed from the upstairs windows of many houses. I couldn’t wait to get out and see more.
Our group’s mission was to travel from Antananarivo to the rainforests of the east and then down through the desert of central and southern Madagascar in a convoy of five 4x4 vehicles. Once you see the poor state of the roads in Madagascar you quickly realise that 4x4’s are an absolute necessity here as giant potholes and washed out sections of asphalt are the rule. At one point while passing through central Madagascar our convoy was held up for hours in a traffic jam as the result of a critically damaged bridge. Cars, trucks, buses and zebu carts were backed up for kilometres in both directions, and our expert local guides thankfully managed to get our group to the front of the queue. This was an unforgettable experience, and even though the situation was beyond our control, we really felt that sense of adventure while also witnessing firsthand the resourcefulness of the Malagasy people as they set up roadside camps and cooked food over open fires. Our local driver-guides were excellent, knowledgeable, and highly skilled at driving in the Malagasy style.
Madagascar does not disappoint, and you will see all of the unique flora and fauna that this nation is famous for: Several species of lemurs, chameleons, geckos, birds, unusual insects, baobab trees etc. The national parks are picturesque, clean, and well looked after, with nature guides that know the terrain and wildlife like the back of their hands.
The local people don’t have much in terms of material possessions, but they are some of the friendliest people on earth. The 18 ethnic groups that are indigenous to the island all bring a rich variety of cultural elements to their local regions. The Malagasy people work hard to cultivate rice and vegetables from the land while also building their homes from scratch using locally-sourced materials. Their simple way of living serves as a reminder of the unnecessarily indulgent lifestyles we live in the West. Perhaps we don’t actually need most of the things we think we need.
Please enjoy my photographs from this trip. I hope they make you want to join us on our next tour to Madagascar and Mauritius.
These excellent photos are but a few that Todd took on his recent trip to Madagascar and Mauritius.