Most of Madagascar is humid and relatively cool in the highlands. However this isn’t the case with the dry Western Madagascar. It offers some of the most remote highlights of the country, yet also the most magical.
These include the Avenue of Baobabs, the Kirindy Forest and the remarkable Tsingy de Bemaraha. You can now add the Tsiribinhina River to this list with a scenic, if rustic, river cruise to introduce you to this off-the-beaten-track area.
Morondava is a small town with sandy beaches on the sunny west coast. It’s here that you start to encounter those somewhat eerie Baobab trees. Originally the Morondava area was the centre of the Sakalava kingdom, and their tombs – sadly now desecrated by souvenir hunters – bear witness of their power and creativity. Today Morondava is the centre of a prosperous, rice-growing area. (And it has even successfully introduced ostrich farming to Madagascar.) For visitors it is best known as a seaside resort, with a laidback atmosphere. It is usually the start or end of your Western Madagascar trip.
North of Baobab Alley lies the Kirindy (“swiss”) Forest so it’s not the most accessible of places, being 2 hours’ drive from Morondava.
Kirindy is a tropical dry deciduous forest, the world’s most threatened habitat type. Kirindy Reserve is one of the most rewarding wildlife site. It is famous for the giant jumping rat. But here you can spot 7 species of lemurs. the most common one are: Verreaux’s sifaka, fulvus rufus, red-fronted brown lemurs. It’s one of the island’s best places for mammals, especially nocturnal species like the Fossa. This is the biggest predator in Madagascar. And it looks like a cross between a cat and a dog. You may also see various spiny Tenrecs. In fact Kirindy claims a World Record for primate density in forests of comparable size.
We recommend an overnight stay here so you can do a guided night expedition. It’s the only time that you can see the nocturnal Lemurs including the world’s smallest primate, the Pygmy Mouse lemur. And on the following morning you can head out early into the reserve, before the day visitors arrive from Morondava.
Kirindy is also known for three of Madagascar’s six endemic species of Baobab tree – the whole continent of Africa only has one species!
Avenue of Baobabs
The Avenue of Baobabs is perhaps the most famous, but certainly not the only collection of baobabs on the western coast. However they are definitely the most photographed. These huge trees are at their scenic best at sunset. Then these trees, several hundred years old, will reveal their beauty with the red colours of dusk. These baobabs can be up to 800 years old and 30 metres. The diameter of the largest trees can reach up to 11 metres.
Tsingy in the Bemaraha National Park
Until National Geographic magazine published photos of the tsingy in 1987, very few people – even the Malagasy – knew of this impenetrable wonder land. Until 1998 it was even closed to tourists. Now it is a national park, and well worth the (not inconsiderable) effort of getting there. The scenery rivals anything in Madagascar and it’s a treasure house for botanists.
This strange stone forest of serrated ‘tsingy’ is a 100 meters tall in places. Under the tsingy, there are undiscovered caves, rivers, and canyons. Bats, lemurs, birds and endemic flora have adapted to this unique ecosystem.
How to get there? However big challenge is getting there as it is so remote. Our favourite way is via the River Tsiribinhina Cruise. See our Western Madagascar Adventure safari.
The alternative is to travel north from Morondava and back. Either way, you need TIME. If you don’t have much of that, then consider visiting the Tsingy of Ankarana in northern Madagascar. This is still remote. But it is more easily combined with other highlights and Nosy Be.
How to incorporate Western Madagascar into your holiday
Most of our guests have big expectations of what they want to see. But not enough time. As travelling in Madagascar is a slow process. Nowhere is this more acute than in the West.
Basically you have two options. You can make it your primary destination and cover all the highlights (see Western Madagascar Adventure). Then add on Andasibe National Park to see some of the contrasting rainforests.
OR you can tack it onto a Southern Madagascar trip by flying to Morondava and heading up to Kirindy Forest and then driving inland to continue south. This would add 3 or 4 nights onto our Rainforests and Mountains of the South tour (11 nights)