Madagascar, as the fourth-largest island in the world, has an impressive variety of landscapes to explore. From Baobab Alleys and Spiny Forests to Red and Grey Tsingy Formations. It contains impressive vistas found nowhere else on earth. Visitors to Madagascar have the incredibly fortunate opportunity to explore a vastly diverse range of worlds all on one island and be amazed by landscapes that developed in isolation for millennia. To learn more about the diversity on offer please read below.
The Baobab Forest
Baobabs are ancient trees that look like they’ve been turned upside down with their roots stretching up into the sky. Madagascar is home to 7 of the 9 species found in the world, the other two are found in Australia and the mainland of Africa. The Menabe region on the west side of the island is where you will find the largest grove of baobabs in Baobab Alley, a collection of just over 20 striking baobabs, up to 800 years old, and growing up to 30 metres high. The trees line a simple dirt road and the rest of the vegetation is sparse. Walking amongst the towering giants is almost like travelling in time back to a prehistoric era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Baobab Alley is a magnificent sight at sunrise or sunset, with stark silhouettes high against a red and orange sky. This is the best time to visit and take pictures. Baobabs are found through Madagascar but the Baobab Alley is absolutely not to be missed.
These razor sharp limestone karsts form an almost impenetrable mineral forest, the largest one found in the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. The pointy rock formations are known as Tsingy, the Malagasy word for “where one cannot walk barefoot” a rather apt description for these grey jagged pinnacles that were once a smooth plateau raised above sea level, that over a period of about 200 million years was eroded by heavy rainfall, winds and flood resulting in the cliffs, canyons and caves found today. Travellers can explore these formations (in sturdy shoes) over a series of bridges, ladders, walkways and even ropes. If they are lucky they can spot lemurs jumping around seemingly unbothered by the spiky rocks. Amongst the labyrinth of rugged terrain certain types of endemic flora flourish, with new species being discovered regularly, making this otherworldly stone forest a must-visit in Madagascar.
Further to the north near Diego Suarez we find the Tsingy Rouge, or Red Tsingy. These sandstone formations are slightly similar to the grey Tsingy of the west in appearance, forming pointy towers as well and also caused by erosion but unfortunately are quite different in that they have only appeared recently as a result of deforestation. The red clay soil that is found throughout Madagascar in this case is affected by erosion from slash and burn agriculture as well as landslides, revealing pink sandstone formations made of laterite underneath (and not limestone like the more common Tsingy). The red Tsingy won’t last forever and over time may completely disappear but at the moment they are quite a beautiful sight to observe with their shades of pink and red that glisten in the sun, and a reminder of nature’s way of reacting to what man throws at it.
The Spiny Forests or Thickets found near Ifaty in the southwest of Madagascar is an incredibly unique eco-region found only in Madagascar, with 95% of the flora found here being endemic. It’s an incredibly dry region and the plants are characterized by their thorny and spiny exteriors much like cacti but have the distinction of still being woody, the flora has adapted specially to these arid conditions. In fact, experts cannot agree whether it should be called a desert or a forest and have settled on using the term thicket. The bizarre landscape resembles a Dr. Seuss book, dotted with spiny octopus trees and swollen baobabs and of course lemurs. Previously there were even ten-foot tall elephant birds and gorilla-sized lemurs who are sadly now extinct but the area is still a wonder to behold.
The Mangrove forest biome on the west coast of Madagascar is included in the WWF’s Global 200 list of most outstanding ecoregions and a new study estimates the amount of carbon stored in Madagascar’s mangrove forest indicates their value as being amongst the most carbon-rich forests on earth. Furthermore, these beautiful wetland forests are an important habitat for wildlife, many of which are endemic to Madagascar. Birdlife is especially prolific with the Madagascan Fish Eagle often observed diving down to catch fish. Visitors to Madagascar can kayak through these lush estuaries and lose themselves in a vibrant green world of calm waters teeming with birds, lemurs, and crabs. For a mangrove to thrive it needs protection from monsoons and ocean storms, the sheltered west coast of Madagascar is a perfect environment for this important biome.