Madagascar Basic Facts:Madagascar is one of Africa's most fascinating countries with a unique flora and fauna that has long attracted scientists and wildlife enthusiasts. But more tourists are discovering Madagascar's beaches, and Malagasy music and food as well. Recent political turmoil from 2009 onwards has affected tourism - stay tuned with the latest from the BBC.
Location: Madagascar is an island in the Indian ocean off the coast of Mozambique in southern Africa, (see map).
Area: Madagascar covers an area of 587,040 sq km, (similar in size to Kenya and France).
Capital City: Antananarivo commonly known as "Tana".
Population: Around 20 million people live in Madagascar.
Language: French and Malagasy are the official languages.
Religion: Indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, and Muslim 7%
Climate: Madagascar's climate is tropical along coast with a temperate inland, and arid in the south. Cyclone season is from December to March.
When to Go: The best time to visit Madagascar is from April to October, when it's dry and not too hot.
Currency: Ariary, click here for a currency converter.
Madagascar's Main AttractionsMadagascar is an eco-tourist's dream come true, here are some of the highlights you should not miss:
- Parc National de L'Isalo - A beautiful national park with wonderful sandstone formations and canyons, with crystal clear waterfalls - excellent for hiking with a guide.
- Nosy Be - Madagascar's riviera, Nosy Be is a large tropical island with warm water to swim and snorkel in, and plenty of restaurants and hotels to choose from. For a less developed but equally beautiful island, check out Sainte Marie Island.
- Parc National de Ranomafana - a high altitude rain forest, Ranomafana is home to the bamboo lemur, many birds and reptiles. Logging has removed some of its charm, but the pristine areas are still breathtaking.
- Ifaty - For those on a budget, Ifaty is a great place to relax for a week and wind down on lovely beaches and enjoy a beer and boat ride on the lagoon.
- Parc National d'Andasibe-Mantadia - two parks in one, and home to the largest living lemur - the indri, as well as 13 other species of lemur. The Parc National d'Andasibe-Mantadia is easily accessible from "Tana" and very popular with visitors.
- Antananarivo - the capital is a buzzing place, filled with great restaurants, churches, steep cobbled streets and many historical sights, well worth a few days at the start or end of your trip.
- Berenty National Park - One of Madagascar's most popular parks, great for seeing tame lemurs and experience a true rainforest. It's well set up with accommodations.
Travel to MadagascarMadagascar's International Airport: Ivato International Airport (TNR), lies 9 miles (14 km) north of the capital Antananarivo. Home to Madagascar's national airline - Air Madagascar.
Madagascar's Embassies/Visas: Non-nationals need a tourist visa to enter Madagascar, they can be obtained at the airport on arrival, or at a Malagasy Embassy or Consulate in your home country - this is usually recommended (more about tourist visas).
Madagascar's Economy and Political historyEconomy: After discarding socialist economic policies in the mid-1990s, Madagascar followed a World Bank- and IMF-led policy of privatization and liberalization that has been undermined since the start of the political crisis. This strategy placed the country on a slow and steady growth path from an extremely low level. Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for more than one-fourth of GDP and employing 80% of the population. Exports of apparel have boomed in recent years primarily due to duty-free access to the US. However, Madagascar's failure to comply with the requirements of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) led to the termination of the country's duty-free access in January 2010. Deforestation and erosion, aggravated by the use of firewood as the primary source of fuel, are serious concerns. Former President Ravalomanana worked aggressively to revive the economy following the 2002 political crisis, which triggered a 12% drop in GDP that year. The current political crisis which began in early 2009 has dealt additional blows to the economy. Tourism dropped more than 50% in 2009, compared with the previous year, and many investors are wary of entering the uncertain investment environment
Politics and History: Formerly an independent kingdom, Madagascar became a French colony in 1896 but regained independence in 1960. During 1992-93, free presidential and National Assembly elections were held ending 17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second presidential race, Didier Ratsiraka, the leader during the 1970s and 1980s, was returned to the presidency. The 2001 presidential election was contested between the followers of Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana, nearly causing secession of half of the country. In April 2002, the High Constitutional Court announced Ravalomanana the winner. Ravalomanana achieved a second term following a landslide victory in the generally free and fair presidential elections of 2006. In early 2009, protests over increasing restrictions on opposition press and activities resulted in Ravalomanana stepping down and the presidency was conferred to the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina. Following negotiations in July and August of 2009, a power-sharing agreement with a 15-month transitional period was established, but has not yet been implemented.