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Madagascar: a not-so-little island country with an even bigger personality

When most people think Madagascar, they think lemurs, giant baobabs and the group of stowaway animals from the DreamWorks' animation Madagascar. But there’s so much more to this unique Indian Ocean island destination than the hit song, “I like to move it move it.” 

Don’t take our word for it: get to know this magical island up close when you book a direct flight from Johannesburg to Nosy Be or Antananarivo with Sure Travel and Airlink. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about Madagascar:

A dizzying number of cultures

Almost 22 million people call this France-sized island home and this makes for a smorgasbord of foods, cultures and colourful traditions. The island’s Malagasy population has a mix of African, Arab and Indian origins, yet they’ve forged their own unique identity.

From freshly-caught grilled lobster to the tenderest Zebu steak, we’re thankful for plentiful water sports and hiking to burn off most of the inevitable holiday kilos. There’s a strong French culinary influence, yet local twists like sauce coco or lychee and vanilla rum are a real treat.

If you’re taking things at a slower pace and have some time to get to know the locals, don’t miss Famadihana. There’s a strong link between the living and their ancestors in Madagascar, so they celebrate a funerary tradition called “the dancing of the dead” or the “turning of bones”, where the remains of beloved relatives are exhumed from crypts, rewrapped in fresh cloth, and told about the latest family drama and developments. Spooky — and sweet!

This island promises ADVENTURE… in all caps! 

Madagascar is a dream destination for the intrepid traveller — with adventure being the key word here. With only a handful of main roads linking the whole island (including many with potholes and river crossings), part of the thrill of the journey is in getting to your destination.

But there are ways to see the country without the slog. If it’s a little rest and relaxation you’re after, cut out the connections and fly direct from Johannesburg. Lucky for you, Airlink flies direct to Nosy Be, one of the most pristine beaches in the world. Ask our agents for a quote.

It’s a place of true worth 

While Madagascar might not be rich in terms of economic GDP, its fertile soils are rich with sugar cane, rice crops and cassava – a nutty-flavoured, starchy root vegetable. Visit a cocoa, ylang-ylang or vanilla plantation while you’re here, or for a souvenir that’s a little less perishable, a sapphire perhaps? 

In the 19th century, both French and Malagasy hoped to discover precious metals on the island; small-scale mining was conducted (and met with disappointment) — however, people did dig up a variety of gems and semiprecious stones, including garnet, tourmaline, beryl and sapphires. By the beginning of the 21st century, about half of the world’s sapphires were mined in Madagascar.

It's a botanist's dream 

Madagascar boasts an impressive variety of landscapes for its size: from jungle and dry forests to deserts, shrub lands, high peaks, plateaus, swamps and lagoons. 

The island is home to almost 15,000 plant species, over 80% of these are endemic to the island; for instance, 860 species of orchid can be found in the forestry nooks — and 650 are indigenous. Baobabs tower towards the sky. Known as the bottle tree, the baobab is also called “reniala”, which means “mother of the forest” in the Malagasy language. 

Exotic animals you won’t find anywhere else 

Did you know 5% of the world’s known plant and animal species are found in Madagascar alone? The island is exploding with indigenous wildlife, with its lemurs the most well-known (all 103 species of them). Birdlife is spectacular, 240 species of reptile are also present and panther chameleon also calls the island home. 

Located on a whale’s migration route, twice a year giant humpbacks splash and play within view from the coast. Between July and September females come to calve in the warm sea and from October to December, baby whales and their mothers bask in the shallow water of Nosy Be.

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Go there with Sure Travel

Madagascar’s world-class dive sites have never been closer. With direct Airlink flights from Johannesburg to Nosy Be or Antananarivo, you’ll be donning your fins in just 3.5 hours. Contact your nearest Sure Travel agency to enquire or book, or call us for a quote on +27 (0)861 47 48 49.

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