Lying off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, home to a unique ecological environment. The island split off from the ancient landform of Gondwana some 88 million years ago and has since remained an isolated landmass. This has resulted in the spectacular biodiversity for which Madagascar has become known, with an astonishing 90% of its wildlife unique to the island. Similarly, 80% of the island's plant life is found nowhere else in the world. Governed by France until 1960, it has a population of 22 million and a landmass approaching 600,000 square kilometres, so it is relatively sparsely populated and has a rich mix of ethnic groups.
Due to its unique flora and fauna, Madagascar can offer safari holidays like very few other destinations. Around 10% of its area is designated as a protected natural reserve of some kind. It has 21 national parks with six of these - Andohahela, Andringitra, Marojejy, Masoala, Zahamena and Ranomafana - have been jointly awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. You will not find big game like elephant or lion in Madagascar, but you will find lemurs here and nowhere else. This is a broad family of mammals, from the smallest mouse lemur to larger Indri lemurs. There is also an astonishing variety of amphibians and reptiles, with all sorts of chameleons and geckos, most only found on the island.
Safari tours on Madagascar take place at a different scale to those on mainland Africa. There are no large predators on Madagascar which has meant that the smaller animal inhabitants have been allowed to flourish as well as little danger to humans from the wildlife. Your safari guide can therefore allow you out of the jeep and into the forest to experience the natural world at first hand. This makes it a great destination for families with lots of hands-on activities available to fascinate the children.
When your safari itinerary is complete, you can enjoy some of the many other charms of this fascinating island. The capital, Antananarivo, is a rich tapestry of paddy fields and buildings from the country's colonial past. With scents of jacaranda rising from Lake Anosy in the city centre, the capital also treats the senses with its cuisine, a mix of local specialities and French influences. Madagascar is a year-round destination with a dry season from April to October and a wet season from December to March. The Christmas period can be especially busy in the most popular tourist areas.