Madagascar Highlights

Hop aboard your raft and drift from mainland Africa to the mysterious island of Madagascar, home to thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth.


Ambiky is a small town in Madagascar. The population is estimated at only 2,000 people. Because of the small size and relative distance from anything else, only primary schooling is available. 

The main employment of Ambiky comes in the form of raising livestock and farming. Farmers grow crops such as rice, cassava, and sweet potatoes.


Bicycles are the main mode of transport for getting around town. They’re cheap, easy to maintain, and when packed right, bikes can carry plenty of cargo.


Children of Ambiky generally live in poor conditions, with little access to schooling or drinking water, and 1 in 4 children between the ages of 5 to 17 have to work in the fields with their parents.

Mangoky River

The Mangoky River flows through an isolated part of Madagascar. Outrigger canoes like this have a single outrigger (float) to help stabilize them. Boatmen use the canoes to ferry supplies or take tourists on overnight trips past the baobab forests.

Nosy Manandra

Nosy Manandra means Manandra Island, and it’s a unique piece of land. Laying low and close to sea level, this island is a sandbar, a raised piling of sand caused by tides. Due to its nature, Nosy Manandra disappears according to the whims of high tides and storms. 


We can see the tip of the island dip beneath the waves. Imagine walking to the end of an island and slowly descending into the ocean with each step.

Fishermen who build shelters here are constantly having to move to the coast to avoid having their homes swept out to sea during the spring high tides and the winter rainy season.

Outrigger Canoe

Outrigger sail canoes are used to fish, as well as to move people and supplies between Nosy Manandra and the mainland of Madagascar. They’re built from local materials and are light, but fast and strong.

Mozambique Channel

Nosy Manandra is part of the Barren Isles archipelago in the Mozambique Channel. The channel separates Madagascar from Mozambique and the rest of Africa.


Ambalahonko is a town in northern Madagascar. In 2001 the population was a mere 6,000 people, nearly all of whom were farmers, growing mostly coffee and oranges, as well as cocoa and vanilla. Some of the community make money through fishing, as Ambalahonko is on the coast.

It’s surrounded by mangroves, which are unique-looking groups of trees with a maze of roots that extend into the water. Mangroves have evolved to survive broad ranges of salinity, temperature, and moisture.

Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean surrounds Madagascar and is home to many small islands scattered throughout. Sailfish, marlin, and dogtooth tuna are a few of the gamefish in these waters, and there are many coral reefs.


Mangroves protect coastal areas from erosion because of how their massive root systems grips the sand below the water, dissipating waves and protecting the low-lying land behind. The root systems house many organisms including algae, barnacles, sponges, oysters, and crabs.

Rice Farms

Rice farmers of Ambalahonko worry about erosion of the mangrove forests due to human intervention and cyclone damage. Without the protection of the mangroves, rice crops are easily destroyed by rising waters.

Nosy Komba

Nosy Komba is a small rainforest-covered island off the northwest coast of Madagascar. It’s volcanic in origin and has interesting and unique rock formations. Nosy Komba is a popular tourist destination and must be approached by canoe. 

It’s most famous for a black lemur population, and visitors come to the island for the lemur reserve. Its name, Nosy Komba, literally translates as Lemur Island. The main settlement of the small island is the village of Ampangorinana.

Madagascar Lemurs by Loomis DeanLIFE Photo Collection

Black Lemur

The black lemur is endemic to Madagascar. Some black lemurs also have blue eyes, and they’re the only primate other than humans to have them. Black lemurs are no more than two feet long, and females are often brown.

Tourist Trade

There’s a heavy tourist trade on Nosy Komba. Cruise ships ferry travelers back and forth on small boats from Nosy-Be for a chance to experience the lush tropics, to spot black lemurs, and to buy local handicrafts.

Coral Reef

The snorkeling at Nosy Komba is fairly easy and gentle, with reefs that are home to thousands of types of sea life. Sea turtles to moray eels patrol the blue waters, with dolphins and humpback whales seen in summer months.

Ambanja Bay

At the northernmost tip of Madagascar, Ambanja Bay is threatened with mangrove deforestation driven by charcoal production from unsustainable sources. 

Eco-tourism is popular in the area as a way to educate people about the dangerously over-harvested mangrove trees, and also the lemur population. To the south, the town of Ambanja has primary and secondary schools as well as a permanent courthouse, hospital, and small airport.


As they’re harvested, mangroves drop seeds naturally, which helps to repopulate the forest. Currently, much of the charcoal harvest is taken from unsustainable sources, and the trees have little chance of re-seeding themselves.


When mangroves are harvested for charcoal in areas where the forests are not being managed, everything is cut, and there’s nothing left to repopulate. Without the mangrove forests, the island’s beaches are at greater risk of erosion.

Replanting Efforts

Students and locals are being taught sustainable methods to replant mangrove trees to aid in the conservation efforts. They do plantings every month, and there are attempts at instituting a permit system for harvesting mangrove wood.

Sambirano Valley

Sambirano is an area in the northwest of Madagascar known for the production of high-quality cacao, also known as the "green gold" of Sambirano. Sambirano includes both the Sambirano Valley as well as the Sambirano River...

...which runs from the foothills of the Tsaratanana Massif into the Ampasindava Bay, where it joins with the Ramena River, south of Ambanja. The area is prone to micro-climates, causing floods that leave deposits that then serve as natural fertilizers for the cacao plants.

Cacao Farms

The peak months for cacao growth are June/July and October/November. Once harvested, the dried, fermented seeds, or cocoa beans, are used to make chocolate. The high-quality cacao beans grown here produce low-bitterness dark chocolate.

Divided River

The river is divided into two parts, the upper Sambirano (upstream) and the lower Sambirano (downstream). Its natural, unspoiled beauty attracts visitors from around the globe.

Flower Plantations

As well as cacao, the area’s microclimate is perfect for the growth of flower plantations such as coffee and spices, including vanilla, pepper and bay rose, as well as perfume plants (ylang ylang, vetiver, patchouli).

Toliara Market

Toliara, or Tuléar, in the southwest of Madagascar is known by locals as “the white city” due to the light colors of its colonial-style buildings, which were built during the period when the French ruled Madagascar. 

The downtown craft market called "Tsena Cociagy” sells handicrafts to tourists. A port city with access to the Great Reef, Toliara also rests at the meeting place of the savannah, bush, and grassy plains.


Pousse-pousse are brightly painted bicycle cabs that pull people from place to place. They were introduced at the end of the 19th century by the Chinese, who came to the island to build the railways and the Canal des Pangalanes.


It’s easy to get fresh fruit in the market stalls. Native fruits include some we might be familiar with, such as apples, bananas, and avocados, but there are some we may not know, such as baobab, breadfruit, and custard apple.


Numerous handicrafts are available to purchase from the market including woven reed baskets, traditional lamba cloth worn like a scarf, and jewelry made from seashells. Tourists should avoid buying anything made out of protected species, such as coral.

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