Madagascar’s Towns & Culture
Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island, over twice the size of the UK. The culture of the island is a fusion that reflects the melting pot of influences over the centuries from East Africa and southeast Asia.
I came to see lemurs but I loved seeing the amazing craftsmanship in the towns we passed through.
Madagascar’s main city of Antananarivo, or Tana as it is widely known, is the start and endpoint of all holidays to the island, this is where the main airport is located. This is where you will first dip into the culture of the island.
Traditional beliefs and values are important to the Malagasy people. There are around 18 ethnic groups, each with its own traditions, though some do overlap. You will see the differences as you travel the island. Around half the population practice Christianity and these religious beliefs may often be integrated with traditional ones. Around 7% of the population are Muslim.
- Antananarivo: This bustling capital city is home to around 1.2 million people. It’s busy, ramshackle in parts and traffic is an issue. Look beneath that and there’s a colourful, rustic vibe steeped in history and full of charm. With colonial architecture, palaces, churches, busy markets and boutiques, it’s worth taking a city tour at the very least. And views, did we mention the views?
- Antsirabe: This spa town lies on the main RN7 route about halfway between Tana and Ranomafana. Soothe any aches and pains in the thermal baths. See local craftsmen making everything from sweets, bicycles and intricate lacework. There are strong colonial influences here, with wide, tree-lined streets, faded white villas, and an impressive cathedral too. Colourful pousse-pousse (rickshaws) race through the town transporting passengers from A to B.
- Ambositra: Also on the RN7, nestled in a pretty, green valley Ambositra is renowned for skilled Zafimaniry wood carvings and marquetry. Whilst many visitors don’t stay overnight it is definitely worth a stop to refuel (lunch) and have a browse through the shops.
- Ambalavao: Still on the RN7 is Ambalavao, a typical central highlands town. This is where Antaimoro paper is made, traditional Malagasy papyrus based paper embedded with wild flowers. Twice a week, (Mondays and Thursdays) herdsmen come from miles around to buy and sell zebu cattle at the lively market. There is a winery here, and whilst Madagascan wine may not be considered notable, a wine tour is always interesting.