Our recommendation to visit Madagascar
Madagascar Travel advice
Events and festivals in Madagascar
The popular festivals in Madagascar are a mix between Catholic festivals and tribal festivals. This country is not only peculiar for its original unique biodiversity, but also for its deep-rooted customs.
To understand the popular festivals and festivities in Madagascar, you should keep in mind that approximately 55% of the population follow traditional beliefs and practices. The remaining 40% practice Christianity, both Catholics and Protestants, while only 5% are followers of Islam.
One of the things you have to know is that, for the Malagasy, the soul is immortal, therefore, they consider death to be the most important part of life. One of the most relevant popular festivals in Madagascar follows this belief: the Famadihana Festival or The Turning of the Bones.
This festival is held every seven or nine years, there is no specific date for it. During the ceremony, the graves of deceased loved ones are exhumed. Then, with the bodies on their heads, relatives take the dead in a procession back to the town or a special place where they continue the ceremony. During the ceremony, the living relatives share a party with the dead where they eat, drink and even dance with the bodies.
In addition to this peculiar celebration, in Madagascar there are also other deeply rooted traditions. These include the custom of burying the umbilical cord of new-born children. Another custom related to babies is to cut some of their hair when they turn three months old. The baby's hair is mixed with honey and roots and relatives eat it as a rite of passage.
Furthermore, all Malagasy houses should face west, since they consider that sunlight is at its best when it sets. In turn, the head of the bed should face north, a place of power. And if you have to take a trip or go to an important event, never leave home without receiving the blessing of the elderly, for their blessings are powerful.
But let's continue with the popular festivals in Madagascar, to see which festivities are celebrated each month, and which are most prominent.
On January 1, the Malagasy celebrate the Catholic New Year, but also the Taom-baovao, or Malagasy New Year, of which the date varies each year.
February and March
Towards the end of February and beginning of March, depending on the year, Alahamadi is celebrated, a popular festival where music never stops and both locals and tourists enjoy various shows. On top of that, 29th March is the Martyrs Day of the 1947 Insurrection, or Martioran`ny tolona tamin`ny.
April and May
In April, after the first full moon of spring, Alatsinain`ny Paska is celebrated, Easter Monday. At the end of May however, one of the most beautiful folk festivals in Madagascar takes place, the Santabary or celebration of the first rice harvest.
Also in May, the 25th, is the Day of the O.U.A. (Organization of African Unity), Andronì Afrika, or commemoration of the creation of the Organization for Unity of Africa. This organization was replaced by the UA (African Union) on 9th July 2002.
June and July
If you are in Madagascar in June, you can attend the Traditional Music Festival in Nosy Be. You can also attend the Donia Music Festival that is usually held in early June. But in this month, the most important holiday in Madagascar is Independence Day, Fetim-Pyrenees, Madagascar's Independence from the French colonisation, on June 26th.
August and September
In Madagascar on August 15th, the Assumption, or Asompsiona, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is also celebrated. And if you are in Antananarivo on September 27, you can attend one of the most original popular parties in Madagascar: St. Vincent de Paul Day, a feast of universal repentance and compassion. On this day, you can see the performances of local Hira-gashi theatres and fireworks.
November and December
On November 1st Madagascar also celebrates All Saints' Day or Fetin’ny olomasina. Between November and December the Gasytsara Music Festival also takes place. But it is in December that locals celebrate Christmas or Krsmasy altogether. For local residents Christmas is one of their most important festivities, and on that day, they sing hymns and organise performances and concerts.
As you can see, October is the only month where there are no popular festivals in Madagascar. The rest of the year you can complete your trip by attending one of the most traditional festivities.GO TO EVENTS
Food in Madagascar
If you don’t know what to eat in Madagascar, you need to bear in mind that Madagascan cuisine is influenced by Arabia, China, France and India. Get ready for spicy dishes with a lot of chilli, onion, garlic, ginger, curry and tomatoes.
To begin talking about Madagascan gastronomy, we will start with breakfasts. In this country, the traditional breakfasts consist of a plate of rice with fried chorizo or egg. This dish is accompanied by French bread with butter and condensed milk. As you can see, a perfect breakfast to explore this country full of energy.
To make the typical dishes of Madagascar, a base of rice is mainly used, served with some type of accompaniment. To accompany the rice, there are vegetarian and meat options. In either case, the dishes are always dressed with a sauce that contains ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, salt, vanilla, and curry powder.
In the more arid parts of the south of Madagascar, families who survive on shepherding, usually substitute rice for maze or yucca. They accompany this dish with a curd made of fermented zebu milk.
Of course, throughout the island there is a large range of tropical fruit, such as the tamarind, mango, guava, coconut, pineapple or avocado. Local production includes fruit juice, coffee, herbs and black tea, which are widely consumed. Another section worth considering is alcoholic drinks, which we will talk about at the end.
So, let’s discover the typical dishes to eat in Madagascar that you must try during your trip.
This vegetable soup is generally served as a starter and forms part of the dishes you must eat in Madagascar. The stock of this soup is the one that is almost always used to boil the recurring rice that is the base of nearly all of its cuisine.
Fish in coconut sauce
If you like fish, something you must try in Madagascar is the famous dish of fish in coconut sauce which is served in coastal areas. Fish, generally grilled, is served accompanied by vegetables and pasta, with the country’s typical spicy sauce.
This typical dish of Madagascar consists of chicken and rice. The lean meat of the chicken is used to make it, which is roasted with different spices, especially chilli and onion. It is served on a lettuce leaf accompanied by boiled rice. It is a simple but tasty dish.
One of the typical dishes to eat in Madagascar is ravitoto, which consists of mashed cassava leaves accompanied by pork or zebu meat. Of course, it is served with rice and a spicy ginger and chilli sauce.
Perhaps the star of the typical dishes of Madagascar, or at least the best known. It consists of a stew of diced zebu meat, which is cooked with tomatoes, onion, ginger and bredes, a type of spicy cress. The stew is served with white rice, of course.
Hena Kisoa Sauce
Another of the stews to eat in Madagascar if you like meat is this dish made with pork. To make it, the same method is used as for making Romazava, but pork is used instead of zebu meat.
Also known as Mosakiky, this dish from Madagascan gastronomy consist of skewers of zebu meat, accompanied by rice. The meat is barbecued and the traditional spicy sauces is added to give it flavour.
Those who love meat will enjoy trying this dish, it is a type of black pudding which is served with white beans and boiled rice. Quite a hearty dish, both in flavour and because of the mix of ingredients.
Eel with pork
Eels from part of Madagascan gastronomy, especially in some specific areas. To make this dish, pork is used, which is cooked with tomatoes, chives, collard greens and peppers. It is obviously served with boiled rice.
To finish, we have to mention the desserts, which, as well as including fresh tropical fruits (tamarind, mango, pineapple, lemon, guava, avocado and coconut), also includes all types of French pastries, as well as chocolate.
To accompany the food, the national Madagascan drinks that you can try are Toaka Gasy, or Betsabetsa, both are alcoholic drinks obtained from the fermentation of rice or sugar canes. There is also a large production of local rum and a deep rooted tradition of drinking palm wine or Trembo.
So now you know what to eat in Madagascar, make sure you try each dish on your trip.GO TO GASTRONOMY
Shopping in Madagascar
Maybe you don't have any idea what to buy in Madagascar, well, you should know that in this huge African island, craftsmanship is quite original. Natural fibres, as well as recycled cans and serve as raw material to make many practical and decorative objects, as well as the recycling of cans and plates.
Perhaps one of the most famous traditional products to buy in Madagascar is vanilla. Great chefs favour the vanilla from this, not only for adding flavour to desserts, but also fish and meat.
This sought-after flavour has even led to unprecedented clashes in the African country. The value of vanilla pods is such that it is endangering the habitat where it is grown.
However, leaving this subject, in addition to vanilla, Madagascar is famous for a large amount of other souvenirs, including baobab seeds, raffia, essential oils, crafted wood, coffee and recycled objects.
From all of these, we will see below which typical Madagascan products are most popular with travelers.
One of the typical things to buy in Madagascar as a souvenir of the country are the seeds of the famous Baobab tree. Many tourists take a small bag of seeds from this giant tree, which will take up to three years to germinate and flaunt all of its splendor. While it requires great patience to see the result of the memory of your travels, it is worth the wait.
Madagascar's famous Antemoro paper has a grainy appearance, is an off-white and often dried flowers are embedded in its finish. Its origin dates back to the seventh century from the hands of Arab immigrants. With this paper you can buy envelopes and letter paper, covers for books, agendas, etc. Its manufacturing follows the oldest artisan procedures.
The Zafimaniry are an ethnic group in southeastern Madagascar, and are known for being skilled wood craftsmen. In their vast repertoire of works of art you can find the most exquisite products typical of Madagascar. Chess games, wooden figures, sculptures, chests, blowguns amongst many others will make your choice very difficult. Not in vain, the work of the Zafimaniry has been included as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Other souvenirs to buy in Madagascar are objects made from vegetable fibers. Generally artisans use raffia, palm and reed to make hats, baskets, and all kinds of household utensils. With these natural materials they make beautiful decorative and practical objects that can be made into a magnificent travel gift.
Artisan Gems and Stones
Gems such as colomite, rose quartz, labradorite and rock crystal are typical products to buy in Madagascar, in the form of ashtrays, polished balls, eggs, and many other decorative objects. With these beautiful semi-precious stones, artisans craft all kinds of objects by hand as a form of Madagascan souvenir.
If you like music, what better souvenir than a flute, a drum set or a traditional Madagascar zither. Bamboo is the main raw material with which artisans make extremely varied musical instruments, which are used in most of the country's festivals and ceremonies.
If there is one quintessential souvenir to buy in Madagascar, it is something made from recycled tin. With empty cans and sheets, an emerging craft trade has grown, the materials of which are used to create handcrafted toys, jugs, goblets, showers, and lots of objects both for everyday and decorative use. Undoubtedly one of the most ecological and original souvenirs you can find in this country.
In addition to all of the above, essential oils are another of the most original souvenirs to buy in Madagascar. Cinnamon, ginger and helichrysum essential oils are unique for their quality and aroma. It is not only the perfect gift for the most demanding friends and family, but also an exquisite souvenir from your trip.
The star of all traditional products to buy in Madagascar is undoubtedly their coffee. Nothing more, nothing less, it is the most expensive coffee in the world. A treat for the palate The Robusta and Arabica varieties are a treat for the palate, with the Robusta being of the highest quality, which is mostly exported to Europe, especially to France.
With all this, now you know the traditional products from Madagascar, it will be easier for you to choose the perfect vacation souvenir during your trip.GO TO SHOPPING
Madagascar tourist attractions
More information about Madagascar
Surely you've heard of the island of lemurs and baobabs, an island that has inspired hundreds of legends, especially about pirates. And yes, they are true, at least in part, because there is evidence of the passage of piracy in Madagascar. The Sainte-Marie Cemetery, for example, is where a large number of pirates are buried. It is also said that millions of years ago most of the native animals that today populate the country, first arrived in Madagascar. These four-legged castaways have given rise to the million species that exist today on the island. A holiday to Madagascar will help you to get to know these amazing animals for yourself.
The Republic of Madagascar, located off the southeastern coast of Africa, is the fourth largest island in the world. Divided into twenty-two regions, the capital of Antananarivo is home to almost two million inhabitants. Next in importance is Fianarantsoa, famous for its numerous churches. Toamasina, to the east, is the most important port on the island, while Antsiranana, to the north, is the most cosmopolitan port. The Morondava region, home to fishing villages, is also worth visiting on your tour of Madagascar, as well as the exotic Nosy Be, known for its fragrant ylang-ylang plantations. And speaking of fragrances, there is also Sambava one of the largest producers in the world of vanilla. How about a package-tour of Madagascar to discover it all?
History of Madagascar
The origin of the first settlers on Madagascar might surprise you, since it was populated first by Indonesians rather than Africans, despite being much closer to Africa. Hence, many of its inhabitants retain Asian customs typical of the Southeast Asian region. Subsequently, the Bantu came from the neighbouring continent of Africa. Between the 5th and 15th-centuries, Arab and Persian merchants began to arrive in the north of the island. Soon the Portuguese, Spanish, English and French attempted to take control of the island, although this was not achieved for a number of centuries.
During the incursions of the European colonisers and their numerous voyages to Madagascar, many locals were captured to be sold as slaves in Peru. For this reason, there are still Mangache communities in this South American country today. In addition, hundreds of pirates arrived on the island, the most famous of all was Thomas Collins who was appointed as governor of his pirate colony.
From that moment, in 1642, the French, after capturing and sentencing the famous pirate to death, tried to take control of the island. The different kings of Madagascar were undecided between collaborating and rejecting the settlers, but it was between 1882 and 1895 that the war against the French broke out. France took control of the island in 1895, after defeating Ranavalona III, queen of Madagascar at that time. But the unrest did not stop there as the island was occupied by the British in 1916 to prevent Japan from invading. In 1946, France declared Madagascar an overseas French territory before it finally achieved independence in 1960. The decades since have seen a number of different political conflicts and military coups. The current president, Andry Rajoelina, was proclaimed as transitional president in 2009, although it has not been recognized by the African Union or by the United Nations, as they believe he came to power by force.
Culture of Madagascar
Before starting your trip to Madagascar, it is worth knowing a little about the islands fascinating culture. The culture of Madagascar has its roots in the Malagasy people, who were the first colonizers of the island. Although there are different ethnic mixtures and clans, as well as Christian believers and a Muslim population in the north of the country, most of the inhabitants of the island practice the beliefs of their ancestors. The religious beliefs of most Malagasy people are focused on the worship of their deceased ancestors. They are bearers of wisdom, power and protection, and to gain their blessings it is necessary to perform ceremonies and make offerings of food and animal sacrifice.
On the other hand, the ‘Ombiasy’, or sorcerer-healer, also plays a significant role in the community and are in charge of preparing protective amulets and healing the members of their community. Fortune-tellers, known as Mpanandro, have their place in Malagasy society, being highly respected since they have a heavy influence on decision-making within the community. As for language, Malagasy and French are spoken in Madagascar, although it must be said that there are up to twenty-two dialects of Malagasy. Its more than 18 ethnic groups form a melting pot of customs and traditions, which make a holiday to Madagascar an incredible adventure!
Passport with a minimum of six months validity.
An entry visa is required. You can obtain a visa on arrival for approx. $37, to be paid in cash. 2 recent passport photos are required.
French and Malagasy.
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The capital of Madagascar is Antananarivo.
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