Aside from being the namesake of a popular animated film, Madagascar is a site of spectacular biodiversity and home to a number of outstanding tourist destinations. Madagascar is the fourth largest island on planet earth, and covers approximately 227,000 square miles. Madagascar was uninhabited until about two thousand, five hundred years ago, when Austronesian immigrants made their way to the mainland of Madagascar. Eventually, migrants from the African mainland sailed to Madagascar, and additional immigrant groups arrived from Asia, India, and Europe. This diverse mixture of immigrants has contributed to the cultural diversity of Madagascar, which boasts an ethnic and cultural heritage unlike any other in the world. Madagascar’s political landscape was fragmented until the 1700s, when the Kingdom of Madagascar began to emerge as a dominant governmental force. France gained control of Madagascar in the late 19th century and maintained the island as a part of the French empire until the second half of the 20th century. Madagascar’s current government is in flux, although the most widely recognized government entity is the High Transitional Authority. Madagascar has a current population of about twenty million people, with a relatively low per capita income and GDP.
Antananarivo is the capitol of Madagascar, and is located in the plateau highlands about half a mile above sea level. These highlands are home to much of Madagascar’s population, as well as a large amount of red soil, which gives Madagascar the nickname of “The Red Island.” Madagascar has a remarkably diverse selection of flora and fauna, and is an extremely popular destination for eco-tourists from around the world. Aside from its heavily populated highlands and characteristic rainforests, Madagascar boasts several types of other forests, such as tropical dry forests, xeric shrublands, and thorn forests. Madagascar’s highest mountain is Maromokotro, which is nearly 9,500 feet tall, and other tall peaks include Tsiafajavona, Pic Imarivolanitra, Pic Bory, and Pic Soaindra. Madagascar has a relatively warm to mild climate, ranging from a cool May through October to a hot November through April. There are literally thousands of unique plant species on the island of Madagascar, as well as almost one hundred different types of lemurs. Several forests and environmental preserves on Madagascar are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in addition to being popular tourist sites.
Madagascar’s economy relies primarily on tourism, agriculture, mining, and light industry. Specifically, Madagascar produces close to half of the world’s supply of vanilla, as well as a significant quantity of shrimp and lychee. There are a number of oil fields, nickel mines, and coal fields in Madagascar, as well as a number of burgeoning eco tourism sites and resorts. Madagascar boasts a unique mix of culinary styles and performing arts, many of which are the result of cultural fusions from different immigrant groups. Madagascar is also home to a local sport known as maraingy, a martial art, in addition to a board game called fanorona and a French game called petanque. Madagascar’s culture manifests itself in a variety of architectural styles, ranging from brick structures and large Christian cathedrals to traditional Malagasy architecture and Asian-influenced buildings. Over recent years, Madagascar has seen a sharp increase in the number of children enrolled in primary school, a bright sign for the future of the island.