Baobabs / Madagascar

Madagascar is a difficult country to plan ahead for because there are so many natural sites to visit, each of which is remote and a feat to reach. We wanted to spend time on the southwest coast for scuba and surfing (around Andavadoaka and Toliara), but we could NOT miss the baobabs! Unfortunately, the largest baobabs of the Allée des Baobabs are on the midwest coast near Morondava, about 160 miles away. Both our time spent with the baobabs and our choice of transportation are now highlights of our Madagascar trip.

Getting there…

We took a 14 hour taxi-brousse (packed vans known for going fast and breaking down) from Antananarivo (Tana) to Morondava, the nearby town with hotels and restaurants. From here, we kicked off a tour with a private driver to Réserve Forestière de Kirindy (3 hours away) and Allée des Baobabs (1 hour away). The baobabs are on the same road to the park, so you can visit them at sunrise and sunset on the way back from the park if you’re guide is up for it – you might have to kill some time in the village nearby. We ended up catching sunrise which was magnificent, especially in the off season when we were the only tourists. There are over 20 trees here, each about 30 meters high and up to 800 years old!

Though the growing human population in Madagascar is a constant threat to the natural world, at least the baobabs are considered sacred by locals and are called renala in Malagasy, “mother of the forest.” As tourism increases and rice paddies continue to encroach on their territory, the Allée des Baobabs will need to be established as a park, with fees and rules for tourists. Currently, there’s no oversight by the government and we could wander where we pleased, which allowed us the epic opportunity to wrap our arms around one and gaze up. It’s also unfortunate to see all the kids there asking for “money Madame,” surely encouraged by their parents. If you’re lured in by these glassy eyed cute kids and take a photo, then have some small bills handy.

Afterwards, we stopped in a nearby village for coffee and fried dough and rice patties (risky, but we felt fine after). We then drove on a non-stop bumpy road to Kirindy. If you’re psyched about seeing lemurs then this drive is worth it, but if not then it’s skippable. The lemurs were super curious and climbed as close to us as they could. We skipped the sunset view and instead picked up a sweet family who needed to get their baby to a hospital in Morondava, where they still had to wait for the hospital to open (because the doctor was sleeping).

After three nights, we decided to go by pirogue (sailboat) from Morondava south to Toliara, to limit our time crammed in a vehicle. This was one of the most memorable parts of our time in Madagascar, but we would be hesitant to recommend it (Madagascar by sea). We spent our first night in Belo sur Mer which was a sweet little sun-bleached fishing village. We stayed in a breezy beach shack and shared a grilled fish at night with other travelers. This would be a great overnight trip from Morondava, about 5 hours by pirogue.

While in Morondava, we also did a three hour boat tour. We didn’t really learn much, but they did float us over to a cleaner beach to swim (mind the human poops on the beaches) and we got to sip a coconut in the nearby village. My naive dreams of finding local friends to show us around their village and teach us about their culture quickly disappeared. All tourists are assumed to have an endless supply of money and locals are not too shy to ask. One good thing about standing out as a tourist is that the opportunities, drivers, Vezos (fishermen), and guides will find you (in the street or at your hotel).

The town of Morondava is bustling and fun to walk around, people watch, and (literally) duck into markets. There’s a taxi-brousse station, a few ATMs, two small stores for packaged foods, and an outdoor market for fruits.

Given the long journey, it was 100% worth going to see the baobabs – there’s nothing like them on the planet.

At a glance…

  • Stay at Trecicogne Hotel – for a room for three people it was $7 a night – it was nothing exciting, but very cheap and clean enough with friendly staff. The Baobab Hotel looked nice, had a pool that made our parched mouths water and a good restaurant.
  • Grab a drink at L’Oasis at night for reggae.
  • Visit the Baobabs (they flower between Feb + March)! And pirogue south to Belo sur Mer for the night.
  • Get there by taxi-brousse from Tana. There’s also a little airport, but this taxi-brousse ride is apparently one of the most reliable in Madagascar (since it’s along a paved road).
  • Tips – it’s rude and also fady (taboo) to take photos of people, so refrain or ask for permission. Also mind your things and leave your jewelry and nice clothes at home. Don’t be afraid to bargain, even locals do.

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