Madagascar, too big to notice

I met a fellow traveller in transit in the Dubai airport last week who was off on a Madagascan adventure that sounded like the type of quest anyone with a love of the ocean and nature should consider.

Tonguy, from Brittany in France, works on a 70-day rotation as a mechanical engineer on an 80m tuna boat that operates mostly in the Indian Ocean. Seventy days off allows him this latitude to seek out the best places on the planet for surfing, diving and windsurfing, and southwest Madagascar was looking like the promised land as he showed me images on his iPad of what awaited.

Think of Indonesian waves without the crowds and perfect turquoise water framing tropical beaches and you’re already in Madagascar. The 60km between Ifaty and Anakao where he was to be based hosts 18 breaks that are accessible by boat only, but that was all part of what he’d organised with a local guide though Facebook. At least 12 of these breaks are world class on their day from the info he’d got from friends who had been before. He showed me short video clips of a left hand reef break that looks like a mini Teahupoo and another two which are twice as long as Saint Leu in Reunion Island. Then there was a right hander that resembles the best shape and size that Kirra offers on its best day.

Though there are plenty of flights connecting tourists to the capital Antananarivo,  getting your boards and adventure gear to where the water and waves are pumping can be a bit of a mission. Internal flights only get you so far if you’ve got anything large to carry, so the long and uncomfortable rides on a bus await. If you’ve got the right contacts then take the flight and pay a local to accompany your boards on the bus to the destination. With the right contacts that’s only going to cost you around €30, which is the average monthly salary for many Malagasy.

I’d wager that aside from the animated movie most people know little about Madagascar – including its sheer size. At over 580,000km² the main island is the 4th largest on the planet, and still waiting to be fully discovered even by its own nationals. Dominating the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is home to thousands of animal species found nowhere else, plus of course its rainforests, beaches and reefs.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has experienced repeated political instability, including coups, violent unrest and disputed elections. The most recent coup in 2009 led to five years of political deadlock, international condemnation and economic sanctions, though the return of democratic elections in 2013 present a welcome return to the international community and the opportunity to open up on its vast tourism potentials.

What awaits Tonguy right now in Madagascar (apart from perfect waves in warm water) is a country that has a lot to offer at incredibly low prices, with locals who are friendly and welcoming to tourists making it generally a safe yet exciting destination.

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Aleix Cabarrocas Garcia/CC BY 2.0