Famous for its incredible biodiversity and stunning natural landscape, Madagascar has been working its way up on the tourist track in recent decades. Whether you plan to visit for the delicious local food, mind blowing wildlife or rich culture, you’re in for an adventure. Here are some of the most interesting facts about Madagascar from its insanely rich wildlife to its strange pirate era.
7 Interesting Facts About Madagascar
1. It’s one of the world’s largest islands
At a whopping 226,917 square miles, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the entire world. It’s surpassed only by Borneo, New Guinea and of course, mighty Greenland. Even more impressive, Madagascar is larger than Thailand, Sweden, Spain and even Germany. At more than 26 million people who call Madagascar home, it has the population to back up the size, too.
2. It’s a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers
It’s no secret that Madagascar is incredibly rich in biodiversity. However, just how rich may surprise you. Of just 17 countries that are considered to be megadiverse, Madagascar makes the cut. This is largely thanks to its isolation and the fact that it took humans hundreds of thousands of years to discover it. Madagascar is also home to more than half the world’s chameleons and several unique lemur species.
3. Humans discovered it very late
Speaking of Madagascar’s remoteness and late discovery – settlers arriving by canoes from the Sunda Islands and East Africa around 500 AD discovered Madagascar. By that time, homo sapiens had already been in Africa for 300,000 years. Interestingly, the island lies near to Bantu-speaking Africa; however, Malagasy belongs to an Austronesian language family.
4. It is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Madagascar boasts three incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites that speak to its rich cultural and natural diversity. Among them are the 500 year old burial site of Ambohimanga’s Royal Hill; the lush rainforests of the Atsinanana and the vastly breathtaking Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve famous for its dramatic limestone landscape.
5. It was a favourite among pirates
If lost treasure chests and storied pirate ships are your thing, Madagascar has a treat for you. Thanks to its countless secluded coves and relative secrecy from Europe, Madagascar was a popular hiding spot for pirates. In fact, Ile Sainte-Marie, four miles off Madagascar’s shimmering east coast was referred to as the Island of Pirates on world maps of the time. Other stories include Captain James Mission’s alleged anarchist colony of pirates in the late 1600s.
6. Bare-knuckle fighting is a beloved sport
You’ve heard of martial arts, krav maga and jujitsu, but have you heard of moraingy? This bare-fisted fighting style originated in Madagascar and is considered to be a national sport. Also known as Malagasy boxing or moringue, it’s one of the most intense fighting styles out there and definitely not for the faint of heart.
7. Madagascar was once a French colony
Marco Polo was the first European to arrive in Madagascar, followed shortly after by the Portuguese in the 1500s. However, a few hundred years later in the late 19th century, it was actually the French who colonised the island and declared French its official language. Fortunately, by 1960 Madagascar gained independence, however, much of the French influence can still be felt today.