Known for its exotic African landscapes preserved off the continent’s mainland, Madagascar is full of iconic landmarks and picturesque vistas known the world over, although you may not know that they belong to the island nation.
Along with housing some of the planet’s most unique, untouched, and biodiverse natural landscapes, Madagascar is home to an exotic history entirely on its own. From the Malagasy culture to French colonialism, the country’s past is seen throughout the destination’s historical cities and traditional architecture.
From unique and recognizable natural land formations to monumental constructions retelling the story of the country’s cultural evolution, these are the 15 most famous landmarks in Madagascar you absolutely should not miss.
The 15 Most Famous Landmarks in Madagascar
1. Baobab Avenue
Perhaps the most iconic landmark in Madagascar, Baobab Avenue has become a popular tourist attraction in recent years thanks to the picturesque Grandidier’s baobab trees that line either side of this unpaved street.
Made famous through social media and travel magazines, the baobab trees found along this stretch of road in Madagascar’s Menabe region are the remains of the dense tropical jungle that once covered the island country up to 2,800 years ago, with the oldest surviving trees found within the area today being about 800 years old.
While Baobab trees can be found throughout the country, Baobab Avenue is by far the most picturesque and promises striking views of the natural monuments along a 250-meter stretch of dirt roads, many reaching up to 30 meters in height.
2. Royal Hill of Ambohimanga
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga has served as one of the most important cultural sites of the Malagasy People since the construction of its fortified royal settlement in the 16th century.
Predating Madagascar’s colonial era, Ambohimanga is one of the best-preserved landmarks in Madagascar attributed to the Merina Kingdom and consists of a royal city, three palaces, a burial site, and several other sacred places scattered throughout the complex.
Despite the Madagascar Monarchy ending with the country’s annexation to the French in 1897, Ambohimanga continues to remain a spiritual and cultural center of the Malagasy people today and is a popular pilgrimage site for the worship of kings and ancestors.
3. Tsingy de Bemaraha
Protected within the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, which together were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, the Tsingy de Bemaraha are karst plateaus that have formed to look like towering forests of limestone needles.
The unique rock formations have become one of the most iconic landmarks in Madagascar and are located near Madagascar’s western shores, primarily in the Antsalova District, with a small portion reaching into the Morafenobe District.
While the towering limestone cliffs are a sight to behold on their own, the national park and nature reserve are also home to an abundant biodiversity consisting of several species of plants and animals endemic to the island nation.
Along with its limestone cliffs, the Tsingy de Bemaraha also promises diverse ecosystems within hidden forests tucked away within the rock formations and the underground rivers that flow below.
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4. Red Tsingy
While not as extensive as Tsingy de Bemaraha, the Red Tsingy in northern Madagascar is another of the country’s most iconic landmarks and consists of unique rock formations within a single gorge.
However, unlike the national park’s landscape and other Tsingy in the country, the Red Tsingy is not formed out of limestone, but the erosion process of sandstone and laterite. This unique composition provides for the site’s equally unique red coloring.
Located near the eastern coast of northern Madagascar, the Red Tsingy occupies a remote setting approximately 17 km from the nearest road. As such, visitors will use an off-roading vehicle to access the site but are well-rewarded for the extra-strenuous journey.
5. Spiny Forest
Extending over 17,000 square miles across the southwestern corner of Madagascar, the Spiny Forest is one of the world’s most unique and important ecological regions, as designated by the World Wildlife Fund’s Global 200.
The forest gets its name from the abundant plants within the habitat that develop spiny leaves that are designed to reduce water loss in an otherwise arid climate. Along with its unique leaf formations, the Spiny Forest is also home to the country’s greatest variety of endemic species.
The most iconic of the forest flora include the Andansonia baobab trees and the Didiereaceae trees, which boast the site’s eponymous leaves. Meanwhile, keen-eyed wildlife spotters will not be disappointed, as the forest is also home to a great variety of indigenous fauna, including lemurs, mongoose, and endemic birds.
While much of the forest is still threatened by human exploitation, conservation efforts are being made to preserve the forest, with several regions being protected within the Tsimanampetsotsa National Park and various reserves.
6. The Soarano Train Station
Also known as Gare de Soarano, the Soarano Train station was once the main train station of Antananarivo following its construction between 1908 and 1910 and is located next to a fountain at the end of Independence Avenue.
While once a bustling station with connections to Tamatave, Ambatondrazaka, and Antsirabe, the Soarano Train Station no longer services passenger trains and is host to only a few passing freight trains making their way to the eastern coast.
Still, the monumental building remains one of the most iconic historical landmarks in Madagascar’s capital city and was even converted into an upscale shopping center in 2009.
Today, the complex’s ground floor is home to several retail shops, while the 2-story building’s second floor is used for office space. What’s more, guests can even enjoy lunch or dinner along the train station’s converted platforms, which now serve as an open restaurant terrace.
7. Lac Anosy
Located within the heart of Antananarivo, Lac Anosy is an artificial lake that has become one of the most recognizable landmarks of Madagascar’s capital city and serves as a popular natural area for those looking to escape the bustling activity of the developed area.
Originally an expansive swamp area, Lac Anosy was converted into a lake in 1830, with the construction of a small island within its center. The island became the site of a blacksmith workshop to limit the chances of fires but is currently home to an impressive monument dedicated to the victims of WWI.
Despite being highly polluted today, Lac Anosy remains one of the top landmarks in Madagascar and a popular tourist attraction. While the park surrounding the lake is free for visitors, accessing the small island at its center does cost a small admission fee.
8. Amber Mountain
Found within the Amber Mountain National Park in northern Madagascar, Amber Mountain is one of the most famous landmarks in Madagascar and is home to an abundant biodiversity that consists of many endemic species, including 75 bird species, 25 species of mammals, and 59 different species of reptile.
The national park extends a sprawling 45,000 acres around Amber Mountain and boasts numerous picturesque vistas of jungle waterfalls, river streams, and crater lakes.
Additionally, Amber Mountain is one of the most accessible national parks in northern Madagascar and features several tours and bush taxis guiding visitors through the region’s untouched natural landscape while exploring native plant species and trees.
Some of the most popular natural sights in the region include the montane rainforest that covers most of the park, the ring-tailed mongoose, and eight different types of lemurs. Bird watchers will also be keen on visiting the area for the chance to observe the Amber Mountain rock thrush, an endemic bird species known only to live in the region.
9. The Andafiavaratra Palace
Also known as the Prime Minister’s Palace, the Andafiavaratra Palace was the historical home of Madagascar’s prime minister during the final years of the country’s monarchy. The original palace that occupied the site was constructed under Queen Ranavalona I and was made of wood.
However, this palace was replaced in 1872 by the 3-storey palace that currently occupies the site. Modern visitors can still explore this 150-year-old complex, which consists of a large reception hall with a glass dome and four corner towers, each equipped with a bell tower.
Following Madagascar’s independence in 1960, the palace was converted into an army barracks, a court, a school of fine arts, and a presidential palace before ultimately being returned to serve as the office of the country’s prime minister.
Today, the palace has become a museum in which visitors can explore exhibitions of the city’s history and past monarchy.
10. Nosy Be Island
Known as the Perfume Island, Nosy Be Island is a unique landmark in Madagascar thanks to its unique floral smell that can be attributed to the island’s abundant Ylang Ylang, Vanilla, Jasmine, and Saffron flowers that are popularly used in perfumes around the world.
Located to the northwest of the mainland, Nosy Be Island is also Madagascar’s premier resort destination and is home to the country’s greatest variety of luxury accommodations and island retreats.
Still, the Nosy Be Island promises a quiet setting for enjoying the floral natural environments of the island along a crater lake or waterfall found within the reserve Naturelle Integrale de Lokobe.
While the island is beautiful, it is Nosy Be’s unique scent that makes it one of the most famous landmarks in Madagascar.
11. The Queen’s Palace
Also known as the Rova of Antananarivo and Manjakamiadana Rova, the Queen’s Palace is the historical home of Madagascar’s sovereigns between the 17th and 18th century Kingdom of Imerina followed by the monarchs of the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 19th century.
Set atop the highest hill in Antananarivo, the Queen’s palace was originally made of wood at the time of its initial construction but was converted into stone during the reign of Queen Ranavalona II in 1869.
Following French colonization in the area in 1896, Madagascar monarchs no longer lived in the castle, and the historical complex was promptly converted into a museum a year later. A devastating fire saw the building nearly entirely destroyed in 1995, and the structure has been in a state of restoration since 2005.
While restoration is still occurring on the site today, the palace is open to visitors and is a must-visit landmark in Madagascar’s capital city.
12. Isalo National Park
Home to some of Madagascar’s most popular natural landforms, Isalo National Park, was created in 1962 and protects over 190,000 acres of inland landscapes in the country’s southern reaches.
Among the park’s most iconic sites is the dramatic limestone massif that has been eroded into a collection of plateaus, gorges, and canyons that have given the region an otherworldly feel of an utterly unique landscape.
The park is popular amongst hikers and campers and is home to a great biodiversity of endemic wildlife and plant species spread across its various ecosystems that include sclerophyll woodlands, evergreen humid forests, pandanus thickets, dry vegetation, secondary shrub communities, and grasslands.
Among the park’s most popular inhabitants are the ring-tailed lemur, the Benson’s rock thrush, the Madagascar ibis, and the white-lipped bright-eyed frog.
13. The Trano Gasy Houses
Before the 19th century, all homes in Madagascar were built using plant-based materials, such as wood, grass, and reeds.
However, in 1869, Queen Ranavalona II of Madagascar abolished restrictions against construction following her conversion to Christianity and promptly commissioned the construction of a new style of building using earth-based materials to house missionaries from the London Mission Society.
These new brick houses featured a design that blended English, Malagasy, and Creole designs and consisted of a brick building with four columns supporting a wooden veranda along its front. These homes quickly became known as Trano Gasy or Malagasy House and became the new model on which Madagascar’s new construction designs were based.
While Trano Gasy Houses can be found throughout the country today, the original buildings continue to stand and are among the most prominent landmarks in Madagascar today.
14. Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia
Protecting 155 square kilometers of central east Madagascar, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is home to one of the country’s most biodiverse rainforests and includes the Anlamazaotra Reserve, which is home to the unique large indri lemur, known for its distinctively loud cry.
The national park is about a three-hour drive from the country’s capital city and provides an easy-to-access spot for immersing in the local wildlife and natural environment, which has never been altered by human interference.
As such, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park has become one of the most recognized national landmarks in Madagascar for exploring pristine, untouched landscapes of the island nation along numerous hiking trails leading visitors through jungle brush, past waterfalls, and to the very habitats of the country’s endemic species.
Renamed Antisirana in 1975, Diego-Suarez is a historical city set within the northernmost reaches of Madagascar and is the current capital of the Diana Region. The city was originally founded as a French colony for basing troops in Madagascar in 1885 but was ultimately named after Portuguese navigator Diego Soares, who visited the bay at the start of the 16th century.
The French withdrew their military base following Madagascar’s independence, with the new nation renaming the city to reflect its Malagasy heritage a decade and a half later.
Today, the city has become one of the most recognizable cities and iconic landmarks in Madagascar thanks to its breathtaking location along the second largest bay in the world, complete with beautiful beaches, rugged mountains, and historical architecture within its old city.