Magical Sunset Safari: Chasing Giant Baobabs in Madagascar

Ivy Gathu
11 min readSep 30, 2023
(Different shots of the Sunset in Morondava, Madagascar)

People asked me why I chose Madagascar…but, why not Madagascar?

The Island is home to a unique collection of flora and fauna, including lemurs and the fossa. Despite what the popular cartoon named after the country may depict, penguins are not found here.

(Beautiful art with the different Malagasy communities, you can buy the Menakao chocolate in the local stores)

Moe's Twitter thread on her Madagascar adventure and stunning photo at the Avenue of Baobabs inspired me to visit the country. I used some of the updates she shared to plan my two-week birthday getaway.

Planning my trip to Madagascar was quite challenging as I couldn’t find sufficient information from fellow Kenyan travellers. Additionally, the country does not have an embassy in Kenya. The online contact is of a regular citizen tired of us calling to ask about the embassy. I managed to get some reliable information from the Kenya Airways visa and health information. Kenyan citizens get a visa on arrival(VOA) at the Madagascar airport, which costs 10 euros. You can pay by cash(Euro or USD) or a card. Please have a return ticket to ease your travels.

I had never visited a VOA country before, and as someone who had read stories of people being denied entry, I was extremely anxious on the day of my departure.

(Some pictures in the sky entering Madagascar and in the airport)

This was also a huge first for me, as I had not fully travelled solo to another country without ‘knowing’ anyone on the other end. I was scared and excited at the same time, but I didn't let fear win. I kept summoning the spirit of Mita whenever my nerves were intense. Mita is one of my best friends, and she's the boldest person I know. She always goes for what she wants, fear or no fear. This spirit has not let me down, from my first time exploring Mombasa solo to exploring a whole new country. One call with her will boost my confidence levels to a hundred.

I am grateful that fear didn't win because my two weeks on the Red Island felt like a dream come true. I was able to witness stunning landscapes, mesmerising sunrises and sunsets, and unique wildlife. The friendliness of the locals, from the airport to the towns, added to the experience. Lastly, I savoured delicious cuisine, which made the trip even more memorable. I haven't visited many countries, but Madagascar's cuisine is my favourite- the way they infuse spices into their food and sides, and don’t get me started on their sweet local pastries — I was in food heaven.

Antananarivo

( The vintage taxis of Tana and Tana City)

My first stop was the capital city of Madagascar — Antananarivo also known as Tana. This is where you find transportation to the popular tourist destinations. The drive through the city was bustling with people going about their day, vintage cars, and rice fields. Whenever I visit a new place, everything about it excites me.

(Some of the delicious Malagasy snacks and the sunset on the streets of Tana)

In the capital city, I got to taste some sweet Malagasy pastries, marvel at their open butcheries and walk through the hilly city to catch the sunset and see young people playing soccer in the open fields.

During my week in the city, I had the opportunity to visit the following places:

Analakely Market

(None of these pictures are from the market, but from other parts of Tana)

This is where you get your local souvenirs, vanilla, spices, gemstones and many more. I got some vanilla from a local trader. Please be cautious of pickpockets and carry your bag securely while you are here. If you are not fluent in French, it is best to visit the market with a local guide.

Tana Waterfront

(The lake and paths at Tana Waterfront)

For a nice slow day in Tana, go shopping, or eat at the waterfront which has some fast food restaurants, supermarkets and a relaxing place to view the small lake.

I would have loved to do more things in Tana, however, some of the places were closed or expensive to navigate. Here is a list of things to do in Tana.

Morondava

Transport options to the Morondava include Cotissa, private car, or flight. If you are using Cotissa, book a day in advance to get a good seat; the van leaves at 6:00 a.m.

(On the road from Tana to Morondava)

The journey to Morondava was a long one, what was meant to be a 15-hour trip turned into an 18-hour journey. It is the longest I have ever been on the road. Fortunately, we had three stops to eat and use the bathroom.

(A minivan in Morondava, and the landscapes on the way to Morondava)

The road to get there was horrible- a single-carriageway road with many potholes, curves and turns. I could go on and on about the driving experience. During the trip, the driver was pulled over by traffic police for speeding. I was extremely anxious and unsure of what to do, but fortunately, the driver managed to negotiate his way out of the situation. The language barrier made it even more nerve-wracking, as I couldn't understand what was being said.

(Rice fields and landscapes on the journey to Morondava)

The long journey was made more bearable by the beautiful landscapes of hills, rice fields, and rivers I got to see. The beauty consumed my mind and allowed me to be patient.

After a gruelling 18-hour journey, I was finally in Morondava. My first day in the town consisted of; discovering a new side of the Indian Ocean, walking to the market eating local cuisine, getting lost and drinking local rums. On this part of the Island, it is common to see women with a white paste applied to their faces (I will not post any pictures). This paste is made from the bark of a tamarind tree, which has been ground down to a fine powder and mixed with water. The paste serves as a natural sunscreen to protect their skin from the harsh sun.

( Some of the local cuisine, rice which is the staple food, zebu meat, fries, bread and chicken)

The town sleeps early due to scheduled power outages from 12 a.m. — 5 a.m. every day -even in hotels.

(The three species of Baobabs, and the spot at the Avenue of Baobabs where everyone takes some iconic shots)

Morondava is a town on Madagascar’s west coast. It’s the gateway to the Avenue of the Baobabs, where massive baobab trees tower over the landscape. This is what inspired my trip to the Island.

Avenue of Baobabs

(Avenue of Baobabs in the morning and the evening, the picture also includes the twin Baobabs)

After what seemed like years of planning I finally made it to the Avenue of Baobabs (Allée des Baobabs). Driving into the avenue was a surreal moment for me and I was overwhelmed with emotions. I had finally made it to a place I had seen in a picture, and the beauty was out of this world. I had hoped to catch the sunrise, however, it was a cold foggy morning. The fog around the baobabs was breathtaking, making it feel like the start of a sci-fi or spooky movie.

(The different shades of the sunset at the Avenue of Baobas)

If you have a full-day itinerary that includes Kirindy Forest, then you will get to catch the sunset at the Avenue of Baobabs. The beauty of this experience is beyond words, as pictures cannot capture its true essence. It’s an experience that must be witnessed in person to be fully appreciated. I was happy this was where I got to take another trip around the sun.

Fisherman’s Village

(My journey to the Fishermans Village)

In Morondava, I also had the opportunity to explore the village where the fishermen reside. I was taken by a local ‘guide’ on a fisherman's boat through the mangroves. In the village, you will learn about the daily life of the fishing community. I also got the opportunity to enjoy a nice fresh coconut drink.

Kirindy Forest

(Pictures of the; Sacred Baobab, Baobabs in love, and a male Baobab(lol) )

When visiting the avenue of Baobabs, add Kirindy forest to your itinerary as you wait to catch the sunset. On your drive there, you will get the opportunity to see more baobas, such as; ‘the Baobabs in Love and the Sacrel Baobab. A lot of wood-curving souvenirs are inspired by the ‘ Baobabs in Love’ which twisted themselves into a perfect embrace.

(The large number of Baobabs in the region and Kirindy Forest; home to lemurs and carnivorous, catlike fossas.)

Once you are in Kirindy Forest, you will be assigned a guide who will accompany you through the forest. If you are lucky on your walk in the Forest, you will get a chance to see the fossa, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, narrow-striped mongoose, and red-fronted brown lemur.

(a not-so-clear picture of a fossa, an orange butterfly, a brown lemur, a not-so-clear picture of a mouse lemur and some beautiful textured trees)

Walking through the forest with my guide, we were fortunate to spot the mouse lemurs, red-fronted brown lemurs, and a Fossa. Although I had almost given up hope of seeing the Fossa, I was lucky enough to spot it before I left. Later, I learned that it is a carnivorous animal and much larger than I had initially thought.

(Some of the souvenirs you can get while in Madagascar)

Before my trip, I thought I would see the ring-tailed lemur-like King Julien in the Madagascar cartoon. However, I learned that Madagascar is home to over 100 species of lemurs. I was fortunate enough to see two.

If you would love to see more species of lemurs, visit these national parks: Ranomafana National Park, Berenty Reserve, Loky-Manambato, Daraina, Andasibe National Park (closer to Tana), Aye-Aye Island, Mananara, Anja Community Reserve, Park Ivolina and Ankarafantsika National Park. If you do not mind seeing animals in captivity, you can visit the Lemur Park in Tana. I did not get the chance to visit the park because navigating Tana solo and using private means is expensive, and local transport is not reliable.

(And the grand finale, me among giants and at the beach)

I had a good reason for choosing Madagascar. I would love to return to the country because there is a lot more to explore, including the lush beaches in Nosy Be, Tsingy de Bemaraha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hikers' paradise. However, the journey to get there is costly for a solo traveller on a budget due to the poor road infrastructure.

P.S

I organised my tour to the Avenue of Baobobs with Remote River email info@remoterivers.com

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Ivy Gathu

Words inspired by my feelings on life, gender, sexual reproductive rights, mental health, youth 🤓