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South classic: Combining the beauty of the Central and Southern Highlands

RN7 is one of the classic routes through Madagascar, popular for its changing landscapes every hundred or so kilometers, from Antananarivo until Tulear.

This trip starts in the capital city and heads south until it hits the beaches at the country’s southern tip – or vice versa – usually lasting anywhere from 8 to 12 days. Stops along the way include Antsirabe, Ranomafana National Park, Tsaranoro Valley, Isalo National Park and, finally, Ifaty or Anakao for a few days of R&R on the beach. Then back to Antananarivo by car or by flight depending on the time you have in Madagascar.

There’s no specific kind of person best suited for this adventure: it’s really open to all. The conditions are not particularly strenuous and the roads tend to be well maintained. This means we can pull over for whatever bit of local culture piques your interest, whether that’s an astounding view of terraced rice fields worth photographing or a quick visit to places like our local aluminum pots manufacturing center found at Ambatolampy town. You may want to poke around the industrial city of Antsirabe, the volcanic center of the Vakinankaratra region, or take in the woodcarving talents of the ZAFIMANIRY people in Ambositra.

Along the road, the landscapes and climate change quickly. For a visit to the beautiful rain forests of Ranomafana National Park, for example, it pours almost all the time. So any stop in the reserves (Private or National) calls for good walking shoes, hat, anti-mosquito, suncream, and a raincoat. This park is situated about 45 minutes drive from RN7 along the RN25 to the East coast of the Island.

Another stop along the way that might be of interest is Fianarantsoa, where you can find beautiful tea plantations, and the only tea factory of its kind in Madagascar, near Sahambavy Village. The bigger city of Fianarantsoa is also appealing for its interesting history, the architectural mix of old and new, as well as mountainous view points from which to take in its beautiful landscape.

Along the route from Ambalavao to Tulear, you’ll find yourself in zebu territory. (Zebu, meaning “cattle,” is the most holy and important animal of Madagascar.) In Ambalavao town, the famous zebu market happens every Wednesday and Thursday morning, and is a popular stopping point for visitors. After all, it’s one of largest zebu markets in Madagasacar. You’ll notice along the way that the vegetation has completely changed, moving from rocky mountains to plains. And on the left side of the car moving southbound, the beauty of Andringitra National Park will provide plenty of eye candy for our journey.

A bit further along the RN7 route, you might notice beautifully strange rock formations. This likely marks your entrance into the sandstone beauty of Isalo National Park. This area provides amazing views, waterfalls, canyons, lemurs, endemic plants and birds.

And just beyond Isalo lies the “wild west of the Island” called Ilakaka, where many stop to witness sapphire mining or visit some of the sapphire dealers in this intriguing, underground town.

Finally, the tour along the RN7 ends beachside. Usually at Ifaty or Anakao. Both places are nice for relaxing, as well as jumping into sea activities like snorkeling, surfing, diving and whale hatching (depending on the season). In Ifaty, you can find both baobab and spiny forests, renown for their birds, lemurs and endemic plants. In Anakao, meanwhile, it’s possible to visit Nosy Ve or Tsimanampetsosa National Park, see the oldest Baobab of Madagascar (1600years old), jump into a special cave for diving, or head out onto a lake perfect for spotting immigrant birds like flamingoes.

This classic tour along the RN7 truly introduces you to Madagascar, revealing the many interesting cultures, landscapes, reserves, animals, rainforests and lovely Malagasy people that make up our great big island.