Best Time to Visit Madagascar
The beautiful and vast island of Madagascar has a tropical martime climate which is affected by trade winds, a monsoon, proximity to the seas and the highlands; which run down the spine of the country from north to south. The climate is governed by the combined effects of the moisture-bearing southeast trade and northwest monsoon winds as they blow across the central plateau. The rainy season is usually from mid-December to mid-March, with heavy downpours interrupting blazing sunshine. In general travel advice terms, this means there is generally more rain in the north and east and less rain in the south and south west. The period between May to October (winter in the southern hemisphere) is the most pleasant time to travel to Madagascar, with cooler temperatures and fewer rain showers; thus road travel is much easier and reliable. As is typical of tropical areas, the rains usually occur in the form of thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon, so there’s no shortage of sunshine even in the wettest months, at least in the morning hours. Most travellers avoid the cyclone season in the far north, which generally occurs from January to March.
January – Madagascar has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. The rainy season normally last from November to March and the dry season is from April to October. However, it is very important to look at the local conditions at the area you are visiting and also understand that climate change has affected the timing of the seasons. So, for example the far south is a lot drier than the wet north and we have travelled in the north in November and experienced very little rain. The one area it is important to avoid in the high of their cyclone season is the far north. The cyclone season normally lasts from January to March in the far north.
February – This is a very special month for people who are passionate about flowers, as this is the flowering season for Madagascar’s 1000 Orchid species. Although different plants and trees in Madagascar flower throughout the year, it is the seasonal rains which really injects momentum into the flowering season and although you should expect wet conditions when walking in the eastern rainforests of Madagascar, you have your best chance of seeing many species of Orchid in flower.
March – Another good month for botanists and orchid lovers. Some of the best locations to spot wild orchids lie along Route National 7 (which is a sealed road all the way to Tulear), which includes lush rainforests of Ranomafana National Park and the beautiful rock massifs and dry forests of Isalo National Park. Among the most memorable species are Angraecum, Cumbidiella, and Eulophiella orchids, which are noted for their large size. These are also good areas for Lemurs and although conditions will be far from ideal for photographing them in the canopy, you are likely to encounter few other tourists in the park.
April – The first official month of the dry season in Madagascar, although that does not mean you will not encounter a few heavy rain showers; especially in the eastern rainforests and Ranomafana. The south east and south of Madagascar is always a drier area and during what the shoulder season many of the famous parks for Lemurs will still be relatively quiet. You could consider visiting Berenty in the far south by flying into Taolagnaro (Fort Dauphin) and making a tour of the Lemur sanctuaries in the far south, or head west to the Avenue des Baobabs and Kirindy.
May – A stunning month for scenery and photography at as everywhere is lush and vibrant after the rains and it is still sometimes before the high season for European travelers really begins. The whole of the island is open for you for exploration, but given the sheer size of the country and the very limited road network for longer journeys, we would always advise planning on visiting 2 or 3 main locations and staying longer to appreciate the incredible wildlife. One great combination is to drive the RN2 to reach the eastern rainforests and hear the extraordinary called of the Indri and then head south on the RN7 to Ranomafana for superb lemur viewing in stunning rainforest.
June – It’s time for a few oohs and aahs as the baby season starts in Madagascar and you will see multiple species of Lemurs with females who have recently given birth and small babies riding on their backs. June and July are great months for seeing cute baby lemurs. Indri give birth to their young in May or June, and sifakas generally in late June or July. The infants ride on their mothers for six months or so after birth, first hanging below her belly then on her back as they grown and gain strength and confidence. June is a popular month for visitors but not yet peak season and the south west of the country still remains relatively cool during the day. So, maybe plan a visit here to see all the stunning wildlife and avoid the heat of late summer.
July – We are definitely in high season now and the rates at the wildlife lodges will reflect that. The peak season period for visitors to Madagascar – particularly natural history groups – is from July to September, so you definitely need to be booking your smaller hotels and wildlife lodges 9 to 12 months in advance to ensure you get a reservation. If you are on a private tour with Wildlife Trails, your naturalist will encourage you to get up a little earlier in the morning, as we can easily be inside the national parks before the larger, slower groups and be spotting lemurs and chameleons while they are still eating breakfast! Expect mainly clear weather, with cool nights in the highlands and at altitude and warmer, drier conditions during the day.
August – Although July was the first official months for whale watching in Ile Sainte Marie, with the chance to see those most charismatic of whales; the Humpbacks. Good whale watching continues here through August and they can also be seen around Nosy Be and the many other island off the north west tip of Madagascar. There is also some great snorkelling and diving to be had in this beautiful tropical paradise and there are excellent lemur watching opportunities in Ankarana national park and Montagne D’Ambre national park.
September – This has definitely become one of the most popular seasons for wildlife lovers on multi location tours of the island. It is the last month to see the Humpback Whales before they head back to the Antarctic and as the cooler winter months give way to an increase in temperatures, it is also a fantastic time for both daytime and night time walks in the forests of Madagascar. September is the peak of Madagascar’s bird breeding season, so it is an excellent time if you are an avid bird watcher. Even ‘non-birders’ are often amazed by the diversity and colours of the local birds and since they often inhabit the same forests where you find Lemur, the nature walks are a double pleasure.
October – Now the heat of is starting to build in Madagascar and you will definitely notice this during the day in the south west of the island at locations like the spiny forest in Ifaty, or if you walk along the very exposed trails in Kirindy reserve. October is another month for baby lemurs, as Ring tailed lemurs and a few other species give birth at this time and a visit to Anja reserve en route to Isalo national park, will give you some stunning photo opportunities as the troop often comes down on the ground to walk around the reserve. It is also a really beautiful transition month for an incredible and exciting chance to see both Humpbacks and Whale Sharks off the coast of Nosy Be at the same time.
November – Although this may be the official start of the rainy season in Madagascar, like many other African countries there seems to have been a change in recent years and it is not unusual for this month to remain relatively dry; albeit it can feel hot in the national parks at ground level due to the increasing temperatures of the summer season. We have travelled in November to the far north of the island and enjoyed some excellent Lemur viewing and night safaris at Montagne d’Ambre national park, where our beautiful accommodation was cooler due to it higher elevation. We also swam with Whale Sharks at Nosy Sakatia and both Green and Hawksbill turtles.
December – The rains will definitely have arrived in Madagascar by December and this month shares many characteristics with January. We would avoid the busy Christmas holidays, but you could consider a wildlife tour in the south of the Island in the first 2 weeks of the month, where there will be few tourists and rain showers will be less frequent than the north.