An island country of contradictions and incredible beauty, Madagascar is the must-visit of any southern Africa trip. With a backdrop of varied ecosystems and landscapes, this is a land that takes visitors back in time. The opportunity to learn about traditional tribal living blends beautifully with the abundance of beautiful (and hand-mined) gem stones to create a very worthwhile destination.

Lemurs abound, with some 70 species living on the island where tropical rainforests grow to the edge of the white sand beaches that are lapped by the bluest of waters. Small villages of hand-built houses frame Zebu cattle being herded on foot to markets over 600 miles away, while the excellent (surprisingly, in light of the other factors) road system winds around mountains that have been untouched for thousands of years.

Travel in Madagascar is great at any time, with April and May (after the rainy season) giving the best photographic backdrops. September to December offers the best birding, while whale watchers will be most satisfied between July and September. For those travelers seeking the sun and water activities (such as snorkeling) will find any time of year appropriate for a visit.