Madagascar is separated from the African continent by a few hundred miles of water and 165 million years of evolution – long enough for the island's plants and animals to have morphed into some of the weirdest on the planet. This is the only place where you'll find over 70 varieties of lemurs (including one that sounds like a police siren), some 8,000 plant species and 3,000 types of butterfly – not to mention the world's largest and smallest chameleons, and the biggest bird anywhere. In the south you encounter forests of twisted "octopus" trees; in the west, seven versions of a baobab and the odd Brown + Hudson naturalist guide.
Once known only as the world's main source of vanilla, Madagascar is now regarded as an ecological treasure. Imagine walking through humid rainforest, breathing in an infusion of dank vegetation and fragrant moss, and hearing what sounds like the moans of a humpback whale. Well, unless it's that odd Brown + Hudson guide again, you're being serenaded by a group of indri, the largest of the lemurs, proclaiming their territory like treetop divas. At dawn, Madagascar's jungles resonate with their haunting, unforgettable chorus.
The Malagasy people are no less intriguing. Descended from sailors who arrived some 2,000 years ago via Indian Ocean trade routes, the Malagasy still cultivate rice in terraced paddies and speak a language that has more in common with Southeast Asia than Africa. They live in a world steeped in magic and taboo, imbuing every cave, waterfall, creature and even the occasional household object with supernatural powers. In some areas, people dance with their dead ancestors in a "turning of the bones" ceremony that is fascinating to witness.
Picture walking among huge butterflies that look like they couldn't possibly fly – or under the bug-eyed gaze of aye-ayes poised in the branches overhead – or through a surreal tsingy forest of limestone formations. We might sail out to the former pirate haunt of Ile Sainte Marie or head inland up the Tsiribihina in dugout canoes, waving to kids who run along shouting Bon voyage as we pass. Or we could raft down the Mangoky into the remote southwest, where our local friends will teach you to drum and sing, then bring it all together in the mangaliba – the sexiest dance in the Indian Ocean.
In short, rest assured that any journey we craft in Madagascar will be far beyond exotic.