Things to do in Madagascar are divided into two categories, the country’s glorious beaches and its spectacular interior with its unique biodiversity. It’s a large island with a dearth of reliable transportation and long journey times between destinations, but touring the rich vein of natural beauty and fascinating ethnic towns is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Nosy Be Island is a tropical paradise with a number of unspoiled beaches and good hotels. The Nosy Tanikely Marine Reserve is reef-ringed and perfect for scuba-diving and snorkeling. Nosy Iranja Island is famous for its turtle beaches, while the quaint village of Ampangorinana is the perfect get-away-from-it-all destination. Madagascar’s national parks in all their dramatic glory are as diverse as the country’s ethnic heritage.

Nosy Be, Madagascar’s premier beach destination, is as close to luxury as you’ll get here, with one ultra-upscale resort and a few other hotels set amid acres of sleepy rum distilleries, sugar cane and vanilla plantations, scented ylang-ylang bushes, volcanic lakes and forests complete with lounging lemurs. Snorkeling and diving are great and the deserted coves along the coastline give peace and quite and ultimate privacy. Lobeke Nature Reserve is well worth a visit, where jungle trekking, hiking and climbing can be found. A plethora of local tour operators like Nosy be Original and Forever Dive exist to make planning hassle free.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site for its amazingly eroded karst scenery, mangrove forests, lemurs, and wild birds, Tsingy de Bemehara Reserve lies close to the western coast of the main island. Its massive limestone cliffs are bisected by a deep river gorge, with the green forests uniquely reflected on the metallic surface of the karst formations. Communities of rare, endangered species include 11 types of lemurs and 17 endemic reptiles including the miniscule chameleon. Eco-tours of this magical world are offered by Travel2Madagascar.

If cruising in boats is a favorite pastime, the Canal des Pangalenes provides an iconic experience. One of the longest canals on earth, this 600 km-long waterway was built by the French between 1896 and 1904 and links the rivers and lakes along Madagascar’s eastern coast. Its beaches are great for swimming and fishing here guarantees the evening meal. Traditional Betsimisaraka tribal villages line the banks and dugout canoes provide transportation to visits with the locals. La Route des Epices offers cruises along the canal.

The stark, bare mountain peaks, palm-lined oases, waving grasslands, and steep canyons of Isalo National Park display the breathtaking variety of Madagascar’s scenery in all its glory. Home to many endemic species, this park is especially interesting for birders, home to 82 species and geology buffs who will be amazed by the eroded, sandstone massifs, reminiscent of America’s Wild West landscapes. Bird life includes the crested ibis, knob-billed duck and Benson’s rock thrush, along with 500 types of flora including rare palms and aloes. The glowing sunsets are unbelievable, and Ialy Tours Madagascar can show you this and more.