Sitting proudly in the middle of the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Mozambique, Madagascar is the world's fourth-largest island. Despite its unique flora, fauna and landscapes, it's perhaps best known for the eponymous DreamWorks film - full disclosure, Sacha Baron Cohen's voice as King Julien is as reason enough to visit the island.
While Madagascar's roads are notoriously bad, its destinations are always worth the ride. Spend days trekking through sandstone canyons, clambering through forests in search of lemurs (the island's national animal) and stumbling upon empty patches of golden sand. Beach bums should head to Île aux Nattes, a tiny isle that pairs wild tropics with sandy stretches, while city lovers should make a pitstop in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo (Tana for short). While long stays aren't recommended here (the city is known for its noisy traffic), the bustling Analakely Market is not to be missed.
At sunset, visit Allée des Baobabs to see the island's famed trees against a candy-floss-pink background - some of them date back more than 1,000 years. Gnarled branches stretch up into purple-tinged skies, oozing so an albeit very knobbly kind of charisma.
The hiking opportunities. Madagascar is covered with vast expanses of savannahs, canyons and gorges. Head to Isalo National Park, where gorges are covered in a blanket of savannah grass streaked with winding streams and framed by rocky cliffs. After you've satisfied your inner nature-lover, explore the small, adjacent town of Ranohira - if you're there on a Friday, visit the market to wander around aromatic stalls selling herbs and spices.
Who to take with you
The island is a hotspot for biodiversity, with around 90 per cent of its plant and animal species being unique to Madagascar - so take someone eager to explore them all. Spend days snorkelling among colourful fish (or, if you're feeling brave, diving to spot some sharks), watching frogs hop about on land or admiring lemurs that swing from trees.
When to go
Rainy season runs from December through to March, so it's best to travel between April and November if you're after dry weather. We suggest going in November for that last dose of sunshine before Christmas. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="134636,134579"]
Where to stay
Stay at Constance Tsarabanjina, where 25 thatched bungalows perch among the jungle canopy on an uninhabited private island off the Madagascan coast. Take boat trips to the mainland, go for long walks around the length of the island (it only takes 90 minutes), water ski over glistening water or laze on powdery beaches before returning to the hotel for food and cocktails overlooking the horizon.
Most likely to bump into…
Hikers looking for a different kind of challenge. Madagascar has three high peaks: Maromokotro in the Tsaratanana Massif (2,876m), Boby Peak in the Andringitra Massif (2,658m) and Tsiafajavona in the Ankaratra Massif (2,644m). Keen adventurers are rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the island and plenty of nature-spotting opportunities along the way. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="147213,147208,147211,128339"]
Essentials to bring with you
Slip into this square-necked Matteau swimsuit, throw on a pair of sunglasses and head straight to the beach, or pair with denim shorts for a day spent exploring.
How to get there
Flights to Madagascar's main airport takes around 12 hours from London including a stopover.