Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the SE coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest island in the world. Madagascar is graced by golden beaches and palm trees and has a varied array of natural beauty in its variety, from grassy plateaus to volcanoes and opaque forests and natural reserves. Since it split from the mainland 165 million years ago, many species that are unique to the island have evolved, including 3,000 indigenous species of butterfly.
The Hauts Plateaux divides the country geographically, climatically and culturally. The coastal strip east of this chain of high mountains is heavily forested, while the west is mainly savannah.
According to local legend, the island was first inhabited by the Vazimba, a race of white pygmies. These people, if they existed, were displaced by successive waves of Polynesian migrants from the Malayo-Indonesian archipelago, from as early as the sixth century. In the ninth century, Madagascar was a major trading power in the western Indian Ocean. Moreover, ancient ruins indicate an extensive Arab presence on the island around that time. Bantu tribes from mainland Africa later settled on the west coast. The first Europeans arrived in the mid-17th century.
Two thirds of the country's inhabitants live below the international poverty threshold on USD1.25 per day. These levels of poverty and the enormous gap between rich and poor may deter some intrepid travllers to the island, but for those who do embark on a Madagascar adventure will be dazzled by its rich wildlife, much of which can be found nowhere else on Earth.