Have you ever stumbled across an image of such a beautiful place and thought “I have to go there!”? The Avenue Of The Baobabs in Madagascar is one of those places. Located on the west coast of Madagascar, this iconic place a must-see. It is the highlight of any trip to ‘The Red Island’. Just getting there is an adventure in itself!
Known locally as renala (Malagasy for ‘mother of the forest’) the 20-25 baobabs line up along a 260 metre stretch of dirt road. Some trees at the Avenue are said to be up to 2,800 year old, and at an imposing 30 metres tall, this really is one those places that is better in real life than in a photograph.
The Baobabs of Madagascar
The Tree Of Life, upside-down tree, and monkey bread tree are just some of the nicknames given to the tree of the genus Adansonia. We know them as baobabs, of course. There are nine species of baobabs in Africa, Australia and India, with six species living in Madagascar!
These giants can grow to 30 metres with trunks as wide as 11 metres in diameter! Their large trunks can store thousand of litres of water to endure harsh dry conditions. They also produce a fruit (nicknamed monkey bread) that, if grown in Europe, would probably be considered a superfood due to its health benefits!
The species along The Avenue Of The Baobabs are the Adansonia grandidieri, named after a French botanist. They’re endemic to Madagascar and are the biggest of the six species of baobabs that live there. Reaching heights of up to 30 metres, and with some living hundreds, even thousands, of years, it’s no surprise that the country has the baobab as their national tree!
When To Go
The beauty of the baobabs change dramatically with the seasons. Most people will see the baobabs as we saw them, with minimal foliage. That’s because most people come during the dry season, between April and October, to avoid the rains.
We visited at the end of April, hoping to catch the odd leafy baobab but it was already too late. The reason why we didn’t want to see them in the rainy season (November to March) is that the roads become impassable due to flooding and many parks, such as Tsingy, will be closed.
Where Are The Boababs?
To see these magnificent trees, you will need to head west to the laid-back, coastal town of Morondava. The town is an excellent base due to it’s proximity to all the majors sites such as Tsingy de Bemaraha, Kirindy Forest and, of course, The Avenue. There are plenty of hotels for all budgets and there is a more touristy feel than cities like Antananarivo.
Read More | A Guide To Tsingy de Bemaraha
Getting To Morondava
There are a couple of ways to get to Morondava. For those with money to burn, there are fights into the airport. Last time I looked at Skyscanner, there were not many flights from London and the one I did see was well over £1000/$1300! Another option is to fly from Tana with Air Madagascar.
The cheapest option, an probably the best way, is by road. Most visitors will have touched down in Tana, a mere 700km away! The most common way for people to travel around Madagascar is with a vehicle and driver. The other way is by taxi brousse. Either way, expect to set off at around 6am-7am from Tana and arrive late in the night at Morondava. We took the Cotisse, a kind of high-end taxi brousse. High-end because the vehicles are newer and they actually leave at scheduled times! Their building is separate from the normal taxi brousse station and has a cafe, less people and just nicer in general.
We set off from the station at 7am and arrived in Morondava at 7pm! And this was at a good pace with minimal traffic, with a few toilet breaks and even a lunch stop. It is not uncommon for people to arrive after 9pm. We took a tuk-tuk (see what I did there) to our hotel as they are cheap, just remember to haggle, and there are plenty around.
Getting To The Baobabs
The tuk-tuk driver generously offered to take us to Baobab Avenue in his little vehicle. Although I do like a challenge now and then, I didn’t think his little tuk-tuk would make it so we had to decline his offer. Your hotel can easily arrange a tour with a driver for you and usually provide 4×4’s.
Getting to the famous stretch of trees takes around 45mins. The first 15 mins will be through the streets of Morondava before turning off into a bumpy, unpaved dirt road – Route Nationale 8. That’s correct! The RN8 is a ‘national highway’ and is used regularly for the transportation of goods to/from the more remote areas.
Once you reach the The Avenue, there is a fee of just 2,000 Ar. for parking (no entrance fee). Your driver will be happy to wait for you, while you explore.
What To Expect
Depending on the the time of day you visit, you will either have the whole place to yourself or sharing it with other people. Just remember that this is still a working road so be careful when cars, trucks or zebu carts come through.
We also heard stories that children hassle tourists for money by jumping into their photos or letting them take photos of them with their ‘pet’ chameleon. While this didn’t happen to us (maybe because we visited before the busy season) we believe that this could happen. Just politely decline and hopefully, in time, the children will stop hassling tourists and poor chameleons.
There are toilet facilities next to the car park and few shops opposite that sell all things baobab related. From beautiful wooden carvings (not made from baobab, don’t worry) to baobab fruits (yes, they produce fruit!) there are also snacks and drinks available. We had a hard time haggling with these stall vendors but we still managed to get a souvenirs at decent price.
Sunset Or Sunrise?
When is the best time of day to visit Baobab Avenue? This was the question we really didn’t know the answer to. The best thing to do, if you have the time, would be to see the baobabs at both sunset and sunrise! That’s exactly what we did.
For a lot of people, sunset at the Avenue of The Baobabs is the highlight of their Madagascar trip. As the sun sets, tourists gather to watch as different shades of deep orange and purple descend upon the trees. Everyone is silent as they appreciate the beauty around them.
The sunset at Baobab Avenue is a beautiful moment and one that you will never forget. Just be prepared to share it with others who want that same experience. With a 260-metre stretch of road to share, however, there is plenty of room to not get in each others way. People wander from one end to the other and walk into the fields on the side to catch the sun setting behind the trees. All the while, avoiding the occasion car that passes through.
We absolutely loved sunset at the Avenue. It is busy but not overcrowded. There will be more tourists towards July/August time when peak season is in full swing. That was part of the reason we chose to visit when we did. Our drive back to Morondava was made more interesting by our driver who managed to spot lots of cute little chameleons. Imagine driving, after sunset, with no street-lights and finding a tiny green chameleon in a green bush. Impossible, right?
If you would like to have more of the place to yourself, then head to Baobab Avenue at sunrise. You will have to get up super early but your efforts will be greatly rewarded. Try to have some snacks prepared the night before and bring a torch. It could still be pitch black at this time so you might not know when you arrive at the Avenue.
Watching the sunrise is a completely different experience to sunset. You’ll be surprised at how many locals will already be up and about around Morondava! The stalls aren’t open yet and there’s unlikely to be many tourists about. The sunrise itself brings a whole new palette of colours to the Avenue, with blues and oranges rather than the purples of sunset.
There is no doubt that sunrise at the Avenue was amazing. Sharing it with a handful of tourists rather than all of them made that extra bit special. It’s actually difficult to say which is best time visit as there are so many factors. If I had to pick, I mean really had to, then I would say visit at sunset.
The proximity of Baobab Avenue means that it’s very easy to see both. Once the rainy season ends, the road to Kirindy Forest is more accessible and Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park has reopened its doors! Starting your trip to Tsingy with a visit during sunrise and returning, a few days later, to catch the sunset is quite common. We saw Baobab Avenue at 9am on the way to Tsingy and had the whole place to ourselves.
Read More | The Ultimate Travel Guide To Madagascar
The Avenue Of The Baobabs is probably the place to see when people visit Madagascar. And yet, the area has no visitor centre and there is no entrance fee to pay. Meanwhile, the local residents receive very little money from tourism. Together with deforestation, bushfires/forest fires and climate change, the future doesn’t look good for these legendary trees.
Since those lovely humans arrived, some 2000 years ago, Madagascar has lost around 90% of its forests. Many endemic species have become extinct during that time, including many that would help disperse seeds. The Avenue itself use to be a dense forest but agriculture has reduced the number of grandidieri trees.
Along with two other species of Madagascar’s baobabs, the grandidieri have been place on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In the last decade, there have been conservation efforts by NGO’s to protect the area.
Plant A Baobab
One little highlight from our sunrise visit to Baobab Avenue was accidentally stumbling on the baobab nursery. Not entirely sure what I was looking at, I recognised the words Adansonia grandidieri and immediately knew – these were baby baobabs!!
Our driver said we could plant one for 10,000 Ar. (£2/$2.70) For that amount of money, people should be queuing for such an opportunity. But the management of the whole thing is not up to standard. The nursery is not in view of the tourists. There are no signs and people don’t know that this is even an option. We wouldn’t have even know we could plant one if our driver didn’t speak up.
We took our little baobab to off to one side and a hole for dug for our ‘baby’. They can’t plant them along the main road (I’m guessing because they could be damaged by tourists). As we walked back, we made a visual memory of where our baobab was planted as we hope to go back to the same spot in years to come!
Visiting The Avenue Of The Baobabs was an amazing, beautiful experience!
We were so lucky to be able to see the Avenue of the Baobabs on three separate occasions whilst in Madagascar. Each time different and unique. The trees themselves really deserve their iconic status. It was amazing to be able to plant our own little baobab and we can’t wait to go back one day to see it! Hopefully beside many more brothers and sisters.
There is still hope that there will be more projects started soon to protect the baobabs, and not just along the Avenue. With the right eduction and responsible travel, it is all of our duties to make sure that these giants can be enjoyed by future generations.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post and that you’ll plan your own visit one day. Or maybe you’ve already been and would like to share something I missed! If you liked this post, or want to know anything else, please leave a comment. Thanks.