Geography of Madagascar

Learn about the World's Fourth Largest Island

Madagascar Flag
The Madagascar flag has two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green with a vertical white band of the same width on hoist side. Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007

Population: 21,281,844 (July 2010 estimate)
Capital: Antananarivo
Area: 226,658 square miles (587,041 sq km)
Coastline: 3,000 miles (4,828 km)
Highest Point: Maromokotro at 9,435 feet (2,876 m)
Lowest Point: The Indian Ocean

Madagascar is a large island nation located in the Indian Ocean east of Africa and the country Mozambique. It is the fourth largest island in the world and it is an African country.

Madagascar's official name is the Republic of Madagascar. The country is sparsely populated with a population density of only 94 persons per square mile (36 persons per square kilometer). As such, most of Madagascar is undeveloped, incredibly biodiverse forest land. Madagascar is home to 5% of the world's species, many of which are native only to Madagascar.

History of Madagascar

It is believed that Madagascar was uninhabited until the 1st century C.E. when sailors from Indonesia arrived on the island. From there, migrations from other Pacific lands as well as Africa increased and various tribal groups began to develop in Madagascar- the largest of which was the Malagasy. The written history of Madagascar did not begin until the 7th century C.E. when Arabs began setting up trading posts on the island's northern coast regions.

European contact with Madagascar did not begin until the 1500s. At that time, the Portuguese captain, Diego Dias discovered the island while on a voyage to India.

In the 17th century, the French established various along the east coast. In 1896, Madagascar officially became a French colony.

Madagascar remained under French control until 1942 when British troops occupied the area during World War II. In 1943, though the French retook the island from the British and maintained control until the late 1950s.

In 1956, Madagascar began moving toward independence and on October 14, 1958, the Malagasy Republic was formed as an independent state within the French colonies. In 1959, Madagascar adopted its first constitution and achieved full independence on June 26, 1960.

Government of Madagascar

Today, Madagascar's government is considered a republic with a legal system based on French civil law and traditional Malagasy laws. Madagascar as an executive branch of government that is made up of a chief of state and a head of state, as well as a bicameral legislature consisting of the Senat and the Assemblee Nationale. Madagascar's judicial branch of government is comprised of the Supreme Court and the High Constitutional Court. The country is divided into six provinces (Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina and Toliara) for local administration.

Economics and Land Use in Madagascar

Madagascar's economy is currently growing but at a slow pace. Agriculture is the main sector of the economy and employs about 80% of the country's population. The main agricultural products of Madagascar include coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava, beans, bananas, peanuts and livestock products.

The country does have a small amount of industry of which the largest are: meat processing, seafood, soap, breweries, tanneries, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly, paper, and petroleum. In addition, with the rise of ecotourism, Madagascar has seen a rise in tourism and the related service sector industries.

Geography, Climate and Biodiversity of Madagascar

Madagascar is considered a part of southern Africa as it is located in the Indian Ocean east of Mozambique. It is a large island that has a narrow coastal plain with a high plateau and mountains in its center. Madagascar's highest mountain is Maromokotro at 9,435 feet (2,876 m).

The climate of Madagascar varies based on location on the island but it is tropical along the coast regions, temperate inland and arid in the southern its portions.

Madagascar's capital and largest city, Antananarivo, which is located in the northern part of the country somewhat away from the coast has a January average high temperature of 82°F (28°C) and a July average low of 50°F (10°C).

Madagascar is most well-known around the world for its rich biodiversity and tropical rainforests. The island is home to about 5% of the world's plant and animal species and about 80% of those are endemic or native only to Madagascar. These include all species of lemurs and about 9,000 different species of plants. Because of their isolation on Madagascar, many of these endemic species are also threatened or endangered due to increasing deforestation and development. To protect its species, Madagascar has many national parks, and nature and wildlife reserves. In addition, there are several UNESCO World Heritage Sites on Madagascar called the Rainforests of the Atsinanana.

More Facts about Madagascar

• Madagascar has a life expectancy of 62.9 years
• Malagasy, French and English are Madagascar's official languages
• Today Madagascar has 18 Malagasy tribes, as well as groups of French, Indian Comoran, and Chinese people

To learn more about Madagascar visit Lonely Planet's Guide to Madagascar and the Madagascar Maps section on this website.


Central Intelligence Agency. (27 May 2010). CIA - The World Factbook - Madagascar. Retrieved from: (n.d.). Madagascar: History, Geography, Government, and Culture-

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United States Department of State. (2 November 2009). Madagascar. Retrieved from:

Wikipedia. (14 June 2010). Madagascar - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: