"Arboretum: one of Madagascar's best kept secrets?" Toliara Things to Do Tip by CatherineReichardt
Toliara Things to Do: 5 reviews and 15 photos
We ended up visiting the Arboretum outside Tulear because we had time to kill and didn't particularly want to visit the Shell Market. What a fortuitous discovery, as this was one of the highlights of our trip to Madagascar, and this sort of happy accident (I think that the correct term is 'serendipity'?) is exactly why I find travel so addictive!
The Arboretum is located a few kilometres out of town, and is a botanical garden devoted to the spiny forest, which is a bizarre and unique ecosystem unique to parts of the coastal fringe of southern Madagascar. The area gets precious little rain, so the plants have evolved to withstand extremes of temperature and drought (and avoid being eaten) - most of which involve growing formidable spikes, spines, prickles and other uncomfortable protruberances! Despite its inhospitable appearance, this ecosystem supports a rich variety of wildlife (including lemurs, though heaven knows how they manage to negotiate their way unharmed through this terrifying stuff).
The arboretum was set up by a Swiss and was clearly a labour of love - you can just sense his passion, and there can be no more fitting memorial to his memory than this fantastic legacy. I am no botanist, but the labelling of specimens is scientifically rigorous, and the interpretive displays are wonderfully thought out and among the best that I've seen anywhere in the world. The signage is on what appears to be recycled metal that has been hammered out to size, and the text appears in three languages (French, English and Malagasy) along with an excellent use of graphics and cartoons: most international tourist destinations could learn from this beautifully executed presentation that cannot but make learning fun!
The site is compact but beautifully laid out and intriguing even to the non-specialist. There is also a wealth of bird, lizard and insect life to keep you engaged, even if ferociously armed plants don't hold your interest. I was particularly charmed to see what was presumably the arboretum's original vehicle - a Renault van - which has been abandoned within the arboretum (probably left to stand where it last gave up the ghost?), and is now bristling with spiny plants which are bursting forth from the bonnet and interior (see picture)!
Bear in mind that Tulear is hellish hot (it was over 40C the day we visited) and can be windy, so cover up and so make sure that you come armed with hat and sunscreen, otherwise you'll fry!
As though this place wasn't perfect enough, we had perhaps our best meal in the whole of Madagascar in the restaurant on site (see my tip elsewhere). There also appears to be limited accommodation on site (which we didn't get to investigate), but the sparkling blue pool certainly looked tempting!
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