The Highlands | The North | The East | The South | The West

The Highlands of Madagascar

General description  |  Climate   |  The highlights

General description

map highlands Madagascar

The highlands (Hautes Terres) of Madagascar stretch from North to South along more than 1.000 km of the central part of the island. The altitude varies from 800 to 2.700 m at the highest peaks, but the main area lies slightly over the 1.000 m above sea level. The landscape is made up of a plateau splattered with a succession of large rounded boulders, hills and several higher mountains, valleys and rivers, the biggest lakes of Madagascar, shimmering rice fields and hollow-like depressions. This hilly and escarped terrain, together with the stable climatic conditions, makes this area a perfect region for rice cultivation. Rice is a basic nutrient in the Malagasy gastronomy and every single dish is likely to include it.

Unfortunately, as the Highlands became the primary irrigated rice growing region for both subsistence and export under the French colonial government, most fertile areas were devoted to export crop production, and farmers were virtually forced to clear forested slopes for subsistence, which intensified heavy deforestation. Now, the highlands are often seen as a frightening example for the consequences of massive deforestation.

Rice is also the crop that dominates daily life of the Merina villages in the countryside, which still preserve a way of life like in ancient times. There is a season for every activity: the rice harvest, the rice planting, natural silk weaving and smoking ovens for clay- brick baking.
Rice at Tsiribihina river
  © Madagascar Travel Guide

Villagers usually build their dwellings with a mixture of clay and chopped straw. Those, who can afford it, make them with earth-red brick. Clay-brick ovens smoke almost uninterruptedly during the season from May to September.  

The central highlands are also an example of Malagasy's religious believes. Probably the most known ritual of this Merina region is the "Famadihana" or "Turning of the Bones". According to the Malagasy’s worship traditions of the ancestors, living must honour their dead relatives in this ceremony, where deceased are exhumed, washed and wrapped in new funeral shrouds, all accompanied by a long procession where family members play music, sing and even dance with the corpse. The celebration can last up to two days and ends when the ancestor is again deposited in his tomb together with many gifts and offers of the family.

Hira gasy
If you are in Tana or its surroundings on a Sunday afternoon, do not miss the "Hira Gasy": an open-air music-dance-storytelling performance. Hira Gasy is an expression of musical theater and folk music introduced by King Andrianampoinimerina in the late 18th century to encourage peasants in their works and convey them to follow the royal guidelines. At some point Hira Gasy bands entered a kind of rivality and their performances gained in originality and quality. Now, Hira Gasy bands still perform in some streets of the urban Tana telling the audience about the do's and don'ts in life.


The altitude of the highlands influences the temperature and the rainfalls. In general, temperatures are not so hot here as in the coastal regions and they can vary up to 20°C between day and night time (25°C to 5°C in the coldest nights), specially between June and September, so do not forget to bring warm clothes with you! The rainy season starts in November and lasts until March or April and it is also the hottest period in the highlands, with an average temperature of 28°-30°C.

The highlights

- Antananarivo: the capital and biggest city has some really nice boroughs to walk with nice views over the city and several beautiful buildings, like the Queen Palace or the cathedral. Besides, the old market (Zoma) and the Avenue de l`Independence in the city centre are always crowed and are an ideal place to walk around and observe the busy life of the inhabitants.
-  Ambohimanga: this World Heritage Royal city and burial site is proplably the most impressive construction built by the ancient Merina Kings. 
- The Mantasoa and Alaotra Lakes: these lakes, the biggest of Madagascar, surrounded by spectacular landscapes and traditional villages offer an impressive scenery. 
-   Fianarantsoa: this pretty old city has a fantastic old town and terrific surroundings. It is the starting point to every trip to the national parks in the area.  
- Andringitra National Park: spectacular mountains ideal for climbers and trekking lovers, astonishing valleys and one the places with a highest biodiversity of Madagascar. 
-   Ranomafana National Park: located on the eastern side of the highlands, it is doubtless one of the most spectacular National Parks of the island. An evergreen dense forest ideal for spotting lemurs and many other endemic animals.