Tulear (Toliara, in Malagasy) is a city of about 100,000 people on the south-western coast of Madagascar and an important port. It stands at the end of the RN7, 1000 km from Antananarivo, and is the crossroads between the RN6, the route north to the beaches and spiny forest of Ifaty (and, eventually, the beaches and reefs of Ampsilava and Andavadoaka) and the route south to the beach resort of Anakoa and Tsimanampetsotsa National Park. For birders, the city is the gateway to the birding hotspots of Ifaty, St. Augustin Bay and the islet of Nosy Ve.

Tulear is most attractive from the end of September to March, when the flame trees are in bloom, decking the city in vivid colour. There are a number of comfortable hotels with swimming pools where you can break your journey and relax for a night or two. You could spend a few hours wandering around the busy streets admiring the painted pousse-pousses or mingling with the shoppers in the vibrant markets, one of the best places in Madagascar to buy a traditional lamba – or one of the fabulous mohair rugs from Ampanihy.

There are two small university-run museums to browse. The Musée de Tulear houses an ethnological collection including a number of examples of burial art and local artefacts, a mock-up of a Vezo fisherman’s hut and a collection of photos representing local life. The Musée de la Mer displays many specimens of fish, crustaceans and eels – and a collection of the sponges and corals that were once the glory of this coast.

Twelve kilometres east of town is the marvellous Arboretum d’Antsokay, a showcase for the flora of the hot, dry southwest. The arboretum contains a collection of nearly 900 living plant species - mostly endemic – adapted to the challenging conditions of the region (The Euphorbiaceae and Didiereaceae families are particularly prominent.); and a variety of birdlife, reptiles and the mouse lemur, Microcebus griseorufus.

An Aepyornis egg is on display in the small museum. The arboretum has created an herbarium containing seeds of endangered plant species and works in collaboration with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew to conserve threatened plant species, including succulents.??

Air Madagascar operates regular scheduled flights linking Tulear to Antananarivo.

Derek Schuurman

Travel Specialist

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