Fianarantsoa Province to the south-east of Madagascar is composed of five regions: Atsimo-Atsinanana, Amoron'i Mania, Ihorombe, Haute Matsiatra, and Vatovavy-Fitovinany. The Atsimo-Atsinanana region is further divided into Befotaka, Farafangana, Midongy-Sud, Vangaindrano, and Vondrozo. The Amoron'i Mania region is composed of the towns of Ambatofinandrahana, Ambositra, Fandriana and Manandriana.
The Ihorombe region contains the districts of Iakora, Ihosy, and Ivohibe. The Haute Matsiatra region features the capital Fianarantsoa, as well as Ambalavao, Ambohimahasoa, and Ikalamavony. The principle towns of the Vatovavy-Fitovinany region are Ifanadiana, Ikongo, Manakara-Atsimo, Mananjary, Nosy Varika, and Vohipeno.
The eastern coast of the region is subject to higher rainfall than average, whereas the southern coast is generally drier. Winter is the more pleasant time of year to visit from June to September, when the temperatures are around 25°C. The economy of the province has suffered greatly due to environmental issues and poor agricultural practices despite the presence of rice producing areas, meaning a high proportion of the population live in poverty.
Some of the highlights of the area include the four major national parks: Ranomafana National Park, Midongy Du Sud, Isalo National Park, and Andringitra. Isalo National Park in particular is very popular as it is easily accessible all year round and it features bizarre rock formations, canyons and natural pools as well as lemurs. Other attractions include the train ride between Fianarantsoa and Manakara, which is the only passenger train currently in operation. The trip takes you through beautiful landscapes and stops at several small villages where locals will try to sell you all types of food. The ride is an enjoyable experience in itself.
Fianarantsoa is a city in south central Madagascar, the capital of Haute Matsiatra region. Fianarantsoa is considered to be like a milder version of Antananarivo. The city is surrounded by hills, and it is a combined regional commercial, administrative and religious centre as well as a major transit point. Tourists typically arrive here to spend the night on their way to Anomafana or Isalo, or to take the train to Manakara that passes through amazing landscapes. There are still attractions for visitors to enjoy here though, such as the historic old town, a great local market, and hills that make for tiring walking, but offer a very picturesque location. There are also some interesting places to stay and a more relaxed ambience when compared to the capital, along with high altitude climate that offers respite from the heat.
The city is divided into three parts: the Basse-Ville or Lower Town to the north, is a busy, chaotic area with the main post office and the train and taxi-brousse stations; up from there is Nouvelle Ville or New Town, known as the business area, with banks and several hotels; and further south-west and uphill is Haute-Ville or Upper Town, which features cobbled streets, a more tranquil atmosphere, numerous church spires and panoramic views.
Fianarantsoa translates as "Good education" in Malagasy and as the cultural and intellectual centre of the island, it is home to some of the oldest Protestant and Lutheran cathedrals on the island, the oldest theological Lutheran seminary, as well as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Fianarantsoa. The city also boasts a university named after it that was built in 1972. Fianarantsoa is considered to be the wine capital of Madagascar, because of the existence of many wine industries in the city.
Ambositra is the capital of the Amoron'i Mania region in central Madagascar. It is the heart of Madagascar's' wood-carving industry due to the Zafimaniry tribe, a subgroup of the Betsileo tribe. Visitors will find many shops selling wooden boxes, chessboards and figurines here.
Mananjary is a city located in Vatovavy-Fitovinany, situated on the South-East Coast, where the Mananjary River flows into the Indian Ocean. The city is served by a small port and the Mananjary Airport. The Canal des Pangalanes divides the town into two sections. Local industry is focused on vanilla, coffee, and pepper production.
Ambalavao is in the Haute Matsiatra region, near the city of Fianarantsoa in the most southern part of the Central Highlands. It is set amidst beautiful mountainous countryside with numerous boulder-like peaks, once reminiscent of a charming French village, but now due to years of neglect reduced to a Wild West outpost. A popular attraction here is the Gothic cathedral that looks like it has been parachuted in from the Loire Valley, but the surrounding landscape is signature Madagascan highlands.
Andringitra in the Haute Matsiatra region is 47 kilometres south of Ambalavao. This majestic central mountain range with two beautiful valleys on either side, the Namoly and the Tsaranoro form a paradise for walkers and climbers with spectacular views in all directions, well-developed hiking trails, excellent accommodation, fascinating villages, plus three amazing peaks: Pic Boby, at 2,658 metres, the second-highest peak in the country; the Tsaranoro Massif, which reaches 1,910 metres, including an 800 metre vertical column thought to be one of the most challenging climbs in the world; and the great stump of Pic Dondy at 2,195 metres. The latter two form the Portes du Sud - Gates of the South, and separate the Betsileo and Bara regions.
The Andringitra National Park found in this region was established in 1969 and was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2007 as part of the Rainforests of the Atsinanana.
The reserve covers 31,160 hectares, covering most of the granite massif of the Andringitra mountains which rise above the plains. The mean annual rainfall is 1,500–2,500 millimetres and snowfall has occurred in some years with the country’s lowest temperature, −8 °C recorded here. The Ampanasana, Iantara, Menarahaka and Zomandao rivers run through the reserve.
The park is one of the most biologically diverse areas in Madagascar, with many endemic species. The eastern flank of the massif is composed of humid forest, with humid grassland and scrub in the higher places. On the western side there is relatively dry forest. There are over one thousand species of plants, one hundred species of birds, and fifty-five species of frogs known to inhabit the park, as well as over fifty species of mammals, including thirteen species of lemur. The ring-tailed lemurs that reside here have noticeably thicker fur than the rest of the island's population, which is likely an adaptation to the colder climate at high altitudes.
Ranomafana National Park
Ranomafana National Park is located in south-eastern Madagascar in the Haute Matsiatra and Vatovavy-Fitovinany regions. The park is 65 kilometres north-east of Fianarantsoa and 139 kilometres west of Mananjary, and it is served by Route Nationale 45 and 25. The park office is at the entrance in the village of Ambodiamontana, 6.5 kilometres from Ranomafana.
The park is composed of more than 41,600 hectares of tropical rainforest, and is home to several rare species of flora and fauna including the golden bamboo lemur, the greater bamboo lemur, black and white ruffed lemur and Milne-Edwards sifaka, and over 130 species of frogs. The park is a crucial example of cloud forest, with very high levels of biodiversity.
Accommodation options include a lodge and an eco-lodge of a private tour operator at the entrance of the park, and there are also several hotels in Ranomafana village as well as the possibility of camping at the campsite near the main road through the park.
Isalo National Park
Isalo National Park is found in the Ihorombe region of Madagascar, the closest town is Ranohira, and the closest cities are Toliara and Ihosy. The park was created in 1962 and is known for its wide variety of terrain, including sandstone formations, deep canyons, a palm-lined oases, and grassland. The area has a tropical dry climate with seasonal rainfall. A local guide, who can be hired in Ranohira is mandatory for visitors entering the park. Treks in the park can last from several hours to a week or weeks. The park features several natural swimming pools which are popular with tourists, and are excellent sites to see the Benson's Rock Thrush. There are thought to be over 340 faunal species in the area, including 82 species of birds, 33 species of reptiles, 15 species of frogs and 14 species of mammals, including several different species of lemur. There are also over 400 species of plant found in the park, many of which are endemic to the region.