Fort Dauphin, or Taolagnaro in the Malagasy language, is Madagascar's oldest town and a popular destination for excursions to the Berenty Reserve and the Spiny Forest.
Most ships anchor off Fort Dauphin. Guests will be taken ashore via the ship’s tenders. It is a short, uphill walk to town.
Taxis and small trucks fitted with benches atop the open truck bed (called taxi-brousse) are generally available at the pier.
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The province of the same name is located in the southeastern part of the enormous island. The French established their first colony here in the 17th century, giving it the name of the Dauphin, later crowned Louis XIV of France. Built on a small peninsula, the town is bordered on three sides by beaches with a backdrop of high green mountains. It boasts a drier climate with much less rain than the rest of Madagascar but suffers from fierce gales around the middle of the year. The town itself is small, with only about 20,000 inhabitants; its beaches and interesting trips into the surrounding area attract a good number of visitors annually, mostly from Europe.
The Spiny Forest, beginning several miles west of Fort Dauphin, is another unique and characteristic feature of this region. The cactus-like didierea plant and the unique baobab tree grow here.
Some 57 miles from Fort Dauphin is the Berenty Reserve which is the area's major attraction. An enormous, self-contained complex with bungalow accommodations, acres of sisal plantations and a tropical forest that is home to a colony of lemurs.
Plenty of local colors can be observed at Fort Dauphin's lively market, where everything is sold from fish and produce to French baguettes and live animals.
The unit of money is the ariary. This unit preceded the French rule, and Malagasy franc notes had the value in ariary printed on them too (50000 francs = iray alina ariary = one million ariary). The ariary is worth about half a U.S. cent.
The remarkable thing about Madagascar is that the entire island speaks one language: Malagasy, (pronounced 'Malagash' or even 'Malgash', not as the spelling suggests) an Austronesian language. Because the island is so large there are many different dialects. The Merina dialect is the "Official Malagasy" of the island and is spoken around highlands of Antananarivo. Most Madagascans, however, speak Merina across the island.
French is the second official language of Madagascar. The government and large corporations use French in everyday business, but 75-85% of Malagasies only have limited proficiency in this language. Madagascans assume that all foreigners are French speakers and therefore can speak several different phrases. Attempts by foreigners to learn and speak Malagasy are liked and even encouraged by the Malagasy people.
The third official language is English, though very few people speak English. It became an official language in 2007.
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