November 16, 2008|By Michelle Deal-Zimmerman

Madagascar is a huge island off the coast of southeast Africa, set amid the Indian Ocean. The area is known for its natural wonders, beautiful scenery and interesting wildlife. Not unlike the movie currently in theaters, Madagascar has some unique animal characters in residence, such as lemurs, sloths and tomato frogs. The situation for tourists (and natives) is not ideal in this very poor nation, where infrastructure, like roads and buildings, shows signs of distress. Still, tourism is beginning to thrive. Here are five things to do:


Have a capital time : Antananarivo, or "Tana," is the capital of Madagascar and home to the country's major international airport, the typical starting point for most tourists. Here you'll find the ruins of the Rova palace, former home to the nation's royal rulers. The palace was damaged by a fire in 1995 and has been under reconstruction since.


Hit the beaches : Nosy Be is a popular spot for sun and fun, including such water activities as diving and sport fishing.


Smell the vanilla : Madagascar produces much of the world's vanilla. Visitors to the city of Sambava, the base for most growers of the vanilla orchid, can tour a vanilla plantation or factory and, of course, if you can, take home a bundle of souvenir vanilla bean pods.


Savor a rainforest : Fodor's calls the Masoala Peninsula one of the world's most overlooked destinations. The peninsula's rare rain forest hosts 2 percent of Earth's animal and plant species, according to the travel guide. Masoala is only reachable by foot or by sea.


Take a dip in a thermal spa : Antsirabe is the third-largest city in Madagascar and was once a health resort centered on volcanic springs. The Perinet Reserve, the habitat of Madagascar's largest lemur, the Indri, is nearby.

Information: www.madagascarconsu

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