Kids on the mudflats at Toliara © Daniel Austin
There are three good reasons to visit Toliara: the rich marine life with good snorkelling and diving, the Mahafaly and Masikoro tombs and the remarkable spiny forest and its accompanying fauna.
The pronunciation of the French (Tulear) and the Malagasy names is the same: ‘tooleear’. Toliara’s history is centred on St Augustine’s Bay, described at the beginning of this chapter, although the name of the town is said to derive from an encounter with one of those early sailors who asked a local inhabitant where he might moor his boat. The Malagasy replied: ‘toly eroa’ (‘mooring down there’). The town itself is relatively modern – 1895 – and was designed by an uninspired French architect. His tree planting was more successfully aesthetic, and the shady tamarind trees (kily) give welcome respite from the blazing sun.
Toliara marks the end of the popular RN7 route from the capital, an itinerary travellers typically like to round off with a few days of relaxation. The town itself has no beach – just mangroves and mudflats – so most tourists head north to Ifaty or south to Anakao in search of sun, sea and sand.