Fort Dauphin, or Taolanaro in the Malagasy language, is Madagascar’s oldest town and a popular destination for excursions to the Berenty Reserve and the Spiny Forest. 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.
Plenty of local color can be observed at Fort Dauphin's lively market, where everyting is sold from fish and produce to French baguettes and live animals. A few good viewpoints around town offer fine panoramas of the bay and the mountains. A drive into the hinterland offers a look at some of Madagascar's unusual species of flora, such as the rosy periwinkle, the carnivorous pitcher plant and the triangular rubber palm. 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, it is the primary reason for most travelers to visit Fort Dauphin.