Coordinates: 22 40 S 45 13 E
Elevation: 2526 feet (770 m)
Perhaps best known for its abundance of arboreal, mainly nocturnal primates (in fact the only place in the wild where lemurs remain), Madagascar recently discovered another, more lucrative source of natural wealth: precious gems. The town of Ilakaka, which sits in the shadow of the Isalo Mountains on the island’s southwestern plains, is actually the site of the biggest sapphire rush in a very long time. Most of the people who live in and around this settlement just north of the Tropic of Capricorn also farm rice, cassava, and especially vanilla for half of the year, but can earn as much as five times more money mining the sandy soil here. Once an isolated, sleepy collection of homes, Ilakaka quickly became a boom town when, less than ten years ago, the first blue gemstones were found.
Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.