The Ultimate Guide to Madagascar

Madagascar feels like a land far far away. Its uniqueness stands alone. With nearly 90% of wildlife endemic to Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island should be high on your bucket list. From rainforests, to beaches, to astonishing rock formations, there is a diverse range of sights to explore. Madagascar is not easy to get to and often comes with the cost of an expensive flight, so we recommend visiting for at least a few weeks. Madagascar can be traveled very cheap, so it is an excellent choice for a long vacation.

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, Madagascar

Suspension bridge at Grand Tsingy de Bemeraha

Visas

Visas are available on arrival into Antananarivo for:

  • 30 days – $36 USD

  • 30 – 60 days – $45 USD

  • 60 – 90 days – $63 USD

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, Madagascar

Visiting local villages on the Tsiribihina River

Language

Malagasy is the national language of Madagascar with many regional dialects. It was a French colony up until its independence in 1960, so French is the official second language. In rural locations, many do not speak French. English is rarely spoken in rural areas. From a language standpoint, Madagascar was one of the most difficult places we have ever traveled to. It would be very helpful to learn some basic words in French as well as common numbers.

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Diego Suarez and Ramena, Amber Mountain, Tsingy Rouge, Emerald Bay, Three Bays

Diego Saurez Street Art

Currency

Madagascar uses the Ariary (Ar) which was introduced in 2005 as the national currency. It is the same bill as their prior currency, the Malagasy Franc. Many locals, especially in the countryside, still use the Franc when quoting prices. The conversion from Franc to Ariary is 5:1.  

Typical Costs:

Street food ranges from 500 – 2,500 Ariary for meals,

Beer typically cost 3,000 Ariary

Budget hotels range from 20,000 – 35,000 Ariary.

At the time of writing this article (August 2016), the Ariary is worth:

  • 1 USD = 3,038 Ariary

  • 1 Euro = 3,391 Ariary

  • 1 Pound = 3,924 Ariary

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, Madagascar

Lemur

Sim Cards

Telma is the largest, most reliable, and cheapest cell phone provider. However, Orange was our preferred network to use for data. Sim cards cost 3,000 Ariary, and credit is available throughout the country at street vendors and shops. Credit commonly is purchased in 1,000 Ariary intervals, which is good for about 50mb of data.

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Diego Suarez and Ramena, Amber Mountain, Tsingy Rouge, Emerald Bay, Three Bays

The Three Bays hike in Ramena

Hotels

Hotels in Madagascar are very cheap and possibly some of the best for the budget prices. Good rooms cost between 20,000 and 35,000 Ariary. Warm showers are a rarity and the “Malagasy shower”, a simple bucket shower, was quite common. Western toilets were not always found, and if they were, they rarely were inclusive of the much sought after toilet seat.

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, MadagascarChildren at a village along the Tsiribihina River

Hotel Recommendations and Prices

  • Antananarivo – Madagascar Underground for 50K Ar for a private room with shared bath

  • Antsirabe – Chez Billy for 28K Ar for a private room with shared bath

  • Morondava – L’Oasis for 30K Ar for bungalows

  • Fianarantsoa – Arinofy Hotel 30K Ar for a private room with shared bath

  • Manakara – Chez Zizou 35K Ar for bungalows

  • Ambalavao – Le Residence 40K Ar for private rooms. Eat here and get the fish or zebu bourguignon! **Top Stay**

  • Tsaronoru Valley – Tsarasoa 50K Ar for a basic bungalow with shared bath or 65K Ar for a full size bungalow with shared bath

  • Ranohiro – Chez Alice 30K Ar for bungalows. Eat the homemade pasta! **Top Stay**

  • Toliara – Hotel Central 30K Ar for private rooms or Chez Alain 30K Ar for private bungalows

  • Anakoa – Peter Pan 30K Ar for bungalows with shared bath, required to eat 1 meal (lunch/dinner) per day. The Pizza Gamberetti is the best pizza in Madagascar.

  • Andasibe – Chez Marie or Chez Luc (same property) 30K Ar for private rooms or 40K Ar for bungalows **Top Stay**

  • Tamatave – Hotel Eden 25K Ar for a private room with shared bath

  • Ile Nattes – Chez Sica 35K Ar for bungalows with shared bath, has access to a kitchen **Top Stay**

  • Diego Suarez – Hotel Belle Vue 25K Ar for private rooms with shared bath

  • Ramana – Badamera 25K Ar for bungalows with shared bath

Ile Nattes, Saint Marie, Tamatave, Madagascar, Beach, Paradise in Ile Nattes

Chez Sica Bungalow in Ile Nattes

Food

Madagascar has many ex-pats, so there are excellent restaurants on the island. The Italian and French cuisine was particularly amazing.  Zebu (beef) is the national dish and incorporated in all cuisines. The local cuisine is served at “hotelys” and street vendors. Hotelys are small local restaurants, common in most towns. Dishes are typically an enormous plate of rice and a small side of meat, either zebu, pork, or chicken. Occasionally, mine sao (fried noodles) or beans are available. In the morning, several street vendors sell coffee and fried dough (which is delicious). Throughout the day, it is common to find vendors with fried snacks such as samosas, fried bananas, or fried vegetables. Typical costs for food are:

  • Fried snacks 100 to 200 Ar

  • Coffee 200 to 300 Ar

  • Small meals 1,000 Ar

  • Hotely meals 2,500 to 4,000 Ar

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, Madagascar

Traditional wooden Pirogue boat on the Tsiribihina River

Food Sickness

There are very poor health standards (okay none), bad sanitation and lack of refrigeration. Food is often prepared in large quantities, days in advance and sold until it is finished. The inevitable fact is that you will most likely have an upset stomach with a bout or two in the toilet. Don’t worry, everyone here is in the same boat so you are not alone.

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Diego Suarez and Ramena, Amber Mountain, Tsingy Rouge, Emerald Bay, Three Bays

Lizard at Amber Mountain

Taxi Brousse

Taxi brousses are the main method of public transportation in Madagascar. A taxi brousse is a mini-bus that can range from somewhat new to somehow surviving. You never know what to expect; music blasting, chickens on the floor, dead fish on the roof, luggage packed in everywhere, and babies sleeping half on your lap. It is surely an adventure, and Madagascar cannot be visited without at least one taxi brousse ride. Be prepared to get bombarded and harassed at every taxi brousse station. Always look around at several options, inspect the bus, and go with the one that is almost at capacity (they do not leave until they are full).

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Hiking the Andringitra Mountains, Peak Bobby, Pic Bobi, Tsaronoro Valley, Tsaranoru Valley, Tsarasoa, Hiking, Trekking, Madagascar

Views to the Tsaranoru Valley

Regional vs. National Taxi Brousse

This is critical. Regional buses are of much lower quality and they pack in as many people as possible. If they have room, even when you swear it is not possible, they will stop and pick up more people. At one such stop, we saw two grown men who did not know each other, sit on one another’s lap. National companies do not pack people in and each person has an assigned seat.

Ile Nattes, Saint Marie, Tamatave, Madagascar, Beach, Paradise in Ile Nattes

Crossing from Saint Marie to Ile Nattes

Factors When Picking a Taxi Brousse

  • Look  at the tires. Do they look like they can make it to your destination? Make sure they have tread. 

  • Can they put your bag inside in the trunk space versus on the roof? 

  • Can you get a seat next to a window that opens? 

  • Are you sitting right next to the only working speaker? 

  • Is the taxi brousse almost full? 

These may sound like minor factors, but then you have one of “those” taxi brousse rides. “Those” rides take eight hours when it should take three. They put dead fish on the roof on top of your bags. It is 90 degrees and humid and no one likes to open their windows, because its “winter.” Music is blasting out of the only speaker right above your seat. These are not made up, these happened to us and it can happen to you too. Picking a taxi brousse is part art, part science. It’s best to just mentally prepare for a long and stressful day and just hope to get to the final destination. Aside from all those things, its absolutely great, I swear.

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Diego Suarez and Ramena, Amber Mountain, Tsingy Rouge, Emerald Bay, Three Bays

Waterfall at Amber Mountain

Taxi Brousse Pricing

  • Tana to Antsirabe 12K

  • Morondova to Antsirabe 30K

  • Antsirabe to Fianarantsoa 15K

  • Tsaronuru to Ambalavao 3K

  • Ambalavao to Ranahiro 20K

  • Ranahiro to Toliara 23K (no taxi browse station in Ranahiro, book the day before with a hotel or one of the touts in town)

  • Toliara to Anakao Ferry 50K each way

  • Toliara to Tana 52K by Taxi Brousse 120K by private car

  • Tana to Andasibe 15K

  • Andasibe to Tamatave 14K

  • Tamatave to Ile Saint Marie (Bus and Ferry Transfer) 70K

  • Tamatave to Tana 20K

  • Tana to Diego Suarez 70K

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Hiking the Andringitra Mountains, Peak Bobby, Pic Bobi, Tsaronoro Valley, Tsaranoru Valley, Tsarasoa, Hiking, Trekking, Madagascar

Andringitra Mountain Views

Madagascar Itinerary Recommendations

The biggest variable when visiting Madagascar is travel time between destinations. The taxi brousse is pretty reliable, however the drive will incur long hours. For those with a limited holiday, it is best to hire a personal car and driver to spend more time seeing the country.

Check out a full article on detailed Trip Itineraries for Madagascar.

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, MadagascarNatural Swimming Hole along the Tsiribihina River

East 

The east of Madagascar has two of the main highlights, Tsingy de Bemaraha and the Avenue of the Baobabs. An excellent way to visit the east is on a seven day tour that includes a few days on a traditional pirogue (boat) floating down the Tsiribihina River. Tsingy and the Avenue of the Baobabs are two of the most popular places to visit in Madagascar and a highlight that should not be missed.

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, Madagascar

Avenue of Boababs at Sunset in Madagascar

West 

The west of Madagascar is a very desirable part of the country, with excellent rainforests and beaches. In close proximity to Antananarivo, Andasibe is an excellent rainforest with great walking tours. Continue to the coast to Ile Saint Marie and the paradise island of Ile Aux Nattes.

Ile Nattes, Saint Marie, Tamatave, Madagascar, Beach, Paradise in Ile Nattes

Paradise on Ile Nattes

South 

Due to the infrastructure, visiting the south is the most popular route for tourists. The itinerary usually visits Antsirabe, Ambalavao, Anja Park, Isalo National Park, and one of the beach towns near Toliare, such as Anakao or Ifante. While this is very popular, this was our least favorite part of the country. The only exception was hiking the Andringitra Mountains near Ambalavao.

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Hiking the Andringitra Mountains, Peak Bobby, Pic Bobi, Tsaronoro Valley, Tsaranoru Valley, Tsarasoa, Hiking, Trekking, Madagascar

Summit at Pic Bobi

North 

The north is much more laid back from the rest of the country. Most of the north is concentrated around  Diego Suarez and Nosy Be. Nosy Be is expensive and a popular resort island (which we think you should skip). Diego Suarez is a great colonial city with excellent sites nearby. Main activities include a visit to Ramena, a boat ride to Emerald Bay, hiking the Three Bays, and a day trip to Tsingy Rouge and Amber Mountain.

Ultimate Guide to Madagascar, Diego Suarez and Ramena, Amber Mountain, Tsingy Rouge, Emerald Bay, Three Bays

The Canyon of Tsingy Rouge

Best of Madagascar

  • Avenue of the Boababs

  • Andasibe rainforest

  • Ile Aux Nattes

  • Andringitra mountains

  • Tsingy Rouge

Wild West Tour of Madagascar, Tsiribihina River, Pirogue Tour, Stone Forest, Tsingy de Bemeraha, Avenue of Boababs, Morandava, Madagascar

Avenue of Boababs

Relevant Links for other Madagascar Articles


 

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The Ultimate Guide to Madagascar

 

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Visited from June through July 2016.

 

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