The Rough Guide to Madagascar
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The Rough Guide to Madagascar

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131 pages

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The Rough Guide to Madagascar is the ultimate travel guide to this enthralling destination. It leads you through the country with reliable information and insightful coverage of all of Madagascar's unmissable attractions, from the extraordinarily wildlife-rich national parks of Ranomafana and Antasibe-Mantadia to the alluring beaches of the fabled island of Nosy Be. Detailed maps and up-to-date listings pinpoint the best restaurants, hotels, bars and nightlife, ensuring you make the most of your trip. Packed with pre-departure advice and practical tips, the Basics section contains all the information you need to travel around Madagascar, including transport, accommodation, outdoor activities, costs and health, while Contexts fills you in on history, music and books, and includes a handy Language section.

Full coverage: Antananarivo; Antsirabe; Parc National de Ranomafana; Fianarantsoa; Ambalavao; Parc National d'Andasibe-Mantadia; Tamatave; Île Sainte Marie; Île aux Nattes; Maroantsetra; Nosy Mangabe; Parc National de Masoala; Sava (the Vanilla Coast); Diego Suarez (Antsiranana); Parc National de la Montagne d'Ambre; Parc National d'Ankarana; Nosy Be; Majunga; Parc National d'Ankarafantsika; Morondava; Allée des Baobabs; Réserve Privée Kirindy; Tsingy de Bemaraha; Belo-sur-Mer; Parc National d'Andringitra; Parc National d'Isalo; Parc National de Zombitse-Vohibasia; Tuléar; Anakao; Mangily; Andavadoaka; Fort Dauphin; Parc National d'Andohahela; Réserve Privée Berenty.

The Rough Guide to Madagascar is equivalent to 182 printed pages.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 juillet 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780241015445
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0012€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Full coverage: Antananarivo; Antsirabe; Parc National de Ranomafana; Fianarantsoa; Ambalavao; Parc National d'Andasibe-Mantadia; Tamatave; Île Sainte Marie; Île aux Nattes; Maroantsetra; Nosy Mangabe; Parc National de Masoala; Sava (the Vanilla Coast); Diego Suarez (Antsiranana); Parc National de la Montagne d'Ambre; Parc National d'Ankarana; Nosy Be; Majunga; Parc National d'Ankarafantsika; Morondava; Allée des Baobabs; Réserve Privée Kirindy; Tsingy de Bemaraha; Belo-sur-Mer; Parc National d'Andringitra; Parc National d'Isalo; Parc National de Zombitse-Vohibasia; Tuléar; Anakao; Mangily; Andavadoaka; Fort Dauphin; Parc National d'Andohahela; Réserve Privée Berenty.

The Rough Guide to Madagascar is equivalent to 182 printed pages.

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CONTENTS HOW TO USE INTRODUCTION Where to go When to go Highlights Itineraries BASICS Getting there Getting around Accommodation Food and drink Health Festivals and public holidays Sports and outdoor activities National parks and reserves Culture and etiquette Shopping Travelling with children Travel essentials THE GUIDE 1. Antananarivo and around 2. Central Madagascar 3. Northeastern Madagascar 4. Nosy Be and the far north 5. Western Madagascar 6. Southern Madagascar CONTEXTS History Music Books Language Glossary MAPS PUBLISHING INFORMATION How to Use How to Use Cover Table of contents


The Rough Guide to Madagascar is one of a new generation of informative andeasy-to-use travel-guide ebooks that guarantees you make the most of yourtrip. An essential tool for pre-trip planning, it also makes a great travelcompanion when you’re on the road.
From the table ofcontents , you can click straight to the main sections of the ebook.Start with the Introduction , whichgives you a flavour of Madagascar, with a brief overview of where and when to go, a list of highlights plus suggested itineraries – everything you need to get started. This isfollowed by Basics , with pre-departuretips and practical information, such as flight details and health advice. The Guide section offers insightful coverage of the main attractions of Madagascar, including full-colour maps featuring all the sights and listings. Finally, Contexts fills you in on history, music and books, and includes a handy language section. Shorter contents lists appear at the start of every section in the ebook to make navigation quick and easy. You can jump back to these by tapping the links that sit with an arrow icon.
Detailed area maps can be found in the Guide and in the dedicated mapsection , accessible from the table of contents. Depending on yourhardware, you can double-tap on the maps to see larger-scale versions, orselect different scales. There are also thumbnails below more detailed maps– in these cases, you can opt to “zoom left/top” or “zoom right/bottom” orview the full map. The screen-lock function on your device is recommendedwhen viewing enlarged maps. Make sure you have the latest software updates,too.
Throughout the guide, we’ve flagged up ourfavourite places - a perfectly sited hotel, an atmospheric café, a specialrestaurant - with the “author pick” icon . You can selectyour own favourites and create a personalized itinerary by bookmarking thesights, venues and activities that are of interest, giving you the quickestpossible access to everything you’ll need for your time away.
Where to go
When to go

Madagascar has no parallel: an extraordinary storehouse of naturaland cultural riches, it makes experienced travellers question what it means to say acountry is unique. Separated from Africa and Asia at the time of the dinosaurs,animal life here has evolved in a startling myriad of forms, creating a profusion ofendemic species found nowhere else on earth. Humans were not part of that process:they first colonized this huge island less than 2000 years ago, when it was a primalEden, inhabited only by its bizarre and marvellous zoological cornucopia. Asbiologists discover more and more about this remarkable place, calling it the eighthcontinent barely does it justice: second planet seems more appropriate.
Routinely treated as a part of Africa, Madagascar’s distinctiveness is apparent from the moment you arrive: in theglinting lakes and rice fields; the brightly painted, double-storeyed, balconiedhouses; the rickshaws and zebu carts; and above all in the people themselves, withtheir Austronesian features and jangling, guttural language, spoken throughout theisland.
  Madagascar is not Africa: this is a country of the IndianOcean . No amount of travel in Africa can prepare you for the beauty ofthe local architecture, the elaborate tombs that sometimes seem to outdo the housesof the living, or the famadihana exhumation ceremoniesthat – literally – give the dead a party once every seven years,allowing people to come face to face with the deceased. Very quickly you discoverthat while elements of Malagasy life – love of cattle, traditional clothing,bush taxis (taxis brousse) – seem to derive from Africa, the people live in aworld dominated by spirits and elaborate cultural rules derived from very differentroots on the other side of the Indian Ocean.
  Equally, no African safari can prepare you for the intimate thrill of crouchingamong the rainforest foliage as lemurs float through thebranches just above your head, while a chameleon stalks along a twig at arm’slength, a chaotically coloured frog gulps at your foot, and implausibly shapedinsects do battle on a nearby leaf.
  Some aspects of the Malagasy experience are sadly – globally –familiar: environmental destruction is an ongoing anddesperately serious problem here. The old practice of slash-and-burn agriculture– exacerbated by corporate plantations – has reduced a vast proportionof the ancestral forests to a barren, scrub-covered steppe of ochre earth and dust,and the annual rains sweep more and more of the increasingly Red Island – asit is sometimes known – into the sea.
  Nevertheless, where the natural vegetation remains, Madagascar’s landscapes often present entrancing tableaux. Dripping emerald rainforests , baobab trees like giant windmillstowering over the savannah, and crazy outcroppings of limestonepinnacles , like a million wonky Gothic church spires, compete for yourattention as you move north and south and through the island’s climaticzones.
  If the national parks can look like some artwork created by Roger Dean for aparticularly intense Yes album cover, the human landscapes are equally captivating:in the highlands , a thousand shades of green dazzle fromthe terraced rice fields, framed by dykes of red earth; water-filled nursery paddiesreflect a cerulean blue sky and towering granite mountains, daubed by the pastelimages of rows of multicoloured Hauts Plateaux houses.
  On the east coast, you’ll find golden beaches framed by huge boulders and palm trees, lapped by the bath-warm Indian Ocean– and pummelled by annual tropical storms. Out to the west and south, rollingplains of dry savannah and range lands are interspersed bydense and alien spiny forest and carved by broad meandering rivers.
  And the practicalities of travel itself? This guide goesinto plenty of detail, but the most important message is to give yourself time . Madagascar is vast, and most of the roads (such as theyare) radiate out like spokes from the capital, so getting around needs planning, andyou’ll probably need to include some internal flights. Happily, hotels andrestaurants, road transport, park entry fees and park guides are all inexpensive:and when you do get to your destination, up some remote track in the bush, or off atiny airstrip on an offshore island, the rewards – in the form of thewildlife and the welcome from your Malagasy hosts – are great andlasting.

Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in theworld (after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo), measuring587,040 square kilometres – more than twice the size of Texas andnearly two-and-a-half times the size of the UK. At the last official estimate in 2011, Madagascar’s population was just under 21 million, giving theisland a population density (35 per square kilometre) comparable to thatof the USA. The country’s official languages areMalagasy and French, though English is increasingly important. Traditional religious beliefs are stillwidely upheld and adherents often combine them with membership of one ofthe country’s churches. There are some 4 million Roman Catholics,and 3.5 million members of the FJKM (the Church of Jesus Christ inMadagascar). Muslims, who form around 5–7 percent of thepopulation, are less likely to adhere to older beliefs. Madagascar’s independence wasreturned to it, from France, on June 26, 1960. After years of chaoticdictatorship, the country now has a presidential, multi-party democracy.The president is elected by popular vote and selects a prime minister toform a government. Politics tends to be personality- rather thanissue-led. Madagascar’s natural heritage isincreasingly recognized as a global scientific resource. Dozens of newspecies are discovered every year: more then 100 species of lemurs arenow recognized (from the ape-sized indri to the smallest mouse lemur)and nearly 80 species of chameleons (from specimens the size of a smallpaper clip to giants as big as your arm) are endemic to the island. Manymore species are likely to be discovered in the years ahead –environmental destruction permitting.
< Back to Introduction to Madagascar

Where to go
Dominating the heart of Madagascar in every sense, Antananarivo is very likely to be your point of arrival.Charmingly adrift and unfamiliar, Tana, as it’s known, is a city thatbeats to a blend of traditional and modern rhythms, where shopping malls andurban transit systems have yet to make an appearance among the few spires ofglass and concrete.
  Antananarivo lies towards the northern end of the Central Highlands . This region of rugged ranges and plateaux isthe cultural heartland of the Merina people, whose dominance over most of theisland was established early in the nineteenth century. In towns like Ambatolampy , Antsirabe , Ambositra and Fianarantsoa , you’ll see traditionalarchitecture, horse-drawn buggies and Malagasy crafts, with famadihana (reburial) ceremonies taking place through the dryseason, while outside the urban centres there are hikes and natural areas toexplore such as the Réserve VillageoiseAnja , which protects several groups of ring-tailed lemurs, and therainforest of the Parc National de Ranomafana ,amid a landscape dominated by terraced rice fields and pastel-coloured villagehouses.
   East of the highlands, Madagascar’ssteeply sloping spine remains largely swathed in rainforest, cut by rushingstreams and negotiated by just two main roads and a couple of decrepit railwaylines switchbacking down to the coast. The country’s most famous nationalpark, Andasibe-Mantadia , is located in theeastern rainforest and is home to twelve species of lemurs, including thelargest – the wonderful, wailing indri. The sultry east coast features agem of an island – beach-fringed Île SainteMarie – and marvellously remote and rewarding rainforestareas in the shape of the tiny island reserve of NosyMangabe and the magnificent mountainous national parks of Masoala and Marojejy .
  The island’s northern tip is crowned by theextraordinary natural harbour of Diego Suarez ,with its necklace of beautiful beaches and diving spots. This town is thenatural access route to the little-visited mountain rainforest park of Montagne d’Ambre and the spectacularlimestone pinnacle landscape of Parc Nationald’Ankarana . Here, you’re within striking distance ofthe alluring island of Nosy Be on the northwestcoast, sheltered from Madagascar’s easterly cyclones, fringed bybeautiful if relatively exploited beaches, and dotted with resort hotels. Toescape the high-season crowds, focus on the smaller satellite islands and remotemainland hotels.
  Much of the vast region of western Madagascar – flatter and much more low-lying than the east – is barelyvisited backcountry, lapped by the relatively sheltered, mangrove-fringedMozambique Channel and dotted with old fishing and trading ports such as Majunga , Morondava and Morombe . While the towns tend to be ratherwashed-up and the beaches aren’t the best, the snorkelling and diving canbe excellent. Natural highlights such as the dry woodland ofParc National d’Ankaranfantsika , the nocturnal wildlife ofthe Kirindy Private Reserve , and the stunningspecimens on Morondava’s Allée desBaobabs are magnetic in their own right. Above them all, though, isthe utterly otherworldly limestone pinnacle landscape of the Tsingy de Bemaraha ; with its almost impenetrableforest of rocky needles, it’s a paramount goal for many visitors, ifnever easy to reach. If you have enough time, the Bemaraha is often bestaccessed by one of the navigable rivers that flow through it.
  In many ways southern Madagascar – drier andmore temperate with its remarkable spiny forest ecosystem – is a different world. Parts of the region, especially thedriest districts in the southwest, are areas of semi-desert, where impoverishedpastoralist peoples like the Bara and the Mahafaly count their blessings in thenumber of zebu cows in their herds. The biggest attractions here are thesandstone canyons of Parc Nationald’Isalo , the high peaks of ParcNational d’Andringitra and the habituated ring-tailed lemursand “dancing” sifakas of the RéservePrivée Berenty . Mountains join the sea at the isolated andhistoric outpost of Fort Dauphin , in the farsoutheast, the dry spiny forest meeting the moist tropical environment of theeast coast in a delightfully scenic, rewarding location, with great beaches andoutstanding faunal reserves.
< Back to Introduction to Madagascar

When to go
At a latitude stretching from 12° to 25° south, Madagascar iswell inside the tropics at its northern end and justoutside the Tropic of Capricorn in the far south. Mexico and Queensland lie onsimilar latitudes.
  With its climate dominated by the Indian Ocean’s southeastern trade winds , the island has a clear seasonal cycle. A hot,wet summer – between November and March– brings anything up to 4m of drenching rain to the eastern slopes andhighlands, roughly four times the UK’s typical annual rainfall in thespace of a few months. This is the season when ferocious cyclones hit the eastcoast and ravage their way inland – busting bridges, sweeping away roadsand riverbanks and making travel extremely difficult. The rains are heavy butmuch less voluminous in the west and southwest of the island: and down in thesemi-desert of the far southwest they don’t always do much more thanspatter the parched earth. For the rest of the year, roughly from April toOctober, Madagascar experiences a dry, cool season – what naturalistscall the austral winter . Overall, this is a good timeto travel: days are bright and usually warm to very warm and nights mild.Temperatures are highest at sea level and also higher in the north and on thewest coast. The south can be much chillier: July in Fort Dauphin will have youglad of a fleece and an extra blanket at night.
  For particular activities, bear the following in mind. In the highlands, aboveabout 2000m, it can rain at almost any time of year and nights at high altitudecan be bitterly cold, though freezing temperatures are rare. If you’redoing some hiking or climbing , you will need warmlayers. It also tends to rain heavily most months in the northeast of theisland, with the Masoala Peninsula and Baie d’Antongil like a greenhousemost of the year. Natural history enthusiastsshould know that during the austral winter trees lose their leaves, animals areless active and some species hibernate, though whale-watchers can enjoy a continuous regatta of humpbacks up theeast coast (and to a lesser extent the west) during their June-to-Septembernortherly migration past the island. November is often recommended as a goodtime for wildlife, with the first rains bringing out an explosion of courting,mating and spawning among amphibians, reptiles, birds and the fabulous fossa. Diving and snorkelling are best at the endof the dry winter season, roughly from August to October, when the sedimentbrought down by the rivers during the rains has had time to disperse andsettle.

< Back to Introduction to Madagascar


1 Fianarantsoa Fianar’s hilltop old town is one of Madagascar’s mostpicturesque, with narrow lanes and views across the modern city and its ricefields.

2 Parc Nationald’Andasibe-Mantadia Wonderful lemur-watching, including troops of habituated indris, plus nightwalks and decent hotels, just a three-hour drive from Antananarivo.

3 Île SainteMarie This beautifully unspoiled island is quieter than Nosy Be, with the jewel ofÎle aux Nattes at its southern tip. Leave time to get back to the bigisland: it’s easy to get stranded by the weather.

4 RéserveSpéciale de Nosy Mangabe Heaven on a plate for beach-bum natural history buffs, with leaf-tailed geckoscamouflaged obligingly on every other branch and a beach to make grown mencry.

5 Parc National deMasoala The real-life version of your local rainforest experience, complete withtumbling streams, buttress-rooted forest giants and thousands of life forms.Take a waterproof.

6 Nosy Be Madagascar’s most developed concentration of tourist resorts is low-keyby global standards. Get away from the beach hotels and out to the offshorereefs or up to the hilly interior.

7 Allée desBaobabs and Kirindy PrivateReserve Worth the special journey for the towering “tree-elephants” andthe exhilarating nocturnal animal life of Kirindy, including fossas.

8 Tsingy deBemaraha Hard to get to, but worth every ounce of effort for the extraordinary expansesof weirdly eroded limestone pinnacles, cut through by winding rivers.

9 Parc Nationald’Isalo A park of big landscapes, lush canyons and wide horizons in the dry savannah,with easy access, good hotels and camping.

10 Sainte LuceReserve Moist coastal forest and creeks, home to lemurs and chameleons, with gloriousbeaches and onshore whale-watching, as well as some excellent guides.
< Back to Introduction


Almost all trips in Madagascar start and end in Antananarivo. Allow 3–4weeks to cover the north by a mixture of road and air travel – or skiphalf these stops and do it in 10–14 days.

1 Antananarivo Give yourself a couple of days to visit the Rova palace compound and theold royal capital of Ambohimanga.

2 Parc Nationald’Andasibe-Mantadia Get up early to walk into the indris’ territory and hear theirextraordinary call. Then plan a night walk looking for chameleons and mouselemurs.

3 ÎleSainte Marie Fly or ferry out to this old pirates’ hideaway, then rent a scooterand explore its jungle paths, clean beaches and limpid waters.

4 NosyMangabe Organize a boat and guide to this fabled, forest-stacked island –home to aye-ayes, leaf-tailed geckos and a host of other species, somealmost certainly still to be discovered.

5 Parc Nationalde Masoala Easily visited on the same trip as Nosy Mangabe, you can camp here withlocals or stay in a fancy lodge on the beach. Either way, the steep paths ofthe Masoala rainforest start at your doorstep. Every minute of every hikeyields wonderful sights and discoveries, from vangas to boas, from tenrecsto sportive lemurs.

6 DiegoSuarez Cosmopolitan, warm and breezy, Diego Suarez – with its picturesqueviews and superb watersports – is the perfect rest stop betweennational parks.

7 Parc Nationalde la Montagne d’Ambre Much easier to explore than the other rainforest parks, and still burstingwith life, the Amber Mountain and the little town of Joffreville are worth aday and a night.

8 Parc Nationald’Ankarana If you don’t have time to take a boat trip to the Tsingy deBemaraha, then this fascinating eroded plateau is the next best thing:lemurs and plenty of reptiles inhabit this rocky fortress. Take goodfootwear.

9 Nosy Be Don’t be put off, don’t be intimidated: Nosy Be’sbeaches are beautiful, the resort trappings pretty tame and the interiorwell worth exploring. Don’t forget a trip to the wonderfulLokobé reserve.

10 Parc Nationald’Ankaranfantsika Deciduous dry forest meets lakes and erosion gulleys in this enjoyable andaccessible park between Majunga and Antananarivo.
< Back to Itineraries

Allow three weeks to cover the south by air and road. Be sure to leave time to getback to Antananarivo at the end of the trip. Renting a car and driver for the lastfew days of this itinerary is a good idea, rather than relying on AirMadagascar.

1 Antananarivo Visit the capital’s historic sites and markets, walk through the oldquarters and check out some of its many restaurants, bars and clubs.

2 Morondava Get a flight to this west-coast port and hire a cab to see the unmissableAllée des Baobabs and do some night walks in the stunningly rich KirindyPrivate Reserve.

3 Tuléar Fly south to the capital of the Vezo fishing people, with its great seafoodrestaurants: then taxi north to Ifaty and Mangily for spiny forest and take aboat south to snorkel and relax on the beach at Anakao.

4 FortDauphin Fly to Fort Dauphin: watch whales and the crashing surf, or spend a few daysin natural history heaven at Sainte Luce, Berenty or on the MandrareRiver.

5 Parc Nationald’Isalo Back in Tuléar, rent a vehicle and driver to tour up the scenic RN7:hike in the magnificent canyons of Isalo and pause at Parc NationalZombitse-Vohibasia en route.

6 RéserveVillageoise Anja Stay at a charming bed and breakfast and make an early morning start on a hikethrough the home territories of delightful ring-tailed lemurs.

7 Fianarantsoa Explore the Merina people’s cultural capital, with its fascinatinghilltop old town.

8 Parc National deRanomafana See the rare golden bamboo lemur, along with countless other species, in thisrugged and memorably scenic rainforest park.

9 Antsirabe Spend a day in this nineteenth-century spa town, shopping and eating (andpossibly trying the waters, if they ever reopen the baths), before driving backto Tana.
< Back to Introduction
Getting there
Getting around
Food and drink
Festivals and public holidays
Sports and outdoor activities
National parks and reserves
Culture and etiquette
Travelling with children
Travel essentials


Flights from the UK and Ireland
Flights from the US and Canada
Flights from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand
Agents and operators
The only practical way to reach Madagascar is by air: there are no passengerferries from South Africa, Mozambique or Tanzania, nor from Madagascar’snearest neighbours, the Comoros Islands and Mauritius.
  The main airlines flying to Ivato International Airportat Antananarivo are Air Madagascar from Paris, Johannesburg and Bangkok; Air Francefrom Paris; South African Airways and Airlink from Johannesburg; and Kenya Airwaysfrom Nairobi. Regional carriers Air Austral (Réunion), Air Mauritius, AirSeychelles and Comoros Aviation are useful for wider Indian Ocean travels. Inaddition, French and Italian charter companies sometimes offer seasonal flights fromParis and Milan to Nosy Be. Prices vary widely, and are much higher during the keyhigh-season holiday periods of late July and August and Christmas/New Year.

At Rough Guides we are passionately committed to travel. We believe that ithelps us understand the world we live in and the people we share it with– and of course tourism is vital to many developing economies. But thescale of modern tourism has also damaged some places irreparably, and climatechange is accelerated by most forms of transport, especially flying. All RoughGuides’ flights are carbon-offset, and every year we donate money to avariety of environmental charities.

Flights from the UK and Ireland
There are no direct flights from the UK or Ireland to Madagascar. You can either fly from London Heathrow to Nairobi (daily,overnight) and connect onwards (most days) to Tana (3–4hr); or fly toParis and connect (daily) to an Air France or Air Madagascar flight (11hr); thelatter use planes leased from and run by Air France. Return economy fares startat around £650 and may exceed £1300 in high season. The keyadvantage of flying Air Madagascar is the very worthwhile fifty percent discount you will get on internal flights booked withthem; the downside is an unavoidable introduction to the vagaries of AirMadagascar travel. If you need help with making a booking or understanding theAir Mada website, you’ll find that Aviareps, the UK sales and marketingoffice for the airline, are extremely useful (  01293 596659 , ).
< Back to Getting there

Flights from the US and Canada
In the absence of direct flights from North America to Madagascar, thecommonest solution from the east coast is usually aflight to Europe on Air France or on Kenya Airways’ partner KLM, followedby flights as described above from London or Paris. Alternatively, ifyou’re flying from the west coast , you may findit cheaper to fly via Bangkok and connect with Air Madagascar there (flights runtwick weekly). Round-trip tickets start at around US$2000 from NewYork.
< Back to Getting there

Flights from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand
From Johannesburg , South African Airways,Airlink and Air Madagascar fly daily to Antananarivo (3hr). Fares start ataround ZAR8000 return.
  With no direct flights, there are various options fromAustralia and New Zealand , notably flying via Johannesburg orNairobi, or hubbing through Bangkok, as detailed above. However, the best-valueroute is via Mauritius and/or Réunion; several flights a week are run byAir Mauritius and Air Austral, with tickets starting at around Aus$1600return from Perth.
< Back to Getting there


Airlink .

Air Austral .

Air France .

Air Madagascar .

Air Mauritius .

Air Seychelles .

British Airways .

Comoros Aviation .

Kenya Airways .

South African Airways .
< Back to Getting there

Agents and operators
Whether you want a group tour with set departure dates or an itinerary that istailor-made or customized to your specifications, it’s worth knowing thedifference between a travel agent who books you a triporganized by another company, and a tour operator whoputs the trip together themselves. Some operators also make use of local tour operators in Madagascarfor some or all of the trip, while others work directly with hotel and transportproviders.


Birding Africa UK  021 531 4592 , . Impressively thorough andfocused operation offering set-departure tours with highly experiencedand knowledgeable tour leaders.

Cortez US  1 800 854 1029 , . Experienced Madagascar specialistoffering custom tours.

Exodus UK  020 8772 3747 , . Short range of very well planned, high-quality group tours for wildlifeand culture enthusiasts.

Madagascar Classic Camping UK  01932 260618 , . Tailor-made trips to their own superb tented camps at Manafiafy and Ifotaka in southern Madagascar.

Madagascar Island Safaris South Africa  021 783 3536 , . Specialists inlive-aboard island cruising by dhow, with kayak and mainland adventuretrips also on offer.

Rainbow Tours UK  020 7666 1250 , . Long-established companyoffering high-quality wildlife tours in association with Zà Toursin Madagascar.

Reef and Rainforest UK  01803 866965 , . The name is a hint:this is the UK’s oldest Madagascar specialist, with a wealth ofexperience, conscientiously delivered.

Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures South Africa  033 394 0225 , . Highly recommendedbirding tours for very keen birdwatchers.

Tribes UK  01473 890 499 , . Very well respected and responsible independent adventure operatoroffering group and tailor-made Madagascar trips.

Wildlife Worldwide UK  01962 302 086 , . Enthusiasticallyorganized tailor-made trips for wildlife lovers, with a very strongconservation angle.
< Back to Agents and operators


Flight Centre UK and worldwide  0800 188 4524 , . Low airfarespecialists.

North South Travel UK  01245 608291 , . Friendly, competitivetravel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits supportprojects in the developing world.

STA Travel UK and worldwide . Worldwide specialists inindependent travel, also offering student IDs, travel insurance and carrental.

Trailfinders UK  020 7368 1200 , . One of the best-informed and mostefficient flight-booking agents for independent travellers.

Travelcuts Canada  1800 667 2887 , . Canadian youth and student travelspecialist.
< Back to Agents and operators


Azafady UK  020 8960 6629 , . Award-winning UK charity andMalagasy NGO, enabling you to work as a health assistant, languageteacher or lemur researcher for two to ten weeks.

Blue Ventures UK  020 7697 8598 , . Marine conservation voluntourismin southwest Madagascar; three to twelve weeks with scuba trainingincluded if required. All profits go to its sister charity.

Frontier UK  020 7613 2422 , . Well-regarded schools andconservation placements in many countries, including Madagascar, lastingfrom a week to several months.

People and Places UK  01795 535718 , . Highly respectedresponsible voluntourism company that takes great care to matchapplicants with projects that make the best use of their skills.
< Back to Basics


Renting a car and driver
Public transport
By plane
By train
By sea and river
Most transport in Madagascar is by road , and the roadnetwork is steadily improving, with several of the major routesnationales (RN2, RN7 etc) having a tarmac or blacktop surface ( goudron in French) in reasonable condition, give or take theodd pothole.
  The overall structure, however, is less of that of a network and more that of ahub (Antananarivo) from which the routes nationales radiate north, east, south and west. Between these axes, the connections are muchless sure, with narrow earth or sand roads linking small towns and villages in ruralareas. Sometimes these are graded or improved to make driving easier, but they areprone to frequent flooding in the rainy season, and it can take hours to cover ashort distance on the map, especially where rudimentary, pontoon-style ferries serveas bridges over the many streams and rivers. Water crossings tend to feature a greatdeal in Madagascar: think waterproofs and plastic bags.
  Getting around under your own steam – on foot or by bike – is covered under “Sports and outdoor activities”.

Renting a car and driver
As long as you’re not counting every penny, renting a car and driver is a good strategy, used by many visitors. Unlikethe usual kind of self-drive car rental (which is available but only reallyrecommended for experienced drivers in and around larger towns), renting with adriver gives you the freedom to enjoy the ride while someone else worries aboutthe driving and the vehicle – and of course the cost if sharing with agroup comes down dramatically. Most drivers are also guides, so you’reessentially buying a tailor-made trip.
  It’s important to have every element of the deal very clear from theoutset. Typically you rent the vehicle and driver from a local tour operator(occasionally the driver is the vehicle owner) for an agreed route and duration.The driver will look after fuel and will have his own overnight costs and mealallowance included: if you sometimes choose to invite him to your table (as manytravellers do) that comes out of your pocket. You should be careful to allow fordiversions: a 20km side trip will not be considered part of the deal if youdidn’t request it to begin with.
  Most driver-and-vehicle deals will include a 4x4 (a quatre-quatre or kat-kat ) in goodcondition. Bear in mind that fuel costs around€1/litre and while you may get 20–30mpg on the highway(9–15 litres/100km), on rough earth or sand roads that may go down to10mpg or less (28 litres/100km or more). Also remember that while you may onlywant to drive in one direction, the vehicle is likely to be going back empty. Atypical cost for a journey like this on the classic RN7 route from Antananarivoto Tuléar (or the reverse) over five days and four nights, staying ontarmac, would be between €800 and €1000. Of this, the driverhimself will see perhaps €100, with another €50 for his per diem,and fuel accounting for around €200 of the roughly 1900km roundtrip.
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Public transport
If you’re travelling on a low budget, you’ll be using the slowand cheap shared taxis brousse (bush taxis, or taxi-be in Malagasy). These are privately or cooperativelyowned minibuses running regular services, to a vaguely adhered-to timetable. Themost upscale services run on the main roads with a high volume of traffic,allowing them to leave on time, take regular comfort stops and meal breaks andallocate each passenger a seat, sometimes in a vehicle that is air-conditioned.You can often reserve seats in these navettes (shuttles).
  At the other end of the taxi-be spectrum, thevehicle is held together by willpower alone and the driver leaves only whenit’s full to bursting – and then continues to cram passengers inen route. Journeys like this can be maddeningly slow, uncomfortable and utterlyunpredictable, especially off the beaten track, or in the rainy season, when ataxi brousse ride can last for days. In such circumstances, the journey candevelop a weird, bubble-like character all of its own, with the passengersgrabbing a few hours sleep in the bush or in a cheap guesthouse while a ferry isfixed or a puncture repaired, and everyone asking each other how much longer itcan possibly take and whether the driver is really up to the job.
  Taxi brousse fares vary widely depending on routeand passenger volumes (it’s the slowest journeys in the remotest andpoorest districts that always cost the most), but reckoning on 10,000ar per100km is a good guide, with shorter distances costing proportionately more. As aguide, you should expect to pay around 40,000–70,000ar for a journey fromTana to one of the coastal towns. Seats at the front, with seat belts, usuallycost 50–100 percent more.
  Bush taxis have a taxi park in every town, and sometimes more than one fordifferent directions – known interchangeably as a gareroutière , station des transports or stationnement . These can sometimes be a littleoverwhelming, even intimidating, as over-eager touts desperate for commissionjostle for your business. If you arrive at the taxi park by town taxi, try toenlist your driver’s help in booking a seat on a vehicle that is about toleave: don’t allow yourself to become passenger bait by being persuadedto accept a ride in an empty vehicle that won’t be leaving for hours.This means holding onto your luggage rather than having it loaded onto the roofright away. On the subject of luggage, an ordinary bag of 20kg or so should befree. Extra luggage attracts a negotiable supplement.

Transport in towns
Urban transport varies from town to town: depending on the location,you’ll find battered Renault 4L (pronounced “ quatre-elle” ) taxis –the town taxis, sometimes called taxis-ville to distinguish them from taxisbrousse and larger taxis-be , alongside Bajaj motorized trishaws (tuk-tuks), cyclo-pousses (cycle rickshaws) and pousses-pousses (handcarts) all competing for your business.Short rides cost 1000–5000ar depending on the vehicle and the town,and are always somewhat more at night. Always establish the price beforeclimbing aboard.
  Town taxis are usually amenable to being rented for several hours or for aparticular journey out of town: think in terms of 30,000ar for a morning orafternoon around town, or perhaps 80,000ar for a 30km half-day round trip toa nearby location. A full day out of town in a 4L taxi, based on rental onlyand covering perhaps 100km, should cost no more than 120,000ar. Whenyou’re making such ad hoc arrangements for longer rides with a cabdriver, you should be quite clear where you want to go and how far it is,and that he is paying for the fuel.
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By plane
Despite its ropey reputation for reliability, AirMadagascar ’s safety record is actually very good. Which isjust as well as, apart from a handful of very small charter operators,there’s really no alternative to using the much-maligned nationalcarrier. As most of your target destinations are likely to be around the coastof the island, and most road journeys to them from Tana take longer than a day,it makes sense to use Air Mad (as it’s known, with resignation ratherthan affection) for some of your travel. It’s worth knowing, however,that there are few flights between regional towns, making it hard to avoidreturning several times to Tana.
  As a rough guide, the average cost of a typicalone-hour flight from Tana to a regional town is about €150–200one-way (you can pay in euros at a slightly poor rate of exchange, or inariary). You should reconfirm your next flight at every opportunity (giving anyavailable contact number), and check in at least two hours before departure. Ifyou check a bag into the hold, remove valuables before doing so, and keep yourbaggage coupon as it’s sometime requested on arrival before you can leavethe hall. Flights may or may not have allocated seats: check which it is whenyou check in, and if you want a particular seat, wait at the front of the lineor near the door of the departure lounge to make a quick getaway. In the eventthat you can’t fly or they can’t fly you, tickets bought at fullfare are fully refundable. And Air Mad treats the frequent casualties of itsdelayed flights quite well: you’ll be lodged in a hotel and given mealtickets.
  We’ve given approximate frequencies for Air Mad connections in the“Arrival and departure” sections for each town. As you plan,it’s worth remembering the major discounts on domestic flights if you use Air Mad for yourinternational booking.

As of April 2015, Air Madagascar’s network was restricted to thefollowing airports. A useful resource for checking what routes areoperational is Flightmapper ( ).

Antananarivo (Ivato International)

Antalaha (Antsirabato)

Diego Suarez (Arrachart)

Fort Dauphin (Tôlanaro)

Île Sainte Marie (Sainte Marie)

Majunga (Amborovy)



Nosy Be (Fascène)


Tamatave (Toamasina)

Tuléar (Toliara)
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By train
Madagascar’s rail traveloptions are reduced to a pair of cheap, fabulously decrepit and limitedservices: one run by Madarail between Moramangaand Tamatave ( ) and the other the Fianar–Côte Est railway between Fianarantsoa and Manakara. Each linehas in theory two services a week in each direction. Reservations are all butimpossible: show up at the station the day before and allow a good-sized windowin your schedule before making any other plans. The unique old Micheline – effectively a bus with pneumatictyres, but on rails (named after the tyre-manufacturer; ) – wasonce a feature of Madagascar tourism, but has ceased regular operations: one ortwo of the ancient vehicles are just about viable for special charters.
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By sea and river
There is very little passenger shipping except for small ferries andmotorboats running over quite short distances. Sea travel is most viable in thesheltered waters of the Mozambique Channel on the westcoast , where captains of cargo vessels (sailing dhows known as boutres ), or smaller inshore dugouts and outriggercanoes, can sometimes be persuaded to take fare-paying passengers along thecoast – though you tend to be treated as a piece of last-minute cargo.Take waterproofs, seasickness tablets and plenty of drinking water andsnacks.
  On the east coast the seas can be very rough and thescheduled small passenger ferries between Soanierana-Ivongo and ÎleSainte Marie (sometimes including a service to Maroantsetra) are often cancelled. Also on the east coast, there are a fewfreight barges and tourist vessels plying the Canal des Pangalanes , but nothing regular. There are no ferries around thesoutheast of the island.
  On the rivers , while there are plenty of short andsometimes alarming ferry crossings to look forward to (if you venture far offthe beaten track), nobody is using the long, meandering rivers of the west fornormal passenger transport. However, these – principally the Tsiribihina , Manambolo and Mangoky – are the watercourses on which adventure tourismoperators run river journeys, using inflatables, kayaks and one or two largervessels. Whenever you’re travelling on water, be sure to ask for a lifejacket: all vessels should carry them.
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Madagascar has no shortage of hotels, and on the whole they offer good value,certainly by international standards.

Rates quoted throughout this Guide are for the cost of the cheapest room sleeping two people in high season (typically Julyto October, plus Christmas and New Year). Breakfast is normally included at more upmarket establishments butnot in cheaper hotels; if meals are included we have indicated accordingly. Dorm bed prices are per bed and camping prices usually per pitch.
  Some Malagasy hotels quote prices in ariary, though generally more upmarketplaces use euros (and occasionally dollars); our listings follow the currency quoted by the individual hotel. Though you canpay in either ariary or euros, it’s usually best to use ariary, thecurrency in which prices are officially set. If you have to pay in euros ensureyou are not paying over the odds – quite possible, since the ariary issteadily losing value against the euro.

Only a limited number of outstanding city hotels, national park lodges,tourist safari camps and beach resort hotels could really be said to reach toplevels of service and amenities: there just isn’t enough competition– or enough urgency – to provide better for visitors who may onlycome here once, and who hardly have any choice once they’ve started theirtrip. So there’s a small group of top-endplaces scattered thinly across the island, with concentrations inTana and on Nosy Be and Île Sainte Marie. These will cost from around€100 per night for a room for two, with everything included (stylishfurnishings, breakfast, 24hr hot water, electricity, wi-fi and probably a spa).A tiny handful of super-luxurious beach and wildlife resorts offer all-inclusiverates for several times that figure. Most of your fellow guests at these hotelswill be overseas visitors.


Anjajavy l’Hôtel Anjajavy Peninsula

Chez Gérard et Francine Nosy Be

La Crique Île Sainte Marie

Le Grand Bleu Nosy Be

Tsara Komba Lodge Nosy Komba
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A good step down in standards will give you mid-rangeplaces , stretching from charming and extraordinarily good value tovery ho-hum and rather overpriced. Standards can vary from day to day and fromroom to room in the same hotel, and even more so with a change in management orownership: consistency isn’t a hallmark of Malagasy hotels. Nevertheless,if you’re paying between €20 and €100 for a room you canexpect a presentable en-suite set-up, decently furnished, with reasonablycomfortable beds, mosquito nets, fans or air-conditioning (a/c; sometimesoffered as a daily supplement), satellite TV and room safes. Increasingly,mid-range hotels have wi-fi, too, though it may be temperamental or onlyavailable in one or two areas. Some of these hotels may also have a pool– though not always a very tempting one – and some of thetrappings of the top-end places, like a spa, excursion services or a goodrestaurant. They will usually have a backup generator, even if they may notalways turn it on when the mains power cuts out. The guests will be a mixture oftourists and business visitors, and wealthier locals.
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Litchi Tree Parc National de Montagne d’Ambre

Mandrare River Camp Ifotaka

Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge Sainte Luce

Masoala Forest Lodge Parc National de Masoala

Le Relais de la Reine Parc National d’Isalo

If you’re paying between €10 and €20 per night for a room(or more likely it will be priced in ariary – say30,000–60,000ar), then you’re in the budget category that can be widely afforded by Malagasytravellers. Most of these hotels offer excellent value for money and tend to bequite busy and sometimes full. Typically they consist of a group of wooden,thatched bungalows, some en-suite, some sharing shower and toilet facilities andsome with the option of air-conditioning. If there’s a bar-restaurant itmay run as a separate business. In any case breakfast, as well asair-conditioning and wi-fi (if any) are likely to be extra. It’s alwaysworth checking the beds for comfort and cleanliness and asking about hot waterand electricity supplies (there’s no point paying the extra for a/c ifthe power is off most of the night).
  If you’re paying below 30,000ar you can be fairly sure rooms are goingto be rough and ready and may be very tiny and largely occupied by the solepiece of furniture, one sagging bed. One bare, low-wattage light bulb (when thepower is on), worn clean sheets (hopefully) and a blanket, and, if you have anen-suite bathroom at all, a shower/toilet combo with tepid rather than hotwater, will be about the most you can expect. Your door may only just aboutlock, and shutters may be very loose, so security can be an issue. Rock-bottomrooms with shared facilities may go for as little as 10,000ar.
  Regardless of price, every hotel is a registered business, its rates set andapproved (a small training levy and taxes are included in your bill) and eventhe very cheapest place will provide towels, soap and toilet paper.
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Couleur Café Antsirabe

La Plantation Hell-Ville

Sakamanga Antananarivo

Talinjoo Fort Dauphin

La Terrasse du Voyageur Diego Suarez

Campsites are widespread in the national parks and typically cost 5000ar perperson, using your own tent , which you usually pitchunder a thatched shelter or on a platform. In busier parks, pre-erected tents orsimple hut or dormitory accommodation may also beavailable (from around 10,000ar per person). Most campsites have shared shower,toilet and outdoor kitchen facilities, often with firewood or charcoal forsale.
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Where to eat
On the menu
Madagascar’s food culture is built around the country’s nationalstaple, rice ( riz , or vary inMalagasy), which is cooked until very soft and sits heavily at the heart ofmost traditional cuisine. Even enthusiastic rice lovers tend to tire of iteventually, but happily there are plenty of interesting flavours to accompanyit.

Breakfast (usually available 6.30am–9am)is typically not included at cheaper hotels, but added to your bill. A Malagasybreakfast consists of rice and greens, but a simple petitdéjeuner (often referred to as a “Continentalbreakfast”) is increasingly common, and consists of tea or coffee withFrench-style baguette bread, usually with butter and/or jam, and occasionallywith pastries. If you add juice, eggs, sausages, yoghurt, cereal or anythingelse, it becomes an “American breakfast”. Lunch (around noon–2pm) is again traditionally a meal ofrice – a very big heap of it, often pressed into a deep bowl to form apleasing mountain – accompanied by whatever laoka (sauce, stew, soup) is on offer. However, many small placeswill also serve a simple two-or three-course French-style menudu jour , sometimes with a couple of choices, and typically costingaround 15,000ar. Dinner (around 7–8.30pm)is traditionally a smaller meal, but again the European style of dining isincreasingly common. Tea or coffee afterwards are always an extra.
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Where to eat
The main options are hotelys (a hotely is a local Malagasy restaurant with a simple menu of staplefavourites); your hotel dining room; and foreign imports from pizzerias andcrêperies to Italian, French, Indian and Chinese specialist restaurants;Tana has some very good French-Malagasy restaurants, and even Mexican andJapanese. Happily, Madagascar hasn’t yet been graced with internationalcattle-shed burger chains or fried-battery-bird outlets.
   Street food , served from a table in anestablished location at the side of the road – usually a quieter, shadycorner on a busy central street – by a woman or several women, oftenaccompanied by children and babies, can be very good indeed, and very cheap:rice and sauce, brochettes of beef, fish or prawns,roasted or baked plantains, bananas, cassava or sweet potato, stews andvegetable fritters may all be on offer. Your hostess will keep tabs on what youconsume, and the bill tends to be less than 5000ar perperson. Such pop-up kitchens tend to start serving late morning and will bethere until early or mid-evening, whenever the food runs out or the customersfade away.


Chez Chabaud Majunga

Le Jardin de Giancarlo Tuléar

KUDéTA Antananarivo

Mad Zebu Belo-sur-Tsiribihina

Terrine d’Argent Diego Suarez
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On the menu
To be fair, while meals in Madagascar can be veryenjoyable, too many are stodgy and oily: it only takes two evenings in a row oftough zebu steak, with added bone fragments and soggy fries accompanied by thestandard heap of well-boiled rice, to make you long for a green salad and quicheor a tasty bowl of pasta. If you get bored of repeated zebu , among other meats look out forpork ( kisoa in Malagasy), which is less common, butcan be very flavoursome. Chicken, not surprisingly, is usually tough, but theduck can be good and a well-cooked romazava (traditional spicy beef and pork stew) can be excellent and has become almostthe national dish. Other dishes to sniff out include various popularChinese-style noodle soups ( misao ) and Indian curries( kary/kari ).
  Some of the best meals are to be had on the coast where seafood reigns. The shellfish is invariably excellent: freshlobster ( homard ) or crab ( crabe ) rarely cost more than 25,000ar, and shrimps/prawns ( crevettes ), scampi/giant prawns ( langoustines ) or rock lobster/crawfish ( langouste ; as big as a lobster but without the huge claws) can bealmost as good and are even cheaper. They’re the staple of the Nosy Beand Île Sainte Marie tourist restaurants – as are squid/cuttlefish( calmares ). Whole fish (the catch of the day,often in coconut, or raw – à latahitienne ), tuna ( thon ), shark ( requin ) and various billfish including swordfish, marlinand barracuda are also sometimes available.
   Vegetarians can have a hard time of it inrestaurants, as so little can be guaranteed meat-free, but most places canhappily make up a salad of raw, peeled vegetables with a dressing, even ifthere’s nothing specific on the menu. With cheese from the highlands,crusty bread, and fruit, peanuts, cashews and coconuts from the markets, youwon’t starve.
   Fruits available include bananas, fresh coconutand pineapple all year round, and mangos, lychees, rambutans and mangosteens inseason.

Madagascar may be popularly associated with vanilla or rum and sugar cane, but the national crop with noequal is rice ( vary inMalagasy). Average annual consumption, while going down, is still the highest per capita in the world, at around150kg per person, or more than 400g, or a pound of rice a day. To mostMalagasy, a meal isn’t a meal without rice, and usually that means alarge mound of the grain. To produce the requirement for more than threemillion tonnes of rice a year, some 12,000 square kilometres of the islandare devoted to rice-growing, whether in naturally flooded fields orbeautifully terraced and painstakingly irrigated rice paddies. (Rice, withits hollow stalk, is a grass that can survive to maturity underwater, andflooding the fields eliminates most weeds.) Despite this mammoth production,it’s never quite enough, and you’ll see sacks of imported ricein many parts.
  The best rice-growing areas can produce three harvests each year. This istypical of the ravishing terraced landscapes around Fianarantsoa, where thecountry’s master rice-growers, the Betsileo , have rice cultivation down to a very fine art, oftenusing several cultivars. Each farm includes one or more small nursery fieldsfor germination, where the tender, young shoots create intense lime-greensplashes among the verdant patchwork separated by dykes of red earth.
   Rice-growing is a year-round activity.Before planting, the ground has to be prepared, either by hoeing, or by zebu– often men and boys goad a group of zebu back and forth until theearth is thoroughly broken up. You’ll see people, usually women, bentdouble planting the new sprouts in the main fields. Later, pre-harvest, thefields are drained to dry off the ears and ripen the grains which once youcan often be seen drying at the roadside in many villages. The rice is thenthreshed by hand or pounded in large mortars to remove the husk from eachgrain.
  Madagascar isn’t just a traditional rice-growing country. It washere, in the densely cultivated areas around Lake Alaotra, northeast ofAntananarivo, that the system of riceintensification (SRI) was first developed in the 1980s by aFrench agronomist and Jesuit priest, Père Henri de Laulanié.SRI stipulates that seedlings are planted singly, in spaced rows, in fieldsthat are fed with compost, weeded carefully, and kept moist to aerate theroots, rather than flooded. The results have been spectacular, with yieldsof up to six tonnes per hectare compared with the traditional two tonnes,and SRI is now followed in fifty countries.
< Back to Food and drink

Spiced and flavoured rum in an almost infinite variety of flavours, known as rhum arrangé , and THB beer pronounced “Tay-Ash-Bay” (short for ThreeHorses Beer) are Madagascar’s two great contributions to the art oftropical intoxication (the local wine ,sadly, is not). Many restaurants take great pride in their selection ofhome-flavoured rums – ginger, mango, coffee, lychee, liquorice…often set out along the bar in a colourful display – and you may well betreated to a postprandial shot on the house. THB is a good lager, sold in large65cl bottles, usually available cold and invariably costing 5000ar or less. Alow-alcohol shandy ( panachée ) version calledFresh does the trick when you don’t want THB’s five percentalcohol.
  Madagascar has the usual range of fizzy drinks , plussomething called Bonbon Anglais (“English Sweet”), atongue-assaulting bubblegum-flavoured soft drink. Tapwater is often safe to drink, but to save the trouble of worryingmost visitors buy the local bottled mineral water, Eau Vive, by the 1.5-litrebottle. It’s available everywhere from roadside shacks to supermarketsand petrol stations, and costs from 1800ar to 5000ar.
   Coffee and tea are included at breakfast but otherwise always an additionalcost to a meal. Locally roasted coffee can be excellent, but you can’tdepend upon it, while tea tends to be the insipid international teabag belovedof hotels and restaurants that don’t get much call for it.

The zebu cattle of Madagascar are the samesubspecies of domestic cow as those found all over Africa – as wellas across much of southern Asia, where they’re often known as aBrahmans. Hump-backed, with a big dewlap under the neck, they have thescientific name Bos taurus indicus , distinct from Bos taurus taurus , the more familiarnon-humped beef and dairy cow of Europe and North America. The twosubspecies can be interbred, but zebus – and mixed breeds with astrong zebu background – are better adapted for dairy herding intropical zones, where more than seventy breeds have been developed. Bothzebus and European cattle were first domesticated more than 10,000 years agofrom an original wild ancestor, the aurochs ( Bos primigenius ), the last of which died outin Poland in the early seventeenth century.
  Introduced to the island by the end of the first millennium, probably fromEast Africa, zebus became a key part of the Malagasy economy and culture.They are still widely used to draw carts, to prepare the rice fields forplanting by stamping through the turned soil, and to provide dung to enrichthe soil. As in East Africa cows are by custom mainly kept for their milkand rarely killed for meat. The southern peoples – notably thepastoral Bara, Betsileo, Mahafaly, Antandroy and Antanosy – saw life(very much like the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania) through the lens of theircattle, amassing herds like treasure and viewing their cows and bulls asboth real and symbolic wealth. Funerals werethe traditional occasions for mass cattle slaughter and beef-eating, and thetombs of wealthy men are often mounted with dozens of cattle skulls indeliberately ostentatious fashion.
  As for zebu on the menu , when the cattle are feda good diet, slaughtered and hung properly, the meat is the match of anyother beef and can be excellent. Too often though, scrawny and dehydratedbeasts, herded along the highway or trucked in crowded wagons, end up astough pavé de zebu on the tables of cheap(and not-so-cheap) restaurants. Like the meat, you’ll find zebu milk , yoghurt , ice cream and cheese indistinguishable from less exotic dairy products. Antsirabe is a well-knowndairy centre – look out for the tasty blue cheese Bleued’Antsirabe.
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Rough Guides Travel Insurance
Water, food and stomach upsets
Bugs and wildlife
Medical resources
Medicine bag
Health care in Madagascar
Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries, and for localsit’s their poverty that largely determines general health and life chances.For visitors, staying healthy should not be a big issue. You need to be aware ofmalaria but generally, so long as you take sensible precautions – includingtaking care of cuts and scrapes and avoiding food that has been left out aftercooking – you should have no problems beyond the occasional stomach upset.Beware of the strong sunlight : brightness rather than heatis the damaging element, so wear a hat and use high-factor sun block, especially inyour first two weeks. Check that your travel insurance (which is essential for Madagascar) covers medical care,including emergency evacuation, and all the activities you might want to do,including diving. If you’re going to Madagascar for several months, get athorough dental checkup before leaving home. Be aware that sexually transmitteddiseases, including HIV, are rife: using condoms will help to protect you –though abstinence is even more effective.

Rough Guides has teamed up with to offer great travel insurance deals. Policies are available toresidents of over 150 countries, with cover for a wide range of adventuresports, 24hr emergency assistance, high levels of medical and evacuation coverand a stream of travel safety information. users can take advantage of their policies online 24/7, from anywhere inthe world – even if you’re already travelling. And since plansoften change when you’re on the road, you can extend your policy and evenclaim online. users who buy travel insurance with can also leave a positive footprint and donate to acommunity development project. For more information, go to .

For arrivals by air direct from Europe, Madagascar has no requiredinoculations, though if you’re stopping over in an African country thatis within the yellow fever transmission zone ( ),you may well be required to show an International Vaccination Certificate foryellow fever. A yellow fever certificate only becomes valid ten days afteryou’ve had the jab, but is then valid for life. You should ensure thatyou’re up to date with your childhood tetanus and polio protection: boosters are necessary every tenyears for tetanus and once as an adult for polio. If you’re going to beliving for some time in unhygienic conditions, doctors will usually recommendjabs for typhoid , hepatitisA and hepatitis B – although theseare not necessary for an ordinary holiday. Depending on the health serviceprovision in your area, or your personal circumstances, some of these jabs maybe free, but be prepared to pay.
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The whole of Madagascar below about 2000m is a malaria zone, though the parasite (transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito, which habitually only bitesafter dark) is much more easily picked up in crowded urban areas and strugglesto survive much above 1700m. You need to be most careful when in coastal towns,especially in the northern half of the island, where you should use mosquitorepellent on exposed skin in the evening, sleep under a good mosquito net and ofcourse take your malaria tablets diligently.
  The commonly recommended preventatives are the antibiotic doxycycline (doxy), taken daily, or atovaquone-with-proguanil,taken daily (sold as Malarone ), which, whileexpensive, has few side effects. These drugs are often available only onprescription, though in some countries you can buy them over the counter.It’s important to maintain a careful routine and keep taking the tabletsafter your trip. If you’re going to be staying in Madagascar for sometime, it’s worth knowing you can buy doxy and other tablets much morecheaply from pharmacies in-country.
  Even if you have been taking tablets, if you come down rapidly over the courseof a day with severe, flu-like symptoms (aching joints, temperature) you mayhave caught malaria and should get yourself to a doctor as fast as possible fora blood test and treatment.
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Water, food and stomach upsets
While some of Madagascar’s piped water supply is safe to drink, it’sprobably safer to rely on the local plastic-bottled Eau Vive , sold absolutelyeverywhere in 1.5-litre bottles. As for pickingup bugs from food, there’s really no evidence that the meals emergingfrom the hidden kitchens of fine hotels and restaurants are any less likely togive you a stomach upset than street food freshly prepared in front of you. Thatsaid, it’s easy to find yourself tucking into street food immediatelyafter handling another bunch of filthy low-value bank notes, so it’suseful to keep a small flask of sanitizer gel to hand.
  Happily, the tummies of most short-term visitors, at both ends of the budgetspectrum, survive unscathed. Should you go down with diarrhoea , it will probably clear up without treatment within 48hours. While you’re battling the bug, it’s essential to replacethe fluids and salts lost, so drink plenty of water with oral rehydration salts,which most pharmacies carry. If you can’t get these sachets, make yourown solution by dissolving half a teaspoon of salt and eight teaspoons of sugarin a litre of water.
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Bugs and wildlife
Madagascar’s native fauna is not only beautiful and often unique butlargely quite harmless. With the exception of the rarely seen fossa , there are no threatening large animals here, nor dangeroussnakes (some snakes are rear-fanged but can’tdeliver a dangerous bite to humans unless offered a little finger to chew on).Various invertebrates – scorpions, ants, bees, centipedes, biting fliesand the odd spider – can give a painful sting or bite, and you shouldalways be wary of touching hairy caterpillars (or plants for that matter: askyour guide first), but there are no mortally dangerous bugs on the island. Whilehiking in the national parks, you should be prepared to be occasionally assailedby biting flies, mosquitoes and ticks, and it can be useful to carry mossiespray, liquid or impregnated wipes with you into the forest. In damp, rainforestareas, leeches can be an unpleasant pest, but as their attacks are painless youoften don’t realize you have one hanging from your ankle untilit’s filled itself with your blood. Use a fingernail to break the sealthen flick the leech off.


Canadian Society for International Health  613 241 5785 , . Extensive list of travel healthcentres.

Centers for Disease Control  1 800 232 4636 , . Official US governmenttravel health site.

The Hospital for Tropical Diseases . The UK government’s latesttravel advice, as well as travel health information.

International Society of Travel Medicine  404 373 8282 , . US-based organization with a full listof travel health clinics.

MASTA  0330 100 4200 , . Medical AdvisoryService for Travellers Abroad is a private travel healthprovider.

The Travel Doctor . Private organization withtravel clinics in Australia and associates in New Zealand.
< Back to Health


Alcohol swabs Invaluable for cleaning minor wounds and insect bites.

Anti-malaria tablets Essential.

Antibiotics from your doctor if you are likely to be far from medical help for anylength of time.

Antihistamine cream Apply immediately after insect bites to reduce itchiness.

Antiseptic cream

Aspirin or paracetamol

Calamine lotion Very useful for insect bite itching and sore places.

Hand sanitizer gel A small squeeze-bottle is very handy when you’re on the moveand washing hands is impossible.


Tampons Available in town pharmacies and supermarkets but expensive, so bringyour own supplies.

Thermometer Get a plastic one that sticks on your forehead.

Zinc oxide powder Useful anti-fungal powder for sweaty crevices.
< Back to Health

Health care in Madagascar
Madagascar’s government health system ischallenged on all sides, with the treatment of childhood diarrhoea and malariaabsorbing much of its limited resources, and occasional outbreaks of cholera (treatable) and bubonicplague (spread by rat fleas) not uncommon – though neitherdisease is likely to be of any concern to travellers who are not living insqualid conditions in the affected locations. Pharmacies usually haveprofessionally trained staff and are a useful first port of call if you areunwell. Local hospitals and clinics may be able to help, but if you needtreatment for serious illness or injury, flying toRéunion (part of the European Union) might be a better plan:it’s what many affluent Malagasy do if they need privatetreatment.
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Madagascar celebrates the usual Christian holidays, and has three secular publicholidays, during which many offices and shops will be closed. The country normallysees in the New Year with a three-day party, with ceremonies, song and dance– and again most offices are closed.


January New Year

March Martyrs’ Day, commemorating the Revolt of 1947

March/April Easter Monday (March 28, 2016; April 17, 2017; April 2, 2018)

May 1 Labour Day

May Ascension (May 5, 2016; May 25, 2017; May 10, 2018)

May/June Whitsun (May 16, 2016; June 5, 2017; May 21, 2018)

June 26 Independence Day

August 15 Assumption

November 1 All Saints’ Day

December 25 Christmas Day
< Back to Festivals and public holidays


Diana festivals . Festivals of culture, sport, music, dance andarts include: Zegny Zo in Diego Suarez (May); Kabiry in Ambilobe (Aug); andSorogno in Ambanja (Sept).

Donia Nosy Be (a week or so in May or June) .Hell-Ville and nearby villages stage shows of traditional music and dancewith artists visiting from across the Indian Ocean region.

Famadihana Throughout the central highlands (June–Sept). Hundreds of two-dayfamily exhumation and reburial ceremonies, with feasting and music.

Festivanille Satrahagna Sambava (Aug) . Vanilla-flavoured series of weekendfestivals in the Sava region (Vohémar, Andapa, Antalaha and Sambava),with sporting contests, music and dance.

Madajazzcar Antananarivo (Oct) . International jazz festival.
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Hiking, climbing and running
Mountain biking and horseriding
Swimming, diving and snorkelling
Other watersports
Traditional and spectator sports
Madagascar isn’t all about lemurs and chameleons. If it were only for itslandscapes, beaches and warm seas, the island would still be one of theworld’s most alluring destinations, and there’s plenty here to pleaseadrenalin junkies and outdoor enthusiasts.

Hiking, climbing and running
There are almost limitless opportunities to explore Madagascar on foot,whether you like a daily run or want to do longer cross-country treks or climbs.More than a century of French occupation and immersion have opened up manyroutes for hiking and the Malagasy are increasinglykeen participants and organizers. Walking is the default way in which to explorethe national parks , and multi-day park hikes, with a guide and porters to carrycamping equipment and luggage, are not difficult to arrange, especially in thenational parks of Andringitra , Marojejy and Masoala . If you want to walk in the central highlands, outside theparks, you’ll need to give yourself time to make arrangements: a goodplace to start enquiries would be the tourist offices in Tana or Antsirabe .
  With its many sheer granite and sandstone rock walls, Madagascar is full ofexcellent climbing opportunities. Standout areasinclude the Montagne des Français near Diego Suarez, and the Isalo and Andringitra national parks. Local hotels have some expertise andequipment, but also contact New Sea Roc Madagascar ( ).
   Runners could join an upcoming run with theAntananarivo Hash House Harriers ( ) or even visit the island to run a marathon ( ).
< Back to Sports and outdoor activities

Mountain biking and horseriding
Mountain biking is only allowed in some areas ofthe national parks but cycling can be a great way to get around remoter areaswhere the rewards combine a mixture of culture, nature and landscape, ratherthan providing a more purely wildlife experience. Many hotels also have a fewmountain bikes ( vélos tout terrain or VTT – “vay-tay-tay”) to loan or rentfor short trips. For something longer, check out Rando Raid ( ),based in Antsirabe who also offer horseriding, or VTT Madagascar ( ) who organizebike tours in remote parts of southeast Madagascar.
   Horseriding ( equitation ) is offered near Tana ( ), inthe Parc National d’Isalo ( ), around Antsirabe , at Sahambavy and by several beach resort hotels, including on ÎleSainte Marie and Nosy Be. Local tourist offices will be helpful.
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Swimming, diving and snorkelling
Broadly speaking, the best swimming areas are on thewest coast: most of eastern Madagascar’s coastline is rough anddangerous, with strong currents. Exceptions include the far northeast extremity,east of Diego Suarez, which has some beautiful, sheltered spots; the west coastof Île Sainte Marie; and the gorgeous, indented coastline just north ofFort Dauphin. Sea conditions are warmest and cloudiest at the beginning of thedry season (March–April) when waters on the northwest coast typicallyhave temperatures of 27–28°C, gradually cooling and clearing toaround 23°C by September when visibility can be up to 30m. The easiest diving and snorkelling is around Nosy Be, lessfrom the main island itself than from some of its smaller neighbours: NosyTanikely, Nosy Mitsio and Nosy Radames are particularly good. The reefs of southwest Madagascar, betweenAndavadoaka and Anakao, are also spectacular, and the watersaround Diego Suarez have numerouswrecks to explore.
< Back to Sports and outdoor activities

Other watersports
The archipelagos of northwestMadagascar are ideal for sailing holidays . Conventional yacht charters can be fixed up on Nosy Be, butyou can also do something more in keeping with local sailing styles –sailing in a pirogue ( lakana in Malagasy) or a largecargo boutre . Try Pirogue Madagascar at Madirokelybeach on Nosy Be ( ). Most larger beach hotels around Madagascarcan offer windsurfing , or organize it for you. Surfing tends to be a speciality of the south,notably the areas around Tuléar and Fort Dauphin. Contact MadagascarSurf-Tour in Tuléar ( ) or HôtelLavasoa in Fort Dauphin, who also do kitesurfing ( ). The other key spot for kitesurfing is the Merd’Émeraude, near Diego Suarez ( ). Kayaking and rafting canbe pursued on larger rivers such as the Namorona , Tsiribihina and Manambolo .
< Back to Sports and outdoor activities

Traditional and spectator sports
Several traditional sports are still popular in Madagascar. Moraingy , a bare-fisted combination of boxing andkick-fighting between two opponents, comes from the Sakalava country of westernMadagascar and can be seen on weekends in the dry season. A Malagasy version of kung-fu became hugely popular in the 1980s, andkung-fu self-defence clubs, combining the idolizing of Bruce Lee withChristian-traditional spiritualism, were a serious threat to the Marxistdictatorship of the time. The French brought pétanque ( boules ), which iswidely played on any patch of flat ground. Cockfighting is also very common. A popular, bloodless animalsport is a kind of rodeo or bullfight called savika ,held in Betsileo country, especially around Fianarantsoa. A furious young zebubull is released into the arena and the contestants simply have to hang on to itas long as possible. Holding the hump is considered best, but in some contestsclinging onto the tail also counts.
  Of sports with more global appeal, football has thebiggest following, though the best players tend to emigrate to France. Ajesaiaand AS Adema are the country’s best-known teams, both from Antananarivo. Rugby experienced a surge of interest afterthe national team, the Makis, won a historic victory against South Africa in2005 and is still very popular. The four-yearly IndianOcean Islands Games (Jeux des Îles de l’OcéanIndien) is a regional Olympics, featuring the full range of sports. Itcirculates among the four nations, next taking place in Réunion in August2015, Mauritius in 2019 and Madagascar in 2023.
< Back to Basics


Visiting the parks and reserves
Guides and guidage
Walking in the parks
Madagascar has more than forty national parks and reserves, managed by Madagascar National Parks (MNP; ) workingunder the Ministry of Water and Forests. There are nineteen main national parks,plus six nature reserves ( réserves naturellesintégrales ), two marine reserves and 21 special reserves, someof which admittedly consist of not much more than a name on a map. While resourcesto protect all these areas are strapped, MNP does an extraordinarily good job on thewhole, and even manages to provide facilities for visitors in some areas. Inaddition, there are private and community reserves and sanctuaries, like Anja , Kirindy , Berenty and Saint Luce .

NATIONAL PARK FEES CATEGORY A CATEGORY B 1 day 25,000ar 10,000ar 2 days 37,000ar 15,000ar 3 days 40,000ar 20,000ar 4 days-plus 50,000ar 25,000ar
The price for children under 12 is 200ar per day. Note that this isn’ta 24hr system: if you enter the park in the afternoon and again the nextmorning, you will still pay for two days, even if your total stay is less than24 hours.

Visiting the parks and reserves
While some parks and reserves have some drivable trails (Montanged’Ambre and Ankaranfantsika for example), the majority are set up to bevisited on foot. The standard way to visit is by following a circuit à pied , or walking trail ,setting off directly from the park office.
  Most parks and reserves are open during daylight hours only, a couple ofhigh-profile robberies having forced them to ban night walks several years ago. Opening and closing times , however(typically 7am–5pm), often reflect only the ticket office opening hours.In practice, you can often enter at 5.30am or as soon as it’s light, solong as you buy your tickets and make arrangements with your guide the daybefore. In some parks you may need to have written permission from the warden todo this: your guide will know. It’s always a good idea to arrive as earlyas possible: nocturnal lemurs may still be about, and other visitorswon’t yet have made an appearance and spoiled your communion withnature.
  Prices of park entry tickets for all the protectedareas have two scales. Category A covers thenational parks of Andasibe-Mantadia, Ankarana, Ankarafantsika, the Tsingy deBemaraha, Isalo, Montagne d’Ambre and Ranomafana. Category B covers all the other national parks and protectedareas, including nature reserves, special reserves and marine reserves.
< Back to National parks and reserves

Guides and guidage
Every protected area managed by MNP is embedded in its local community, who intheory benefit from half the entry money taken at the gates. The local communityalso provides trained wildlife guides to escortvisitors. These khaki-uniformed men – and, increasingly, women –have spent at least a year doing bioversity and guide training before beingunleashed on visitors. Many of them are very good, and specialists in particularfields – for example orchids, herpetology, birds or lemurs. Most speakreasonably good French and some speak English, Italian, German or otherlanguages, sometimes very well. Copies of their guiding IDs and specialistsubjects are usually posted on the wall by the ticket office, giving you someopportunity to request a particular guide. In practice, they aren’talways at work or available and there’s usually an informal rota systemto ensure that each group of visitors is led, by default, by the next guidewhose turn has come up. The guides are usually quite flexible, and will do theirbest to accommodate special interest or language requests, but last-minutedemands can’t always be met. This is where travelling with a tour, orwith an experienced driver-guide whom you have hired directly, is such a bonus:if your driver-guide knows the park guides, then a particular guide can often bebooked by mobile several days ahead. And if that person is not available, thenthere’s often a plan B or C.
  The rates for guiding ( guidage ) are posted at the park gate, often next to a map-paintingof the park trails, and they vary from park to park. There is normally a maximumof 4–6 visitors per guide, again depending on the park, and the ratesusually start from around 15,000ar for a two-hour visit and range up to perhaps40,000ar for a full day hike. If you are in a large group, you may want toconsider having two or three guides: the rates aren’t high, and somemembers of the group may miss some of the story as you often walk in single fileand the guide may speak quite softly.
< Back to National parks and reserves

Walking in the parks
Before you set off, be prepared : it’ssurprising how often wonderful sightings happen almost immediately, whenyou’ve barely had a chance to tighten your boot laces. Take a bottle ofwater. Ask about flies and mosquitoes, and either apply repellant or have itreadily to hand. Get your camera in position round your neck, with a suitablelens, and have your tripod easily accessible (guides are usually more than happyto carry a light tripod). If you are doing a nightwalk , either in a non-MNP park, or in a private or communityreserve, check your head torch batteries and take some spares. If rain lookslikely, have your poncho or cagoule with you.
< Back to Basics


Greetings and body language
Dress and modesty
Alcohol and other drugs
Madagascar’s cultural heritage is fascinating, and completely unexpected ifyou have any experience of travelling on the African continent: this is not Africa.Traditional Malagasy culture derives in large part from the other side of the IndianOcean, blended with strong influences from the African mainland, and more recentlywith the traces of the French colonial experience and with the Creole culture of theMascarene Islands – Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues. There aredistinct variations among the various ethnic regions of Madagascar, but on thewhole, it’s an informal, welcoming society, and relations with vazaha (foreigners) are usually relaxed anduncomplicated.

In counterpoint to the surface gaiety of street life, traditional culture isinfested with the deeply woven threads of rigorous and often seemingly bizarrerestrictions, known as fady . Fady are traditional injunctions and mandates regulating everydaylife. Mostly not as strong as taboos, they are believed to derive from thewishes of the ancestors, or razana , and people believethey bring bad luck if disobeyed. The razana includenot just the long dead of the distant past but recently deceased relatives– whose remains, in the central highlands region, are regularly exhumedand paraded at famadihana ceremonies. The personalities, habits and whims of theancestors are transmuted into the fears and desires of their descendants andtheir extended families. Over time, certain fady havebecome widespread across districts and entire ethnic regions.
  On the whole, fady don’t impact greatly onshort-term visitors, and most Malagasy understand that vazaha don’t know about their local fady. Educated and westernized Malagasy fear them much less, andat their mildest they are little more than superstitions, like not walking undera ladder. Many fady relate to the hunting of certainanimals and how to behave in forest areas which often have spiritualsignificance: national park guides may explain certain rules of behaviour to youbefore you start your walk, which might include not smoking or eating, oravoiding amorous contact.
   Fady become much more significant if you’reliving in Madagascar, when you’ll discover that there are places you canand can’t go, depending on circumstances, actions you can’tperform on certain days, colours you must avoid wearing in certain conditions,and so on. The only way you’ll come to understand your area’s fady is to talk to locals: you won’t get auniform response, but you can soon build up a picture of how much the fady control people’s lives.

Most Malagasy burials are simple: the corpse is tied in a white cottonshroud, wrapped in a raffia mat and placed inside a sealed tomb or in asecure dry cave or a cleft in the rocks traditionally reserved for thepurpose. That isn’t always the end of the story, though: the peopleof the central highlands practice famadihana – ritual reburial , or literally “theturning of the bones”, a custom believed to derive fromIndonesia.
  Roughly every seven years, in the cool, dry austral winter months betweenJuly and September, relatives consult an astrologer to determine the rightdate, and then gather for a two-day family party to celebrate the lives oftheir ancestors, with hired bands and plenty to eat and drink. They willusually slaughter a zebu, and then the remains of their nearest and dearest– usually labelled with their names – are retrieved from thefamily tomb to be lovingly unwrapped and tended. The remains are tidied up,given libations of rum or wine and squirts of perfume. The living have achance to pass on news and make any requests that they feel their ancestorsmight assist with, from health and wealth to legal disputes and affairs ofthe heart. Gifts and photos are sometimes tucked in among the bones, beforethey are carefully rewrapped in fresh white shrouds, made ideally of finelywoven silk, and bundled up for safekeeping. Once reclothed, retied andre-labelled with marker pen, the dead are paraded shoulder-high by thedancing crowd, amid further well-lubricated dancing, and accompanied byappropriately long and rambling eulogies, called kabary .
  The practice of famadihana , once staunchlyrejected by all Madagascar’s churches, is no longer opposed by theCatholic Church, although evangelical Christians and Muslims have no truckwith it. More secular Malagasy these days oppose such close communion withthe dead on economic grounds: a good reburial party is extraordinarilyexpensive. But the intangible social benefits are equally huge. As a passingvisitor, you can often participate in a famadihana simply by being in the right place at the right time: you’ll beinvited. They are intrinsically public gatherings, and occasions forinclusivity and empathy, so respectful visitors are always welcome –though you will be expected to join in properly by buying some rum andshowing off your dance moves.
< Back to Culture and etiquette

Greetings and body language
Greetings are fairly straightforward, withhandshaking the norm especially between men, and in an urban setting or in aWestern context such as an office, between both sexes. French-stylecheek-to-cheek greetings are also de rigueur amongpeople who know each other. As a vazaha , you’renot likely to be made to feel uncomfortable by any minor gaffes in socialetiquette. Watch what others do, and take note of the following general rules:the left hand is reserved for unclean acts, at least in theory, so don’tuse it to pass things or eat with; avoid pointing with an outstretched finger,but crook your finger instead; and beckon with the palm down, not up.
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A century and a half of Christian mission work across the island has had amajor impact on religious beliefs. Around twenty percent of the population are Roman Catholics and a quarter follow variousProtestant churches, including the largest, the Church ofJesus Christ in Madagascar (Fiangonan’i Jesoa Kristy etoMadagasikara or FJKM), with perhaps eight percent being Muslims . But people everywhere tend also to adhere to traditional beliefs , for example happily mixing thepractice of confession with planning the next exhumation ceremony. Only the moreextreme evangelical churches have pushed hard against traditionalpractices.
< Back to Culture and etiquette

Dress and modesty
Every Malagasy tribe has its traditional dress, hair and hat styles, but theseare often hard to discern as people move, intermarry and follow global fashiontrends rather than traditional styles. Modern Malagasy dressstyles tend to split along rural and urban lines for women,although there isn’t a lot of difference as far as men are concerned,calf-length trousers and loose shirts being the norm, along with a good solidhat. Older rural women typically wear long cotton dresses or lamba wraps, often with straw hats. However, their youngercounterparts, and the majority of women in towns, are often strikingly attiredin tight, brightly coloured leggings or shorts, and skinny T-shirts. It’san outfit that looks more fit for the dancefloor than walking to market, anddramatically reveals an absence of traditional restraint. And it means that as avisitor, refreshingly enough, your own choice of dress is not apt to faze thelocals. This informality extends to relations between the sexes: physical contact between men and women is relativelyunrestrained, and you’ll often see couples out for a stroll, arm inarm.
< Back to Culture and etiquette

Malagasy sexual attitudes are less conservative thanyou might expect. Sex outside marriage, divorce and remarriage are common, andcasual sex and informal prostitution are very widespread. Parts of Madagascar,particularly Nosy Be, have acquired notoriety for sex tourism – not inany organized sense, simply as a result of women heading to the bars to makesome extra money, or possibly even to find a husband. In turn, many Europeanmen, drawn by the allure of what they perceive to be Madagascar’suncluttered mores, end up trying to establish a business with a Malagasybusiness partner (a legal requirement) who is their girlfriend. Theserelationships often end badly and many Malagasy are offended and deeplyuncomfortable about the widespread exploitation of young people. There is strongsupport for efforts to eradicate child sexual exploitation (sex workers have tobe 18 and carry ID cards).
  Unlike many countries in the region, Madagascar has never had any lawsgoverning male or female homosexual relationships, and gaycouples are unlikely to experience any problems here. That said,there is no gay or lesbian scene to speak of.
< Back to Culture and etiquette

Alcohol and other drugs
Rum and other spirits, beer and local wine are cheap and available throughoutthe country, and alcoholism is a serious problem. MostMalagasy are tolerant of booze, even if in the case of strict Muslims and someChristians they don’t touch it themselves. However, public drunkennessand associated misbehaviour is strongly disapproved of: people are expected tobehave decently and that includes visitors.
  The main illegal drug is marijuana , smoked in herbalform, and grown all over the country. While it is illegal on the statute books,discreet use in private is usually tolerated. Don’t make any assumptionshowever, or buy or smoke pot without being very sure of your surroundings: ifyou fall on the wrong side of the law you will get no sympathy from yourembassy.
  The herbal stimulant khat is legal and quite popular in the north – butsomething of an acquired taste that there is no special reason to acquire. Otherillegal narcotics circulate in Tana and other cities: stay well clear.

There’s a controversial crop that you’ll soon come across ifyou travel much in Madagascar – khat ( Catha edulis ), a bushy tree whose leaves andgreen twigs contain a mildly bitter stimulant sap, not dissimilar fromcaffeine or kola nuts in effect. It is mainly cultivated around Montagne d’Ambre in thefar north and while it has been banned in many countries, inMadagascar it is still legal.
< Back to Basics

In a country where the rainforests have been savaged by loggers pulling out trunksof rosewood to turn into dining room chairs, it’s worth first emphasizing what not to buy . Most timber products have a dubioussource and you’d also be well advised to stay clear of anything with awildlife origin – from seashells and coral, reptile skins and butterfly-wingart to fossils and fragments of eggshell from the extinct elephant bird –most of which is likely to get you in trouble either when leaving the country orwhen going through customs on your return home. On Madagascar’s strictnot-for-export list are all items connected to the country’s many funerarycustoms, including grave posts.
  Happily, there’s no shortage of legal souvenirs and crafts. Top in valuemust be gemstones , with sapphires leading the way. If yougo to the mining town of Ilakaka be sure to know your sapphire from your blue glass.Shops and dealers in Tuléar, Antsirabe and Tana have plenty of other preciousstones. Equally beautiful, but artificial, are the remarkable sandbottle paintings ( bouteilles de sable ) thatyou can buy in several areas, especially Majunga . Thehighlands are a good area to buy musical instruments , though you’ll need to ask around to find genuinemusicians’ instruments rather than cute pieces for tourists. Also in thehighlands, silk and all over the country cotton lambas (wraps) are greatvalue, as are raffia basketry items and anything that used to be a cow, from leatherbags and sandals to zebu-horn kitchen utensils. On Île Sainte Marie and inother touristy areas, you’ll find skilfully worked modelships : if you can get them home in one piece they make fine ornaments.And of course, as almost all Malagasy wear hats , you canbuy a wide variety of practical and more frivolous headgear.
   Consumables are worth considering too – someof the fancy chocolate is delicious, though try to buy it in Tana just before youleave the country to avoid a molten mess. More durable are the spices and essential oils that you can buy in many places: thestate-run chain of homeopathy stores, Homeopharma ( ), does great baobab oil hand cream. Vanilla is a good purchase in the northeast, though don’toverlook how few vanilla pods the average household needs.
  For all these items, bargaining is only called for atroadside stalls and with beach- or street-hawkers, and it rarely makes a hugedifference to the final price: most Malagasy are very happy to tell you their figure(usually low) and hope you agree.
< Back to Basics

Travelling with young children in Madagascar is hardwork. Journeys are long and unpredictable, it can be very hot and uncomfortable andthere’s often a lot of waiting around. Persuading little ones to take malaria pills can be very hard: be sure to cover themcarefully with a DEET-based mosquito repellent early each evening and ensure theysleep under secure nets. Every morning, smother them in factor 40 sunscreen , insist they wear hats, and make sure they get plenty offluids.
  Despite the difficulties, French and Italian families flock to the Nosy Be resortsusing charter flights (admittedly, few of them are doing much real travelling on theisland) and expatriate families manage perfectly well in Tana and other towns.Almost anything that you might need is obtainable, if not always widely available,but you’d still do best to take all your own essentials. You’ll needto take car seats, too (which should go free on the plane, and can also serve asdining thrones when high chairs are unavailable).
  The rewards are great, with safe, engaging and approachable wildlife, wonderfulbeaches and an instinctively child-friendly host population. While taxi broussetravel isn’t really practical with children (you don’t have sufficientcontrol to ensure they’ll be happy or safe), it is possible to work out anitinerary that isn’t too ambitious using either a tour operator orindependently booking a vehicle and driver. If you spend some time touring, on theRN7 for example, you might also consider staying in one of the top-endbeach-and-rainforest lodges as a relaxing special treat at the end – such as Anjajavy (great for little ones) or Manafiafy (wonderful for teens).


Andasibe-Mantadia The closeness to Tana and the proximity of the remarkable indrisare always a hit, as are the semi-tame lemurs at VakonaForest Lodge .

Isalo Wonderful rocky scenery, canyons, easy walks, swimming, climbing,riding and ring-tailed lemurs.

Masoala Combines fabulous rainforest with RobinsonCrusoe lodges and safe snorkelling.

Ankarana and Tsingy de Bemaraha Both parks boast extraordinary limestone pinnaclelandscapes, through which only lemurs, lizards and active children (on thepathways and footbridges) can move with any ease.
< Back to Basics


Crime and personal safety
Emergency numbers
Entry requirements
The media
Opening times
Tourist information
Travellers with disabilities


Head torch The best you can afford, essential for lighting the way and allowing nightphotography.

Rain gear A poncho or light cagoule.

Spare batteries Don’t be caught out.

Under-belt money pouch Use a small leather or cotton pouch attached to your belt and hiddenbehind your waistband to hold your foreign currency (you’ll need toput the notes in a small plastic bag to avoid sweat damage).

Walking boots Unless you’re only visiting dry regions in the dry season, a pairof good, waterproof walking boots will prove a godsend.

Warm fleece It can get surprisingly chilly, especially in the highlands at night inthe dry season.

Madagascar is one of the world’s cheaper countries for travellers.Prices for hotels, transport, meals and basic commodities are low and morecomparable with Southeast Asia than with continental Africa.
  Travelling on a shoestring budget with a companionand a flexible schedule, largely using taxis brousse, staying in budget hotels,and visiting national parks, you could manage between you easily enough on£60/€80/US$90 per day (a little more than 260,000ar). Ifyou were doing the same thing, but planning the occasionalsplurge in a nicer hotel, with some days of vehicle-and-driverrental, you would need to at least double this. And if you want to travel byprivate vehicle and stay in comfortable-to- luxury hotels throughout, a daily budget of £200/€270/US$300(around 900,000ar) for the two of you should suffice. You would still need tofactor in any internal flights .

Tipping isn’t deeply established inMadagascar. When you’re living and travelling among Malagasy people,you’ll be unlikely to feel the need to tip anyone: cheap hotels andrestaurants are often run by their owners, using family staff, and whentravelling by taxi brousse, it’s more a matter of ensuringyou’re not paying over the odds for your seat or bag than ofconsidering leaving any extra. The idea of a payment for services renderedis quite common, however, so any kind of assistance, such as someone showingyou the way or helping with luggage (notoriously, when arriving at theairport and fending off unwanted “porters”) would normallydemand some kind of recompense. Keep some small notes (200ar, 500ar) handyfor this kind of thing.
  When travelling more as a wealthy tourist, staying at expensiveresort-style hotels for example, it’s bestto leave a common tip at the end of your stay with reception or in the tipbox in the foyer. You would probably also do the same when parting companywith your driver at the end of a tour. Guides in national parks don’t alwaysexpect tips, but an extra 5000ar after a few hours of trekking andlemur-watching is a very acceptable way of offering thanks.
< Back to Travel essentials

Crime and personal safety
Despite some official government travel advisories about Madagascar, it is nota dangerous country and crime affecting tourists is generally quite limited. Onthe contrary, you may well come back wondering how anyone could get anything buta wonderful impression of friendly locals and a safe, hospitable island.Madagascar, however, does have its dark side: short-term visitors are rarelyimpacted, but you should certainly heed the warnings about night-time travel and avoid it if you can. Most private driversnever drive at night, especially in certain areas. The RN7 has police controlsoutside some towns to partly enforce this, while some of the lonely dirt roadsin the south are prone to banditry , partly as a resultof traditional Bara cattle raiders or dahalo (if thereare no convenient zebus to rustle, flag down a taxi brousse and rob thepassengers…).
   Urban and tourist resort crime is also anundercurrent that you should be aware of: pickpocketing, muggings and hotelthefts (especially if your room is not very secure or the hotel doesn’thave a secure compound) could all spoil your trip, and are most likely to happenbefore you have had time to survey your location. Avoid late arrivals in towns,and if arriving at night always have a destination to go to, and take ataxi.
  Lastly, natural disasters in the form of huge cyclones batter the island with relentless frequency. The cycloneseason, from December to March, usually includes at least one whopper that caninflict enormous damage, particularly on eastern coastal regions. If you happento be in a cyclone area when a storm is forecast, cancel that boat trip, getyourself as far inland as possible and take shelter on the ground floor of asolid building.


Police  17 (  117 from a mobile). Crime and order intowns.

Gendarmerie  19 (  119 from mobile). Security on thehighway.

Fire  18 (  118 from a mobile).
  There is no emergency ambulance service – try thepolice.
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The electricity grid in Madagascar provides 220V AC current and uses two-pinContinental-style plugs, either a “Type E” or “TypeF” Schuko or a flat, “Type C” Europlug. Many hotels havebackup generators to fill in during frequent blackouts. In remote areas, solarpanels feeding to inverters and big storage batteries are used to provide power,in which case there may not always be power points in your room. Battery- andmobile-charging can usually be done in the office or central area.
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Entry requirements
Visas are required by all nationalities.Non-immigrant visas are currently granted free onarrival for most nationalities at Ivato airport for stays of up tothirty days, and it’s generally easier to get one there than in advance(which usually requires photos and possibly a processing fee). Your passportshould have at least six months’ validity from your date of arrival andcontain at least two blank pages. If you want to stay longer, the fees are€55 for up to 60 days or €77 for up to 90 days. Longer than that,you’ll need to leave the country in order to re-enter (Réunion isthe cheapest place to fly to and an overseas French département so part of the EU and the Eurozone). Extendingyour visa within the 90-day limit is possible, but overstaying your agreed termand then leaving is not advisable, and can result in a fine. The only healthrequirement is a yellow fever certificate if you’ve been visiting acountry in the yellow fever transmission zone .


Australia (Honorary Consulate) Level 4, 47 York St, Sydney NSW 2000  +61 (0)2 9299 2290 .

Belgium 276 av de Tervuren 276, 1150 Brussels  +32 (0)2 770 1726 , . The closest embassy to theUK .

Canada 209 rue Catherine, 510 Ottawa  +1613 567 0505 , .

France 4 av Raphael, 75016 Paris  +33 (0)145 04 62 11 , .

Kenya (Honorary Consulate) AACC Building, Westlands  +254 (0)20 445 2410 .

Mauritius Rue Guiot Pasceau, Floreal, Port Louis  +230 5686 50 15 .

Réunion 29 rue Saint Joseph Ouvrier, Saint Denis  +262 72 07 30 . .

South Africa 90 Tait St, Pretoria  +27 (0)78 6305311 , .

USA 2374 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20008  +1 202 265 5525 , .
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While internet cafés are still around, andoffer very cheap online access, the spread of free wi-fihotspots continues apace in restaurants and hotels, and these arelikely to be more useful for most travellers. Only in very small towns are youlikely to have to resort to the local cyber , with itsusually rather old computers with azerty rather than qwerty keyboards. Expect topay around 5000ar/hr.
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Most hotels will happily do your laundry, and usually have a sheet of chargesper item. Cheaper places will probably suggest a flat price of 3000ar orsomething similar. Remember that it may take longer than expected for clothes todry.
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Most towns have a post office , but with the declinein the volume of traditional airmail, postal services tend to be limited andcards and letters may take weeks to reach their destination. To send any objectof value, always use a courier service such as DHL . As for incoming mail, it’s best to forget it: usefriends and family as couriers or, again, a courier service.
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By far the best general map of Madagascar ispublished by the German travel guide publisher Reise Know-How in their WorldMapping Project series. Printed on virtually indestructible Polyart syntheticpaper Madagaskar 1:1,200,000 shows the whole countryon two sides at a scale of 12km:1cm, clearly marking roads, national parks,relief and other features in French. Best of all it can be folded any which wayand will survive many taxi brousse journeys.

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