Madagascar is unique in so many ways – from its history and culture, to it’s incredible ecology. This fascinating country is therefore a wonderful place to explore, but it can be tricky to plan and execute the perfect Madagascar holiday.
To help you, I’ve put together this post containing everything you need to know about travelling in Madagascar. Once you’ve familiarised yourself, move on to my Madagascar itinerary to make sure you’ve covered everything.
Why choose Madagascar?
There are many reasons to put Madagascar at the top of your travel list.
If you have a touch of the science buff about you, like my husband and I do, then Madagascar is the place for you. It’s rich geological history and unique microclimates combine to create a fascinating opportunity for exploration. And, of course, these factors combined with its remoteness mean it has developed a level of biodiversity not found anywhere else on Earth.
The “virtues” (or not) of tourism haven’t really hit Madagascar yet. There are pros and cons to this. The con is that service, even at more upmarket establishments, can be patchy and the food so-so. (I cannot be clearer about this: Madagascar is NOT a “foodie destination”. I mean, it’s interesting in a cultural sense, but plain for western tastes. Be warned.) But, as Anthony Bourdain would have said, the food tells a story: of resourcefulness and a tradition of getting by on what you have. So what you end up with is an unrefined, unmanaged travel experience. You won’t be shielded from the realities of life in this country. You’ll experience it warts-and-all. And isn’t that something to strive for anyway?
History of Madagascar
It’s believed that foragers visited the island from around 2000 BC, but the first inhabitants came from Borneo in outrigger canoes. Yep – picture sailing from Borneo, all across the Indian Ocean, in an outrigger canoe! Archeologists put this at about 350 BC. Around 1000 AD, Southeast African Bantu migrants came along. These influences can be found everywhere, particularly in the villages’ Borneo-style longhouses. A trading post from the 10th century onwards, Madagascar has a pirate history too.
From the early 17th century onward, Madagascar was separated into various kingdoms, eventually becoming one. There’s a long, bloody and absolutely fascinating history regarding this, and the lead-up to French colonisation in 1883. That’s a whole other story. What I highly recommend you do is visit one of the Museums in Antananarivo to get the rundown. Madagascar has been independent since 1960.
How to get to Madagascar
Several airlines fly into Ivato airport in Antananarivo. From Europe, Air France flies from Charles de Gaulle in Paris. African carriers such as Ethiopian and Kenya Airlines have frequent flights. Air Madagascar flies to Paris and Marseille as well as throughout the Indian Ocean region.
We flew from Perth, Australia with Air Mauritius, allowing us to incorporate a gorgeous stopover in Mauritius. If you’d like to know more, read my guide to planning a Mauritius holiday. Air Mauritius is definitely not a five-star airline, but at the time we went, paying for Business Class on Air Mauritius was cheaper than flying economy with South African Airways. And while, again, their Business wasn’t comparable to the five-star airlines, it still had French champagne, delectable food and top-notch service from cabin crew. And, of course, leg-room galore. Air Mauritius obviously fly from Mauritius, but their network extends to Africa, Europe, and Asia too.
Travellers from the Americas should look at Emirates as they have codeshare agreements, Air France, or the African carriers.
Getting Around in Madagascar
Several things stand out when driving around Madagascar: 1) the traffic is crazy; 2) the roads are often filled with potholes, unpaved, and/or have many blind corners; and 3) weather will sometimes render roads impassable. For these reasons, I really recommend hiring a driver with a 4×4 vehicle rather than attempting to drive yourself. (Also, the road rules and standards can just be really different.)
This is also important because the majority of people don’t speak English, and cell phone coverage can be patchy, which makes it much more difficult to get out of a tricky situation! Additionally, a local guide is a good choice safety-wise – there are some areas where tourists really shouldn’t walk around alone, and your guide/driver will be aware of this and be able to give you a heads up.
Read our Madagascar itinerary for recommendations on tour guides.
Currency and travel costs in Madagascar
The Malagasy Ariary is the local currency in Madagascar. At the time of writing, $1AUD = 3,121 Ariary and $1USD = 4,522 Ariary.
For the most part, we found costs in Madagascar very reasonable (especially coming from Mauritius beforehand!) A decent room in a nice hotel or guesthouse will cost around $100 per night, and a decent meal will be about $10 (though expect to pay double at a nice hotel). As I said before though the caveat there is that we’re not talking about any food that will blow your mind.
Some parts of your itinerary may require internal flights. While we found these to also be reasonable, this is entirely dependent on availability – some routes only fly once or twice a week which can push the price up. Make sure you book well in advance.
What To Pack For Madagascar Travel
Madagascar has a large array of micro-climates, meaning each region experiences its own weather. As a result, ou should pack for reasonably warm weather but also pack a warm jumper and a waterproof jacket.
Mosquitoes carry diseases in Madagascar, such as malaria and chickungunya fever. Make sure you have tops with long sleeves and plenty of DEET insect repellent. You should also consult your travel doctor for a prescription for anti-malarials (also ask about relevant vaccinations at the same time).
Be sure to also pack a first aid kit including anti-diarrhoea and anti-nausea meds.
Some places have intermittent power, which may be turned off at night. Carry a battery pack for your devices if you don’t want them to go flat.
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