When building a Madagascar itinerary, there are two kinds of people. The kind who, when they think of Madagascar, think of the cartoon. And the kind who think of David Attenborough. We are the latter.
When we were planning our honeymoon, we knew we wanted to do something unique. “Go big or go home”, my husband always says to me. Galapagos was our first choice, but it was the wrong season and, having paid for a wedding, we didn’t have the budget. Madagascar was a close second and we booked it in without a second thought.
We booked our tour through MTTC in Madagascar. Lalaina was an absolute godsend. I’m not kidding – when I was struck down with a serious illness and our flights messed up, she worked tirelessly to get us home. Aside from that, she planned our itinerary to make sure everything was taken care of for us. No mean feat when we were travelling over Christmas!
Madagascar doesn’t look that big on a map, but it is. Unless stated otherwise, we flew between places and I recommend planning your itinerary the same way.
So without further ado, here are my thoughts on this fascinating country, and my Ultimate Madagascar Itinerary.
Just a note guys: this post contains affiliate links through booking.com. That means if you book, I get a small commission, at no cost to you. And of course I’d never recommend a hotel I wouldn’t 100% stay in myself (or, as the case may be, have already stayed in and loved!)
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?
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.
It’s hard to describe Tana, so you’ll just have to see it for yourself. But without a doubt it is one of the biggest surprises I’ve had while travelling. It has the craziness you’d expect from big African or Asian cities (the traffic, the traffic!) but also some incredibly beautiful buildings and parks. It’s unique in that you can be looking at a bustling market scene on one side of the road, and a rice field on the other. It’s a city teeming with life and everywhere you look, something is happening. Just how I like my cities!
We stayed up on the hill, with gorgeous views over Lake Anosy. Close to our hotel was the Queen’s Palace and the Prime Minister’s Palace (Andafiavaratra), both absolutely worth a look. The Queen’s palace actually burnt down; it has been partially restored and lights up at night, providing an absolutely gorgeous view.
A couple of days in Antananarivo to wander the streets, particularly Presidential Avenue in the city centre, and check out some museums, parks, and palaces should be enough. There’s no need to pack your time here with activities. Just take the time to recover from your flight, stroll the streets, and meet the people. Tana is a people-watching city for sure.
Where to stay:
Lokanga Boutique Hotel. This gorgeous place has a history all of its own but I won’t spoil it – let the staff tell you themselves!
Grand Hotel Urban is gorgeous too – think French Riviera with an African vibe.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
So here is where we start to get out in the wilderness. It’s what we’ve come for, folks!
A three-hour drive from Tana, the National Park covers a lot of area. There are different sections inside. In particular, Analamazaotra Reserve, which is one of the best places to find many different species of Lemur, including the Indri with its bizarre call. Organise a guide to help you track the wildlife. I also highly recommend a night hike as there are several nocturnal species of lemur, as well as other wildlife.
Where to stay:
Vakona Forest Lodge is great – a calm and pleasant safari lodge right in the heart of the national park. Near the lodge is a lemur sanctuary where you’ll find hundreds of cheeky lemurs waiting to say hello. There’s an island you can row around and they’ll often jump into your boat!
Fly to Morondava for a real adventure. Here you can 4WD to the Tsingy of Bemaraha, a labyrinth of limestone walls and caves. There are smaller ones, and bigger ones for the fitter travellers. Kirindy forest is also nearby, where you can look for the fossa: Madagascar’s feline predator.
But let’s be honest: we know why you’re really heading to Morondava. Avenue des Baoabs. And you’d be right to feel this way: it’s incredible. A short drive from here are the Baobab Amoureux: two baobabs twisted together like they’re having a cuddle! Considering some of these trees are nearly 3,000 years old, the mind boggles at how they happened to grow that way. A truly special sight.
Where to stay:
For something beachy try the Palissandre Cote Ouest Resort & Spa.
Isalo National Park
Fly into Toliara and explore the city a bit before heading out to explore the surrounding wilderness.
Here is where it gets a little weird: Isalo National Park is like what I imagine exploring the moon would be. The landscape is unreal. But then you turn around and – oh, hey! – palm trees! Each time you think you’ve gotten a grip on what you’re seeing, it changes. Ring-tailed lemurs hop about on the rocky landscape just to make the vision even more surreal.
Beza Mahafaly Reserve is close by, and here you’ll find a sea of super spiky plants. And yes, the lemurs know just how to negotiate the spines as they leap around in search of food!
Where to stay:
Auberge de la Table is outside the city centre, but totally worth it. A genuine African lodge were you’ll stay in your own individual bungalow.
For something in the city, the Moringa Hotel is great too.
Save Nosy Be for last, as you can rest up after all that busy, busy exploring. Or, you can get straight back into it, your call!
We did two tours while in Nosy Be. The first was a sailing trip out to Nosy Iranja. This island is actually two, connected by a sand bar that you can walk across at low tide. But be careful – if the tide comes up and you aren’t watching, you could end up stranded. Luckily, it’s not overly deep. In fact, we had to walk out hundreds of metres to find a spot we could swim in. A barbeque lunch was served in the village and we were able to explore – we even got to join in on a game of football. The sand is a blistering white and the sun is hot, so be sun smart and drink lots of water.
The second tour was a canoe trip to Lokobe National Park. Word of warning: we booked a canoe trip thinking there would be fit blokes canoeing. Um.. no, we had to row. Seven kilometres doesn’t seem that far, but it is when you’re rowing an outrigger canoe in the hot sun. Was it worth it though? Absolutely! We rowed to a delightful little village where the locals let us explore before serving us a delicious lunch. Then we hiked through the forest encountering lemurs and – gulp – a boa constrictor!
Where to stay:
The options are endless given it’s a beach resort island, but you won’t find the likes of a LUX* or Constance, or other 5-star options popular in the Indian Ocean. The resorts are low-key, friendly and intimate.
I’ll be adding more information about Madagascar in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
How to get there
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 Two-Minute Mauritius Travel Guide. 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.
When to go
Rainy season is December to March. While we were there over Christmas, we didn’t encounter much rain. BUT it is cyclone season, and we definitely encountered one of those. As we were getting ready to leave, our flight left early to avoid the cyclone coming through and we missed our flight, leading to a host of dramas. So maybe don’t go December to March if you can avoid it (but if you do, be prepared but don’t think your holiday will be ruined.
The busiest period, owing to the European holiday season, is July-August.
So if you avoid both of those times, the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October are absolutely perfect.
So now you have all the information, you’re ready to start planning your Madagascar itinerary! Hit me up with any questions. I also love to hear other people’s experiences so please share!
Also, my friends over at Beard and Curly have written an excellent Madagascar travel guide with all the practicalities. It covers everything so I figured there was no point in me writing another one. Be sure to check it out!
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