Situated 300 miles east of southern Africa, across the Mozambique Channel, lies the island of Madagascar. Best known for its lemurs (primitive relatives of monkeys, apes, and humans), colorful chameleons, stunning orchids, and towering baobab trees. Madagascar is home to some of the world`s most unique flora and fauna.
Antananarivo, also known as Tana, is the national capital of Madagascar located at the center of the island. Two forts watch over the city from the east and southwest, while within the city limits lay royal palaces, embassies, some fifty churches and a mosque. The city`s most distinguishing feature may be the burnt out remains of the Rova, or Queen`s Palace, situated on a prominent hill. Its steep alleys and stairways make Antananarivo a challenging but rewarding city to explore on foot.
Madagascar appeals to both animal lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. At national parks like Lokobe, Mantadia and Isalo, visitors can come face-to-face with creatures like lemurs, birds, chameleons and snakes, plus various trees and plants. Towering baobab trees are front and center at the Avenue of the Baobabs, while unique rock formations and ample hiking opportunities are available at Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve and Tsingy Rouge Park. But travelers will find more than just land-based activities here. Nosy Sakatia is one of the country`s best spots for snorkeling with sea turtles, and at The Three Bays, vacationers can swim, windsurf and kitesurf.
Madagascar is a country the size of France but has the geological diversity of a country the size of America. There are many different climates throughout the country. The area surrounding Antananarivo, Madagascar`s capital, is surrounded by mountains giving a climate that is cool at night. The east coast is subtropical with beautiful beaches and abundant rain. The west coast is drier than either the east coast or the central highlands because the trade winds lose their humidity by the time they reach this region. The deep south is semi-desert, with very little rain falling here.
The rainy season runs December-March, and it is best to avoid visiting during this time. Violent cyclones can hit the country at this time and the roads leading up to tourist attractions like the Tsingy Stone Forest, can be completely washed away. May-October are the driest, coolest months, and the best time to visit.
We recommend 7-10 days based on what you want to see and do. We offer flexible vacation packages so you can select your number of nights in each city, desired hotel and activities. We suggest a minimum of 3 nights in larger cities.
Organized tours are the most common way to visit the country. Most visitors come on organized tours, and a small amount hire a private driver to get around. Organized tours include a certain amount of days, accommodations and you have your own bus with a drive and local guide. A 14-day tour costs around $2,500 to $4,000 USD. This generally includes private guide at your stops. Most of these tours follow the same route, visiting all the big parks and destinations in the center of the country.
Going on your own is difficult to do in Madagascar. There`s little tourist infrastructure and information for visitors is limited. Public buses don`t go to many cities and national parks. You`ll need to know French, too, as English is barely spoken. It can be very difficult to get around without any assistance. It can be done, though very few people do. Also worth noting is that the roads are in fairly rough shape, getting from point A to B can be a challenge. Buses are generally in poor condition and go when they are full and there is no set timetable.
Renting a car and driver costs around $50 USD a day (or slightly more if you want 4WD) and is the most popular option for people looking to go on their own (and not wanting to wait for the buses). While you could drive on your ownmany companies require that a driver go with you.
Madagascar uses the Ariary as the official currency. Ariary`s come in 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 notes. Since Madagascar is a former colony, the majority of its visitors are French and the Euro is commonly used by tour operators` in quoting prices for tours. We recommend taking Euros to the country and exchanging it at the airport. This is a good move but if you have a bank card that does not charge you ATM fees, this is not necessary as the ATMs in this country dispense cash just fine.
Cash is the best method of payment because many establishments are not set up to take credit cards. Even many of the gas stations do not take credit cards! Prepare to visit the ATM frequently and prepare to carry around a large amount of cash. 400,000 Ariary is 40 bills.
The official languages in Madagascar are French and Malagasy. The former is the language left behind from colonial times and used primarily among the more educated and those working in tourism. Malagasy is the more commonly spoken language. Everyone speaks Malagasy, with only about 15% of the people able to speak fluent French.
Being able to speak French is highly useful. We`d recommend learning some basic phrases just to get around as the English spoken in this country is very poor. The lack of education in this country is wide-spread. Most of the population that lives in a big city or works in the tourism industry knows some French. We recommend getting a good English-French guidebook or to download the offline French language pack with the Google Translate app before coming here.