During August, we travelled to Madagascar, an island just off the coast of Mozambique on the south east-side of the African Continent. There wasn’t too much information about travelling to Madagascar, so this post aims to not only show some of our photos, but also provide information for future travellers.
Whilst probably most known in the Western World for the eponymous DreamWorks film, Madagascar is the 51st most populous country in the world (as of 1 July 2017), with 25 and a half million people calling it home. It is the 46th largest country by landmass, bigger than Spain, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, as well 145 others. From early in the 1800s the country was ruled by a series of nobles, but this ended in 1897 when it was annexed as part of the French Empire up until 1960 when it gained independence. Since 1992 the nation has been governed as a democracy.
Malagasy is the predominant language, with many of the locals fluent in French. We however had no trouble at all with English, many people spoke it, and there were only a handful of instances where we were in situations where no one did. Even then communication was still achievable.
Ariary (MGA) was the local currency, with 2430 MGA = $1 AUD. Euro is readily accepted at most places as well, and it will be changed by all currency traders, but Australian Dollars will not. Many places besides decent sized hotels only accepted cash. We travelled with a CBA Travel Money Card (Mastercard), which I highly recommend doing. Provided we had funds loaded in Euro, were able to take money at all BFV ATM’s. Bank of Africa only accepted VISA cards, and BNI ATM’s were hit and miss (much more miss). Whilst common in most of the larger towns, BFVs were a little rarer than BoA and BNI branches, so I highly recommend taking out a decent sum, as there were times when we became strapped for cash.
Things were generally quite cheap. A 1.5L bottle of mineral water was around 2000 MGA ($0.82), and a 500ml bottle of beer was 6000 MGA ($2.47). We paid on average 16000 MGA for a main meal ($6.58), but often spent more. Dinner for two usually came to around 45000-50000 MGA ($18.50 - $20.55 ). A litre of diesel, known as gasoil in Madagascar came to 3650 MGA ($1.50).
We booked all our hotels bar Tsara Camp through Booking.com, and the tours and car hire directly through the companies themselves.
We purchased a SIM card from Telma, about $60 for 10GB of data. Most of the island is covered with 4G, but in remote areas between towns there was no reception. I highly recommend getting a SIM card, if only for google maps. Being able to translate menu’s was really useful in places where the menus were only in French or Malagasy.
Arrival in Antananarivo
Despite a setback in transit, our flights (MEL -> HKG -> JNB -> TNR) were fine, and as good as flights can be. Immigration was a slow process, and €35 (or the equivalent) was required for a tourist visa upon arrival. After getting our bags and changing some money in the terminal, we caught a taxi to our hotel, The Citizen, which overlooked one of the lakes in the city. It was definitely one of the premium hotels in the city.
We only spent a single night in Tana, and moved on to do a tour of the eastern region.
We went on a three day tour of the east with Madagascar Tour Guide. We were picked up from our hotel early in the morning, and headed east along the RN2 route.
Pyrieras Reptile Reserve
Our second day included what really was a highlight of the trip. We stopped off on our way to Andasibe and spent some time seeing many reptiles.
The National Parks
We then went on several hikes and got to explore the national parks in the region, including getting our first glimpse of a furry friend.
However, a real highlight was the short canoe ride to Vakona Park, more commonly known as Lemur Island.
The Road Trip Begins
After a several days in the east, we headed back to Antanarivo and stayed at Hotel Sakamanga. It was a great hotel with a great atmosphere, whilst being very well priced. If travelling to Tana, this is where I would recommend you stay. Our hire car was delivered. We dealt with Road Trip Africa, and we cannot recommend them enough. We had originally planned for an X-Trail, but we were given a late model Toyota Prado, and I am very glad we did. Some sections of the road, even national ones, were not in great condition or well maintained.
We concentrated on the south, and mainly followed the RN7. Google Maps was mostly available, but at times there is no coverage. It can generally be trusted to get you where you need to be, and is for the most part, up to date.
Our first stop was Antsirabe, a large town south of Tana. It took roughly three hours to get too. The roads are okay, and only slightly windy, however as you are close to the capital there is a little bit of traffic.
We stayed at Hotel Le Thermes, an old colonial styled hotel, that whilst dated, was very clean, well kept, and had a great restaurant, bar and pool set up.
I loved being able to support my blues as we kicked off the season with a good win!
One of the highlights of the town is the european styled cathedral near the railway station.
There are plenty of eating options around town, the first night we went to an old style french villa named Chez Dom. It also served as a hotel and looked like it would be a great place to stay. The second night we went to Hotel Vatolahy, where we also had a wonderful meal.
After two nights, we continued south to Ranomofana, a larger national park. However, we took the (kind of), the wrong turn. Do not follow google maps. Ten or so minutes after passing through Ambohimahasoa, you will come to a turn off with a big sign pointing towards Ranomofana. DO NOT TAKE THIS BLUE ROUTE RECOMMENDED BY GOOGLE. RN25 is a very poor dirt road that is extremely rough. It took us well over an hour and was very uncomfortable. Instead, continue along the RN7, and take a left at the intersection (almost a u-turn), and head in through there.
We stayed at Hotel Australe, a collection of wooden bungalow’s, that whilst not the most luxurious, were more than fine. The food served was great, and the staff very helpful.
The next day, we went hiking through Ranomofana’s national park. It was a truly remarkable experience. You can only go through the national park with a guide. Thankfully, we ran into Théo who was able to be our guide. He was also David Attenborough’s guide during his time in Madagascar.
Once again, we are able to see many Lemur’s
As well, as a ring tailed mongoose.
Anju Reserve and Ihosy
After a couple of days, we left Ranomofana, went back up the road we entered on and continued heading south on the RN7. Roughly 12KM after passing through Ambalavao is Anju reserve. It’s only a two hour stop off, and is a small national park with amazing rock formations and caves to climb. A guide is required, and there is a tourist check in when you get there.
Another two hours or so, we were in Ihosy. The roads from here are very flat and straight, providing much easier driving, and we were able to cover much more distance. We stayed at Tiana resort, a nice little hotel with bungalows. It’s about 10KM after Ihosy itself. It was cheap, clean, the food was fantastic, and the staff were exceptional. Whilst there is not a lot to do, this is a great place to stay for a night to break up the driving.
Isalo National Park
Isalo is not too far from Ihosy, and we arrived in just under two hours of driving. The roads again were very pleasant to drive. The national park is a large expanse of rock formations, canyons, palm oases, and grass lands. It was by far my favourite place on the trip. There are many luxury resorts, and we stayed at Le Jardin Du Roy. Whilst it was more expensive than the rest of the places we stayed, it was still cheap for two people, and food and drink were still cheap.
The hotel also provides access to detailed trek’s through the national park where guides are not required.
After two days of staying the absolute height of luxury at Isalo, we headed for the coast. The drive to Tuléar (formally known as Toliara), takes about three hours. Whilst the roads are fine for the most part, therea are several sections with lots of potholes. It was also interesting, for many towns along the RN7 after Isalo, they are riddled with opal shops.
Once you get to Tuléar, it is about a 25 minutes drive along the coast north-west on the RN9 to Ifaty. Be warned as I did get stopped, make sure to always have your passport on you, sometimes certain checkpoints require more than your drivers license. We stayed at Princesse Du Lagon right on the beach.
A few places down on the beach from us was Villa Maroloko. They had an amazing restaurant and bar. We spent a lot of time here, and the owner was really nice. It looked like a great alternative to stay. It was really cool being able to watch the Chelsea game right on the beach!
The Return Leg
After three wonderful nights at Ifaty, we had to head back north. We stayed again in Isalo for one night, at Isalo Rock Lodge, whilst more expensive than Le Jardin, it wasn’t as nice (Whilst still being lovely) and had really high prices for food and drink.
We then headed north to Andrigitra National Park, and stayed at Tsara Camp. This was well off the beaten path, and was an forty five minute drive inland off the RN7. Should you go, you will definitely need a four wheel drive, as the roads are in terrible condition.
I did a single day hike up Mt Chameleon which was very challenging, but well rewarding, and I even made a friend at the top!
If you look closely you can see the top of the mountain resembles a chameleon.
After staying here, we went back to Antsirabe. This was by far the longest drive in the trip, and with the 45 minutes on the dirt road to get back to the RN7 from Tsara camp, it took quite a while. The drive took 9 hours, and we stopped off for lunch at Ambositra. We highly recommend this, as there are many famous art shops, s the city is famous for it’s wood carving industry. If I could have bought back some larger furniture, I would’ve.
In Antsirabe, we stayed at Souimanga, a beautiful guest house on the outskirts of Antsirabe. It was really wonderful, the food was fantastic, and it has a wonderful garden. We stayed here for a night before driving back to Antananarivo.
Last Nights in Tana
We had two more nights before flying out, and stayed in a little guest house in the city named Chez Aina. It was stunning, the staff were fantastic, and it was very comfortable. There a handful of animals in the garden, including some tortoises!
On our last full day, we ventured out of the city, and visited the Queen’s Palace and the Presidential Museum. The palace is situated on a hill overlooking the city.
After visting this, we went to Parc de Tsarasaotara, a bird reserve in the heart of the city. It was really peaceful.
The next day we caught our first plane home. The traffic to the airport can be quite bad, so make sure you leave plenty of time to get there.
The trip was marvellous and extremely eye opening. You do not need to be a travel expert to go, but this definitely should not be one of your first trips. Many things we saw, especially the poverty was extremely confronting, and nothing like either of us had seen before. In all, Madagascar is a beautiful country, filled with such amazing diverse landscapes, and I highly recommend going.