The Ultimate Madagascar Travel Guide

March 5, 2021

by Hillary Anne

local malagasy walking in road of madagascar
A photo by 2photopots from Adobe Stock

If you to go to Africa, make sure to devote a few days or weeks to create the perfect Madagascar travel itinerary. Being one of the gems of the Indian Ocean, Madagascar offers pristine beaches, diverse landscapes, impressive natural wonders, unique plants, and endemic animals. For sure, your Madagascar travel itinerary will include various outdoor activities, such as visiting royal complexes, crossing crocodile-infested rivers and, of course, exploring the famous Isalo National Park.

 

However, before your trip and to freely enjoy your Madagascar travel adventure with fewer worries, make sure to pack water shoes for your exotic tours as well as repellents to avoid sand fleas

 

Madagascar Travel

Photo by Duleyrie from Adobe Stock

How to get to Madagascar

There are various airports in the U.S. that will take you to Ivato International Airport (TNR). But frequent flights come from California and New York. The cheapest flights are from Los Angeles. On average, a roundtrip flight operated by Delta Airlines starts at US$723 per adult. The flight also runs from 25 to 27 hours per way with one to two layovers.

 

Ivato International Airport (TNR) is located around 20 km away from the capital, Antananarivo. Before, there used to be a shuttle bus that will take you from the airport to the capital. But the only way you can reach Antananarivo is by taking a cab or a private car. Usually, it will only take you only around 30 minutes. But you can get stuck for 40 minutes to two hours if you are unlucky. 

 

Is Madagascar safe?

While most African countries had the reputation of having high crime rates, you can spare Madagascar. Despite experiencing continuous political turmoil, most of the crimes are only petty crimes. So, overall, we can say that it is safe to travel to Madagascar.

 

Be vigilant

However, just like when you are traveling to other countries, you still have to be careful. One of the most important Madagascar travel rules is to be vigilant. Avoid walking alone at night or driving late. There are cases of armed robberies and vehicle ambush around Antananarivo, Toliara, and Fianarantsoa.

 

Make thorough research

Also, be skeptical when you are booking accommodation or tour, renting a vehicle, or getting a guide. Make thorough research for credible local tour operators, and preferably only book those with more than five years of experience. When paying, you can also ask if you can pay only 30% to reserve your spot. Then pay the remaining when you get there. Watch out for credit card surcharges or any foreign exchange differences. Ask for their business credentials but research on how to find out if the documents are authentic. Constantly checking the travel advisory to Madagascar can also help you enjoy your travel to Madagascar.

 

Get Travel Insurance!

Most of all, get travel insurance for extra safety. Accidents are called accidents because you don’t expect them to happen. In case you get into an accident, having travel insurance will ensure that you will have someone to rely on. So, make sure to get travel insurance to enjoy your Madagascar travel itinerary to the fullest!

 

Things to do in Madagascar

1. Marvel at the Avenue of Baobabs

 

a road in madagascar lined with baobabs

Photo by Rod Waddington from Wikimedia Common

 

One of the things that you can’t miss in your Madagascar travel itinerary is seeing Baobabs. Although you might have probably seen Baobabs in other countries, the ones in Madagascar are unique. Many tourists brave the 12 hours road trip from the capital just to see the Avenue of Baobabs in real life.

 

The Avenue of Baobabs is literally a line of Baobab trees at the Route Nationale N8. It is a national highway between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina. Here, you will come across a series of 98 feet tall and 36 feet wide baobabs. If you can’t visualize it, well it is just similar to an eight-story building! These trees also grow wide because they store thousands of gallons of water. This helps them strive in Madagascar’s very dry climate. But that’s not everything that makes it impressive. Most of the baobabs you will see are still considered “baby baobabs”. They have only been there for only a thousand years. Surprisingly, the bigger ones are as old as 400 years old!

 

2. Visit the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

 

a bridge leading you to the unique tsingy mountains

Photo by CPO from Adobe Stock

 

Another must in your Madagascar travel itinerary is visiting the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site stretches to 1,500 square meters of rugged cliffs, spiky limestone karst, and undisturbed forest. This national park is considered to be remote and it is a challenge to visit. From the capital, you will have to take a 12 hour trip to Morondava. From there you will take another exciting 10-hour trip, which includes crossing two crocodile-infested rivers: the Tsiribihina and the Manambolo. If you are fond of watching adventure films like Jumanji or Avatar, you will enjoy this great escapade!

 

At Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, you will experience adventurous Madagascar travel. There will be guides that will lead you to the pinnacles of the spiky limestone karst. They will attach your harness to a rope and they will instruct you on the easiest footholds. Just when you thought this is already testing your boldness and surging your adrenaline, you will also be clipped in a wobbly hanging bridge with the spikes below you. Yes, it will be challenging but it will definitely be one of the highlights in your Madagascar travel journal!

 

3. Hike the Isalo National Park

massive rock formations behind the cow carriage

Photo by Luis from Adobe Stock

 

Another wonder carved by nature, Isalo National Park offers you another Jurassic-themed adventure. When you hike through the park, you will see arid deserts and waterfalls leading you to the deep canyons. In the desert, you will be surrounded by enormous massifs that will remind you of Colorado. With the impressive rock formations, hues, and landscapes, hiking the Isalo National Park will surely make you feel like you are in cowboy films. Apart from this, you will also see unique plants like mini baobab and resembling Elephant’s foot plants! However, unlike most parks in Madagascar, Isalo National Park has the least number of animals. In fact, most of the things you will see here are only small animals, such as mouse lemur and praying mantises.

 

4. Enjoy water activities at Nosy Be

 

a woman walking in the beach at madagascar

Photo by Sandy Manoa from Unsplash

 

In the northern off coast of Madagascar, you will find Nosy Be which is one of its treasured beaches. With its powdery sands, clear waters, and all-year sunny weather, it is your picture-perfect subject! Since it is one of the world’s oldest islands, you will find a lot of bizarre animals and plants here. Most of them can’t be found anywhere else. Another thing that garnered the attention of most tourists is how it offers such a laid-back ambiance. Despite being considered expensive among the beaches in Madagascar. Tourists are willing to pay more for the tranquility it offers.

 

Apart from beach lounging and sunbathing, you can also explore the undisturbed waters of Nosy Be. If you happen to be in Madagascar in late August, don’t miss the opportunity to see migrating humpback whales. Meanwhile, if you are in Madagascar in October, you can also swim with the gentle giants, whale sharks. You can check out Safari Baleine for your tours.

 

5. See the Pirate’s Cemetery at Sainte Marie Island

 

a boat in a powdery white sand

Photo by ste67 from Adobe Stock

 

Locally known as Nosy Boraha, Sainte Marie Island is not your typical island beach. While it offers a lot of pristine beaches away from mass tourism, it also serves as a historical setting. Long ago, this 60 kilometers long island used to be the pirate’s hideout. In fact, you can find the world’s only pirate cemetery on this island! With the island’s lush vegetation, quality seabed, and location, no wonder it ticked off all your Madagascar travel preferences.

Although it still offers the remoteness that pirates used to enjoy, locals also inhabited this long strip of island and hotels dot its shore. Hence, you can still enjoy a comfortable vacation with access to most of your needs.

 

6. Explore the Ranomafana National Park

 

a waterfalls in one of the parks in madagascar

Photo by dennisvdwater from Adobe Stock

 

Ranomafana National Park is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Madagascar. It covers almost 41,600 hectares of rainforest and is surrounded by mountain ranges covered with lush vegetation. You will see various trees, plants, and flowers that you will not find anywhere else. As you hike the mountain ranges, you will experience impressive landscapes. Enjoy its mighty waterfalls, cascading rivers, as well as thermal pools. You can also hire a guide so you can learn more about the endemic species inhabiting the park, which include Henst goshawk and Rufous-headed ground roller.

 

7. Swim at Toliara

a popular beach in madagascar for swimming

Photo by Frank from Adobe Stock

 

Toliara used to be the southern paradise of Madagascar. Many enjoy this picturesque location filled with Nipa huts, coconut trees, and boats. With little to no rainfall per year, it is a favorite holiday destination for both tourists and locals. It has a fair share of pristine beaches, tidal pools, and shallow frontal reefs. However, after experiencing excessive fishing and silting, its seabed suffered. But don’t worry because your trip is not wasted.  There is a nearby diving location at Massif de Roses, which is only an hour away from Toliara. Apart from this, outdoor aficionados can explore caves and mangrove forests. Meanwhile, animal lovers can also meet animals unique to the south, such as long-tailed ground rollers, sub-desert mesites, and lemurs.

 

8. Get to know Madagascar at Musée Andafiavaratra

 

an ancient edifice in madagascar

Photo by Z thomas from Wikimedia Commons

 

Musée Andafiavaratra was a palace that was once the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony. Apart from its striking pink exterior and turrets, a lot of tourists come here to know more about Madagascar. After the Rova Palace Complex caught fire in 1995, the saved items were placed in Musée Andafiavaratra. So here, you will marvel at the portraits of the royalties of the Kingdom of Madagascar as well as snapshots of their lives during the Merina monarchs.

 

If you have time, you can also drop by the walled village of Ambohimanga. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Madagascar that preserved the traditional and spiritual identity of the Malagasy. The site successfully preserved the 15-century old residences and graves of the Merina royal family.

 

9. Live like a local at Analakely Market

some goods sold at the local market in madagascar

Photo by Irina84 from Adobe Stock

 

Antananarivo already has a reputation for being chaotic. But to have a more authentic Madagascar experience, you should also get a glimpse of this scene. There will be no better way to experience it than hitting the local market of Analakely. Here, you will get the chance to see how aggressive vendors can get. They will try to sell you fabrics, household items, as well as exotic fruits and local delicacies — mostly things you will probably not need, but you would just end up buying. In general, most of the things you can buy here are marked down. But if you can speak French or Malagasy, you can score greater deals!

Remember not to bring a lot of valuables when you come here. Keep your electronics when walking and don’t bring so much money. Although it’s generally safe in Madagascar, being vigilant will still help you go a long way.

 

10. Shop for Souvenirs at La Digue Market

wooden souvenirs sold at la digue market, madagascar

Photo by Lubo Ivanko from Adobe Stock

 

Opening Hours: 9 AM to 5:30 PM (Monday to Sunday)

 

Remember your trip to Madagascar by buying a souvenir at La Digue Market. Since it is located near Ivato International Airport, you will have no reason not to drop by for quick shopping. You can find hundreds of stalls selling various goods. You have locally-made wood carvings, embroidered fabrics, as well as spices that will remind you of Madagascar at home. Just make sure to go around first to know the best price. Although haggling is possible, don’t haggle too much if you can pay the price.

 

Best Time to Visit Madagascar

Visit Madagascar in balmy weather. The dry season is from April to October. During these months, it’s usually bright and sunny all day with fewer chances of rain. So you will be able to enjoy all the activities for your Madagascar travel itinerary!

 

Where to stay in Madagascar

Budget: Tsanga Tsanga Hotel

 

a decent hotel for your madagascar travel

Photo from the Tsanga Tsanga Hotel website

 

Room Rate: starts at US$48 per night

 

Ideally located at the business center of Antananarivo, Tsanga Tsanga Hotel is one of the affordable hotels in Madagascar. Although its price only ranges below US$100, it still offers neat and comfortable rooms. Their rooms are equipped with air conditioning units, a fridge, and a private bathroom complete with a hairdryer and toiletries. While there is no swimming pool, you can also enjoy lounging on the spacious rooftop. There you can get a panoramic view of the city. When you book a room, a continental breakfast is already included. This will get you going on a day of Madagascar travel adventure!

 

Luxury: Hôtel Colbert – Spa & Casino

 

a luxurious hotel in madagascar

Photo from the Booking website

 

Room rate: starts at US$111 per night

 

Hotel Colbert is a four-star hotel and casino in Antananarivo. It exhibits a classic interior wherein their rooms will make you feel like royalty. Apart from that, the hotel is also known for its outstanding service and state-of-the-art facilities. You will be able to access the sauna, hammam, and fitness center. Let’s also not forget the casino and the spa with an indoor pool. Then, for breakfast, you will be served in a buffet dining at La Fougerie. Make sure to fill your stomachs to prepare you for your day’s itinerary! If you feel like taking a staycation for a day, don’t worry because you don’t have to go anywhere else. The hotel has an in-house restaurant, La Taverne, and a wine cellar, Le Cellier, that will satisfy your palate.

 

Let’s Travel to Madagascar!

Come to Madagascar for an authentic island experience! Being the second-largest island country in the world, it is surrounded by pristine waters and natural wonders. So, you can expect that most of the things to do in Madagascar are outdoor activities. From hiking and swimming to strolling around the tourist spots, you will surely fill in your Madagascar travel itinerary with various exciting activities. Don’t miss out on this paradise, and plan your trip ahead!