Where to go & What to do: Madagascar
As many of you know, I recently went home to Madagascar. For those who do not know, I was born in Antananarivo, capital of the 4th largest island, Madagascar. The island is situated South East of the continent of Africa, right across Mozambique. With a population of nearly 23 million people, the country has much more than the movie gave us credit for; lemurs are endemic to the country, however, they’re only found on the coast in the jungle, and not in the capital.
I’ve travelled to Madagascar multiple times with family so I usually have someplace to stay at. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and craving to travel, I recommend it to everyone! There are many destinations to discover within the Red Island that I have yet to visit, from Nosy Be’s pristine beaches, resorts in Tamatave, the infamous tsingy in Melaky Region and Avenue of the Baobabs in Morondava to name a few.
Madagascar remains a developing country despite our abundant fauna & flora. Depending on your interests, skills and hobbies, a vacation can become an even richer experience for you and those you will encounter. Below are several alternatives if you feel that you would prefer to travel with a purpose and/or itinerary that could also benefit the country's growth:
• Semester abroad through a college program (ex: Madagascar Study Abroad Program with Stony Brook University)
• Volunteer program (International Volunteer HQ & Volunteer World)
• Discover/travel groups (African Budget Safaris, World Expedition, Intrepid Travel...)
Keep in mind that this post is based on my personal experiences and research in terms of advices and prices. The reservation process is the most challenging, price & distance-wise: from NYC, you can transfer in Europe then head toward Madagascar (7HRS+11HRS=18HRS) or straight to South Africa then a quick ride over (16HRS+3HRS=19HRS); beginning of the peak season (April) averages to about $1,300 roundtrip and can quickly reach $2,000. Several agencies such as Secret Flying offer sporadic deals of $800 from time to time so don't be discouraged, plan ahead ! Lastly, Expedia is one of my favorite flight search database followed by Google Flights: they give you a calendar view where you can compare all the airline prices on the spot, plus they highlight in green the best deal (below )! Be advised of any vaccines or visa requirements you will also need beforehand.
International (1-4) and short distance (5-8) airlines that travel to Madagascar (from $-$$$):
- Turkish Airline
- South African Airways
- Air Austral
- Air France
- Kenya Airways
- Air Mauritius
- Air Madagascar (local routes and France only)
-Airbnb is available all over Madagascar whether you want to check in a traditional Malagasy "trano" in the heart of the city or a cottage by the sea. Rentals start as low as $30 a night depending on the season (above) so make sure you book early !
-Hotels are also common if you prefer the services and 24/7 amenities. Here are my top suggestions:
- Hotel Carlton ($$$) $125 - $255
- Hotel Colbert ($$) $55 - $199
- Hotel Tamboho ($$) $88 - $167
- Hotel Sakamanga ($) $31 - $85 [More here.]
Madagascar is a tropical island so hurricanes and cyclones are routine events, rainy along the east coast, arid in the south-west and temperate in the mountains. Tourists arrive around April as weather ameliorates into the peak months of July and August; unlike the northern hemisphere, seasons are reversed:
- "Summer," rainy season runs from December to March, with an average temperature of 22°C (72°F).
- "Winter," dry season runs from April to October, with an average temperature of 15°C (59°F).
Rule of thumb: be cautious and know what you’re eating. Street food is very popular and delicious to try out from mofo gasy (puff balls), brochettes (shish kebobs) and seasonal fruits. I usually eat home-cooked meals however, between my cousins and I, it’s become a tradition to go out together in the evening and have a taste of the city.
If you're a frequent traveler with experienced taste buds and stomach, your chances of catching something while purchasing food from supermarkets and restaurants is unlikely; however, street stands or individuals offering you food are worth thinking over twice, especially if it is meat or water-based products. Pepto Bismol sell small capsules you can throw in your bag, just in case ! Here are my favorite go-to spots when in town:
Carry small bags that you can hold close to your body (messenger bags, utility backpacks…) Keep your jewelry and electronics to a minimum when in public. Remember, the poorest live off less than a $1 a day and, if given an opportunity, may not hesitate to snatch your valuables, especially during rush-hour traffic inside a taxi. However, most Malagasy are welcoming and friendly but, unless you believe you’re amongst trustworthy company, kindly ask your driver to lock the taxi/car you’re in.
Whether you're looking to get everyday basics or trinkets & goodies to bring back with you, here are some great shopping areas to stop by:
- Pochard (my ultimate favorite for Malagasy handicrafts, save this for your last days!)
- Digue (Malagasy handicrafts, pricier)
- Analakely (famous flea & street marketplace)
- Tana Water Front
- Akoor' Centre Commercial
- Gare Soarano (various boutiques)
The Malagasy Franc (FMG) was used until 2005 when the Malagasy Ariary (MGA) made it’s entrance. In comparison to American dollars (USD), $1 USD = 3,378.13 AR. There are no coins, only bills at different values starting at 100 AR ($0.03) to 10,000 AR ($3); local buses usual cost 300-500 AR ($0.09-0.15) ! Needless to say, most things from food, drinks and souvenirs are pretty cheap and many vendors are willing to bargain lower. For detailed currency conversion, click here.
Did I miss anything? For those who have traveled to Madagascar and have more tips, please drop a comment ! I hope this brief guide answers some of your questions concerning traveling to Madagascar. You're guaranteed an unforgettable stay whether you're set on the coast or in the city.