Five Things First Time Travellers To Madagascar Should Know
- Brush up on your French. While Malagasy is the official language on the island, French is a widely spoken second language. Very few locals speak English even in the big cities like Antananarivo. Learn some essential French words and phrases to make travelling around the country easier.
- Don't forget to tip. Due to tourism being the main form of livelihood for many people, you'll be expected to tip pretty much everywhere you go. A 10% gratuity is fine for restaurants, and you'll also need to tip taxi drivers, hotel staff and vendors for small purchases at markets.
- Only drink the bottled water. If you don't want an upset stomach, it's best to avoid the tap water. Bottled water is easy to find, and it won't put a big dent in your budget.
- Bring a power bank. In Madagascar, it's common to have the electricity turned off for a few hours. Some days, there might not even be power, so bring along a power bank or two to charge your gadgets without any issue.
- Spend time learning about fady. A fady is a taboo, and change from village to village. It's best to find out what they are to avoid disrespecting the culture of the Malagasy people.
Best Time To Visit Madagascar
The best time to visit Madagascar is during its dry season. From April to October, the weather will be cooler, and the lack of rain means the conditions will be perfect for spotting wildlife. The days will also be longer, with eight hours of daylight giving you more than enough time to explore.
September and October are great for exploring the nearby dive sites. And in the middle of the dry season, you'll be able to see baby lemurs and humpback whales making their way down the coastline.
But it's also the busiest time of year for Madagascar. Expect prices for hotels, and airfare to skyrocket during this period especially over the July and August school holidays. The upside is that the roads will be in better condition, making it easier to get to your next destination.
From November to March is the country's wet season. It's the least popular time to visit with the torrential downpours creating poor road and wildlife opportunities.
The days are also shorter, and attractions close down due to the weather. If you decide to go, you'll find cheap accommodation at the hotels that stay open during this time of year.
Antananarivo is the capital city of Madagascar. The remnants of its colonial past can be found in the elegant Parisian mansions sitting on the hillside. There's also Malagasy palaces to explore, the most famous being the Queen's Palace. Once home to the Merina dynasty, it's where the infamous Queen Ranavalona ruled with an iron fist.
Other highlights include the Pirates museum, Ambohimanga and the Botanical and Zoological Garden of Tsimbazaza.
Toamasina is the second largest city in Madagascar. Once a resort town during the country's colonial era, it's now only a shadow of its former self.
But that's what gives Toamasina its character. Its beaches are still beautiful, and the nightlife is always buzzing with a lively crowd. It boasts quite a few pubs and clubs that are well-worth checking out if you're a night owl.
Antsirabe is the third largest city in Madagascar. Its landscape is marked with Parisian mansions, Gothic cathedrals and shady boulevards.
The city's main attraction is the nearby hot springs. Local and international travellers come here to relax and soak up the water's healing properties.
Top Attractions in Madagascar
Avenue of the Baobabs
The Avenue of the Baobabs is Madagascar's most iconic natural attraction. Located on a dirt road between Morondava and Belo 'i Tsiribihina, the 800-year-old trees attract hundreds of visitors each year.
Once part of a dense tropical forest, the trees are all that remain standing. With very few young baobabs these days, it's believed that the extinct giant lemurs and elephant birds helped with germination. These days, the trees can't rely on their seeds being spread by animals, as they are too big for the smaller creatures.
The trees are also under a constant threat of destruction by man. Granted temporary protected status, the Baobabs are on their way to becoming Madagascar's first national monument.
The island of Nosy Be is one of Madagascar's top destinations. Each year, thousands of tourists make their way to its pristine alabaster shores.
The island is a paradise for divers. Its dive sites are a major draw, and there's plenty of snorkelling opportunities as well. Once you've had your fill of Nosy Be's underwater treasures, head for its rolling landscapes. Explore the vanilla plantations, crater lakes and the untouched tropical forests.
But Nosy Be is also the country's most expensive destination, with hotels costing almost double compared to the mainland. The high prices keep the island from becoming flooded with tourists, and Nosy Be has retained its laid-back lifestyle despite its popularity.
Ranomafana National Park
Ranomafana National Park is one of Madagascar's most visited parks. It's home to the endangered golden bamboo lemur. The animal survives off a diet of bamboo shoots that contain lethal doses of cyanide without any ill effects. Besides this lemur, twelve other species are found here including the rare aye-aye.
Other wildlife to look out for are the 115 kinds of birds, 62 species of reptiles, 98 frogs, 90 butterflies, and more than 300 types of spiders.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the lemurs, prepare to go on a long hike. The lemurs lie deep in the forests, and you'll need to be fit to make it up all the hills and through the thick vegetation.
Ambohimanga, also called the Royal Hill, was once the residence of the Malagasy kings. The complex, which has been expanded on throughout the years, is full of palaces, royal tombs, and crumbling fortifications.
It's also where King Andrianampoinimerina launched his campaigns to re-unify Imerina after seven decades of civil war. His former home, with walls made of solid rosewood, contains artefacts like drums, weapons and talismans.
Today, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the country's most sacred spots. It remains a place of worship for the locals, and the Royal Hill attracts pilgrims from all over the country.
Masoala National Park
Spanning across an area of 250 miles, Masoala National Park is one of the largest protected areas on the island. It includes three marine parks and is home to ten species of lemur including the rare aye-aye.
Other creatures found inside the park include the Tomato frog and a diverse array of birds and reptiles. The marine parks that protect over 10,000 hectares of coral reefs are teeming with underwater creatures. Spend a day exploring its depths or going on a kayaking adventure.
The national park also boasts a plethora of hiking trails. Go on one of the popular day treks or tackle the multi-day hike across the peninsula.
Major International Airports in Madagascar
- Ivato International Airport
- Fascene Airport
- Amborovy Airport
- Arrachart Airport
- Toamasina Airport