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Madagascar Travel Guide

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Fast Facts


Location: 400km off east coast of Africa , south of Equator.
Languages: Malagasy and French (both official), some English
Population: 17,000,000
Capital city: Antananarivo (Tana)
Currency: Ariary (MGA)
Religion: Traditional beliefs, Christianity, Islam
Country Size: Approx 590, 000 sq km, the world's fourth largest island.
International airport: Ivato, Antananarivo
Highest point: Mt Maromokotro (Tsaratanana massif) 2,876m
Time zone: GMT +3
Electricity: 220V, two-pin plugs
Main towns: Fianarantsoa, Antsirabe, Toliara (Tulear), Taolagnaro ( Fort Dauphin ), Toamasina (Tomatave), Mahajanga (Majunga), Antsiranana (Diego Suarez). French colonial names (shown in brackets) are still used.

At a Glance



East: Most of the lush rainforest is found on the moist east coast.
West: Madagascar's western section is dryer than the east. Deciduous tropical forests are present which are home to an exciting variety of rare and endemic wildlife species.
Highlands: This is where the capital Antananarivo is found.
South: Large baobab trees and spiny forests predominate in the dryer parts of the island which rarely receives rain.
North: This section is known for its variety, both in terms of cultures and climate.

Wildlife


Lemurs: Madagascar has an incredible nine-tenths of all the world's lemurs. Species include the tiny microcebus, the friendly macaco, the tall indri, the rare aye-aye and the long-jumping sifaka.
Birds: Birding in Madagascar is a delight for keen twitchers as the country offers an exotic variety of rare and beautiful birds. You can see vangas, crested couas, colourful roller birds, attractive waterfowl (such as herons and flamingos), birds of prey (such as eagles and falcons) and a stunning 70 species of singing birds.
Flora: Madagascar boasts over 10,000 varieties of plants, one of the richest collections of flora in the world. You'll find 1,000 species of orchids including the rarest white-flowered orchid and the gorgeous black orchid. You'll also find 6 species of baobabs, the carnivorous pitcher plant and a water-storing bottle tree.

Transport


Direct flights to Madagascar from South Africa are from Johannesburg International Airport with flights leaving every day. The only direct carriers are Air Madagascar & SAA Airlink. Local transport is freely available at the airport and the towns, but all charges are in local currency or Euros. Visitors can also hire motor bikes and cars, but this is also not recommended as the roads are quite tricky to navigate, with many cyclists and motor cyclists driving all over the roads. If you do not have proper licenses, or you knock over a cyclist, the police are quick to arrest you.

The surrounding islands (Nosy Be, 'le Sainte Marie, etc.)  are  only accessed by domestic flights from Antananarivo. Flights leave to the island on a daily basis, but most of the time not connecting to the international flights.

Best time to go


Madagascar has a hot, sunny and tropical climate. The lush vegetation benefits from rain showers throughout the year. Coastal temperatures are generally moderate all year round, peaking above 30'C in summer. It gets cooler the more inland you go. For nature enthusiasts wanting to see a range of species, the best time to go is from late August to early January. 

Western and Southwestern Madagascar is best during the winter months. It's pleasant during this time with mostly clear blue skies and manageable temperatures. Try to avoid this region, however, during the summer time (December to March) as it gets uncomfortably hot, rainy and stormy.

The East and Northeast is less predictable. You can have overcast skies and experience rain at any time of year, although the showers are generally of shorter duration in the winter months. Try to avoid the northeast areas between March and July.

Try to avoid travelling around Madagascar between mid January and mid March if possible as cyclones can occur then (especially in the east and northeast regions) and heavy rainfall can make road inaccessible.


 

Money


The local currency has changed from the FMG (Franc Malagasy) to the Ariary. It's recommended to TAKE EUROS IN CASH so that you can easily change it into ariaries. You can do this at the airport banks or during your trip as needed. Don't take SA Rands as they are not accepted for currency or conversion in Madagascar. Be aware that credit cards and travellers cheques are also not generally accepted so it's best to avoid relying on these. There are a few ATMs in the big towns but they might not always be operational. Make sure you convert your Ariary back into hard currency prior to leaving Madagascar as you won't be able to convert it afterwards.

Cultures


Malagasy is the main language spoken in Madagascar . French is often spoken in business sectors and English is used in the tourism sector. However, you might find yourself in places where no-one speaks English. We recommend learning a few basic French words or taking a French-English phrase book with you in case.

Finding out about the varied cultures and beliefs makes a visit to Madagascar even more interesting. Try and get hold of a decent guide such as The Bradt Travel Guide to Madagascar by Hilary Bradt. It will help you understand any customs and festivals you might encounter and also to avoid offending locals with certain behaviours. You're bound to be amazed (and sometimes even appalled) by some of the traditional practices of the islanders but bear in mind that some of the things we do in our own cultures might be similarly strange and foreign to the Malagasy.

Medical


Malaria: Madagascar is a malarial area. You'll need to speak to your doctor or travel clinic about which malaria prophylaxis suits you best. Besides taking the medicine, it's best to try not to get bitten. As the Anopheles mosquito, which is responsible for causing malaria, is active between dusk and dawn, it's important that you cover up with long pants and sleeves during these times (avoiding dark colours if possible). Also makes sure you apply a suitable insect repellant such s Tabard or Peaceful Sleep to any exposed areas.

Vaccinations: There are no compulsory vaccinations necessary for entry to Madagascar . However it is always recommended that you are vaccinated against typhoid, hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria and polio. If you are traveling from a yellow-fever endemic area to Madagascar or South Africa , health authorities at the airport might make you produce proof of your current yellow fever vaccination. Be aware that when you have the yellow fever inoculation, it only becomes valid 10 days after the injection, so plan accordingly. Once you've had the yellow fever inoculation, it's valid for 10 years.

General health: The water might affect you. Drink bottled water or use water purification tablets. Make sure you have all your emergency or essential medicines with you.

National Parks


Madagascar is famous for its extraordinary biodiversity and there are numerous national parks and reserves in which to enjoy the natural beauty. However, it's a constant struggle for the Malagasy to maintain the island's amazing biodiversity and protect the sensitive environment. They depend very much on responsible tourism, new eco-friendly farming methods and the protection given to areas as national parks and reserves.
Overall, Madagascar has an incredible 17 National Parks, 22 Nature Reserves and 5 Strict Nature Reserves.

These are listed as follows:

  • Strict Nature Reserves:
  • Bemaraha Reserve
  • Betampona Reserve
  • Lokobe Reserve
  • Tsaratanana Reserve
  • Zahamena Reserve
National Parks:
  • Amber Mountain National Park
  • Andohahela National Park
  • Andringitra National Park
  • Ankarafantsika National Park
  • Baie de Baly National Park
  • Bemaraha National Park
  • Isalo National Park
  • Kirindy Mitea National Park
  • Mantadia National Park
  • Marojejy National Park
  • Masoala National Park
  • Midongy du sud National Park
  • Namoroka National Park
  • Ranomafana National Park
  • Tsimanampetsotse National Park
  • Zahamena National Park
  • Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park
Wildlife Reserves:
  • Analamazoatra Reserve
  • Analamerana Reserve
  • Andranomena Reserve
  • Ambatovaky Reserve
  • Amber Forest Reserve
  • Ambohijanahary Reserve
  • Ambohitantely Reserve
  • Anjanaharibe-Sud Reserve
  • Ankarana Reserve
  • Bemarivo Reserve
  • Beza Mahafaly Reserve
  • Bora Reserve
  • Kalambatritra Reserve
  • Kasijy Reserve
  • Manombo Reserve
  • Mangerivola Reserve
  • Maningoza Reserve
  • Manongarivo
  • Marotandrano Reserve
  • Nosy Mangabe Reserve
  • Pic d'Ivohibe Reserve
  • Tampoketsa Analamaitso Reserve
Some of the more interesting parks:

Amber Mountain National Park, northern Madagascar
You can enjoy the beautiful scenery of waterfalls and crater lakes as well as scout out fabulous wildlife. Amber Mountain is one of the most biologically diverse parks in Madagascar! You can look for 75 bird species, 25 mammal species and 59 reptile species on level, well-maintained trails. This park is found in the Antsiranana Province, within a day-trip of Diego Suarez and 1000 kilometres north of Madagascar's capital Antananarivo.

Andringitra National Park, southeast Madagascar
Andringitra is characterized by tall peaks, some 2658 metres high, deep valleys and rough ridges. It's also one of the most biologically diverse places, with many endemic species. You'll find over 100 bird species, 50 mammal species and 55 frog species in this park, situated in the Fianarantsoa Province.

Ranomafana National Park
In the lush rainforests of this spectacular 41,500-hectare park, you'll find 12 lemur species (including golden, red-bellied, grey bamboo and broad-nosed lemurs) and plentiful streams running into the great Namorona River. You'll need to get a permit to walk about, available at the park entrance in Ambodiamontana village. Take a guided walk which can range from two to four hours. If you go at night, you might see a fanaloka (Malagasy civet) or the nocturnal dainty brown mouse lemur. You can get there by road from Tana or fly to Fianarantsoa.

Isalo National Park, southwest Madagascar
This park is known for its interesting terrain which includes deep canyons, sandstone formations, palm-lined oases and grasslands. See how many species of wildlife you can tick off of the 82 types of birds, 33 species of reptiles, 15 types of frogs and 14 mammal species including 3 lemur species.The nearest city is Toliara.

Andohahela National Park, southeast Madagascar.
Andohahela is known for its diversity of climates and habitats. It covers 760 square kilometers of the Anosy mountain range in the Malagasy Highlands. Rainfall varies dramatically (from 600 to 2000 mm per year) in this park, offering lush rainforest in the east and dry, spiny landscapes in the west. In between there is transitional forest with endemic triangular palms. You'll find 15 species of lemur (including Verreaux's Sifaka). There are road networks within each of the habitat types in the park, accessed from Tolagnaro.

Masoala National Park, northeast Madagascar
As the largest protected area on the island, Masoala preserves 2,300 square kilometres of rainforest and 100 square kilometres of marine parks. You'll encounter coastal forests, marshes and mangroves. 10 lemur species (including the endemic red ruffed lemur) inhabit this park as do interesting and rare geckos, chameleons, birds, moths and frogs. Try and catch a glimpse of the elusive aye-aye on the island reserve of Nosy Mangabe.

The three marine parks in Masoala (Tampolo in the West, Ambodilaitry in the South and Ifaho in the East) boast a colourful underwater world of marine creatures and coral reefs. It's an incredible place to go kayaking and snorkelling. If you're there between July and early September you're likely to see humpback whales in the warm waters of Antongil Bay, where they migrate to breed and calve.
You'll need a park-approved guide to explore this park which is accessed from Maroantsetra or Antalaha towns by a three-hour boat journey. There is plenty of accommodation in the vicinity. Masoala is a very wet part of the country so its best to visit between September and December. Try to avoid the cyclone season between January and March.

Mantadia National Park, eastern Madagascar
Mantadia (and nearby Analamazoatra reserve) is one of the easiest reserves to visit in Madagascar. It's well known for its Indri lemur, one of the largest species. The rainforest is also home to a great diversity of other endemic, rare and endangered species. The nearest cities are Moramanga and Andasibe.

Ankarafantsika National Park, northwest Madagascar
Ankarafantsika has a tropical climate and is situated in the Mahajanga Province. The nearest town is Majunga, 115 kilometres north of the park.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, western Madagascar
This World Heritage Site offers unique geography, beautiful mangrove forests, populations of lemurs and birds. In the south is a 666-square kilometre national park and in the north a strict nature reserve protects an area covering 853 square kilometres. You can get there by road from Marondava town, south of the park. You can also visit from Antsalova if you're flying in from Antananarivo or Mahajanga.

Travel Tips


What to pack
It can be hot and humid so pack casual and lightweight clothing that's comfortable to travel in. You'll do a lot of walking, especially when visiting nature reserves, so make sure you have comfy walking shoes. It can get a bit chilly in the highlands so take some warm clothing, especially during the winter season. Be sure to pack your insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses, a good wide-brimmed hat and lots of film or memory cards for your camera.
 
Caution
Invest in a money belt and take care of your valuables, especially in Tana where pick pocketing has been known to occur. If possible, keep your valuables in your hotel safe.

Malaria Tablets
Madagascar is situated in a malaria zone, so it is recommended that you consult your physician on the prescription right for you. Pregnant women are not allowed to take Malaria prevention drugs, and are cautioned before entering any malaria area.

Insect/ Mosquito repellent
Mosquitoes, like little vampires, favour night conditions. Be sure to take a repellent, and cover all exposed areas of your body (e.g. neck and arms). We recommend that you wear trousers at night and long sleeved shirts should you be outdoors. If the heat is too much and you wear a short sleeved shirt, make sure you smear/ spray your arms with repellent. At night before you go to bed, make sure your mosquito net is either touching the ground, or is tucked in, and your exposed areas (especially your ankles) are protected with repellent.

Travel insurance
It is imperative that you have travel insurance. Even though they do not check any certificates when you enter the airports, for your own peace of mind, make sure that you are adequately covered.

Crime
As with all cities, Madagascar is not free of crime. Unfortunately it has been on the increase, so make sure you do not take valuables on holiday with you. If you do take expensive jewellery, make sure it is either locked up when you go out, or hidden from sight.

Be careful not to walk the streets at night alone, this invites trouble. If you are confronted, do not resist, and try to report the matter to the police as soon as possible. The police are sometimes rude and arrogant, but an attempt will be made to recover your property.

Do not take South African Rand to Madagascar ' you will not be able to use it or convert it.  Note that credit cards are not widely accepted and then only VISA. You should take Euros. There are ATM machines at Tana airport, at the Carlton Hotel in Tana, near the Colbert in Tana and in Fort Dauphin where you may be able to use your visa card to draw cash. However, the machines may not always be operational.

Entry Requirements

You'll need a visa to visit Madagascar . Visas can be obtained on arrival or from the Malagasy Embassy beforehand. Visas generally cost ' 60 or US$90 (Ariary 140 000) at the airport. Make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months and have a full blank page.

Possibly one of the most important requirements, although not a pre-requisite is travel insurance. Visitors must make sure they are adequately covered. If you are unsure about what you should take out, please contact us and we will gladly help you.




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