Welcome to Madagascar travel guide, a 3-week itinerary to this magical island of natural wonders.
We recently visited the Red Island of Madagascar, which proved to be one of the most challenging, adventurous, and unique destinations we have ever travelled to. Planning our trip was tough due to the notoriously bad roads, and it often took us days to get from one place to another. We couldn’t risk driving at night, as it was considered highly dangerous. Therefore, we had to rely on daytime travel, which made our journey even more challenging.
It was really hard for us also to decide which places we will pass on or which we will invest in long hours and sometimes days of driving.
When in Madagascar, communication can be tricky for English speakers as the main languages spoken are Malagasy and French. Ordering something as simple as water can be difficult, and it was a big challenge to express ourselves effectively.
However, despite all these challenges, Madagascar has rewarded us with stunning views, spectacular untouched nature, amazing tropical beaches, rich wildlife, and experiences.
As one of the megadiverse countries in the world, we got to see unique animals in their natural habitats and flora that can be found only on the island.
Madagascar is also one of the poorest countries on the planet, which exposed us to the harsh poverty of the locals. But also allowed us to experience a place that hasn’t been touched by time or progress, where people still live with the old traditions and lifestyle.
Do you want to know more about what are the best places to see in Madagascar? What not to miss in Madagascar? How to plan your Madagascar trip? Here are our experiences and tips for Madagascar travelling.
Is Madagascar a safe country to travel? – Madagascar travel guide
As always, before we go travel, especially to third-world countries, we hear a lot of scary stories. Madagascar wasn’t exceptional. We heard about gangs with axes lurking on the roads, evil mosquitos with malaria, and poor street kids who will rob our phones in a flash of an eye.
Luckily for us, we didn’t experience any of the above. During our 3 weeks in Madagascar, we didn’t see any kind of violence or felt threatened. Having said that, we always consulted the locals, on which places are dangerous, where not to go, and what to expect. Most of the time we were advised not to walk or drive at night, and in the big cities to take extra watch for our valuables.
Visa + Vaccinations + Water – Madagascar travel guide
All foreign visitors to Madagascar require entry visas. For tourism purposes, you can get a tourist visa with a validity for staying in the country of 30 to 60 days maximum. The requirement for the visa is a valid passport with a validity of more than 6 months and a flight ticket showing the dates of entry and exit to Madagascar. You can apply for an entry visa online or at the Antananarivo airport after departure. The procedure is very simple and will cost you around 35 euros.
It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever.
Water in Madagascar is considered not drinkable for foreigners, it is advised to strictly drink from sealed water bottles. We recommend also avoiding tap water when brushing the teeth and being careful in the shower, not to get water in the mouth. Also, be careful with washing the fruits.
When to travel to Madagascar? Madagascar travel guide
The best time to visit Madagascar is during the dry season, between April and November. During the dry season you can enjoy comfortable temperatures of an average of 20 to 25 Celsius, and most important avoid heavy rains. During this season the roads are more accessible, and daylight is longer.
Between December and March, which consider the wet season, heavy rains and typhoons are expected, roads will become inaccessible, and fewer opportunities to watch the wildlife.
We went at the early beginning of December and still enjoyed good weather and to our surprise barely saw rain. We also enjoyed cheaper prices as the main tourist season was over. For us it was perfect, but we wouldn’t recommend going any further than that.
Money in Madagascar – Madagascar travel guide
The official currency of Madagascar is ‘Ariary’. The money banknotes vary from 100 to 20,000 bills. There are almost no ATMs and exchange offices in Madagascar. We recommend withdrawing extra money during your stay in the capital of Antananarivo.
Exchange rates at the airport are very high, so we advise you to just cash out from ATMs (which can be found at the airport) as much as possible. Credit cards are rarely excepted, but can be used in some hotels and fancy restaurants.
Where to stay in Madagascar – Madagascar travel guide
We booked some of our accommodation in advance through Booking. Most of our rooms were basic and budget-friendly, but we also spoiled ourselves with fancy places, especially at the beach areas.
The biggest accommodation problem in Madagascar was that many places that we visited didn’t exist on Booking. We had to help ourselves with guidebooks and tips from the internet.
Transportation in Madagascar – Madagascar travel guide
As backpackers, we usually like to explore and experience the place we travel to by public transportation. To feel the vibe of the locals and mingle with them. Unfortunately in Madagascar (unless you are a masochist) this is out of the question. The roads in Madagascar are so bad, you can spend days getting to your destination even if it is considerably close.
The public transport is also quite a mess, you can’t rely on the timetables, and the drivers will fill people in the vans with no consideration for comfort or logic.
Like most of the travellers, we met or talk with, we rented a 4X4 jeep with a driver, which was a bit pricy (35 € a day). But worth every penny! Not only for the comfort and safety but also for having a local with us, who served also as a guide which enriched our experience.
Due to the massive size of Madagascar, there are also domestic flights. We used it once from West Madagascar (Toliara) back to Antananarivo to save some time and avoid driving back. Unfortunately, most of the flights are quite expensive and were off our budget.
Food in Madagascar – Madagascar travel guide
Most food of Madagascar revolves around rice, the main agricultural crop of the island. The Malagasies eat rice during all meals of the day in different variations and flavours. The main protein of their diet comes from local beans and the ‘Zebu’. A humped-look-alike cow that can be seen throughout all of Madagascar.
Along the coasts of the Island is common to find fresh fish and seafood. For more about food in Madagascar click here.
Madagascar travel guide 3-week Itinerary
Antananarivo (days 1-2) – Madagascar travel guide
The capital of Madagascar was our first introduction to the island. Even though we are experienced travellers, who’ve spent a long time in India and South America… Nothing has prepared us for this crazy hectic city.
As we started exploring the town and got to the centre, both of us got into a culture shock. Seeing the masses of people, the smells, and the noises.
Everywhere we looked something was happening. The eyes of the locals were scanning us with curiosity and poor beggar kids were following us asking for money in a language we did not understand. Not for the faint-hearted.
The main attraction of the city for us was the Analakely Market. A huge and chaotic shopping area, covered with vendors, stalls, and shops offering colourful food and products of Madagascar.
We were multiple times warned to keep our phones as many pickpockets are waiting for the grab. To escape a bit from the crazy crowd we hike to one of the hills, where we got a nice panoramic view of the city. The capital city was a good place to exchange our money and arrange through the agency a driver for our travel.
CLICK HERE and read more about Antananarivo.
Antsirabe (day 2-3)
After getting introduced to our driver, we started driving towards our second destination. As we exit Antananarivo, we started to witness the beauty of Madagascar’s nature and views. Passing endless green rice fields, dark red soil, and bright blue skies. The construction of the colours was amazing.
We got to Antsirabe around noon and went to explore the third-biggest city in Madagascar. The city is packed with rickshaws drivers, some on bicycles and some on foot and it’s one of the main attractions of the place. After being offered a ride by endless people, we took a short drive along the city’s main road and enjoyed the unique vibe.
Even though it’s a city, it was so different from what we are used to in Western countries. It was a first glimpse of an African town, with dirt roads, small houses, and basic stalls and shops along the roads. At night time, the city was in complete darkness and we spent the evening at our hotel.
Ambositra and Ranomafana National Park (day 3-5)
In the morning, we started our journey toward the tropical Ranomafana National Park. After a few hours of drive passing small villages and more of the majestic nature of Madagascar, we stopped in Ambositra where we had lunch and went for a short hike around the city. We enjoyed checking out the many stores that offer wood-carving arts which is what the place is known for.
After Ambositra we continued the journey to the Ranomafana Park, passing many villagers along the roads, offering bananas, lychee, and plums. The more we got closer we notice the change in nature, becoming more and more green, tropical, and a true jungle feeling.
As we went up also the climate changed and for the first time we experience rain in Madagascar. We arrived afternoon at the park and went to our quite fancy accommodation, just a 5-minute drive from the main entrance.
Our spacious wooden hut was equipped with a huge bed and all the comfort accessories a room can have. We also got an amazing view of the jungle just in front of us.
This accommodation was one of the highest we spent on a room. Later we discover a small village close by that offer much cheaper prices but wasn’t on booking so we couldn’t know.
The next day we got up early and went to explore Ranomafana National Park. The park is famous for its many species of lemurs, mushrooms, plants, and flora.
We took the long hike which was around 6 hours, passing through rain forest full of life. We were lucky enough to spot 8 different kinds of lemurs in their natural habitat.
In the evening we went for a night walk with a guide to spot the cute mouse lemurs and many chameleons.
To read more about Ranomafana National Park click HERE.
Ambalavao and Anja Park (days 5-7) – Madagascar travel guide
As we were heading more towards the South of Madagascar, we notice a change of nature. From the green rain forests to more dry scenery with impressive huge rocky mountains and massive scattered boulders. Ambalavao was our base point to visit the much anticipated Anja Park.
On the first day, we walked along the only main road of the city. We mingled with the curious locals who were not used to seeing foreigners and admiring the mountains that surround the town.
The next morning we drove to Anja Park which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. The park is evolved around massive mountains and cliffs and offers different hikes to choose from with various difficulties.
During our hike, we had the chance for a close-up meeting with the beautiful ring-tail lemur’s pack, huge sleepy chameleons, and exotic birds. We also walked through caves, and cliffs and got almost to the top of the mountain with an amazing view of the area.
A must-visit in Madagascar!
For more about Anja Park CLICK HERE.
Isalo National Park (days 7-9)
The more we were heading toward Isalo, the more we got the feeling of complete wilderness. There was nothing on the roads but endless dry white fields, the blue sky, and our car. Occasionally we saw lone shepherds hoarding their Zebus on this wasteland and sometimes even a burial ceremony of the local villagers.
We got also to see the infamous Sapphire mining areas with its pop-up towns, where u can see how rich foreigners take advantage of the poor locals.
When we arrived at the Isalo National Park area around noon, it was the only place we haven’t booked accommodation in advance. The reason was, we knew about wild camping options inside the park, but couldn’t find any detailed information online. Second of all, around the park several resorts are quite expensive (and not just by Madagascar standards).
After consulting with our driver, we decided to go to Ranohira, the closest town to Isalo. There we found a lovely friendly budget hotel with cute clay huts and a panoramic view of the park.
Visit the park
The next day we got up early and headed to the park entrance where we paid the fees and local guide for the hike. We walked for about 8 hours, admiring the sandstone landscape of cliffs, canyons, plateaus, and natural swimming pools. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and showed us many unique plants, insects, and flora of the park. He also explained to us the history of Isalo and the local community.
Towards the end of our hike, we arrived at one of the camps (there are 2 different camping sites) of the park and felt a bit of regret not staying for the night. The camp is located in the middle of one of the canyons and it’s probably quite an experience to sleep there. Close to the camp we also saw for the first time the cute sifaka lemurs, and spend at least half an hour taking pictures and enjoying their company.
At the end of our Isalo experience, our guide took us through an amazing water stream path towards 2 beautiful pools where we could splash in the water and cool down from the heat.
Isalo National Park blew our minds, and if we had more time we sure stay more in this Malagasy gem. After the hike, we learned about the camps and prices and the hiking options the park has to offer. We highly recommend giving this place at least 3 days if not more.
CLICK HERE to read more about Isalo Madagascar.
Mangily (days 9-11)
After spending hasty days driving from one place to another, exploring the mainland of Madagascar, it was our time for some relaxing beach time. Our original plan was to stay at Toliara, the capital of the SouthWest coast region. But the city looked very crowded and hectic which wasn’t what we envision for our chill-out.
Our driver suggested we go to Mangily, which is about 25 km from Toliara. This cute fisherman village was exactly what we were looking for. Beautiful huts located on the shore, spacious hammocks, and green palm trees.
During our three-day stay in Mangily, we relaxed and indulged in fresh seafood and cold beer to rejuvenate our fatigued bodies from the tiring journey. One morning, we decided to go on a snorkelling excursion to explore the coral reefs nearby. However, the experience turned out to be a letdown as the reef was devoid of colours and life, likely because of overfishing and climate change. Moreover, the activity was excessively expensive.
In Mangily we also had to deal with quite annoying souvenir sellers who just didn’t leave us to be even after politely saying no. But having said that, we loved Mangily very much and highly recommend it if you travel to the area.
To read more about Mangily CLICK HERE.
Antananarivo (day 11-12)
To save time, we took a 45 min domestic flight from Toliara airport back to Antananarivo. There we spent 1 night before starting our journey towards ll Sainte-Marie island. On the next morning, we headed to the Taxi-Brousse station, where we took a shared van to Toamasina.
Toamasina (day 12-13)
We arrived in Toamasina after a brutal drive of more than 10 hours, passing quite bad bumpy roads and traffic jams. Not recommended will be an understatement.
Toamasina is a port city where most tourists come to take a boat or ferry to the Island of Nosy Boraha (ll Sainte-Marie). There is nothing special about the city besides its hectic vibe and crowded roads of rickshaws, cars, people, and farm animals running free.
Nosy Boraha – Ile Sainte Marie (days 13-18)
At 4 am, we reached the ferry agency in Toamasina and waited for three hours before being transported to the beach in vans. The journey was uncomfortable and lasted over two hours, made worse by the drivers cramming more people into the already-packed vans along the way.
The boat ride was also around 3 hours and when we arrived on the island we were completely exhausted. All these hard 2 days and journeys on the roads and the sea took the wind out of our sails. However the reward was well worth it, Ile Sainte Marie was revealed to be paradise on Earth.
Arriving at our Accommodation – Madagascar travel guide
From the port of the island, a driver of our resort came to pick us up and brought us to one of the most beautiful and welcoming accommodations we ever experienced. As we arrived, immediately all the stress and pain of the long travel dissolved.
We were greeted with fresh coconuts and delicious sandwiches and got escorted to our amazing spoiling bungalow one step away from the water.
During our stay on the island, we rented a motorbike (the main transport) and drove along the beautiful coastline of Nosy Boraha. Stopping from time to time for a quick deep in the sea. For watching waterfalls and seeing the local vibes of the islanders.
The island culture is quite different from Madagascar. We could see that people are more chill and happy with their life. One day we saved to go and check out Île aux Nattes, an even tinier island on the South of Nosy Boraha.
From the South point of the island, we took a small taxi boat towards the island, and what can we say it was just getting more and more pretty. The uniqueness of the island is in its natural state, u could almost feel Robinson Crusoe. Besides some very few hidden restaurants and resorts, there is nothing but palm trees, white sand, and the most crystal turquoise water.
Toamasina (day 18-19) – Madagascar travel guide
Boat Number One
Returning to Toamasina proved to be a great adventure for us. We woke up at 3 in the morning and headed to the port to catch our ferry back to the Madagascar mainland. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we found out that the boat was delayed due to bad weather and wouldn’t be departing until the following day. We felt frustrated and unsure of what to do.
At last, a stranger came up to us and proposed to sell us a boat from another port on the island at a reasonable cost. With limited options, we accepted the offer. However, the boat we ended up with was incredibly tiny and navigating through the rough waters and stormy conditions proved to be quite terrifying.
Dirt Bike Ride
After one hour we arrived at an abandoned beach, thinking a van will pick us up to Toamasina, but no van was in sight. People with motorcycles came to us and offer a ride to the next village. Without any other choice, we went on the bikes and drove with them at crazy speeds through dirt roads and rural villages.
2 More Boat Rides
Eventually, we got to a river and had to change to canoes, to take us further. We cruised on a beautiful backwater, surrounded by green nature listening to the local radio of the canoe captain.
A Horrible Endless Van Ride
Once we passed the backwaters, we made our way to Tanambao village to look for a taxi van that could take us to Toamasina. However, we were taken aback when the driver informed us that the journey would take more than 8 hours. The ride turned out to be even more unpleasant than the one from Antananarivo. We had never before been in such a cramped van with so many people that we couldn’t even move a finger.
We arrived in Toamasina at 9 pm. Destroyed, tired, dehydrated and hungry. It was probably the hardest journey we had in Madagascar and probably in all our travels.
In conclusion, we don’t recommend doing what we did. If Ile Sainte Marie is a must for you, please invest extra money and take the direct plane from Antananarivo.
Antananarivo (day 19-20)
Like the road toward Toamasina, also the drive back was long and exhausting. We arrive only at dark to the capital. The next day we just chilled in our hostel. We hung out with other travellers and ate some Italian food after so long time of basic rice.
We also wanted to do our shopping but unfortunately, it was Christmas Day and also Sunday so everything was closed. We had to go home empty-handed. In the evening we took a taxi to the airport and flew home. Exhausted, but happy.
Madagascar – travel for real adventurers
Madagascar is not a ‘walk in the park’. The roads can drive you to insanity. Without knowing at least a bit of French you will find yourself lost in this huge island.
But, Madagascar will give you thrilling adventures, majestic nature, out-of-this-world views, and unique animals you won’t see anywhere else. After traveling for so long and so many countries Madagascar will defiantly enter our top 5 destinations in the world.