Madagascar travel advice
There are two main ways to get around Madagascar, by flying or by being driven by a guide.
As a general rule people tend to fly around the north and drive in the south. In Northern Madagascar distances are huge and roads poor and for this reason it is best to fly. Air Madagascar has a network of flights, all of which originate in Antananarivo and radiate to the major towns and islands.
Key destinations include the islands of Nosy Be and Ile Ste Marie, Maroantsetra, the gateway to the Masoala National Park and Diego Suarez, from where you can access Amber Mountain and Ankarana. We will arrange for you to be met at each regional airport by a guide with a 4WD – or even a boat – ready to head off to parks, reserves or private islands.
The main road south from Antananarivo, Route Seven, is a good tar road winding through a number of villages and towns. It’s a scenic journey and we recommend exploring with a driver-guide. Driving south and exploring the parks of Ranomafana, Isalo and Berenty takes about ten days.
On reaching the south coast most visitors fly back to Antananarivo from a regional airport such as Tulear or Fort Dauphin. Whilst Madagascar is a predominantly French speaking country you will find many people in the tourism industry speak English.
We work closely with a number of English speaking guides who have fantastic knowledge of the country. Many have a particular expertise and so if you have an interest in lemurs, reptiles or birds we can find a guide with matching expertise.
French and Malagasy are spoken and in hotels some English is spoken. It is useful to have some basic French. A few words of Malagasy will go a long way. Here are a few: 'manao ahoana' (hello), 'goodbye' (misowtra), 'thank you' (misowtra beh), 'please' (azafad).
Tipping is always something we are asked about and it is always a difficult question to answer. We have therefore done a survey of a number of guides around Madagascar and come up with the following advice. If you would like to tip your guide we would recommend between 10,000 and 20,000 per day. 10,000 (about U$5) is a fine tip and 20,000 (U$10) is an excellent tip. It is useful to have a stack of 2,000 (about U$1) notes to tip porters.
Money and expenses
Traveller's cheques are not widely accepted in Madagascar and cash is the best form in which to take your money. We recommend taking Euros and then changing them into Ariary when you arrive in Tana airport. However, if you want to change Ariary back to £ at the end of your trip the only way to do so is at the airport and the exchange rates are poor. Therefore we recommend only changing as much money as you think you will need until you are next going to be able to get to a bank, this does involve a bit of planning but means that you will not be left with thousands of Ariary when you leave Madagascar. Please do not save Ariary to spend on duty-free in the airport on the way home as the shops there only accept Euros or Visa cards. At the moment £1 = 3,500 Ariary. The easiest way to do the maths is a 10,000 Ariary bill is about U$5. It is very useful to have some small notes for tipping.
Tolerance and fear of causing offence is an integral part of Malagasy social relationships. Never express anger, rather exert patience and tolerance. Avoid being too dogmatic in conversation and try to make use of perhaps and maybe. Be excessive in your thanks. Body language is easy to learn. For instance, 'excuse me may I come in?' is indicated by a stooping posture and an arm extended forward. You will notice how much it is used.
It is believed that the ancestors have considerable power and their 'wishes' dictate the behaviour of the family or community. It is therefore very disrespectful to point at anything that holds meanings of death, spirituality or religious significance; instead point with your finger bent over so as to not cause offence.
Fady is normally translated as 'taboo'; however this does not explain its true meaning: these are beliefs related to actions, behaviours, food or days of the week when 'it is dangerous to…' and fady varies between family and community. For example it is fady to sing when you are eating (one will develop elongated teeth); it is fady not to use a spade with a loose handle when digging a grave as you cannot have a firm connection between the living and the dead and it is fady to pass an egg directly- it must be placed on the ground and picked up. Fady is not intended to make Malagasy life restrictive but to improve quality of life and promote happiness.
If you are spending money try and ensure as much as possible stays in Madagascar. We will choose small locally owned hotels where possible for your stay. You can do your bit by choosing locally made handicrafts or donating to conservation projects. When buying handicrafts try and offer a fair price. The Malagasy do not have a history of bartering. Never photograph without permission. If you do promise to send the subject a picture then ensure you do as it will be remembered long after you have forgotten.
Conservative casual wear is generally acceptable everywhere, but revealing clothes should be avoided since they may cause offence, especially in towns and villages. Madagascar is a relatively safe country and levels of crime are not particularly high. However, we still recommend you take the necessary precautions you would when travelling to any other country.
Our country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website.
When to go to Madagascar
You’ll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to Madagascar.