From rusty-bottomed canal barges to overloaded cargo vessels, boats figure highly on the transport map of the east.
The French-built Canal des Pangalanes, which runs from Farafangana to Toamasina, is silted up and impassable in places but is definitely the main thoroughfare of the region. Regular cargo vessels and motorboats ply the most visited northern waters between Ambila-Lemaitso and Toamasina.
Boats replace taxis-brousses as the main form of public transport for the coastal towns north of Soanierana-Ivongo. Few of the boats have any passenger facilities, however, and none has fixed schedules – it’s simply a matter of hanging around the ports and waiting for something to arrive that’s going your way. Several ferries a day, some equipped with such luxuries as seats and lifejackets, do the run across from the mainland to Île Sainte Marie.
From the towns on the RN2, you’ll be able to find onward transport to places like Andasibe and Ambatondrazaka, although once off the RN2 the roads are generally poor.
North of Toamasina, taxis-brousses continue daily as far as Soanierana-Ivongo, from where you catch the boat to Île Sainte Marie. Taxis-brousses are usually prevented from travelling further north due to collapsed bridges and enormous potholes. Likewise, no taxis-brousses go south from Toamasina, but further down the coast the towns of Mananjary, Manakara and Farafangana are linked by regular, if rickety, vehicles.
The once-famous passenger train between Antananarivo and Toamasina is currently suspended, but a limited service has restarted between Andasibe and Brickaville. Ask locally or in Antananarivo for the latest news.
The only other trains in the region are the cargo engines that run along the single-gauge railway linking some of the villages on the Canal des Pangalanes. These are supposedly forbidden from taking passengers, but if you’re lucky you might be able to talk your way on board.
Air Madagascar makes small plane hops up and down the northeast coast from Toamasina and Antananarivo, stopping at Maroantsetra (€128 from Toamasina) and Antalaha. Several weekly flights connect Île Sainte Marie to Toamasina (€80).