While Manakara is geographically on the east coast, virtually all travellers visit on a round-trip from Fianarantsoa, often by the famous FCE railway, making Manakara an important part of many a highlands itinerary. It is also a highly underrated destination that should not be overlooked. For those not planning on visiting the Canal des Pangalanes elsewhere, this is your chance. It can make a welcome beach break from the highlands, particularly after trekking in the parks.
The town is innately interesting, as it is divided into two parts by the canal. The warm inland side, known as Tanambao, has a dynamic Caribbean vibe, with sandy streets, tin-roofed shacks and a buoyant daily market, while on the other side of the bridge lies the breezy seaside district of Manakara-Be. The bridge linking both sides partially collapsed in 2012 and a temporary bridge was erected in the old port instead; there is talk of the old bridge being fixed in 2016.