The Infamous RN5
Depending on how you look at it, the RN5 from Soanierana-Ivongo to Maroantsetra is either the worst road in Madagascar, or the best 4WD adventure in the country. The very idea of calling it a ‘National Route’ is so hysterical that only the sight of your 4WD being floated across a river on a few oil drums will stop you laughing.
The trip has two legs, Soanierana-Ivongo to Mananara, and Mananara to Maroantsetra, of which the first one is the most difficult. There are sections of sheer rock, sections of deep sand, and everything in between, particularly mud. In January/February the entire route is impassable. At the same time, much of the trip is adjacent to, and sometimes even on, an endless stretch of sublime coastline, with bright white sand and overhanging palms.
Best of all are the numerous river crossings, some with dilapidated bridges that require close inspection (walk across these before the car), others with ferries both real and homemade, where you get out and everyone pulls a rope to get across. At one end or the other you’ll find a rickety village where you can pick up dried fish, bread and soda. With luck, the entire adventure takes two days, with an overnight stay in Mananara, leaving time to do a night walk on Aye-Aye Island.
As you can imagine, the drivers who do this 240km journey day in and day out are some of the most talented 4WD captains anywhere. Try Mbola Tsara Voyage in Tamatave, where the published cost for this stretch is Ar2 million, but you might get the price reduced with some hard bargaining. The price can be further defrayed by taking on extra passengers. Alternatively, take a 4WD taxi-brousse (Ar150,000, two to five days).