Tamatave is very much like its cousin on the western coast, Tuléar (Toliara). It is a hot, dusty and chaotic port town full of decaying colonial buildings, roadside markets and throngs of pousse-pousse carts. The emphasis is on commerce, not tourism, apart from being an important transit point.
There are some bright spots amid the fading grandeur if you know where to find them, meaning that you can have a good time here for a day or two. It’s a convenient spot to break the journey between Antananarivo and Île Sainte Marie, or to organise a trip down the Canal des Pangalanes. Avoid walking at night, however, particularly alone, and don’t leave articles where they can be snatched. At night, take a tuk-tuk rather than a pousse-pousse.