Dangers & Annoyances
Insecurity has increased in Antananarivo since the 2009 coup, so always travel by taxi at night and watch out for pickpockets, especially around Ave de l’Indépendance.
Batterie Beach near Tuléar is also to be avoided following a series of attacks on foreigners.
Cyclone season runs from December to March. The east coast is the most affected but cyclones can also hit the west coast. Heed local warnings and seek advice at the time for transport and activities.
Vehicles travelling at night have been subject to attacks over the past few years. Taxis-brousses are now therefore required to travel in convoy at night, but private vehicles should avoid being on the road after dark (many drivers will, in fact, refuse to drive at night).
The area between Ihosy and Ambovombe should also be avoided because of banditry.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer up-to-date travel advisories and information on current events.
- Australia (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- France (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr)
- UK (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US (www.travel.state.gov)
Embassies & Consulates
Australian High Commission The Australian High Commission in Mauritius has consular responsibility for Madagascar.
Canadian Consulate Consulate under the responsibility of the High Commission of Canada in Pretoria, South Africa.
French Embassy There are also representatives in Diego Suarez (Antsiranana), Majunga (Mahajanga) and Tamatave (Toamasina).
Netherlands Consulate Consulate under the responsibility of the Dutch Embassy in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
UK Embassy The embassy reopened in 2013 after an eight-year hiatus.
US Embassy Located about 15km north of Tana, on the road to Ivato airport.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Mobile prefix||032, 033 or 034|
Entry & Exit Formalities
If you are coming from a yellow-fever-infected country, you will be asked for a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Travellers are allowed to leave the country with the following:
- 2kg of vanilla (dried)
- 1kg of hallmarked jewellery with receipts
- 1kg peppercorns
- 1kg coffee
Precious stones and woods must come with an export certificate. If the retailer doesn’t provide it to you, enquire at the customs desk at the airport.
For a full list of regulations, check Douanes Malgaches (Malagasy Customs; www.douanes.gov.mg).
Required for all visitors: €31/39/54 for 30/60/90 days. A vignette (tourist tax) of €10 is also charged upon arrival at the airport.
All visitors must have a visa to enter Madagascar. Travellers will need to provide a return plane ticket, have a passport valid for at least six months after the intended date of return and one free page in the passport for the visa stamps.
Visas of up to 90 days can be purchased at the airport upon arrival.
- 30-day visas cost €31
- 60-day visas cost €39
- 90-day visas cost €54
Longer or different types of visas must be arranged before travel – note that application times can be long.
Always check with your country's embassy on the latest conditions and fees.
Respect local fady (taboos), which are cultural and social dictates that relate to food, behaviour and certain times of the week or year. Guides will explain.
Don’t point, bend your finger or indicate with your palm.
Bring rice or a bottle of rum if you’re invited to a Malagasy home.
Don’t attend cultural celebrations such as exhumation or circumcision ceremonies unless you have been invited.
Homosexuality is legal in Madagascar, but not openly practised. The age of consent is 21.
Overt displays of affection – whether the couple is of the same or opposite sex – are considered to be culturally inappropriate.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is essential. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities, which can include diving, motorcycling or even hiking.
Check that the policy covers an emergency flight home. This is an important consideration for Madagascar, given the cost of air tickets to most destinations.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Virtually every hotel (even budget ones) now offers complimentary wi-fi, even if only in the reception area. The same is true for midrange and top-end restaurants. The connection is generally good enough for emails, but can struggle with more demanding applications such as Skype/FaceTime or downloads.
Internet cafes can be found in all major towns and cities. Connection speeds vary from pretty good to woefully slow. Prices range from Ar30 to Ar50 per minute.
If you have a smartphone, an excellent alternative is to buy a local SIM card and a 3G package: Ar25,000 will buy you 1GB of data. The mobile coverage is excellent, so you should be connected reliably, except in very remote areas.
Malagasy authorities take sex tourism very seriously – offenders risk five to 10 years in jail and forced labour. Sentences are particularly severe when minors are affected.
The use and possession of marijuana and other recreational drugs is illegal in Madagascar, including the stimulant khat (even though the latter is widely and openly consumed in the north).
If you are arrested, ask to see a representative of your country.
Regional maps and street maps of provincial capitals are produced by Foiben Taosarintanin’i Madagasikara (FTM). FTM maps can be fairly dated but are generally accurate, although they can be hard to find (normally in bookshops for around Ar20,000).
Carambole publishes detailed maps of Antananarivo, which are widely available at bookshops and cost about Ar15,000.
Topographical maps are hard to find in Madagascar, so buy one before you leave home.
Addresses in Madagascar
Addresses in Madagascar are complex affairs – locals don’t tend to go by street names and there’s no standard system. Sometimes we include addresses for places on prominent streets, but if the street is not well known we simply give the area of town where you’ll find the place, or a description of how to locate it. If in doubt, ask around locally.
- The main French-language newspapers are L'Express de Madagascar, Midi Madagasikara and the online-only Madagascar Tribune.
- Local TV channels won't be of much use to travellers. Satellite TV, only available in midrange establishments upwards, offers French channels and sometimes CNN or BBC World.
ATMs (Visa and MasterCard) are widely available in large towns and cities. In rural areas, cash rules. Euros are the easiest foreign currency to exchange.
Madagascar changed its currency from the Malagasy franc (FMG) to the ariary (Ar) in 2005. But despite having had several years to get used to the new currency, many Malagasies still count in FMG (one ariary is worth five FMG), so it is essential you clarify which currency a price is being quoted in, particularly in rural areas.
Inflation is high in Madagascar, and the denominations are struggling to keep up. The biggest bank note currently available is Ar10,000, but with a main course at a restaurant costing Ar10,000 to Ar15,000, many agree it won’t be long until larger denominations are printed.
For travellers it means that changing just €300 will produce a wad some 90 notes thick…
Some hotels (often at the higher end of the range) will accept payments in foreign currency.
- You’ll find ATMs in all major towns and cities.
- Withdrawals from ATMs are capped at Ar300,000.
- All ATMs accept Visa.
- BNI Madagascar and Société Générale (BFV-SG) ATMs also accept MasterCard.
Visa credit cards are accepted at some upmarket hotels and shops, Air Madagascar and a number of travel agencies.
MasterCard can be used at some ATMs, but only a small number of outfits will accept payments with it.
Some places levy a commission of about 5% to 8% for credit-card payments.
Visa and MasterCard can be used at most banks to obtain cash advances of up to Ar10 million; commission rates go as high as 5%, depending on the bank.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
The main banks:
- Bank of Africa (BOA)
- BNI Madagascar
- Banky Fampandrosoana’ny Varotra-Société Générale (BFV-SG)
- Banque Malgache de l’Océan Indien (BMOI)
All banks will readily exchange euros; US dollars are generally accepted, too. Other currencies will be harder to exchange outside major cities.
Most banks will refuse €100 or US$100 notes (for fear of counterfeit), so bring small denominations only. The opposite is true on the black market.
Upmarket hotels often have currency-exchange facilities, but check how competitive their rates are.
The bureaux de change at Ivato airport will change Malagasy currency back into euros or dollars, but require a minimum of €50.
All banks in Antananarivo exchange travellers cheques.
Outside of the capital, the BFV-SG is your best bet.
As with cash, prefer euros and stick to small denominations (banks need the approval of their headquarters to exchange denominations of €100 or more).
Shops geared towards tourists tend to open longer at the weekend.
Banks (Tana) 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday
Banks (rest of the country) 7.30am to 11.30am and 2pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday
Bars 5pm to 11pm
Restaurants 11.30am to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 9.30pm
Shops 9am to noon and 2.30pm to 6pm Monday to Friday, 9am to noon Saturday
There are post offices located in every town and city. The postal service is slow, but generally OK for postcards and letters. Parcels, however, seem to be regularly stolen and Malagasies never send valuables through the post. Instead, use an international courier such as DHL, which has offices in Tana, Diego Suarez, Antsirabe and Tamatave.
The cost for a postcard is Ar1600 to Europe and Ar1900 to North America or Australia, and for a letter it’s Ar2700 to Europe and Ar2900 to North America or Australia.
Accommodation and flights can be harder to find during French school holidays, when residents from neighbouring French territories Mayotte and Réunion travel in the region. To find out when these holidays are, visit www.ac-reunion.fr/calendrier-scolaire.html.
Government offices and private companies close on the following public holidays. Banks are generally also closed the afternoon before a public holiday.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Insurrection Day 29 March; celebrates the rebellion against the French in 1947
Easter Monday March/April
Labour Day 1 May
Ascension Thursday May/June; occurs 40 days after Easter
Pentecost Monday May/June; occurs 51 days after Easter
National Day 26 June; Independence Day
Assumption 15 August
All Saints’ Day 1 November
Christmas Day 25 December
Madagascar’s Cultural Calendar
Alahamady Be (March) The low-key Malagasy New Year.
Santabary (April/May) The first rice harvest.
Fisemana (June) A ritual purification ceremony of the Antakàrana people.
Sambatra (June to December) Circumcision festivals held by most tribes between June and September, and in November and December in the southwest.
Famadihana (July to September) The ‘turning of the bones’.
The country code for Madagascar is +261. Phone numbers have 10 digits.
Landline numbers start with 020; mobile numbers start with 032, 033 or 034.
To call out of Madagascar, dial +00 before the country code.
If you don’t have a mobile phone, télécartes (phone cards) are sold at post offices and in some shops. Phone services (including fax) are offered at some post offices, upmarket hotels and internet cafes.
Local SIM cards can be used in European and Australian phones; other phones will have to be set on roaming.
Phone numbers are generally 10 digits. Landlines start with 020, mobiles with 03. Mobile phone coverage is excellent in Madagascar. The main networks are Telma (www.telma.mg), which is government owned, Airtel (www.africa.airtel.com/madagascar) and Orange (www.orange.mg). Some remote areas only have coverage from one network.
SIM cards are very cheap (Ar500 to Ar2000) and can be bought from the mobile networks' offices.
You can buy credit at literally every street corner in towns and cities and in grocery shops in the form of electronic credit or scratch cards (Ar1000 to Ar100,000).
A national/international SMS costs around Ar120/340.
National calls cost around Ar720 per minute.
International calls from mobile phones cost Ar870 to Ar4500 per minute.
Madagascar is three hours ahead of GMT; there is no daylight saving.
Madagascar’s tourist offices (www.madagascar-tourisme.com) range from useless to incredibly helpful. They will generally be able to provide listings of hotels and restaurants in the area and, in the best cases, help you organise excursions or find a guide.
MNP (www.parcs-madagascar.com) offices are generally excellent (with a couple of exceptions) when it comes to logistics and practical advice, but they often have little in the way of maps or literature.
Madagascar has few facilities for travellers with disabilities. This, combined with a weak infrastructure in many areas of the country, may make travel here difficult.
Wheelchair users will struggle with the lack of surfaced paths; visually impaired travellers should be especially careful of open drains and irregular pavements.
Public transport is very crowded and unable to accommodate a wheelchair unless it is folded up. Private vehicle rental with a driver is commonplace, however, and would offer a good alternative. Make sure you talk through any special requirements with the agency at the time of booking.
In Antananarivo and most of the provincial capitals there are hotels with either elevators or accommodation on the ground floor. While most bungalow accommodation – a common type of lodging in Madagascar – is generally on the ground floor, there are often steps up to the entrance, and inner doorways can be too narrow for a wheelchair. Few bathrooms are large enough to manoeuvre a wheelchair in, and almost none have any sort of handles or holds.
The good news, however, is that one organisation in France has been working to develop accessible tourism in Madagascar and plans to offer a fully accessible circuit along the RN7 from 2016. All the hotels on the circuit have built dedicated accessible bungalows or rooms, travel will be in a specially equipped vehicle and circuits in national parks will be offered in Joëlette (a one-wheeled, all-terrain chair held by two people). Contact Dominique Dumas (+33 6 63 76 57 91 or +33 4 73 90 88 69, email@example.com) for more information.
Organisations that provide information on world travel for the mobility impaired include the following:
- Independent Traveler (www.independenttraveler.com)
- Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
- Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org)
Travel with Children
There are few dedicated children’s facilities in Madagascar. That said, Malagasies love children and will always do their best to accommodate families.
Many hotels provide chambres familiales or double rooms with an extra bed (single or double) geared for use by parents and children.
Disposable nappies and infant milk formula are available in Antananarivo and other large cities, but are hard to find elsewhere.
Some midrange and top-end hotels/restaurants have high chairs and games or play areas for children. Some also have dedicated children's menus.
For more information, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
More people are showing interest in volunteering for community-enhancement and scientific-research projects in Madagascar. The following organisations regularly take on volunteers, although most placements require payment.
Access Madagascar Initiative This British charity organises placements in villages in central Madagascar. Most placements involve teaching of some kind – languages or skills – but activities are varied, including tree planting, working on the local radio program, running the English club etc. Individuals as well as families are welcome. Placements cost £695/1505 for three/12 weeks.
Akany Avoko An Antananarivo-based children’s home that cares for around 120 orphans, street kids and youngsters with little or no family support. Akany Avoko has been around for 50 years and is sustained by charitable donations and income-generating projects. It welcomes volunteers, whether they have half a day or a year to spare. Inexpensive accommodation can be provided.
Azafady Based in the Anosy region in southeastern Madagascar, British charity Azafady works on poverty alleviation and environmental conservation through sustainable development initiatives. Volunteering opportunities include conservation fieldwork, English teaching and community and construction work. The minimum donation required for a 10-week placement is £1995.
Blue Ventures Based in London, with a field site in Andavadoaka, this hugely impressive organisation coordinates teams of volunteer divers to work with local NGOs and biologists in marine-conservation programs that are spreading throughout the length of the reef, helping staunch its decline. Volunteering stints range from three to 12 weeks (£1900 to £4075) and include PADI scuba-diving certification. Volunteering must be organised in advance through the London office.
Hope for Madagascar (www.hopeformadagascar.org) Poverty alleviation is the remit of this US charity, which runs projects as diverse as building schools, organising cultural exchanges between Malagasy schools from different parts of the country and providing clean water in rural villages. It welcomes volunteers to teach English and art in local schools.
Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov) The US government's volunteering program (whose mission is 'to promote world peace and friendship') is very active in Madagascar, where it has around 140 members. Placements are usually two years and volunteers usually end up speaking fluent Malagasy by the end of their stint. The scheme is open to American nationals over 18.
Many travellers bring books, clothes, medication and school supplies to give to the villages they pass on their journey. The donations are always welcome, but consider buying locally wherever possible so that local businesses benefit from your custom, too. This is especially true of stationary, clothes and essential toiletries such as soap, which you'll find easily and cheaply in any market.
Make the donation to the schoolmaster or the village chief, and not to children.
Weights & Measures
Madagascar uses the metric system.
Most women do not feel threatened or insecure in any way when travelling in Madagascar. The most you can expect is some mild curiosity about your situation, especially if you are single and/or don’t have children (Malagasy women marry and have children young).
A limited selection of tampons is available in Antananarivo and some of the larger towns, but it’s best to bring your own supply.