Brickaville to Ambila-Lemaitso
The southern point of entry to the lakes begins at Ambila-Lemaitso. There’s a turn-off from the RN2 about 11km north of Brickaville, and a 17km track thereafter. A two-wheel drive is sufficient if there is no mud. You will then need to cross the canal by hand-operated ferry (Ar8000) to Ambila-Lemaitso. Either call Nirvana d’Ambila for a transfer, or ask around for a private car at the taxi-brousse station in Brickaville. Take this option if you intend to stay in Ambila-Lemaitso overnight.
Manambato is also accessible from the RN2: turn off 30km north of Brickaville and follow a 7km sandy track. From Manambato you have to charter a boat to your hotel; talk to the men at the beach. They will start negotiating at Ar150,000, and will go as low as Ar50,000. Or wait until the next tour group shows up and see if they are going your way, as a single seat will be much cheaper.
Tamatave to Lac Ampitabe via Cargo Boat
The northern point of entry to the lakes is the gare fluviale (river station) in Tamatave, where canal boats carrying cargo depart daily around 10.30am. Any pousse-pousse (rickshaw) or tuk-tuk can take you there, but do not confuse the cargo boat dock, which is midway down a polluted waterway, with the empty canal boats at the very end of it, as the latter are rented to tour groups. If you can, confirm your departure the afternoon prior, otherwise show up by 9.30am. For around Ar16,000 you will be given a space to occupy, although it may mean sitting on cargo. The river odyssey that follows is a National Geographic photo op, with a boatload of locals for company, although you should bring a raincoat and visit a bathroom first. It takes all day to reach Andranokoditra village, from where you can walk or take a pirogue (dugout canoe) to a hotel.
An inexpensive option for reaching the lakes is the passenger train. The train departs Tamatave every Tuesday at 8.20am, travels down the barrier beach past the lakes, stopping at various villages along the way, and continues inland to Moramanga. Ask for the stop nearest your destination. Conversely, one can take the train from Moramanga on Monday at 7am and expect to reach the lakes by midafternoon. The total fare is Ar10,000. Alternatively, the same train departs Moramanga every Thursday at 3pm, but only goes as far as Ambila-Lemaitso, arriving at 10pm. It returns Friday at 8am, arriving Moramanga at 6.55pm. The cost of this shorter journey is Ar8000. It is always wise to check the schedule with Madarail (www.madarail.mg) ahead of time, either at the station (best), or online.