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 developed a fully accessible circuit along the RN7. All the hotels on the circuit have built dedicated accessible bungalows or rooms, travel is in a specially equipped vehicle and circuits in national parks are offered in Joëlette (a one-wheeled, all-terrain chair held by two people). Contact Dominique Dumas (+33 6 63 76 57 91; firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Organisations that provide information on world travel for the mobility impaired include:
- Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
- Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org)
Accessible Travel Online Resources
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Bargaining is commonplace in markets, when buying souvenirs and when negotiating taxi fares. It isn't in restaurants, bars or hotels.
When haggling, try to get a reference price from locals as a guide but bear in mind that many Malagasy think it is fair that foreigners should be charged more than locals for the same good or service.
Madagascar has markedly different climate zones, which means that the best time to visit will depend both on where and when you want to go, and what your interests are. The hot and wet summer makes it difficult to reach remote areas but is ideal for those interested in amphibians and birds. December to February is also excellent for diving and most sea/beach activities.
As a general rule of thumb, the austral spring (September to November) is probably the best season to visit, when the weather is dry and warm.
Dangers & Annoyances
Security is a concern in Madagascar, with some areas experiencing an increase in violent incidents, especially in the southwest.
- At the time of research, security along the Tsiribihina River was a major concern due to the presence of armed groups in the area.
- A number of tourists were attacked in or near Parc National Bemaraha.
- The southeast remains rife with armed cattle rustlers and with the exception of Fort Dauphin and nearby reserves, the region isn't considered safe to travel in.
- Always take a taxi at night in big cities and beware of pickpockets, especially in Antananarivo.
Tourists have been attacked in a number of isolated spots, including Batterie Beach near Tuléar, Montagne des Français and Parc National Montagne d'Ambre near Diego Suarez, Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankarana in the north and Mont Passot in Nosy Be.
Always enquire with local guides and hotels about security on excursions.
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).
Following the spate of attacks around the Tsingy of Bemaraha, private vehicles must now travel in convoy with an armed escort between Belo-sur-Tsiribihina and Bekopaka (the gateway to the national park).
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)
- Germany (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
- Japan (www.mofa.go.jp/)
- Netherlands (http://www.nederlandwereldwijd.nl)
- New Zealand (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- 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 Canadian nationals should contact the High Commission of Canada in Pretoria, South Africa.
French Embassy There are also representatives in Diego Suarez (Antsiranana), Majunga (Mahajanga) and Tamatave (Toamasina).
Irish Embassy (www.dfa.ir/mozambique) The embassy in Mozambique has consular responsibility for Madagascar.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Madagascar's country code||261|
|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 peppercorn or coffee
Precious stones and woods must come with conformity and export certificates. If the retailer doesn’t provide it to you, inquire at the customs desk at the airport.
For a full list of regulations, check Douanes Malgaches (Malagasy Customs; www.douanes.gov.mg).
All visitors must have a visa to enter Madagascar.
To obtain a visa, 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 have 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 €35
- 60-day visas cost €40
- 90-day visas cost €50
Longer or different types of visas must be arranged before travel – note that application times can be long.
The government is introducing an e-visa system (www.evisamada.gov.mg) whereby travellers will be able to apply and pay for their visas online, although this wasn't operational at the time of research.
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.
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 major towns and cities. Connection speeds are usually OK. Prices range around Ar50 per minute.
If you have a smartphone, an excellent alternative is to buy a local SIM card and a 4G 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.
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.
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.
The highest denomination is Ar20,000; for travellers, it means that changing just €300 will produce a hefty wad.
There seems to be a national shortage of change, so make you sure you always have small denominations handy.
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. All will accept Visa. BNI Madagascar and Société Générale (BFV-SG) ATMs also accept MasterCard. Withdrawals from ATMs are capped at Ar300,000.
Visa credit cards are accepted at all upmarket hotels, restaurants and shops and many mid-range establishments, as well as Air Madagascar/Tsaradia offices.
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 are Bank of Africa (BOA), BNI Madagascar, Banky Fampandrosoana’ny Varotra-Société Générale (BFV-SG) and 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 of money-changers and on the black market.
Upmarket hotels often have currency-exchange facilities, but check how competitive their rates are.
- Restaurants For decent service, 10% to 15%.
- Driver/guide It is customary to tip your driver at the end of your trip; Ar10,000 per day is a good guide. Adjust depending on the quality of the service.
- National park/local guides For short two-hour walk tip around Ar2000; for a whole day, Ar5000 to Ar8000. Adjust depending on the quality of the service.
- Porters/cooks/spotters Per day Ar2000 to Ar5000.
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 & 2pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday
Bars 5pm to 11pm
Restaurants 11.30am to 2.30pm & 6.30pm to 9.30pm
Shops 9am to noon & 2.30pm to 6pm Monday to Friday, to noon Saturday
As a rule, don't photograph military or security forces (police, gendarme) installations or personnel. The police are also very touchy about photographing the presidential palace in Isoraka in Tana.
Always ask for permission before photographing someone. Do show them the images on your phone/camera: it is often the first time people see themselves on a screen. And if at all possible, get images printed for them: guides are often happy to act as couriers if it's an area they're likely to go back to.
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.
Top end hotels sometimes sell stamps as well as postcards.
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’.
Smoking Commonplace, allowed in restaurants and bars. Most hotel rooms are non-smoking.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-Added Tax (VAT) is a 20% sales tax levied on most goods and services. It is always included in prices in restaurants, hotels and shops.
A tourist tax called vignette touristique is applied to every hotel stay; it's charged per room per night and varies from Ar600 to Ar3000. It usually isn't included in room rates.
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, 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, including 3G/4G, is excellent in Madagascar. The main networks are Telma (www.telma.mg), which is government owned, Airtel (www.airtel.mg) 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 Ar4770 per minute. WhatsApp is increasingly popular.
Madagascar is three hours ahead of GMT; there is no daylight saving.
- Western-style flush-toilets are common in midrange and top end hotels and restaurants.
- Elsewhere you may find sit-down loos but will have to flush with a bucket; squat toilets are common in rural areas.
- Malagasy plumbing struggles to handle toilet paper, so you'll often see small bins next to toilets instead.
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.
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.
For more information, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
Many hotels provide chambres familiales or double rooms with an extra bed (single or double) geared for use by parents and children. You'll only find travel cots in some midrange and top-end hotels.
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.
Some tour operators have children's car seats – inquire when booking.
More people are showing interest in volunteering for community-enhancement and scientific research projects in Madagascar.
Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisation that we do not work with directly. Travellers should investigate any volunteering option thoroughly before committing to a project.
The following organisations regularly take on volunteers, although most placements require payment.
SEED Madagascar Based in the Anosy region in southeastern Madagascar, this charity works on poverty alleviation and environmental conservation through sustainable development initiatives. Volunteering opportunities focus on conservation fieldwork. Placements run from two to 10 weeks and require donations (£795 to £2495).
Blue Ventures Based in London, with a field site in Andavadoaka, this organisation coordinates teams of volunteer divers to survey the southwestern reef and promote marine conservation, notably through the creation of locally managed marine conservation areas. Volunteering stints range from three to 12 weeks; prices vary depending on the level of diving qualification (£2650 for six weeks is a good guide).
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 years.
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.