Last year, my wife and I took our honeymoon in Madagascar. It was an incredible trip that I would recommend to anyone. The views, the wildlife and most of all the people, made it an unforgettable experience.
Before we went, there was a lot of uncertainty about how it would be though. We heard the roads were terrible, the flights were unpredictable and that we had to be accompanied by a driver? How would that work?
In the end it worked out brilliantly but I'd have loved a little more information beforehand. I hope this post helps you if you're planning a similar trip.
We went for 2.5 weeks and we knew we wanted to see Tsingy, Isalo and as many Lemurs as possible. Our itinerary ended up like this:
Day 1-2: Antananarivo
We stayed at the Citizen Hotel. Lovely place with great views over the lake.
Day 3: Fly to Morondava
Chez Maggie is a great spot by the beach serving the freshest sea food. They were able to organize a taxi to pick us up at Morondava airport and take us to the hotel.
Chez Maggie is also run in part by Gary of Remote River Expeditions, an experienced tour runner who we contacted ahead of time to organize our trip to Tsingy and the magical Avenue des Baobabs.
Day 4: Drive to Tsingy
The journey is tough, there's no getting away from it: it takes around 9 hours to drive the 200km.
We stayed at the Soleil des Tsingy hotel. It tries to be quite fancy but the rooms are nice and you almost can't not stay there because the view is just out of this world.
Days 5-7: Exploring Tsingy
2 days of climbing the tsingy followed by another bumpy journey back to Morondava.
Day 8: Fly back to Tana, drive to Antsirabe
We met our driver, Jack, (more on him later) and drove to Antsirabe. We stayed at the Couleur Cafe hotel. Not much to say about it really as we arrived late and left early but the room was fine.
Day 9: Drive to Ambalavao.
The scenery on this road is incredible, it changes so drastically every hour. The long journey just disappears.
In Ambalavao we stayed at Betsileo Country Lodge. Really friendly hosts here with a nice bar and more incredible views.
Day 10: Drive to Isalo via Anja Park
Anja Park was our best place for seeing lemurs by far - you can get very close to wild Lemurs.
In Isalo we stayed at the Isalo Rock Lodge. Isalo is one of the most magical places I think I've ever been to, and the hotel fits in. You felt like you were staying in a truly special environment.
Day 11-12: Stay in Isalo.
Stunning hikes and plenty of relaxation. This is a great place to spend a few days out of the car.
Day 13: Drive to Tulear.
We only stayed in Tulear for one night before heading down to Anakao but we got to stay in the beautiful Bakuba Lodge. This place has truly amazing architecture and just 3 rooms which are so different. Expensive but worth it.
Day 14 - 17: Anakao
We stayed at the Anakao Ocean Lodge. After our trip so far and the amazing places we'd stayed, we were a little disappointed and didn't think it was quite worth the money. You pay european prices and it feels extremely resort/touristy. That said, it is a nice place to just relax. The ocean lodge organize a speedboat to collect you from Tulear but it visits many hotels down the beachline so you certainly have options if you want to have beach time without the price tag.
Day 18: Fly back to Antananarivo.
The hotel we had stayed in originally was full so we stayed at the Hotel Sakamanga. It was a fine hotel with a nice restaurant. I preferred the other one personally but this one was very popular and had a lot of rooms.
Day 19: Flight home :(
FAQ about getting a driver. Or questions I frequently asked.
Should you get one for the whole trip?
We didn't, we got one for the main portion of the trip and flew to the west coast and back. Given our short time I was really glad we did this - you deal with enough driving as it is.
If you have plenty of time though, there's something to be said for the consistency because we really got to know our second driver and would have enjoyed continuing with him.
Are drivers around you all the time?
They're not. A lot of the time you're going to be following similar tourist routes and the drivers all hang out together. We'd always buy him a beer when we arrived at a place and after that we'd be on our own. They're available if you need them though.
Do they sort hotels for you?
They definitely can, and they probably know some good deals, but we opted to handle that ourselves and that seemed to be the default. Chat to your driver ahead of time if you want them to do it for you.
How to find good hotels along the way
The usuals: Lonely Planet, booking.com etc. We found that booking.com occasionally said the hotel was full but if we emailed them they still had rooms so sometimes it's better to speak directly. Internet isn't great in Madagascar but it's fine for sending emails back and forth and people were fairly quick to respond. You can always ask your driver for recommendations too as they've seen them all.
Where does the driver stay
At every hotel there are driver rooms where they stay. It's either paid for by the driver, the agent or the hotel provides it. We never asked. But there's no expectation for you to explicitly cover this cost.
How to find a driver
We didn't find any great ways to figure this out. There were some email addresses at the back of the Lonely Planet that we messaged. We ended up with a few similar quotes and no real way of knowing which we should go with.
In the end we booked with a company who subcontracted us to a driver called Jack because they were busy. This seems very common because all the drivers know each other really well. In the end it worked out great for us but it would have been nice to know this would happen up front.
If I was going again, there's no doubt I would speak directly to Jack and organise through him. If I had friends going to Madagascar I would make sure they went with him! He speaks perfect French and Malagasy and very good English. I can't recommend him enough for your trip and to speak to ahead of your time in Madagascar. You can reach him via:
- Email: email@example.com
- The Mada Jack's Car Facebook Page
- Or call him on +26134 48 687 48 / +26133 09 723 23.
Do you need a 4x4?
We'd read that we needed a 4x4 and had asked this up front but to be honest, your driver will figure this out for you. If you're doing a full loop of Madagascar he'll make sure you're in a 4x4 with a snorkel because that's what you need. If you do a trip like we did you'll be in a slightly cruiser 4x4. Trust them on this, they don't want to get stuck any more than you do!
Can you just rent a car yourself?
I think in theory it's possible but the driving is pretty specialised. The cities are chaotic, the overtaking on the highways requires a local language of honking, and certain sections definitely require 4x4 skills (such as driving through rivers, driving on to makeshift ferries etc.).
So, maybe it's possible, but having been through it we were definitely happy that we weren't doing the driving.
We'd heard they were unreliable but either we got lucky or they've gotten better. We had no problems. In fact one time the plane left an hour early because all the passengers had arrived! The views from the plane are spectacular.
We flew with Tsaradia Airlines. It used to be the case that you couldn't book these flights from outside of Madagascar but this wasn't true when we booked. You can pay for these flights in Euros online.
The only real constraint here was that the planes don't travel each route daily. We ended up having to organise our trip around this constraint a little bit so it's something to bear in mind.
We took three plane journeys:
- Antananarivo to Morondava - €130 pp
- Morondava to Antananarivo - €119 pp
- Tulear to Antananarivo - €130 pp
Euros are the best currency to take with you. You can change them for local currency at the airport in Tana. You give them three notes and they give you back three hundred! You walk out looking so conspicuous but we never had any problems with safety there.
All the hotels we stayed at were happy to be paid in Euros which really helped us know how much to convert - still worth checking with them though. They'll give you change in Malagasy Ariary which was good for us as it meant not having to change money to use in the towns. Your hotel will probably be able to change money for you or find you someone in town who can.
Overall, Madagascar is a very affordable place to travel once you're there. We were on our honeymoon so had a little more to spend than usual but even then meals were typically about £10 and accommodation under £100.
We felt that Tana was fairly safe but were told it was actually dangerous by many people that we met and trusted. After dark you should get your hotel to sort you out with a taxi rather than walking - which the porters will happily do for a small tip.
We'd heard that the road from Morondava to Tsingy had been dangerous and that it wasn't possible to travel that way any more. This wasn't the case once we got there. The army had worked to get on top of the problem to ensure it was safe for tourism. We had to travel part of the way (maybe 3-4 hours) in convoy with the other tourist Jeeps, and we got a soldier as a passenger to keep us company. It always felt safe. I assume this is a changeable situation so for the latest on this I'd recommend reaching out to Gary at Remote River Tours.
Take sweets, pens, paper and other treats for the children!
I really wish someone had told us this beforehand! We did the entire west coast portion of the trip not knowing and you meet families in incredibly remote parts of the country with very few belongings. When the car stops you're invariably serenaded with shouts of 'bonbon' and 'pen'! We had one pen and gave it to a child who was so thrilled to receive it. You can make a big difference with small gifts.
Take photos of the kids, and use Snapchat
Without any treats we resorted to taking pictures of the kids and showing them their faces. They got a huge kick of it. Using Snapchat to show themselves with Hat, Sunglasses and beards was such a crowdpleaser and so fun for us.
You need 3 nights / 2 full days in Tsingy
The journey is brutal - about 12 hours each way on terrible "roads". Some people spent a day after the trip just recovering and to do that trip twice just for a single day would be really tough.
There's no mobile data but WiFi is available in most hotels and some bars which is fine for email and social media - though you're not going to be streaming. You can contact hotels via email and they get back to you pretty fast.
Time in Tana
Due to our itinerary we ended up in Tana a few times. I would recommend spending a maximum of 2 days there if you can, it's a nice enough place but there isn't a huge amount to do and your time elsewhere in the country will be so much more valuable to you.
And the most important tip!
Just go. Seriously, if you can afford to fly to Madagascar you'll never regret it. As I type this we're in self-isolation due to the Corona virus and I worry about what this will be doing to all the amazing people we met there who rely so much on tourism. If you want a special trip in 2021 or beyond, Madagascar won't let you down.