How to get around Madagascar
Madagascar is a very large country, wider than France. The means of transport are numerous, but unequal. For long journeys in an unknown environment, the assistance of a local guide or agency may be helpful.
Flying is the most convenient way to go to the remote cities of the country.
Air Madagascar serves several domestic destinations, large or small cities, including Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Majunga, Mananjary, Maroantsetra, Morondava, Nosy Be, Sainte Marie (Nosy Bohara), Sambava, Toamasina, Tolagnaro, and Toliara.
Flights are often full. Antananarivo is the hub of the network. Luggage weight limits are important since some of the planes are small.
Travellers who book a long-haul flight from Air Madagascar benefit from a 20 or 30% discount on the company's domestic flights booked at the same time. The reduction is valid all the year on the domestic network in economic class. Seniors may also get a similar discount.
The railway network of Madagascar dates from the colonial period. In 2003, it was conceded to the company Madarail. Since 2005, Madarail has undertaken a slow but necessary rehabilitation of the infrastructure (repair of the tracks, renovation of stations) and a modernization of the equipment (in particular the ordering of new locomotives). The program of restoration extends over several years.
Madarail runs the following lines
-- from Antananarivo to Toamasina (232 miles/373 km),
-- from Antananarivo to Antsirabe (100 miles/161 km),
-- from Moramanga to Lake Alaotra (110 miles/177 km),
-- from Fianarantsoa to Manakara (102 miles/164 km).
As long as the restoration has not been generalized, the age of the network and the equipment will remain cause of breakdowns and interruptions.
Nevertheless, the trips from Antananarivo to Toamasina and from Fianarantsoa to Manakara through splendid landscapes, mountains, rainforests and picturesque villages are of great interest to adventure travellers.
The halts give you the opportunity to taste the local foodstuffs at reasonable prices.
Except for some highways such as Antananarivo - Toamasina and Toamasina - Toliara, roads in Madagascar are in poor conditions. The distances may be very long and the journey often takes more time than expected. In the rainy season, some roads may be impassable.
The traffic in Antananarivo is extremely busy and it is quite difficult to find your way around.
Some places such as the Tsingy of Bemaraha are accessible only in 4X4 and/or in dry season.
The service stations are rather rare except in large cities. Driving in Madagascar is on the right-hand side. The international driving licence international is required.
In the main cities, you may rent a car, a 4x4 vehicle or a minibus, with or without driver. If you need a car rental, it is recommended to rent a car with a driver who is familiar with the local conditions and the routes between the attractions to be visited. The driver may act as a guide.
Taxis are available in all major cities. The trip from Ivato airport to Antananarivo costs about 12 euros.
Prior to departure, it is strongly advised you to discuss the rate with the driver, in particular for the longest routes. Since it may be difficult to find a taxi for the return trip, you may wish to arrange for the driver to wait for you or come back and pick you up.
Taxi or car with driver can be hired for several days.
In Antananarivo and in some other cities, share taxi, called taxi-be (a kind of local bush taxi) is a cheap way to get around.
In several cities including Antananarivo, you have the opportunity to hire a rickshaw (pousse-pousse) except where traffic or gradient makes it impractical. Take care to rent two rickshaws if you have heavy luggage.
By taxi brousse
Taxis brousse (bush taxis) are share taxis - in fact, station wagons, large cars or minibuses – operating on cross-country routes. They are often overloaded.
This is the way most natives travel around the country. The taxi-brousse system is relatively well organised. The term is generic to cover any form of public transport that is not a bus. Fares are based on distance, duration and route conditions.
If you have time and if you are not looking for comfort, taxi brousse is a picturesque mean of transport which makes it possible for you to get in touch with people and discover the real Madagascar.
The only major modern road in the country runs from Antananarivo and Toliara. A trip between the two towns by taxi brousse takes about a day.
Travelling by bush taxi requires patience, but it is an experience you won’t forget.
By bicycle (mountain bike)
In the dry season, tours by bike allow you to discover the villages and the small towns of Madagascar, provided that you bring repair materials. In the countryside, there are no facilities for cyclists, so be prepared to camp out or sleep in local guesthouses or possibly in private homes.
Remember some roads may be impassable in the rainy season.
Madagascar has a long maritime tradition and coastal transport services including ferries connecting the principal ports of the country or canoe services between the coast villages. Chartering a crewed catamaran or yacht to Madagascar may be an unusual way to get around Madagascar.
Toamasina on the east coast is the main port of Madagascar. The other seaports are Antsiranana, Antsohimbondrona, Mahajanga, Toliara and Tôlanaro.
Many of the rivers are unnavigable. There are many rafting possibilities provided that they are monitored by professionals since some rivers may be dangerous.
Boat safaris are organized on Betsiboka, Tsiribihina or Pangalanes Canal.