Travelling through Madagascar is exhilarating, exhausting, amazing, challenging, and above all else a real adventure. It requires time, a willingness to change plans at the last minute and lots of energy. In return, you'll receive the warmth and friendliness of the locals, a completely hassle-free environment, unique wildlife and plants, and breath-taking landscapes.
The country more than rewards anyone who journeys there, and with relatively few tourists passing through, it will sometimes seem as if you've got the whole place to yourself. Here's my humble advice for avoiding some of the most common problems (hint: the key here is having an idea of what to expect!) and getting the most out of a trip...
- Factor in plenty of time for travelling between places, whether using land or air transport. A couple of the key roads leading out of Antananarivo are paved and in good condition, but leave central Madagascar and it's dirt tracks all the way, if you're lucky. 4x4s used for the Tsingy trips are in particularly poor states, and liable to break down, and roads may suddenly become flooded after heavy rainfall. Flying isn't much better, with the single domestic carrier, Air Madagascar, known for cancelling or re-routing flights at the last minute, leaving passengers stranded for days on end. If you are prepared for delays then you'll feel less frustrated, and when things do run smoothly, it'll be an unexpected bonus!
- Try to visit a few national parks. Although lemurs can be found almost everywhere, particular species live in particular parks, so if you want to spot a range then you'll need to get around a bit. The very central Route 7 is ideal for this - five national parks lie along its length, and could be visited in a week if short on time.
- Shop around before choosing a tour company for the boat and Tsingy trips. Although international companies run tours to Madagascar, I would recommend using a local company who will have contacts and can react quickly to any issues that may arise. I found a few recommended individuals on the internet with working email addresses - it's worth emailing a few to check prices, types of accommodation and back-up plans to find a best fit.
- Feel sorry for the vegetarians who won't have the opportunity to gorge on the incredibly delicious Zebu dishes available. Soft, tender and juicy, the flesh of the humped Malagasy cattle is incredible stewed and grilled; alongside fresh vegetables or just on its own. My mouth is watering just thinking about it...
- Forget that it is compulsory to hire a guide almost everywhere. Personally, I felt that this was one of the biggest positives - it provides jobs and education for the local population, who are both knowledgeable and respectful of the animals and forests they are surrounded by. The many guides we hired taught us about some of the numerous medicinal plants in Madagascar, and spotted things we would easily have missed otherwise. Prices are low, but it's important to factor in these almost daily costs, along with tips.
- Forget plenty of mozzie spray. The little buggers are rampant everywhere, and Malaria is rife, particularly along the coast. Even after drenching myself in Deet every morning, I still managed over eighty bites in three weeks. Scratch scratch...
- Leave home without either conversational French or a phrasebook. Aside from guides, very few people we came across spoke much English at all. This isn't really a problem until something goes wrong - without a reasonable understanding of French we would definitely have struggled with dealing with our cancelled flights, and if you want to interact a little with locals then some French goes a long way to break the shyness barrier.
- Wait too long before paying Madagascar a visit! Although not quite as empty of tourists as others places we've visited, the country is still off the major tourism radar and we saw very few other visitors whilst there. With more flights and advertising every year however, it won't stay that way for much longer...
Missed any posts about our trip to Madagascar? Find them here:
On our way to...Madagascar!
Toffee water, emerald forests and lots of children: A multi-day boat trip in Madagascar
Mud, mozzies and allergies - One very long day in Madagascar
Exploring the Tsingy and the second car journey from hell
A final bump in the road...
Exploring beautiful and diverse Isalo national park
A whistle-stop tour through some of Madagascar's incredible national parks
The cutest lemur competition: A photo-blog