Madagascar Travel Tips

Madagascar Travel Tips

While my visit to Madagascar was quite short, I thought I might share some tips I found out about the country which might be useful to other travellers.

Flights to Madagascar

There are several airlines that fly to Madagascar including Air Madagascar, Kenya Airlines and Air Austral. I have taken both Kenya Airways (on my way in) and Air Madagascar (on my way out), and both of them were pretty normal uneventful flights. Air France also flies to Madagascar, directly from Europe.

The Ivato airport however, was a different matter altogether. It is a very small airport and extremely understaffed at times. When I landed there, there were only four immigration counters to serve passengers from two or three flights.

Visa for Madagascar & Immigration

Madagascar has an on-arrival visa policy for all nationals barring Palestine. The visa fee for 30 days is 35 EUR.

Note that there are no ATMs at the arrival lounge before the immigration. There are no facilities at the immigration to accept credit or debit cards either. So please make sure to have your change ready when you arrive. While I fully well expected not to have the balance given back to me when I paid for visa with 40 EURs, I was pleasantly surprised when they did in fact promptly handed back the change. They also accept payments in USD.

The luggage checkout after immigration could be a bit of a mess. Due to severe understaffing, I managed to clear the immigration only after about 2 hours. I was almost in a state of panic when I came to the luggage area. There is just one luggage belt and there is no process whatsoever. I was quite pleased to see my luggage rolling over the belt after about 10 mins from when I cleared the immigration. I am not sure if they actually track the airline that is being cleared through the immigration to unload the luggage, but there you go.

Language

The most common international language spoken in Madagascar is French. Few officials in the airport as well as few people around the area could converse in English to a functional level. However most others will not be able to converse without Malagasy or French. Since my level of French is beyond dismal, I prepared myself for this by downloading the French dictionary on Google Translate. I had to use it only twice or thrice though. For anyone who is planning to come to Madagascar, I would seriously advise to learn some basic French.

Transport in Madagascar

In Antananarivo you can hail a taxi if you are going far. I had walked around the city covering about 10-12km in the three days I was there and did not find anything particularly intimidating. However I would seriously advise against taking the local buses. Antananarivo has quite a bit of taxis that you could hail down. While the quality of the taxis are quite low (one of them had to be opened from outside as the latch on the inside of the cab was not working), they are functional.

If you are travelling between the cities, I would suggest to use Cotisse Transport. They are quite cheap and very reliable. Cotisse has three types of vehicles, Lite, Premium and VIP and connect four major destinations: Tamatave, Mahjunga, Fianarantsoa and Morondava. In my travels to Morondava and Andasibe, I took a mixture of their Lite and Premium services.

Travelling to Morondava

If you are travelling to Morondava, you can alternatively fly to Morondava from Antananarivo for about 250 EUR each way. In comparison, Cotisse would get you there for about 15 EURs each way in one of their Lite vans. The trip however could be a bit arduous as it takes almost 8 hours to get to your destination. If you are travelling solo like me, I’d suggest you to book seat no:2, which is the door side seat next to the driver.

During my first inter-city travel, I was quite unaware of the procedure and was looking for a method to book it online. Unfortunately Cotisse does not have such a mechanism, but fortunately I found this wonderful group of people who run DriveMada. For a booking fee of around 4-5 EUR, they will do the booking ahead of time for you. This was very convenient for me as I was on a very tight schedule and I was sure that I would be too late to make the bookings once I was in Madagascar. You can contact them at: https://www.drivemada.com or email them at reservations AT drivemada DOT com.

Mobile Connectivity

I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to get a reliable mobile connection while in Madagascar. However, I managed to get a Telma sim right at the airport with a 5GB data connection from Telma. There is a good coverage map available at https://opensignal.com/ which will show you the mobile coverage of each of the telephone operators who operate in Madagascar.

Staying in / Lodging / Hotels

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in Madagascar is finding lodging. Due to the low tourist turnover and low usage of internet within the country, it is a bit difficult to get proper reviews of the hotels.

None of the hotels seem to accept credit card payments. However you can make bookings on them through Booking.com. Even then you cannot make payments via Booking.com and are required to pay in cash to the hotel on arrival. This could however be a good thing. My recommendation would be to go to the property first and check it out. My very first stay in Antananarivo at 15 EUR per day, was extremely disappointing and wasn’t worth it at all. My second stay, for a cost of 21 EUR per day was way better.

As personal recommendations, I would say Sole Hotel in Antananarivo and Baobab Cafe in Morondava were amazing stays.

Money and Costs

During my stay there, I did not come across any place that was readily accepting credit card payments. Although one of the hotels I stayed had a credit card machine, it was also out of order. So be sure to carry cash with you (although that in itself is a risk).

There are quite a few ATMs in Antananarivo and in Morondava. However, ATMs in Madagascar are the most peculiar ones you would ever come across. They don’t have a daily limit of withdrawal or per withdrawal limit based on the amount. They rather have a limit per withdrawal based on the number of bills (40 bills). If the particular ATM has the maximum denomination of 5,000 Ar, then you can withdraw up to 200,000 Ar in a single instance. However if it had 10,000 Ar bills instead, you would’ve been able to withdraw up to 400,000 Ar in a single instance. It would take a few trial-and-errors to figure out what the largest currency bill the particular ATM has. BNI Madagascar has a useful web page which lists down the ATMs of its banks: https://www.bni.mg/en/find-a-branch/. There is one ATM right outside the Ivato airport.

It doesn’t cost you a lot to travel around Madagascar. However do note that they are one of the poorest countries of the world. Feel free to bargain, but do be mindful about how much you pay for it back at home.

In general:
A meal at a restaurant: 5-10 EUR
Taxi within the city : 3-5 EUR
Hotel stays :
Hostels : 7.5-10 EUR per night for single person.
Basic hotel : 15-20 EUR per night for single person. Bed only.
Upscale hotel : 50 EUR – 75 EUR per night for single person.

My total cost for the trip averaged around 115 EUR per day over a 7 day course, which is definitely on the high side. The single largest expenditure for me was the Kirindy Forest safari which cost me around 300 EUR for the visit from and back to Morondava as well as a single night stay full boarding. The excursions from Morondava could cost you a lot although you could possibly have some bargains here.

If you are ready to rough out and travelling with a partner, the costs could come down to about 60-70 EUR per person. (Also check http://www.budgetyourtrip.com/madagascar which seems to be around the same price as my guess.)

Departure

My worst experience in Madagascar was during the emigration process. It was surprising how every single officer asked for a bribe to let me out of the country. This may have been worsened by the fact that my knowledge in French was very poor. The trick, as I came to learn later, is to show and claim that you don’t have any money. You might probably be held up for a while and they’ll eventually give up.

While this is by no means a complete guide, I hope it helped you on preparing for your trip to Madagascar. Do visit the place, it is quite an experience.

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