Madagascar travel guide
Undoubtedly one of the world’s most fascinating destinations, Madagascar floats off the coast of Mozambique, in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, and is home to some of the weirdest, most wonderful wildlife in existence. A cliché it may be, but there really is nowhere quite like it.
Up to 90% of the flora and fauna found in Madagascar is unique to the island, which was cut adrift from the African mainland millions of years ago and has evolved in sweet isolation since. Mother Nature had a chance to experiment in Madagascar, and experiment she did.
Nowadays the island is home to around a quarter of our planet’s primates and they exist in glorious variety: big and small, social and solitary, adorably cute and downright freaky. The primates’ story is played out across the animal groups: there are several hundred types of frog, dozens of bats, over a hundred snakes (mostly small, all harmless) and almost half of the world’s chameleons. It’s a similar story where flora is concerned, too.
But Madagascar is not just a nirvana for naturalists: the island offers splendid beaches, scuba diving and surfing; gnarly rock climbing and caving; lazy river trips; spectacular scenery; and warm, welcoming people with interesting beliefs and cultural practices.
The island is divided along its middle by a high plateau. Lush rainforest runs in a band down the eastern side, while drier deciduous forests lie to the west. In the far south is the unique arid spiny forest, home to the island’s wackiest plant life. Giant baobab trees populate the western regions.
A mix of influences provides telltale evidence of the Polynesian settlers, Arabic presence, Bantu tribes-folk and European arrivals of the past, all of which have culminated in a fascinating cultural melting pot. For sheer diversity, Madagascar hard to beat.
587,041 sq km (226,658 sq miles).
24,915,822 (UN estimate 2016).
40.6 per sq km.
President Hery Rajaonarimampianina since 2014.
Prime Minister Olivier Mahafaly Solonandrasana since 2016.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins (sometimes with a grounding pin) are most commonly used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Muggings, robberies and street crime occur frequently in towns and cities, in nature reserves and on beaches. Carjacking and theft from cars has become more frequent. Passengers in bush taxis have been robbed.
Never leave your bags unattended. Keep large amounts of money, jewellery, cameras, computer and phones out of sight when walking outside. Use a hotel safe whenever possible to safeguard these items. Avoid walking in city centres after dark alone and be vigilant at all times.
Beware of pickpockets in crowded areas like street markets and airports. You should carry your passport with you, but keep it concealed and secure. Leave copies of your travel documents, especially passports and flight tickets, in a safe place (eg hotel safe) and further copies with friends or family in the UK.
Be alert to the possibility of acts of disorder by security personnel and avoid any actions that might antagonise them (eg taking photographs). If you’re stopped by the police, show respect and stay calm. Ask for ID as there have been reports of individuals falsely claiming to be police.
If you’re attacked, don’t resist. Stay calm and consider handing over a small sum of money. Report the incident to the police and take a copy of the police report.
Useful phone numbers
Police: 17 or 117 from a mobile phone (emergencies).
Fire Brigade: 18 or 118 from a mobile phone.
Gendarmerie: 19 or 119 from a mobile phone.
Antananarivo: +261 20 22 227 35/36 – +261 20 22 357 09/10 – +261 20 22 281 70;
Diego Suarez: +261 34 05 998 59
Mahajanga: +261 20 62 229 32 – +261 34 05 998 66
Toliara/Tuléar: +261 34 05 998 78
Fort Dauphin: +261 34 05 529 46
Morondava: +261 34 05 529 94
Antsirabé: +261 20 44 480 33 – +261 34 05 998 83
Fianarantsoa: +261 20 75 943 75 – +261 34 05 998 71
Tamatave: +261 20 53 320 17/305 78 – +261 34 05 998 54
There have been rare instances of kidnapping for ransom in Madagascar.Since January 2014 at least 5 foreign nationals have been kidnapped in the Antananarivo area for ransom. The threat of kidnapping is increasing, targeting wealthy foreign nationals and expatriates working for large international companies.
Be vigilant and keep a low profile when moving around the country, particularly if you’re travelling alone. The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage-taking.
Since 2012 there have been a number of explosions in Antananarivo linked to civil unrest. On 26 June 2016, a grenade attack killed two people and injured 86. Other small explosive devices and grenades have been found in the city.
The centre of Antananarivo remains unstable and potentially volatile. The Ankatso areas, the Avenue de L’ Independence, Ambohijatovo, Analakely, Bohorika, Isoraka, Ampasamandinika, 67ha, Isotry, Analakely as well as military barracks are potential flashpoints. Although foreigners have not been targeted, you should take care when travelling around the city and avoid any crowds or political gatherings. Don’t touch any suspect packages.
Foreigners are the preferred targets for pickpockets and muggers. You should be vigilant when travelling around the city.
In many parts of Madagascar, aspects of daily life are regulated by taboos, known as ‘fady’. These vary from one region to another. Fady can range from forbidden foods to restrictions on clothing. Some areas subject to fady may be forbidden to foreigners. If you intend to visit remote areas, seek advice either locally or from your tour operator and respect local fady to avoid causing offence.
If you plan a longer stay in a village, ask to pay your respects to the head of Fokontany (administrative subdivision), the head of the village or ‘Ray aman-dreny’ (wise man).
A number of incidents involving violence and robberies to foreigners have occurred in Nosy Be and in Antsohihy, the port for Nosy Be on the mainland. Incidents have occurred during the day on beaches, on the private island of Tsarabanjana and at night in crowded areas. You should be vigilant and avoid carrying large amounts of money.
Use an official local guide and be vigilant if you’re visiting the ‘Montagne de Français’.
Violent incidents involving cattle rustlers (Dahalo) have caused fatalities to the north of Fort Dauphin, around the township of Betroka, along the west coast between Belo sur Tsiribihina and Toliara (Tuléar) and in the Commune of Ilakakabe (near Isalo National Park). Armed forces are active in these areas. Tourists have not been targeted but you should seek local advice before travelling.
Southern triangle between Ihosy, Toliara (Tuléar) and Fort-Dauphin
The security situation remains tense and the roads are in a very poor condition. You should avoid travelling at night in this area. Stay overnight in cities or villages, not in the countryside.
Toliara (Tuléar) Beaches
The FCO advise against travel to Batterie Beach, North of Toliara (Tuléar), following violent and fatal attacks on foreigners. This beach is fady. On beaches to the South and North of Toliara (Tuléar) you should be vigilant as there have been attacks and robberies. Avoid visiting these beaches alone.
Criminal gangs are known to have attacked vehicles travelling in convoy on the RN7 (between Antananarivo and Toliara/Tuléar). Be vigilant when visiting night clubs in Toliara (Tuléar), as an armed robbery took place outside one in January 2016.
If you intend to visit a National Park, seek advice from a tour operator or from the park administration in advance. There have been armed attacks and robberies, most recently on 27 September 2015 involving tourists visiting the National Parks Montagne d’Ambre and Ankarana in the north of the country. Make sure you keep to the official paths and circuits that are open.
In Andohahela National Park, the “Tsimelahy” circuit has recently reopened as it has been over a year since attacks in the Northern part of the park. Advice should be sought before your visit and to maintain vigilance during your visit.
Owing to reports of an increasing number of violent highway robberies, you should maintain a particularly high level of vigilance if you travel on the following roads: RN7, RN27, RN10 and the RN1B (between Tsiroanomandidy and Maintirano).
There are frequent armed robberies on main roads, particularly at night. Lock car doors at all times particularly in the capital, Antananarivo. There have been attempts by young women using traffic jams to jump into vehicles and accuse men of sexual harassment.. Where possible drive in convoy and avoid driving outside towns after dark. If night travel is essential, do so with care and lock vehicle doors.
Don’t stop if you’ve been involved in, or see an accident Call the police (117) or drive to the next town and report to the police directly. Road conditions vary greatly. Most main roads outside Antananarivo carry heavy freight traffic, and have steep gradients and sharp bends. Drive with extreme care, especially on bridges.
In the rainy season (December to April), many secondary roads are impassable (except by four-wheel-drive vehicles) and bridges are often washed away.
There are frequent road deaths involving bush taxis. If you have concerns over the safety of the vehicle or the ability of the driver, use alternative transport.
If you wish to drive in Madagascar you will need to get an International Driving Permit. or apply to convert your driving licence to a Malagasy one. The import and use of right-hand drive vehicles is now banned in Madagascar.
You should be prepared to be hassled by taxi drivers. At Antananarivo airport (but not in the city), taxi fees have been officially set. Ask the taxi driver to show you the fee table. At other airports in Madagascar, haggling over the taxi fee with the driver is normal. You may wish to ask the airport staff to advise you on the fare payable.
Air Madagascar has been removed from the list of airlines banned from operating within the European Union. However, staff at the British Embassy are advised to use an alternative to Air Madagascar if a safer mode of transport is available.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Madagascar.
River and sea travel
Operation of river ferries may be irregular. Seek local advice on ferries from Tamatave- Sonierana to Ste Marie Island and the West Coast (Toliara/Tuléar, Morondava, Mahajanga and Nosy Be). There have been several reported accidents with causalities due to overcrowding, poor maintenance, poor crew training and unexpected squalls. Check weather conditions locally before travelling.
While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.
The coup of 2009 was followed by 5 years of political unrest during which, according to the World Bank, Madagascar became the poorest country in the world not in conflict. The Presidential elections in 2013 were won by Mr Hery Rajaonarimampianina. In his investiture speech, President Rajaonarimampianina undertook to improve the country’s security situation. However, the situation remains fragile.