Top events in Madagascar

May
15

This week-long carnival-cum-festival in Diego Suarez began in 2007. It brings together numerous lively and colourful outdoor entertainments...

June
04

Lasting one week, Donia is held each Pentecost in the Hell-Ville football stadium on Nosy Be. Musicians come from across Madagascar and...

July
20

This is a local cultural festival in Ambilobe combining traditional oratory, music and dance. The aim is to preserve local customs by showcasing...

Lemurs in Madagascar
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Lemurs in Madagascar

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Madagascar Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

587,041 sq km (226,658 sq miles).

Population

22.6 million (2013).

Population density

38.5 per sq km.

Capital

Antananarivo.

Government

Republic since 1992. Gained independence from France in 1960.

Head of state

President Hery Rajaonarimampianina since 2014.

Head of government

Prime Minister Roger Kolo since 2014.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are generally two-pin.

A jaw-dropping, wildlife-rich hotspot, Madagascar is truly one of the most fascinating places on earth and home to some of the weirdest and rarest animal species in existence.

But it’s not just a naturalist’s dreamland: there are also splendid beaches; world-class sites for scuba diving, surfing and kitesurfing; opportunities for rock climbing and caving; river trips; and spectacular scenery, not to mention a warmly welcoming people with interesting beliefs and cultural practices.

Flora and fauna is the big draw though, with between 80% and 90% of species in Madagascar found nowhere else on earth.

It is worth dwelling for a moment on why this is the case. Madagascar is a huge island – the world’s fourth largest – but it is also the oldest. That’s to say it has been separated from continental landmasses for longer than any other island. Evolution has been at play in this tropical paradise, largely isolated from outside interference, for many tens of millions of years.

Madagascar provided a blank canvas for evolution to experiment with diverse new forms of life in the near absence of large predators. And experiment it did.

One single ancestral lemur exploded into the dozens of species we see today (not to mention many more that have already become extinct). Nowadays Madagascar is the exclusive home of around a quarter of our planet’s primates, yet there are no monkeys and no great apes – just lemurs. And they exist in glorious variety: more than one hundred different species and subspecies – big and small, nocturnal and diurnal, social and solitary, adorably cute and downright freaky.

The lemurs’ story is played out across the animal groups: there are several hundred types of frog, dozens of bats, over a hundred snakes (mostly small and all harmless) and almost half of the world’s chameleons (including the smallest and largest). And for botanists the story is similar: more than 200 different palms, over a thousand orchids, 75% of all baobab species, the list goes on...

It is not just the diversity and otherness of Madagascar’s wildlife that makes it special for visitors; the animals are also overwhelmingly safe. Tourists can freely wander in the rainforests and other habitats of Madagascar without fear of being stalked by a tiger, charged by an elephant or bitten by a rattlesnake. Aside from a few rarely encountered scorpions and crocs, there’s hardly anything to hurt you at all.

Madagascar 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 that puts the icing on the cake of one of the most unique destinations in the world.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 18 April 2015

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.


Crime

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. Take certified copies of your travel documents with you and leave originals, especially passports and flight tickets, in a safe place (eg hotel safe).

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)

Gendarmerie: 19 or 119 from a mobile phone.

Police stations

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

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

Criminal kidnaps

There have been rare instances of kidnapping for ransom in Madagascar.Since January 2014 at least 3 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.

Local travel

Antananarivo

Since 2012 there have been a number of explosions in Antananarivo linked to civil unrest. On 25 January 2014, the day the of the new President’s inauguration, an explosion killed 2 people and injured 50. Other small explosive devices and grenades have been found in the city.

The situation in the centre of Antananarivo remains unstable and potentially volatile. The Ankatso areas of the Avenue de L’ Independence, Ambohijatovo, Analakely, Bohorika, Isoraka, Ampasamandinika, 67ha, 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 the village or ‘Riamandreny’ (wise man).

Northern Madagascar

Nosy Be

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 and at night in crowded areas. In October 2013, two visitors were burned alive in Nosy Be by the local population. You should be vigilant and avoid carrying large amounts of money.

Diego-Suarez

Use an official local guide and be vigilant if you’re visiting the ‘Montagne de Français’.

Southern Madagascar

Violent incidents involving cattle rustlers (Dahalo) have caused fatalities to the north of Fort Dauphin, around the township of Betroka and along the west coast between Belo sur Tsiribihina and Tuléar. Armed forces are now active in these areas. Tourists have not been targeted but you should seek local advice before travelling.

Southern triangle between Ihosy, 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.

Tuléar-Beaches

The FCO advise against travel to Batterie Beach, North of Tuléar, following violent and fatal attacks on foreigners. This beach is fady. On beaches to the South and North of 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 Tuléar).

National Parks

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 involving tourists visiting the National Parks Montagne d’Ambre and Ankarana in the north of the country. Visitors are accompanied by police and local villagers during their visits.

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.

Road travel

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.

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 travel

A number of aircraft operated by Air Madagascar have been refused permission to operate services to the EU as they don’t meet European safety standards. Although the remainder of the Air Madagascar fleet is allowed to fly into the EU, the European Commission has expressed concerns about the overall safety of the airline.

British Embassy staff are advised to use an alternative airline where possible, but are authorised to travel on certain Air Madagascar flights in specific circumstances, particularly if there are no safer travel options.

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 (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.

Piracy is a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and has occurred as far as 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia. Sailing vessels are particularly vulnerable. The FCO advice against all but essential travel by yacht and pleasure craft on the high seas (more than 12 nautical miles from shore) in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean including areas to the north of Madagascar.

Political situation

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 and may be affected by the recent return of former President Ravalomanana.

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