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).
24,890,000 (UN estimate 2016).
40.6 per sq km.
President Andry Rajoelina since 2019.
Prime Minister Christian Ntsay since 2018.
Last updated: 19 October 2019
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.
Most visits to Madagascar are trouble-free. If possible, you should travel with established organisations or travel companies who know the terrain and have the capacity to warn of potential hazards. If hiring a guide in country, the National Tourism Office advises visitors to use the services of members of the Professional Tour Operators Association PTO.
President Rajoelina was inaugurated on 19 January 2019 following two rounds of elections. Whilst violence during the elections was low, political demonstrations and other protests may still occur. Due to the possibility of violence at these events, you should avoid all protests and demonstrations, including those taking place in the area around Independence Square (“La Place du 13 mai”) and the Town Hall in Antananarivo.
Take great care and follow local advice in the south-east of the country. In the southern triangle between Ihosy, Toliara/Tuléar and Fort-Dauphin the security situation remains tense and the roads are in very poor condition. If travelling in the area you’re advised to use a recognised tour operator and to avoid travelling at night. You’re advised not to travel by taxi-brousse (bush taxi). Avoid overnight stays in the countryside.
Seek local advice and guidance before visiting beaches. You should remain vigilant when visiting beaches to the South and North of Toliara (Tuléar) as there have been attacks and robberies. Avoid visiting isolated and remote beaches, especially alone.
The cyclone season in Madagascar normally runs from November to April. Coastal areas are particularly affected, and remote areas throughout the country can become inaccessible and suffer damage and contamination to water supplies. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms on the METEO Madagascar website.
You should avoid travelling at night on Route Nationales (RNs) particularly RN 13 between Ambovombe and Ihosy and on the RN 10 between Betioky and Andranovory (the western route to Toliara/Tuléar). There have been several attacks on vehicles. If you’re planning to travel to Fort Dauphin you should travel by air instead of via the RN 13.
Crime, particularly robbery and theft is widespread in Madagascar. Be vigilant in the capital Antananarivo particularly in markets and busy areas and especially vigilant at night. Don’t touch any suspect packages.
Maintain a low profile while moving around the country. You’re advised to use a recognised tour operator. You should monitor the local media closely for the duration of your visit.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Madagascar, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Piracy remains a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and has occurred more than 1,000 nautical miles from the Somali coast.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. Consular support may be limited in parts of Madagascar.
Safety and security
Robberies, theft 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 and valuable items including jewellery, cameras, computers and phones out of sight when walking outside. Use a hotel safe whenever possible to safeguard these items. Avoid walking alone in city centres after dark alone and be vigilant at all times. Foreigners are preferred targets for pickpockets and muggers. You should be vigilant when travelling around the city.
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.
There have been increasing instances of kidnapping for ransom in Madagascar. In 2018 there were reports of 10 kidnaps for ransom cases per month in Madagascar. The threat of kidnapping is increasing, often targeting wealthy foreign nationals and expatriates working for large international companies.
Be vigilant and keep a low profile when moving around the country. You’re advised to use a recognised tour operator. 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, including in June 2016 when a grenade attack killed 2 people and injured 86. Other small explosive devices and grenades have been found in the city. On 7 June 2018, criminals placed a homemade explosive device inside Galerie Smart, a shopping centre in Tanjombato, Antananarivo. Don’t touch any suspect packages.
Local travel - Northern Madagascar
A number of incidents involving violence and robberies targeting 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 des Français’.
Local travel - Southern Madagascar
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 and check road travel advice below. You’re advised to use a recognised tour operator.
The security situation in the Southern triangle between Ihosy, Toliara (Tuléar) and Fort-Dauphin remains tense and the roads are in a very poor condition. You’re advised to use a recognised tour operator and avoid travelling at night in this area. If travelling to Fort Dauphin, you’re advised to travel by air. Do not stay overnight in the countryside.
Seek local advice and guidance before visiting beaches. You should remain vigilant when visiting beaches to the South and North of Toliara (Tuléar) as there have been attacks and robberies. Avoid visiting isolated and remote beaches, especially 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).
Local travel - National Parks
If you intend to visit a National Park, seek advice from a tour operator or from the park administration in advance. Maintain vigilance during your visit and avoid carrying valuable items. There have been armed attacks and robberies, including fatalities, most recently on 13 and 17 June 2018 in Bekopa and Mahabo Morondava, involving tourists visiting the Tsingy of Bemahara. You should take extra care when travelling in this area and use an official guide. You should not travel at night.
Owing to reports of an increasing number of violent highway robberies, you should maintain a particularly high level of vigilance and use a recognised tour operator when travelling by road to or within western regions of Madagascar (the regions between Besalampy and Morombe) including the RN35 and RN1 (between Tsiroanomandidy and Maintirano). You should also maintain a high level of vigilance if you travel on the following roads: RN7, RN27, RN10 and RN34. You should avoid travelling at night.
You should travel with a recognised tour operator if travelling by road in the far south (the region between Tulear and Fort Dauphin) and avoid travelling at night. We advise travellers to Fort Dauphin to travel by air, rather than by road from any direction.
There are frequent armed robberies on main roads, particularly at night. Lock car doors and keep windows closed at all times particularly in 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 major towns after dark. You should avoid travelling in multi-passenger taxi vans (known locally as taxi-brousses).
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 a 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 should agree the fare before setting off.
Air Madagascar has been removed from the list of airlines banned from operating within the European Union. Air Madagascar and Madagasikara Airways both operate internal flights within Madagascar.
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
There has been an increase in armed robberies on the Tsiribihina River in western Madagascar. If you’re travelling in the region you’re advised to use alternative modes of transport. Operation of river ferries may be irregular. Seek local advice on ferries from Tamatave- Sonierana to Sainte Marie Island and the West Coast (Toliara/Tuléar, Morondava, Mahajanga and Nosy Be). There have been several reported accidents with casualities due to overcrowding, poor maintenance, poor crew training and unexpected squalls. Check weather conditions locally before travelling.
Recent piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden highlight that 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 2018 were won by Mr Andry Rajoelina. The elections passed with lower levels of violence than previous campaigns, but there remains the possibility of political demonstrations and protests. Due to the possibility of violence, you should avoid large gatherings and political demonstrations, including those taking place in the area around Independence Square (“La Place du 13 mai”) and the Town Hall in Antananarivo. You should monitor local news and follow the advice of local authorities.
Stadiums and venues
On 26 June 2019, a stampede occurred at Madagascar’s national stadium in Antananarivo during the country’s 59th Independence Day celebrations resulting in some fatalities. Security and safety standards at stadiums and venues in Madagascar may be lower than in the UK. Take care if you’re planning to attend events with large numbers of spectators.
Terrorist attacks in Madagascar can’t be ruled out.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Local laws and customs
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).
Due to random police checks, you should carry your passport with you at all times. Always keep a photocopy of your passport, visa and insurance details somewhere safe, and leave further copies with family or friends in the UK.
Drug smuggling is a serious offence. Punishments can be severe.
Although homosexuality is not prohibited by law, public attitudes are less tolerant than in the UK and public displays of affection may attract negative attention. for the LGBT community before you travel.
Paying for sex is punishable by 5 to 10 years imprisonment and / or a fine of €1,500 to €7,000. The campaign against sexual abuse of under age children (under 18 years) is strictly enforced with particular regard to foreign tourists. Identity cards of women are often faked.
The import and export of foodstuffs (including fruit), protected plants and animal products without prior permission is illegal. Removing protected plants (especially rosewood) and animals and animal products is illegal.
When leaving you make take:
- Up to a maximum of 2kg of vanilla.
- Jewellery: for residents, max 250g (hallmarked); for non-residents, max 1kg subject to presentation of currency exchange receipts.
- 400,000 Ariary.
- 1kg of pepper.
- Some other plant and animal products may be exported if permission is obtained.
Full details of export allowances and requirements can be found on the website of Madagascar Customs.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory to which you’re travelling are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unsure about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you should contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory to which you’re travelling.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You can buy a 30, 60 or 90-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport in cash using US$, Euros, or Malagasy Ariary.
If you wish to apply for a visa in advance of travel and are in the UK, you need to apply for a visa at the Embassy of Madagascar in Paris, as the Embassy of Madagascar in London cannot currently issue visas. You can contact the Embassy of Madagascar in Paris via, 4 Avenue Raphaël 75016 Paris, telephone: +33 (0) 9 83 32 45 15 / +33 (0) 9 83 32 27; email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For other visa enquiries you can contact the Visa Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madagascar, email: email@example.com.
Make sure an entry stamp is recorded in your passport, and that your visa is valid for the period and purpose of your journey. A tourist visa cannot be extended beyond 90 days. Overstaying may lead to detention and deportation.
Your passport must have at least 6 months’ validity remaining on your date of entry into Madagascar. You should have at least 2 blank pages in your passport on arrival.
Airport security fee
Airport security tax has been imposed since 1 March 2014. This tax is normally included in the ticket fare.
Proof of onward or return travel
You will be asked for evidence of onward or return travel at check-in in the UK and on arrival in Madagascar.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Madagascar.
Travelling with children
Children already in possession of a visa don’t need further parental approval to enter Madagascar. A parent leaving Madagascar alone with a child must carry written authorisation from the absent parent.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Outbreaks of plague tend to be seasonal and occur mainly during the rainy season, with around 500 cases reported annually. Whilst outbreaks are not uncommon in rural areas, the latest outbreak in 2017, saw seen an increase in reported cases in urban areas, including Antananarivo. The Ministry of Health of Madagascar officially announced the containment of this outbreak on 27 November 2017.
209 deaths were recorded, with none related to international travel. Further outbreaks cannot be ruled out. You can find further information and advice in the ‘Outbreaks’ section of the TravelHealthPro page for Madagascar.
Although there are public and private hospitals in Antananarivo, they can only handle routine operations. Complex surgery requires evacuation either to Mauritius, South Africa or La Reunion. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
High levels of syphilis have been recorded.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 17 (117 from mobile phone) or +261 20 22 357 53 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
The cyclone season in Madagascar normally runs from November to April. Coastal areas are particularly affected. You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Meteo Madagascar (French) or FB Cyclone Indien Ocean (French, Malagasy).
See our Tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
The Malagasy Ariary (MGA) is the local currency of Madagascar. The most accepted foreign currency is the Euro, but US dollars and GBP are easily changed. You can exchange money at banks or make withdrawals from local ATMs. If you use a money exchange office, count your money immediately to make sure you haven’t been short changed. There have been a number of reports of this type of fraud in the exchange offices operating in the Antananarivo international airport.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.
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