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 Hery Rajaonarimampianina since 2014.
Prime Minister Christian Ntsay since 2018.
Last updated: 01 July 2018
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.
In 2016 over nearly 5,800 British nationals visited Madagascar. Most visits were 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.
Political demonstrations in the centre of Antananarivo are ongoing. 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.
Madagascar has experienced political instability since the 2009 coup d’état. There is potential for further unrest in the run-up to Presidential elections, expected in late 2018. You should avoid political demonstrations.
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. Avoid overnight stays in the countryside.
There have previously been violent attacks, including fatalities, on Batterie Beach north of Toliara (Tulear), most recently in 2013. You should consult a local guide, avoid remote or isolated beaches and remain vigilant during visits.
Previous cyclones, including most recently Tropical Storm Eliakim, left some remote areas inaccessible by road, and water supply systems were damaged and contaminated in some areas. Principle routes have re-opened, but check the METEO Madagascar website for the latest details.
The cyclone season in Madagascar normally runs from November to April. Coastal areas are particularly affected. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms.
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 consider travelling by air instead of via the RN 13. If this isn’t possible, travel during the daytime, be vigilant at all times and follow the instructions of local authorities.
Crime, particularly robbery and theft is widespread in Madagascar. Be vigilant in the capital Antananarivo particularly in markets and busy areas.
Be especially vigilant at night and don’t touch any suspect packages.
Maintain a low profile while moving around the country, in particular if you’re travelling alone. If travelling independently, 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.
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.
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.
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 increasing instances of kidnapping for ransom in Madagascar. In 2016 there were reports of 1 to 2 kidnap for ransom cases per month in the Antananarivo area for ransom. 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, 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, 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.
Foreigners are preferred targets for pickpockets and muggers. You should be vigilant when travelling around the city.
A number of incidents involving violence and robberies targetting 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’.
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
There have been violent and fatal attacks on foreigners, most recently at Batterie Beach in 2013. This beach is fady. Seek local advice and guidance before visiting beaches. You should remain vigilant when visiting beaches to the South and North of Toliara (Tuléar) you should be vigilant 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), 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. 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 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. The Malagasy authorities have increased security on Route Nationale 34.
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, RN34, RN35 and the RN1B (between Tsiroanomandidy and Maintirano).
There are frequent armed robberies on main roads, particularly at night. Lock car doors and keep windows closed 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 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. However, staff at the British Embassy are advised to use an alternative to Air Madagascar if another mode of transport is available.
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
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 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. The next Presidential elections should take place in late 2018.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Madagascar, attacks 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.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
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 to 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 you’re travelling 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. Details of current fees can be found on the Embassy of Madagascar website. Make sure an entry stamp is recorded in your passport. A tourist visa has a maximum validity of 3 months and isn’t extendable.
There’s no Embassy of Madagascar in London. For further information about entry requirements, or if you wish to get a visa before travel, contact the Embassy of Madagascar in Paris, which offers a visa service, 04 Avenue Raphaël 75016 Paris, Telephone: +33 (0) 9 83 32 45 15 / +33 (0) 9 83 32 27; email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Visa Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madagascar, email: email@example.com.
Make sure that your visa is valid for the period and purpose of your journey. Overstaying may lead to detention and deportation.
Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the 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.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures.
Check the latest country-specific information and advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website or from NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
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.
Espace Médical (emergency service) +261 20 22 625 66, +261 34 02 088 16, +261 34 02 009 11
Hôpital Militaire de Soavinandriana HJRA +261 20 23 397 51, +261 32 07 230 30
Clinique et Maternité St.François +261 20 22 223 84, +261 20 22 672 21, +261 20 22 235 54
Polyclinique d’Ilafy +261 20 22 425 66, +261 20 22 425 69
- Tamatave Hospital: +261 20 533 20 21
- Diego-Suarez Military Hospital: +261 34 14 586 41, +261 34 14 586 45, +261 34 15 586 51
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.