Packing List for Madagascar
The following is a list of items that I used during my three-week trip to Madagascar in April 2019. These are obviously very specific to my needs (for example, women or children may require different items). Nonetheless, this list may be useful when you start thinking about the things you want to take to Madagascar yourself.
Despite having some experience with this country, I again brought along too many things that I didn’t need. Because you may fall into the same trap, I’m also highlighting the things that were not needed as well as why. It’s usually better to travel light.
Personally, I prefer bags or backpacks to hard shell suitcases. They often need to be put onto buses or into trunks with other bags and that usually works better when they are a bit more flexible. That said, I’ve seen people travel with hard shell suitcases who I guess didn’t have major problems.
Most of the good hotels offer laundry services. You give them your clothes in the morning and usually get them back in the evening or the next day (depending on how fast they dry in the humid air). So you won’t need to bring fresh clothes for every day of your trip. I had fresh clothes that would last for 10 days and I could have even brought less.
- Pants — Because it’s usually hot, you will need a lot of short pants. But bring long pants, too. Two or three will be enough. You will wear them in the evenings when the mosquitos come out or when it gets colder or when it rains.
- T-Shirts — I like to wear t-shirts so that’s what I had the most with me. Anything with short sleeves that is comfortable is fine.
- Long sleeve shirts — Like long pants, from time to time, you will need to put on long sleeves, e.g. to protect against mosquitos. I even brought turtle neck shirts for that matter. But they should still be thin because it’s still hot in the evenings.
- Underwear — If you use sandals or flip-flops a lot, you won’t need many socks. From time to time, you will need to wear proper shoes with socks for longer walks, on colder days, or when it rains.
- Shoes — You will walk a lot so bring shoes that can take a slight beating. They should be waterproof in case you get caught by the rain. It’s usually very hot so hiking boots are probably not appropriate. Sneakers are fine but due to the red earth dust, they won’t look great anymore afterwards so don’t take your best ones. Also take sandals or flip-flops for the beach. Some areas have sand fleas so you don’t want to walk barefoot just about everywhere. I never needed rubber boots.
- Swim suit — Unless you don’t plan to dip into any waters, bring anything you might need to go swimming.
- Towel — Good hotels will provide towels but bring one for the beach if you plan to go swimming.
- Hat / cap - It is advisable to wear a hat during long walks in the sun. Even better if your hat covers your ears, too. The tip of your ear is a common place to develop skin cancer.
- Sunglasses — There is a lot of sun. If that bothers you, bring sunglasses.
- Raincoat — Sometimes, it rains and when it does, it rains heavily. Still, a thin raincoat that doesn’t weigh much is best as you may have to carry it around sometimes.
- Sweater / jacket and a scarf - This is for the flight to and from Madagascar. The airplanes are notoriously cold and it’s very common for travelers to get sick, especially on the return flight when they simply underestimate how cold those flights are. There was a lot of sneezing on the plane. This can be avoided.
- Plastic bags — For your dirty laundry.
- Tooth brush and toothpaste, floss
- Shaving utensils
- Nail clippers
- Lotions and deodorant
- Solid soap — Most hotels will have this but just in case, you may want to have your own soap on you.
- Toilet paper — It’s good to have some as you may need it when you suffer from diarrhea and there is no bathroom around. I took one from the first hotel we stayed at for the rest of my stay. So I actually didn’t bring any from Germany myself. (Malagasy toilet paper is very thin, though. Some people may not like that.)
- Laundry detergent - There are these detergents that allow you to wash your clothes manually. I didn’t need it this time but they do come in useful sometimes.
Sockets in Madagascar are Type C / E at 220 V / 50 Hz. I would suggest that you don’t take too many valuable electronic devices as they like to get stolen. If you are seen using a smartphone, you are making yourself a target. There are even reports of car windows getting broken so they can snatch the phone from you. Hotel rooms also don’t provide good ways to lock your stuff safely. (We found a safe in our room once but it was not attached to anything so it could’ve easily been taken away.) I would say, only take what you can carry with you all the time. I brought an iPhone and a DSLR camera (in a bag). No laptop (although I did see tourists with laptops).
- Smartphone — I brought my iPhone 7 because it takes nice pictures (many of the pictures on this site have been taken with it). You won’t need your own SIM unless you have a special plan that is cheap in Madagascar, too. You can buy a SIM at a local telecom store if you need to make phone calls (bring your passport) or for some mobile Internet usage. Many hotels and even restaurants now provide free WiFi so Internet access is usually not a problem.
- I put maps.me on my phone with Madagascar OpenStreetMap (OSM) data loaded onto it. I used it all the time. Amazingly, OSM has a lot of detailed data on Madagascar although some of it appears to be a few years old (some hotels and restaurants may not be on there). Still, it’s very useful in many situations.
- You may have your own favourite photography apps but I like to use Lightroom as it takes raw images and has great tools for post-processing them.
- For timelapses, I like to use Hyperlapse.
- Some of my panoramas have been taken with Google Cardboard. There are probably better ones but I use this with a VR set and it’s in 3D and records audio, too.
- At one point, I wished I had an app for the night sky on me. Someone suggested Sky Guide to me. It looks good but I haven’t tried it myself yet.
- I put some music and podcasts on my phone for some more relaxed days. Therefore, I also brought along headphones.
- If you plan to buy a SIM in Madagascar, bring a small wire or something to open your phone’s SIM tray.
- I didn’t have a powerbank but if you usually have trouble getting through an entire day on one battery charge, you might want to bring one. I did have to restrain myself a few times so as not to run out of battery before I arrived in a place where I could charge my phone.
- Back up your phone before the trip. For iPhones, also activate “Find my Phone” as well as remote wiping. Just in case.
- DSLR Camera — On my previous trips to Madagascar, I found that the light and colours always look so perfect that I regretted not having brought along a better camera. So this time, in 2019, I had my DSLR with me. What camera or lenses you bring will be a matter of personal taste. I preferred one that would fit into my bag so I wouldn’t be seen with an expensive camera while walking around. Along with my camera, I also had a second SD card as well as an SD card reader with me. Didn’t need those.
- Flashlight — I bought a Fenix LD41 flashlight for this trip and it was well worth it. I ended up using it all the time. Electricity in Madagascar is not always reliable so a flashlight will help you get around in the dark. It’s also a great model for night walks. It will light up the entire rainforest on its highest setting. Don’t forget the batteries! (One set of batteries was enough for the trip.)
Don’t forget the chargers for all of your devices.
There is currently no effective vaccine against malaria (there is one since 2019 but it’s only about 30-40% effective and at this point, it’s not readily available) so this is still a major problem for residents and travelers. What you do in terms of medication is a matter of how risk averse you are and how much money you want to spend. On their last few trips to Madagascar, my parents have not taken malaria medication regularly but only kept Doxycyclin ready in case they get sick. That’s the cheapest option and if you only spend time in Tana, I would say this should be enough. (There is not a lot of malaria in Tana.) I took Atovaquon/Proguanil (e.g. Malerone) on a daily basis, to be safe. It’s a lot more expensive but it gives me some peace of mind.
But whatever you do, the medication will never be enough. The most important rule is: Don’t get bitten my mosquitos! If you can avoid mosquito bites, you will be mostly safe. If you do get bitten, don’t freak out. It happens from time to time. Simply keep it to as much of a minimum as you can.
Most hotels will provide mosquito nets now. I didn’t bring my own but I’ve met tourists who have. The hotels’ mosquito nets often have holes or are difficult to put together seamlessly. You may want to bring some tape to fix those holes.
- Insect coils — Some hotels will provide these but not always. They work well but also emit a smell that you may not enjoy. Still, I would suggest bringing one or two boxes and using them regularly. Also bring some matches or a lighter to light them.
- Electric insect repellent — They are a bit easier to use (just insert the odor pad and plug them into an electric outlet) than the insect coils and they usually smell less strong. But since there are sometimes outages, there’s no guarantee that they work all night. Still, I had one and used it from time to time.
- Spray insect repellent — We used a lot of this. It’s the easiest form of protection. Autan has been tested by Germany’s Stiftung Warentest as most effective, as has the Rossmann product (which probably doesn’t exist outside of Germany). We had both and they worked well, although its active ingredient may irritate your skin slightly (don’t get it into your eyes!). For three weeks, we needed about a bottle and a half (three people). It’s better to take more than less, you don’t want to run out.
In 2019, judging from news and people’s reports, Madagascar was less safe than when I was there in 2007 and 2000. It is always advisable to not attract too much attention. Don’t display wealth. As mentioned above, a smartphone is a very coveted item. Any electronics are. Money is — well, duh. It’s best if you look like you’re not carrying anything valuable on you. Watch the people around you, espcially when you get distracted by someone. You don’t need to be overly paranoid, just a bit cautious. Most people will be quite peaceful and nice.
- Hidden hip bag — There are thin hip bags which you can carry underneath your pants. They’re great for money or for your passport. I even put my smartphone into it at times (which makes it safe but more difficult to access).
- Decoy wallet — I have never been robbed in Madagascar but my parents have. A common advice is for you to keep a wallet with a little bit of money in it that you can hand out to any robbers while most of your money is in your hip bag.
- Money belt — There are money belts that look like regular belts but you can hide money in them. I think they are a great invention and I had one with me but didn’t use it because I never wore any pants that could use a belt.
- Copy of your passport — Keep a copy of your passport somewhere. They won’t be accepted by police if you happen to get checked at a checkpoint. But if your passport gets stolen or lost, it may help to have a copy.
- Simple plastic bags — When I need to carry some smaller valuables, I like to put them into a cheap plastic bag (those green or pink ones). It looks like you just have some food in there so people usually don’t suspect anything.
- Padlock — I didn’t need it but I suppose it could get handy if you need to lock your things somewhere.
Money and Traveling
- Visa — Most banks will allow you to withdraw money using your Visa credit card. MasterCard is only accepted at some banks. Debit cards (e.g. Maestro) typically don’t work. Withdrawing money like that will probably give you the best exchange rate and it’s the most comfortable method. So know your PIN. Unfortunately, the limit at the ATMs is very low (e.g. 50 EUR) so you have to take multiple rounds. The biggest bills (in 2019) are worth 5 EUR (20,000 Ar) so you’ll end up with a whole pile of bills. There is usually a security guard around.
- Cash — Bring some cash for backup, just in case. I had 200 EUR with me. You’ll also need money during immigration for your visa (they accept USD and EUR). It was 35 EUR per person in 2019.
- Flight info — You’ll want to keep your flight information somewhere (e.g. your booking code) so you can check in online for the return flight. Sometimes, immigration officers will want to see proof of your return flight so it helps to have a printout of your flight information in your carry-on baggage.
- Travel insurance info — If you ever need to make use of your travel insurance, you’ll want to have their information handy as they usually need to be notified in case of emergencies.
- Baggage scale — Airlines are quite strict about the weight of your checked in baggage. A small scale will help you avoid trouble at the airport.
- Sunscreen — Definitely bring and use sunscreen! The sun can be brutal at times.
- Small napsack — This is good for longer walks.
- Earplugs — I find them great for long flights but you may also get into a situation in Madagascar where it’s very loud at night.
- Washcloth — Useful for when the only “shower” you have is a bucket full of cold water.
- Food — There is always enough food around. You won’t starve. On the contrary. But here are some things that we brought to Madagascar and why:
- Nutella — Breakfast at hotels is usually baguette or toast, butter, and jam. If you prefer Nutella (or peanut butter, for example), bring it along yourself.
- Salami sticks — These last for a long time and if you find yourself getting very hungry on a long trip and there’s nothing around (again, not very likely), you could eat them.
- Dark chocolate — My mom likes to mix them with bananas in case of diarrhea.
- Medical supplies — I covered malaria related items above. The other major problem will be diarrhea. Almost everyone gets it in Madagascar. It can be relatively benign or it can be quite bad (see also my travel tips for more information). Here’s what we had to combat it:
- Iberogast — There’s no proof that this really works but some people swear by it. It’s up to you. It definitely won’t heal you from a major diarrhea attack. We use it as our first line of defense, at the first signs of diarrhea.
- Tannacomp — As our second line of defense, we had some good experience with this, but not always. It has no noticeable side effects so you can try it.
- Antibiotics (e.g. Ciprofloxacin) — This is hard stuff and you should not take this unless it’s very very bad, i.e. with blood. Last line of defense.
- Electrolytes — Always useful if you’re losing a lot of fluid.
- Thermometer — You may need to check if you have fever.
- Ibuprofen — This is for fever but also for pain. I never needed it during my travels.
- Nasal spray — If you have a cold, this can help you get through the flight.
- Face mask — I didn’t use this but the dust and pollution is sometimes so strong that you may want to wear a mask if you spend a long time in such an area.
- Books etc. — Anything to pass the time.