Madagascar Travel Tips

These are my own top ten tips for travelling in Madagascar. There’s no guarantee that these will help you survive there. Please consult an official travel guide in addition to this. Also, some of it may vary according to your preference and lifestyle.

  1. For most of you, forget about the super-comfortable trip in an airconditioned bus that takes you to all major sites in Madagascar (although they have become somewhat more common in recent years). Forget about public transit and roads without holes. You will sit among thirty to fifty Malagasy in a small truck that’s fully packed, going from A to B on dirty and bumpy roads for hours. You will encounter all kinds of bad smells - but don’t worry, at 35°C, you will develop your own very bad smell. This being said, I believe it’s still the best way to travel this country.
  2. Get all agreements in writing where money is involved. Always inquire about all supplementary costs (e.g. food for the driver, gas) and have those written down, too. Never pay everything up front. If required, pay in rates, for example one fourth of the amount at the end of each day on a four-day trip. Still, expect to get into hourly discussions afterwards. People will ask for money even if all appeared to be settled before.
  3. Never drink tap water and don’t buy any deep fried food offered in the streets, unless you want to be knocked out by diarrhea for a few days. Take some medicine with you for that case (see packing list for details).
  4. Always wash your hands before eating, with soap. Do not drink river water or anything you don’t know. You can buy water (e.g. Eau Vive, Olympico, etc.) in almost every store. If you have diarrhea and your pills don’t work, go to the closest hospital, especially if there are known outbreaks of cholera.
  5. Try to minimize your chances of catching malaria. See the packing list for details. Try not to be stung by mosquitos, i.e. wear long sleeves in the evening and put some anti-mosquito spray on all exposed body parts at night. If you get strong fever, go to a local hospital. Typically, in the capital, there is not much malaria. I’d still suggest taking your medicine during the entire trip to be on the safe side.
  6. Try to arrive in a town early so you can find a place to stay (unless you already have one).
  7. Be aware of women who want to wash your feet (kidding!).
  8. Put your expensive camera in a cheap plastic bag when walking around. Dress down. Look like you belong. There are white people who live in Madagascar.
  9. You must learn to refuse and say “No!”. People will ask you for money everywhere, some will pretend to be your friend. If you can’t refuse, there goes your money and the people will expect it from the next tourist.
  10. Don’t worry about people who want to shake your hand. They’re just excited to see someone like you.
  11. Learn French.
  12. Have fun!