Evolution has occurred more or less in isolation on this remote island – located 400 kilometres off Africa’s east coast – with the result that much of its indigenous wildlife is found nowhere else on earth. Madagascar’s menagerie of weird and wonderful creatures includes the world’s biggest and smallest chameleons and over 70 species of lemur – long-tailed primates endemic to the island. The Madagascan landscape is no less compelling than the resident wildlife, with terrain ranging from lush jungles and palm-fringed beaches to the knife-edged karst tsingys of the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park’s ‘stone forests’. Madagascar is an otherworldly paradise where visitors are offered a unique glimpse into a fantastical one-of-a-kind world.
Banking and Currency
The official currency of Madagascar since 2005 is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA), which has been reintroduced to replace the Malagasy franc. One Ariary (Ar) is divided into 5 iraimbilanja, which turns it to one of the two circulating currencies with a non decimal division in the world.
There are banknotes of 10,000 MGA, 5,000 MGA, 2,000 MGA, 1,000 MGA, 500 MGA, 200 MGA and 100 MGA. There are even coins from 1 up to 50 Ar. The one of 50 Ar is very beautiful and has baobabs carved on it.
Banks are normally open from 08h00 to 12h00 and 14h00 to 15h30 weekdays.
Credit cards (the most useful credit card is VISA CARD) are only accepted in large hotels, restaurants and some shops, mainly in Antananarivo. In the other big cities, you can get cash from Automatic Cash Machines (ATM) only with VISA CARDS. There’s now also an ATM at the airport in Antananarivo. Don’t rely on ATM machines only; they are often out of order. Keep some cash in Euro for emergencies.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Madagascar is a huge place, the roads are bad and travel times long: it takes 24 hours of solid driving from Antananarivo (Tana) to Diego Suarez (Antsiranana), 18 to Tuléar (Toliara), 16 to Morondava and so on. Be realistic about how much ground you want to cover or you’ll spend every other day in the confines of a vehicle!
Internal flights can be huge time savers but they are expensive and do no good to your carbon footprint. If you decide to fly, you’ll have to choose between booking your flight before setting off, which is more expensive but guarantees availability, or booking once in Madagascar, which is cheaper but less flexible in terms of timing.
Taxi-brousse (bush taxi) is the main public transport: slow, uncomfortable, cheap and omnipresent. Private vehicle and driver is a great but dearer alternative.
Due to the often difficult driving conditions, most rental agencies make hiring a driver compulsory with their vehicles. Driving in Madagascar is on the right-hand side. Police checkpoints are frequent (mind the traffic spikes on the ground) – always slow down and make sure you have your passport and the vehicle’s documents handy.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Madagascar’s cuisine is traditionally based on rice, that are served with some kind of dressings, vegetables, meat and spicy seasoning. Malagasy enjoy very spicy food, therefore many dishes are prepared with hot peppers or any other spices. The dishes are usually flavored with garlic, ginger, onion or curry, whereas desserts are flavored with vanilla.
Drinking tap water isn't recommended in Madagascar. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water. Most hotels have drinking water available. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
Climate and Weather
Any time of year is fine for a visit except from January to March, when heavy rainfall in many areas can make some roads all but impassable, and when there’s a high risk of cyclones in the east and northeast. In general, the best time to travel in most areas is April and October/November. The coolest time to travel anywhere is during the dry season (May to October), but during this time the hauts plateaux (central highlands; which include Antananarivo) can get cold and windy, with freezing showers.
The west and southwest get searingly hot during summer, but the winter months in these regions are pleasant, with blue skies, cooler temperatures and little rain. Most rain in the northeast falls from July to September.
Average maximum temperatures vary from about 30°C in coastal areas (higher in summer) to around 25°C on the hauts plateaux. In Antananarivo and other highland areas, temperatures during winter can drop to 10°C and even lower during the night.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
To cope with the Madagascan climate, lightweights should be worn during the summer on high central plateaux and throughout the year in the north and south. Cotton and natural fibres work better in this sweaty weather. Warmer clothes are advised for during the evenings and winter in mountainous areas. Rainwear is advisable as a precaution.
Internet cafes are found in some of the larger cities like Antsirabe, Fianarantsoa and Antananarivo. Smaller towns and remote areas will have far less access, so prepare to disconnect when travelling out of urban centres.
Electricity and Plug Standards
In Madagascar, the two-pronged plug and the European standard socket are the most used with a tension of 220 volts (but it may go down to 170 volts in some areas at peak times)