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Madagascar offers a wealth of wildlife, hiking, scenery and beaches. Visitors to this African island are able to drive to any number of wildlife reserves and national parks, six of which have been named World Heritage sites. Due to its unique ecosystem and wildlife, Madagascar has been dubbed as the ‘eighth continent’ by many scientists.
Driving in Madagascar can be tricky as less than 15 per cent of the roads are paved and even some of the paved roads are in poor condition. Hiring a car with a local driver is the best way to see the sights safely.
Driving licences: an International Driving Permit is required.
Which side does Madagascar drive on: the right.
Urban areas: 30mph (50kph)
Alcohol limits: the same as in the UK, at 0.08 per cent. Those caught driving above this limit risk having their car seized on the spot and a hefty fine.
Driving age: 23 years to hire a car and must have held their licence for at least one year.
Seatbelts: are required to be worn by all passengers by law. However, there are no laws with regards to child safety seats.
Mobile phones and GPS: using mobile phones, even those equipped with hands-free devices, is illegal while driving. GPS is allowed but may not be reliable.
Cost of fuel in Madagascar: cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are not widely accepted at petrol pumps, especially those outside major cities such as Tana. Paying for fuel in cash is expected. Car hire companies usually require a credit card.
Insurance: when hiring a car, insurance is generally included in the cost. Drivers should consider taking out excess insurance to cover any mishaps that basic insurance may not protect against.
Traffic and parking: when parking in the large cities of Madagascar, it is advisable to park in a secure location and to never leave valuables in the car. Antananarivo sees frequent congestion.
There are four main train lines in Madagascar. The train connecting Fianarantsoa and Manakara operates approximately three times per week. The cost of this trip is about £7. There are also trains connecting Antsirabe and Tomasina via Antananarivo (Tana) and Mormanga. Trains also connect Tana with Ambatondrazak via Mormanga at fares of around £6.00. While trains in Madagascar offer spectacular views, they are neither the fastest nor the most comfortable form of transport.
Taxis are readily available in the large cities and towns. The cost of a taxi ride is approximately £2 in the big cities and about half this amount in the smaller towns. Passengers should not be surprised if their driver opts to pick up other passengers en route. Another popular method of getting around cities such as Tana is taxi-be. These minivans run frequent routes around cities, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way.
Most of the buses in Madagascar are actually taxi-brousses, which connect cities and towns throughout the island. Taxi-brousses are large cars that fit nine or more people at a time, minivans or even small buses. They are an inexpensive way to travel, with the route from Tana to Tamatave costing around £6. However, when taking this form of transportation, expect long delays as departure occurs only when the taxi is full. There is now a more traditional form of bus originating in Tana and servicing many tourist destinations. It is operated by Madasmile. The cost of tickets ranges from £20 to £25 depending on the route.
Mauritius Shipping operates an international ferry service between Mauritius and Reunion that stops in Toamasina, Madagascar. The cost of a first-class ticket for this trip is approximately £170. In terms of domestic ferries, when travelling by car, travellers will often have to take a ferry to cross major river points. Be advised that these ferries are known to run irregularly.
The main airport in Madagascar is Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo. Most UK flights fly into Antananarivo via Paris (Charles de Gaulle and Orly), France. The best connections are with Air France, Air Madagascar or Corsair. UK travellers with a passport valid for six months after the date of entry are able to enter visa-free for a stay of no longer than 30 days. Those requiring a visa on entry need to pay in US dollars or euro. The airport serves several domestic airports via national carrier Air Madagascar.
The majority of visitors to Madagascar begin their travels in the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Antananarivo, which is more commonly known as Tana. Here, you will find busy markets, the jewellery district, the Prime Minister’s ancient palace and excellent views of the city from one of the many hills surrounding it.
However, your Madagascar adventure won’t really begin until you leave this busy city. Heading west of Tana, you will find the coastal city of Morondava, a nice alternative to Tana and an excellent base from which to see other sights nearby, such as Tsingy de Bemaraha to the north. This UNESCO site is Madagascar’s largest reserve. To the south of Morondava is a newer national park, Kirindy Mite National Park.
Still in the northwest are the beautiful island beaches of Nosy Iranja and Nosy Be. It is on these islands that you will find hawksbill turtles and some of the best swimming in the area. There are more islands located on the opposite side of the country. In the Indian Ocean are the islands of Ile aux Nattes and Ile Sainte Marie, which offer some of the best whale-watching experiences in the world.
The west and southwest of Madagascar are characterised by hot temperatures in the summer and comfortable temperatures accompanied by blue skies in the winter. The average temperature in the coastal areas is around 30°C and 25°C on the plateau. In the highlands, such as in Tana, temperatures typically drop to 10°C or lower in the winter. The rainy season usually runs from November through April and should be avoided.