What comes to mind when you think of Madagascar, the tiny island country off the west coast of East Africa? The baobab trees, coffee, chocolate, lemurs, and definitely the famous DreamWorks movie Madagascar (we love the song ‘I like to move it’, don’t you?). However, did you know that it is also the third-largest island in the world (almost the size of France!) and 90% of the wildlife in Madagascar cannot be found anywhere else on Earth?! We think that’s enough to make a visit — a virtual one for now.
We browsed through hundreds of posts on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Tripadvisor, and travel blogs, in order to curate a 36-hour itinerary (format inspired by The New York Times). Bon, voyage!
36 Hours in Madagascar
9:00 AM: History Through Photographs
Learn more about Madagascar through its history at the Musée de la Photographie de Madagascar (entrance fee is 10,000 MGA — i.e. about £2.20). Sitting atop a hill with great views of the city and a lovely cafe to grab a bite, the museum boasts of a superb collection of old photographs that give a glimpse of the past.
11.00 AM: Spot Herons & Egrets
Visit Parc de Tsarasaotra — a dreamy hidden park and oasis amidst a concrete jungle. Spot hundreds of egrets and herons, but also ducks, butterflies and if you’re lucky- the Madagascar Kingfisher.
1:00 PM: Devour French Food
5:00 PM: Visit A Crater
9:00 PM: Malagasy Dinner
Unwind at Le Petit Verdot known for its Malagasy (and French) fare and a great selection of wine.
10.00 AM: Ranomafana National Park
Kickstart the morning with a visit to the famous Ranomafana National Park. Located in the Southeastern part of Madagascar in Haute Matsiatra and Vatovavy-Fitovinany, it has over 41,600 hectares of tropical rainforest and is home to the most exotic flora and fauna, as are many other parts of this magical country. Spot the golden bamboo lemur, the greater bamboo lemur, the black and white ruffed lemur, and a tonne of other interesting creatures.
If you prefer visiting somewhere closer, head to Lemur’s Park in Antananarivo.
1.00 PM: Eat Like A Local
Enjoy a relaxing lunch at Hotel Grenat, the best hotel near the national park with a view of the river. Don’t forget to try the zebu meat- a local specialty!
3.00 PM: Cultural Immersion at the Market
As avid travelers and street photographers would tell you, a visit to the local market wherever you go (especially in Asia and Africa) is a must and the best way to get a feel of the local way of life. Spend the afternoon mingling with the locals, take a walk around the marketplace, taste local fruit and snacks, pick up some souvenirs, capture some memories on your camera, and simply observe your surroundings.
Finally, make your way back to Antananarivo (approx. 7 hours away).
Given the distances and limited ease of travel between places, 36 hours is definitely not enough to get a taste of Madagascar. In this spirit, here are a few interesting places we found that couldn’t be accommodated in this 36-hour itinerary, but hopefully you’ll be able to visit if you have more time on your hands:
The Avenue of the Baobabs is a must-visit in Morondava, Madagascar!
The Tsingy-Rouge at Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is yet another visual (and experiential) treat.
Spot a humpback whale at Sainte-Marie — it’s sure to be an exhilarating experience! The island also has a pirate cemetery which acts as the resting place of dozens of notorious pirates — would you dare visit?
Madagascar isn’t the easiest place to visit if you’re a solo traveler or on a budget — there’s limited tourist infrastructure and information, public transport is difficult (they don’t go to many cities and national parks) and, therefore, going around can be expensive. Either way, set forth by yourself if you know French (English isn’t very common here) and are open to a rugged adventure, otherwise, it’s best to sign up for a tour with a local travel company and let them handle all the logistics.
How to get there
Madagascar is not the easiest place to get to. Antananarivo Airport is the main airport, and there’s only one daily flight from Johannesburg, one Air France flight from Paris, and only Turkish, Kenyan, and Ethiopian Airlines flights that connect to other destinations.
Where to stay
Tamboho Boutik Hotel or Hotel Sakamanga are great options for travelers. Hotel Thermal Ranomafama in Ranomafama National Park is recommended if you want to stay near the national park. Accommodation, in general, can be a bit expensive for budget travelers, with few hostels around.
Organized tours are the most common way to visit the country. A private taxi is the best way to go around (albeit expensive- approx. costs $50 USD a day) as public transport has limited routes (and no fixed schedule).
When to go
April to December is the best time to visit Madagascar as January to March is the rainy season and the region often experiences cyclones.
Ariary (MGA) is the official currency of Madagascar.
Follow our Virtual Travel series on Quilt.AI!