My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Understand
Antananarivo gets a bad reputation for its poor neighborhoods and rather unorganized appearance. However, this isolated island nation offers a fascinating slice of the world that can be explored as a real adventure, plus many areas of the capital can feel like a southern French city - just for one-third of the price tag.
Madagascar is VERY French-influenced and is more comparable to many Western African nations like Gabon or Cameroon. Malagasy is the official language, but a heavily accented French language is spoken typically. English is like a language from another planet that few ever heard of. Expect nobody to understand a simple yes or no.
Antananarivo (like most of Madagascar) typically is good or even great value. Expect to pay 40-70% less than in the US - often for similar quality. Keep in mind that this is a cash culture. You may see Visa or Mastercard signs, but somehow, the card reader terminals will always be broken...
The city of Antananarivo was likely planned out well and still has many of the French city amenities, but there is too little entrepreneurship to give this city (and country) a bigger boost.
Plan to go SLOW in Madagascar. Everything takes longer than expected. If you are in rush, this place will not be rewarding.
People are generally less friendly than what you'd expect in Africa (the standard of friendliness is generally high in Africa.) This might have to do with the French social norms or island fever. Generally, locals seem more closed off than you'd expect.
Antananarivo is a high plateau, like most of the interior Madagascar regions where it reaches about 4,500 ft. high. Summer (this is the southern hemisphere) brings most of the rain while the Winter is dry and cold.
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Get Around
Just to get started, almost all Google Maps markers are off in this city, often by several miles. Foursquare has the right locations but no reviews or pictures.
The city is split in the lower/middle and upper part of the town. The hills in between are steep and roads are often smothered with diesel fumes. Surprisingly, the middle part of the town is where you want to be.
Parts of Antananarivo are walk-able - the biggest issue is often the sheer lack of space as the city becomes a huge open-air market around lunch time and every square foot is a market stall. Traffic snarls usually and there is often no space to walk (there are sidewalks though usually.) Drivers are usually non-aggressive and drive slowly.
Local names are often impossible to pronounce as the Malagasy pronunciation differs much from what you'd expect as a French or English speaker. This makes it hard to communicate with anyone on where you are headed.
There is no working taxi app in town. Taxis are usually plentiful but they are almost always 60-ish years old and feel like they belong into a museum. Drivers are somewhat knowledgeable and friendly, and most rides are around $1-$5 in the city, depending on how you negotiate, the way you are dressed, and where the ride starts and ends.
You can rent a sedan-type car for about $40 per day, including a driver which is often a good idea to utilize in order to avoid the taxi drama. A 4x4 car will set you back to around $50-$60, but it gives you a chance to master the 'often dilapidated' roads without hitting your head on the ceiling.
There is a well organized, privately run system of Mercedes Sprinters that travel the city. If you speak excellent French and Malagasy and are adventurous, it is worth a shot. You'll only pay about 10 cents for a ride.
Traffic is usually heavy during work days - expect rides to take much longer than the short distance that a map suggests.
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Safety
The good news first - Madagascar is a stranger to terrorism. There is also very little politically motivated violence. Home incursions (invasions) and car-jackings are rare. That's where the good news ends.
The city is full of aggressive touts who try everything to separate you from your money. There are also plenty of pickpockets and more or less aggressive bands of child beggars all over the city. You will be treated as 'dollar on legs' constantly and you will be misled, mocked, and eventually become paranoid.
To make matters worse, the 'Tana is alive with people from sunrise to sunset, but come 6.30 PM, no local sets foot on any sidewalk. You might still be safe in a car, but that's a challenge on its own.
I took my usual precautions and wasn't concerned during the day when I walked the city, but I found it intimidating to do so at night.
Malaria is active in many parts of Madagascar and you should take precautions (mosquito spray, mosquito nets, and malaria prophylaxis). Also, make sure you get all recommended shots for Madagascar. Even the plague break out there from time to time!
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Connectivity
Surprisingly, Internet connections are generally fast - often VERY fast. Apartments usually provide 100 Mbit and most coffee shops provide 20-30 Mbit. T-Mobile now includes the area in its Simple Choice plan, but I used a local SIM card instead and found the LTE network in the city to be very fast and it was just about $3 for GB (pre-paid cards). That's a great value!
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Pollution
Pollution near roads is 'off the charts' as the air is laden with diesel exhaust fumes. Traffic is usually heavy during the day, especially on workdays. The good news - there is usually a strong breeze, especially during the evening hours that brings in fresh air from the countryside.
Many beaches near towns are heavily polluted.
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - See
Office du Tourisme
Like any good French town,the Office du Tourisme is right in the center (middle) of town. The friendly guides have plenty of helpful maps and they organize walking tours for 15k MGA per hour. I'd highly recommend that as you will less likely become insane from dealing with aggressive child beggars and the taxi mafia that approach you at every step.
Rova of Antananarivo/ Queens's Palace
This landmark is visible from most of the town. It was originally constructed by British missionaries and became the Royal Palace from the 17th century.
The entrance fee is just 10k MGA, which is clearly posted, but the highly aggressive guides will tell you otherwise and make it 40k MGA. I asked locals about it and found a way to enter before the official hours began - just 10k MGA. The site is explorable in less than 20 minutes, even if you go slow - the palace is empty after a devastating fire that occurred 20 years ago.
Kings Palace / Ambohimanga
About 15 miles northeast of the city is the Kings Palace, located on top of a hill in the countryside. The structures look more like Irkutsk than Africa, but the views over the countryside are amazing on a clear day. I liked the trip and views more than the rather dilapidated old palace structures.
Lac Anosy is a natural-made lake (with green water) that is located in the lower section of the town. It's rather calm there and you can walk around the eastern side from 8 am to 4 pm most of the time. If you bring 10k MGA extra, you can enter after 4 pm and have the whole park to yourself. What a peaceful experience!
This main, downtown market used to be held on Fridays only but is now open every day with most activity occurring from Monday until Friday. Almost anything you can think of is for sale here and there are plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits too. Secure yourvaluables while you explore this area and expect to see billions of flies devouring meat in the warm summer heat...
Just 13 miles from the city is the little Lemur Park that showcases all the native species of Lemurs (they all look quite different) in Madagascar.
The entrance fee is 35k MGA and it includes a one-hour guided tour. There isn't much to learn from your guide, but there are usually plenty of the Lemurs to see (something that can be rough in the wild.)
I hired a cab for 60k MGA for my return trip, but if you have a driver, you can easily make the trip in a few hours. It is ideal to do it on a weekend day.
In the middle of an industrial area that 'gives you nightmares,' the drive through the area is a wonderful oasis that consists of protected wetlands and a shopping mall plus a hotel. It does not look like much, but the area is lovely for a stroll (it comes with private security) or to check out the Tana Waterfront food court which has some reasonably good food and coffee to offer.
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Eat and Drink
I did not dare to venture into street food consumption in Antananarivo. While it sure looked appealing, the concept of hygiene simply does not exists in Madagascar markets. Therefore, you have been warned!
Sadly, Madagascar has no coffee culture and even at 'coffee shops,' you'll get an industrial coffee maker that pours espresso through a 'tab.'
Surprisingly, there are a number of upscale restaurants in 'Tana that would do well anywhere on the planet. However, the food is very cheap.
Bread Mafan is the brainchild of the owners of Sakamanga (see below.) It is a bakery that added another floor with plenty of natural light, comfy seating, and lightning-fast Internet. This is is the place to eat cheaply, but well, and drink decent coffee. This was my daily work oasis.
Nerone dishes out fresh and tasty, upscale Italian fine food. It also has a cozy, authentic Italian interior with a lovely view. Amazingly, you can dine well here for under $6 for a top-notch pizza and alcohol plus a small appetizer- amazing!
Carnivore has taken the concept of a Brazilian steakhouse to Antananarivo. But keep in mind that the owners and chef are French so it has a French spin to it. The setting is fantastic (just next door to Nerone) and the service includes very knowledgeable personnel. While there is an 'a la carte' menu, you're better off paying $11 for the 'all-you-can-eat' vegetables and meat. The meat was just ok - a bit too salty, but again, it was unlimited!
Including the wine and atip, you'll leave this place for under $20 spent - fantastic value!
In addition, there is fiber-optic Internet service if you get bored with all that food.
Arirang is hidden up on 'hipster hill' in Antananarivo. It provides good Korean dishes like Bibimbap or Korean Barbecue. Dishes are a bit more expensive for Antananarivo but still a great deal.
Buffet du Jardin
Buffet du Jardin has a lovely setting right at Place de l'Indépendancewith a huge outdoor patio under blossoming trees. The food is inexpensive and French/Malagasy - I liked the presentation and quality.
Lokanga is in Haute Ville - quite far out but has a fantastic view from the terrace for your sunset. Come for a beer or have one of the signature dishes - I had an 'unbundled 'burrito for just $7.
This is a hidden gem in the compound world of Ivandry. It's hard to find and is at the bottom of a steep hill. However, I loved the fresh Middle-Eastern food that was healthy and cheap. Great find!
My favorite ... Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Where to Stay
Sakamanga/ Hotel de Ribaudiere
Both hotels have hardcore fans who would go nowhere else. They offer tiny rooms that come with a great atmosphere and modern amenities for a rather low price tag. Sakamanga has a cool pool area where you are sure to meet other travelers returning from theirMadagascar adventure.
Secret Garden is a bed and breakfast up on top of Haute Ville with fantastic views. It's a little remote from exploring other parts of the city. Every room has a fireplace and the rooms look like they're straight from an interior design magazine photo shoot and the Internet is lightning-fast here too. The downside - the water pressure is minimal. Safety outside is a problem and it is expensive for what you get plus I found the location very noisy.
The Central Hotel is in a rough location near the market. During the day, traffic comes to a total standstill. However, it is very cheap, has nice rooms (the ones looking into the back are quiet) that feel more like a Hyatt Place than a 3-star hotel. The rooftop terrace has a wonderful view over the city, but no alcohol is served there.
I detailed my impressions of the Carlton Hotel here. If you have time to use the gorgeous outdoor pool and the well-equipped gym, come here. The hotel is old, but the rooms are quiet and equipped with modern bathrooms.
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - Road Trips
Madagascar's roads are generally single lane and in a desperate state, typically. Many areas don't have paved roads at all so a 4x4 car and a knowledgeable driver will help. Also, keep in mind that almost all roads (like in France) lead to Antananarivo - you always have to come back before you go to another part of the island.
Air Madagascar is the monopolized, domestic airline and airfares are extremely high and there are outrageous airport taxes for every departure, including domestic. To make matters worse, you have to wait in line for a few hours to book tickets and the airline has a reputation known as 'Air Maybe' with random cancellations and massive delays.
Now, there is a discount airline called Tsaradiathat is 100% owned by Air Madagascar and fares are more reasonable at just $120 one-way (half of that is a tax) for the typical ATR72 one-hour flight.
Toliara and Southern Madagascar
The southern coast has a reputation for having great beaches, relaxed locals, and low-cost hotels. On the way there, you can see Isalo National Park and Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park that is full of wildlife. I'd plan about a week for the drive to the southern end and you should plan for just as long to explore the southern shores.
You can go as far as the Faux Cape and experience the rough seas that often occur on the eastern/southern shores of Madagascar.
Morondava (Avenue of the Baobabs)
Morondava is known for its huge alleys of Baobab trees along the Morondava and Belon'i Tsiribihina dirt road. The drive will still take about two days to get there and the area is known for attacks on tourists. Check the local advisories before you go and join a local caravan with a police escort to be on the safe side.
Make a little detour and you can stop by Kirindy Mitea National Park.
Since driving is so slow plan at least a week for this trip from 'Tana.
Nosy Be is known for its lovely beaches, similar to what you can find in Mayotte and Comoros. Nosy Be is the most expensive section of Madagascar, with most resorts charging international rates. There are no US chains present as of right now, making point redemptions difficult.
Most visitors choose to fly to Nosy Be, but if you drive, you can go around Northern Madagascar all the way to Antalaha. Note that there is no connecting road from Antalaha to Taomasina, besides going back to Antananarivo.
Driving to Antalaha and Nosy Be only makes sense if you have at least 2-3 weeks to spend for just the road trip alone. Since flying is a good option for Nosy Be, you can do it just for a few days.
Thomasina and the Eastern Shores
This is another great route once you pass the Andasibe National Park. You can venture to Taomasina (Madagascar's second biggest town) and the 'more rewarding' coast that is north of there. St Marie island gets rave feedback, but it is pretty remote and transportation to/from the island is very unreliable!
Plan at least 10 days for this trip to actually see the island of St Marie.