My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar
My favorite 22 Things To Do Antananarivo, Madagascar - UnderstandAntananarivo 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 AroundJust 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 - SafetyThe 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 - ConnectivitySurprisingly, 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 - PollutionPollution 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 - SeeOffice 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 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! Analakely Markets 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 your valuables while you explore this area and expect to see billions of flies devouring meat in the warm summer heat... Lemur ParkJust 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.
Tana Waterfront 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.