Instead of spending forever to write a novel telling everyone about our recent trip to Madagascar, we decided to break it into three parts. Travelling to and around this island brought us some interested experiences and stories so we’ll share those with you this week. Next we’ll tell you all about the amazing Racing the Planet roving race that we competed in with a detailed race report. And finally we’ll showcase some of the highlights of the trip including finding the popular lemurs of Mada, visiting a crazy inspiring orphanage establishment, and taking on some remote and unreal rock climbing up in Diego Suarez! Hope you enjoy:)
During our four week trip to this beautiful island of lemurs, we experienced just about all forms of travel Madagascar has to offer. From haggling with a tuk tuk driver trying to get greedy with a couple Canadian tourists, to jumping on the expensive and unreliable domestic flights offered by Air Madagascar, we want to share some tips, funny stories or useful travel insights for anyone who might want to explore this diamond in the rough destination.
Flying into Madagascar –>
It’s true what they say about most African countries, your airfare to get there will likely be the most expensive part of your travels. Departing from western Canada, we were looking at 28 hours of travel time each way, and just about the most expensive country to fly to anywhere in the world. Almost all the flights into the country will go through the capital, Antananarivo, and what a place this airport is. Just be ready for slow moving lines, pushy taxi drivers, and you may even be asked for a bribe when going through security on your way out. By our last day there, we actually had a conversation something along the lines of “I actually think that the employees at this airport spend more time thinking of how to get a tip or bribe, than they do what their next task in their actual job should be!” Luckily the rest of the country doesn’t follow this pattern.
Taxi’s and Tuk Tuk’s in Madagascar –>
These can be fun, in an odd kind of way. They are no meters in the vehicles, pretty much all of their spedometers are broken, and most drivers have no problem asking you if you’re fine if they pick up more passengers to squeeze in with you. Its somewhat entertaining watching how some of these things are still even on theroad and operating. On the one side, most of the drivers drive in quite a safe manner and are polite so you feel safe taking them, even at night. The flip side is they will often see a tourist as a cash grab, so whenever possible ask a local or an ex pat how much your taxi ride should be.
Taxi Brousse’s in Madagascar –>
These range anywhere from a large sized van to a minibus. Somehow though, the same number fits in all, haha. If you’re going for a longer ride, and have the luxury of getting on one of the premium vans with a company like Cotisse, then we’d say spring for the extra few bucks, because you’ll be significantly more comfortable. Sometimes however you’re options are limited and you just want to get going to you’ll have to squeeze. Most of these rides won’t put you back more than 5, 10 or 20 bucks, to get pretty much anywhere in the country. Where you’ll take the hit is with time, as they can only go as fast as the brutal roads will allow, so you could spend the better part of a day in a cramped bus if you’re going far. Highlights of a taxi brousse ride??? Seeing just how much stuff and the kinds of stuff they will stack and strap onto the tops of those things. I’ll admit they have it down to a science, but we’re talking, stacks of bags and mattresses, cages with live chickens, even full sized moped scooters, if someone can lift it then it can be strapped to a taxi brousse!!!
Taxi Bay –>
This is essentially the bus system in and around Antananarivo, yet you won’t find too many buses, in fact its mostly just taxi brousse vans again, but these ones are riding on their last limbs. If you can figure out where your going and what bus will get you there (maybe get a local to help you out) then this is a fun way to get around. Yes you will be packed in there even tighter than on a taxi brousse sometimes, but come on what can you expect when only paying the equivalent of a Canadian quarter for a ride. Fun fact??? While I regret never giving it a shot, this may be your chance of a lifetime to jump onto a moving bus, because when they see you running for it, sure they won’t take off, but they sure won’t stop! 😛
Air Madagascar –>
Let just start this one out with saying that these guys are lucky they have a lock on the market and are the only airline that offers domestic flights, because if there were any competitors, they might be going under pretty quick. Dispite paying the same amount or even more for a domestic flight here than what you’d pay in Canada, the service and reliability is on somewhat of a lower scale. We had the pleasure of two joyous flights on this air line, going to and from Diego Suarez from Antananarivo. As soon as we arrived into the airport in Tana, we were advised that our flight up north was delayed by an hour. No biggie with Air Madagascar, and in fact this is almost the norm, so we took with thinking that it could have been worse! This this next one is a gooder!!! So we board our flight from Diego Suarez back to Tana, we taxi out onto the runway, clench down and get ready for the miracle of human flight. The pilot guns it, the engines roar, our heads rock back into the headrests and we make it about halfway down the runway…. then the engines cut off, we slow to a crawl and taxi on back to the terminal. After an awfully akward taxi back with no word from the crew, the pilot finally says we have to empty the plane so they can fix a technical problem. So heres the kicker, after about half an hour in the airport (***Totally not long enough to have a technician actually come, diagnose the problem and fix it**) we board back on the plane and get ready for round 2. To this date, we are totally convinced that they just forgot to fill the thing with gas!! But we’ll never know for sure:P
Private vehicle in Madagascar –>
This is by far the most convenient form of transport, especially because most of the vehicle’s to hire are SUV’s which coast along the pot hole filled roads much smoother and quicker than buses., however this will definitely be the most expensive mode of transport available. For most vehicles, you must not only rent the vehicle but hire the driver to take you where you’d like to go. We never sprung for a private vehicle during our trip but were able to snag a ride with a fellow racer that we ran into surprisingly while we were searching for a way back to Tana from one of the National Parks. So we can vouch for saying how much quicker these can get you around.
Trains, railcars and boats of all sizes –>
These three options weren’t in our itineraries for this trip, but we did look into them a bit at different times. The boat trips on sailboats or powerboats are common along the coastal cities who offer scuba diving, snorkelling or other water activities and will sometimes include a stop on a small island for a lunch break! Trains and railcars (Yes Mada has a Michellin railcar!!) are limited but can be useful if they happen to lineup with your travel paths and schedules. They are affordable and can be a more comfortable option than a taxi-brousse, so visit Madarail to check schedules and routes.
Travelling around the little bit of Madagascar that we managed to see was to say the least, wild!!! The thing we loved was that every day was different, and almost every one of those days we had at least one thing happen where we could say “You don’t see that back in Canada!” Travelling around this country is relatively straight forward, offers lots of options to fit different budgets, but the only thing we will say is leave lots of time for hiccups. As the Malagasy like to say, they live a Mora Mora lifestyle, which essentially means slow and laid back!
So now if you’re in the midst of planning next years vacation consider visiting Madagascar to experience the culture, the people and the amazing land that makes up this wonderful island!