Before You Go

COSTS of Living

Madagascar is a relatively inexpensive destination, in a moderate hotel, a main course meal would cost approximately €8, a glass of house wine would be € 3    and beer would cost around € 2   for a large bottle.

Art and craft objects are also exceptionally inexpensive including high quality products; depending on your bargaining skills.

Tipping is not regarded as obligatory in Madagascar, although this is slowly changing as more tourists arrive, The hardest question is how much to pay guides , drivers…people who provide  you with a service or who have spent several days with you and given excellent service. A guideline is to pay about €4 per day.

In a restaurant, a service charge is added to most meals so tipping is not strictly necessary though waiters in tourist hotels now expect it. About 10% is ample.

Before you give a dollar or an Euro to the doorman for carrying your bag from the taxi to the hotel lobby, please bear in mind that salaries are very low in Madagascar, so unless you have received an exceptional service, we recommend not to over-tip.

LUGGAGE

A soft bag or backpack is more practical than a hard suitcase. Backpackers should consider buying a rucksack with zipped compartments to enclose the straps when using them for flights. A cheaper option is to roll the straps up and securely fasten them with insulating tape. A backpack with untidy straps is otherwise regarded as bulky luggage and may cause problems. Also bring a light, foldable nylon bag for taking purchases home, and the largest permissible bag to take as hand baggage on the plane. Pack this with everything you need for the first four days or so (security restrictions permitting).Lost or delayed luggage is then less of a catastrophe.

CLOTHES

Before deciding what clothes to pack, take a look at our climate section. There is quite a difference between summer and winter temperatures, particularly in the highlands and south where it is distinctly cold at night between May and September. A fleece jacket or a body-warmer (down vest) is useful in addition to a light sweater. In June and July a scarf (muffler) can give much needed extra warmth. At any time of the year it will be hot during the day in low-lying areas and it gets very hot between October and March. Layers of clothing, T-shirt –sweatshirt, light sweater – are warm and versatile and take less room than a heavy sweater.

Don’t bring jeans; they are too heavy and too hot. Lightweight cotton or cotton mix trousers such as cargo trousers are much more suitable .Preferably with zipped pockets for security. At any time of year you need a light water proof jacket, and during the wet season, or if spending time in the rainforest, appropriate raingear and perhaps a small umbrella. A light cotton jacket is always useful for breezy evenings by the coast. Don’t forget a sunhat.

For footwear, trainers (running shoes) and sandals are usually all you need “Sport sandals” which strap securely to the feet are better than flip-flops. Hiking boots may be required in places like Ankarana, Andringitra, Tsingy of Bemaraha and Isalo but are not necessary for the main tourist circuits.

For the beachwear if you enjoy snorkeling, you may need an old pair of sneakers (or similar) to protect your feet from corals and sea urchins and a T-shirt and shorts to wear while in the water to prevent sunburn.

CHECKLIST

  • Passport and copy (plus the telephone number of your embassy)
  • Medical and dental kit, dental floss
  • Water bottle and water purifying tablets or other disinfecting agent.
  • Small torch (flashlight) with spare batteries and bulb, or head torch  
  • Penknife
  • Insects repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Lip salve
  • Adapter for two pin plugs
  • Travel alarm clock or alarm wristwatch.
  • Sewing kit, scissors, tweezers, safety pins, insulating tape or Sellotape, string.
  • Felt tip pen, ballpoint pen
  • A small note book & a large notebook for diary and letters home, envelopes, plastic bags.
  • Universal plug for baths and sinks.
  • Elastic clothes  line or cord and pegs
  • Concentrated detergent.
  • Ear  plugs
  • Spare glasses or contact lenses, sun glasses
  • Compact binoculars
  • Camera and film
  • Miniature playing cards
  • Scrabble /pocket chess set.

ELECTRICITY

Mostly 127/220Volts, 50 Hz, other time 110or380 volts Plugs are two-pin

OFFICE HOURS

Mon- Fri 08h00am-04h00pm

LOCAL TIME

Three hours ahead of GMT (GMT+3)

LANGUAGE

  • Malagasy is the native language
  • French is the most commonly spoken official language.

FOOD & DRINKS

Eating well is one of the delights of Madagascar, and even the fussiest tourists are usually happy with the food. International hotels serve international food, usually with a French bias, and often do special Malagasy dishes. Lodges and smaller hotels serve local food which is almost always excellent, particularly on the coast where lobster (crayfish), shellfish and other seafood predominates. Meat lovers will enjoy the zebu steaks (local beef), although they are usually tougher than what we are used to (free-range meat usually is).Outside the capital, most hotels offer a set menu to their guests. This usually costs between € 5 (lower end) and €10 (upper end).

The national dish in Madagascar is romazava (pronounced”roomazahv”) a meat and vegetable stew, spiced with ginger and containing a kind of tasty, tongue-tingling spinach. Another good local dish is ravitoto (pronounced “raftoot”) shredded manioc leaves with fried beef and coconut.

The Malagasy eat a lot of rice, but most restaurants cater for foreign tastes by providing chips (French fries).Away from the tourist routes, however, most dishes are accompanied by a sticky mound of rice. Along with the meat or fish and inevitable mound of rice comes a bowl of stock. This is spooned over the rice or drunk as a soup.

There is a great variety of fruit and vegetable; even in the smallest market. A selection of fruit is served in most restaurants, along with raw vegetables or “crudités” what means salad. From June to August the fruit is mostly limited to citrus and banana, but from September onwards there are also strawberries, mangoes, litchis, pineapples and loquats. Slices of coconut are sold everywhere, but especially on the coast where coconut milk is popular and a safe drink.

Thirst is quenched with ranovola (pronounced ranoovool) obtained by boiling water in the pan in which the rice was cooked. It has a slight flavor of burnt rice, and since it has been boiled for several minutes it is safe to drink.

Excellent coffee is usually served at the end of the meal in French restaurants, but if you drink it white, you’ll have to learn to love condensed milk.

The most popular local-brand of Malagasy beer is “Three Horses Beer” (known as THB) and “Gold”, which is slightly stronger and more flavorsome. The most common import brand is “Castle” from South Africa.

Most bars and restaurant have an array of glass flasks behind the bar filled with rhum arrange rum in which a variety of fruits and spices have been left to steep. Nearly all of them have an alcohol content that will blow your socks off. The best cocktail is punch au coco, with a coconut –milk base, a specialty of the coastal areas. Yummy!!!

Madagascar produces its own wine in the Fianarantsoa region, and some is very good. Lazan’i Betsileo (gris, rouge, reserve) is recommended, making good present to take home.

VEGETARIANS &VEGANS

Vegetarians shouldn’t have too much of a problem in Madagascar, Even though French restaurants rarely cater specifically for veggies, the menu always includes salads and pasta dishes, small local hotelys are usually happy to whip up some noodles  soups and rice with  greens. Finding non-animal protein could be a problem for vegans, as beans are not widely available in Madagascar.

DANGERS & ANNOYANCES

Travelling throughout Madagascar is not inherently dangerous. Petty theft is the main risk – do not keep your valuables in a pack or external money belt, and watch your pockets when in crowded areas. To avoid getting into trouble with the police, carry your passport with you at all times (a photocopy will not be sufficient but can be left in the hotel/car in case the passport is stolen). It is not advisable to wear long dangling jewellery as it is easy to be ripped off. Some areas along the coast are subject to danger from sharks and strong currents. Make sure to seek local advice before heading into the water. Mosquitoes are ubiquitous and malaria occurs here – wear insect repellent, especially at dawn and dusk.

A combination of overcrowded, unroadworthy vehicles and reckless drivers makes travelling by taxi-brousse (bush taxi/minibus) potentially hazardous. To minimise the risks, try to avoid night travel if possible.

SOLO TRAVELLERS

Travelling alone in Madagascar poses few safety problems, provided you use commonsense such as avoiding unlit streets in bigger cities after dark. The main disadvantage of travelling solo is financial, single rooms in hotels or guesthouses are uncommon and you will invariably end up paying for a double room. You can expect to pay very high rates for organized tours if you are on your own, so it’s best to find fellow travelers to share costs.

FEMALE TRAVELLERS

Most women do not feel threatened or insecure in any way when travelling in Madagascar. Hospitality and kindness to strangers is firmly entrenched in the culture. Traveling in a group, saying you are married and dressing modestly are all ways to minimize problems.

Physical harassment and violent crime are very rare and in fact male travelers face far more pestering from the hordes of prostitutes who frequent almost every disco.

Bring your own female hygiene articles as they are hard to find outside the capital.

CHILDREN

Madagascar is a reasonably hard place to travel with young children, so junior travellers are a fairly rare sight. Disposable nappies are available in Antananarivo’s supermarkets, but are hard to find elsewhere. Many hotels provide chambres familiales (family rooms) or double rooms with an extra single bed for parents with children.

DUTY FREE

The following goods can be imported into Madagascar without incurring customs duty by persons 21 years of age and over:

• 500 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 500g of tobacco.
• One bottle of alcoholic beverage.

Note: All perfume is subject to duty. All vegetables must be declared and import permit received before travel. Animals need a detailed veterinary certificate. Dogs and cats must be vaccinated against rabies. Arms and ammunition require an exit permit. Tourists should be aware that many items on sale may have been manufactured illegally and may not be taken out of the country, with or without a permit!

Restricted items: The import and export of all foodstuffs (including fruit), live plants(including vanilla), mounted insects, tortoiseshell, fragment of Aepyornis( elephant bird) , eggshell, precious stones(in export quantities only), jewellery; antique coins; fossils; funeral art and antiquities. Only 100g of vanilla may be taken out of Madagascar. Non-residents can export 1kg of precious and semi precious stones, as long as proper receipts can be provided; residents are permitted to take out 250g.For more detailed information, check the Malagasy customs web site: http://www.douanes.gov.mg/en

SHOPPING

Handicrafts include lamba” (traditional squares of cloth in various designs and woven materials); zafimaniny marquetry”, intricate wood inlays applied to furniture, chessboards and boxes; silverwork such as mahafaly” crosses and vangovango” bracelets; jewellery made from shells and precious stones; items woven from reeds, raffia and straw; “antemoro paper” decorated with dried flowers; and embroidery. All products incorporating Malagasy flora or fauna (including dried flowers) often require export permits.