Win a trip to Sydney
& New South Wales >
Landscape of Nosy Iranja, Madagascar

Madagascar Travel Guide

Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, is a true paradise for adventurous travellers. Explore its unparalleled biodiversity as you venture through lush rainforests, encounter fascinating wildlife, and witness breathtaking landscapes. From the iconic baobab trees to the otherworldly rock formations of Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar's natural wonders will leave you spellbound. Discover the diverse wildlife, including lemurs found nowhere else on Earth, as you trek through national parks like Andasibe-Mantadia and Ranomafana. Dive into the crystal-clear waters along the coastline, teeming with vibrant coral reefs and a myriad of marine life, making it a paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers alike.

The rich cultural heritage of Madagascar is equally captivating. Immerse yourself in the rhythms of traditional Malagasy music and dance, and experience the warm hospitality of the local communities. Explore the charming coastal towns of Morondava and Ifaty, known for their colourful markets and laid-back atmosphere. Delve into the fascinating history of the island by visiting the royal palace of Ambohimanga or the ancient ruins of the Kingdom of Imerina. Madagascar offers a truly off-the-beaten-path adventure, where you can disconnect from the modern world and embrace the enchanting beauty of nature and culture that is found nowhere else on the planet.

Key Facts

Time Zone

GMT+2

Money

Malagasy Ariary (MGA)

Dialing Code

+261

  • The wildlife: When you think of Madagascar, lemurs are probably the first thing that comes to mind. There are plenty of opportunities to see the country’s most famous residents, but that’s not all the island has to offer. With 300 species of birds, 260 species of reptiles and hundreds of other mammals including humpback whales and fossa, it’s a paradise for nature lovers.
  • The beaches: If you’re a beach bum, you’ll be in seventh heaven here, with some of the most pristine stretches of sand in the Indian Ocean. Think unspoilt palm-lined beach, snorkelling and diving and some of the best seafood around, with no high-rise buildings in sight.
  • The epic landscapes: From towering baobab trees, lush rice paddies and majestic limestone formations to the island’s own version of the Grand Canyon, Madagascar is non-stop jaw-dropping. You can go from one extreme to another in just 300km – one minute you’re in the rainforest, the next in the desert - the diversity is astonishing.
  • The culture: The former French colony is a melting pot of cultures and traditions, with more than 18 different cultural groups and a fascinating blend of African, Arab and Indian influences.
  • The Adventure sports: From hiking and diving to mountain biking, kitesurfing and rock climbing, Madagascar has pretty much every outdoor activity you can think of on offer.
  • The opportunity to give back: Madagascar is the fifth poorest country in the world and many rewarding volunteering opportunities are available to gap-year travellers, from teaching positions to conservation.st item
  • The prices: The general cost of living is very affordable for most westerners, especially if you eat like the locals, so your gap year budget will go a long way here. 

Antananarivo (or Tana as it’s universally known), is the capital and the largest city of Madagascar. It was founded in the 17th Century and is located in the highlands region, very near to the geographic centre of the island. It’s a great place to spend a few days, with beautiful colonial buildings, bustling markets and shops, and a fabulous range of eateries. 

  • Île Sainte Marie: A totally unspoiled island with the Île aux Nattes at its southern tip.
  • Réserve Spéciale de Nosy Mangabe: An idyllic wildlife destination with diverse flora and fauna and a stunning sandy beach.
  • Fianarantsoa: One of the island’s most picturesque hilltop towns with winding lanes and beautiful views.
  • Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia: Hands-down the best place on the island for lemur watching and just a three-hour drive from the capital.
  • Parc National de Masoala: Pristine rainforest, with wilderness walks, lemurs, whale watching and a rugged coastline.
  • Tsingy de Bemaraha: National park known for its breathtaking limestone formations.
  • Parc National d’Isalo: Stunning landscapes distinguished by a canyon and beautiful, rolling plains.
  • Sainte Luce Reserve: A stunning rainforest close to the sea, with five lemur species as well as land snails, birds, snakes, and a huge variety of trees.
  • Nosy Be: Madagascar’s number one beach destination with white sands, azure seas, and water sports galore.
  • Allée des Baobabs and Kirindy Private Reserve: Unparalleled locations for seeing the island’s unique flora and fauna from towering “tree-elephants” to fossas. 

Madagascan cuisine is influenced by its many waves of migration, from France and Indonesia to the Middle East, and East Africa. Throughout almost the entire island, meals typically consist of a base of rice (vary) served with an accompaniment (laoka)Laoka may be vegetarian or meat-based and usually features a sauce flavoured with ginger, onion, garlic, tomato, curry powder and other spices. Sweet and savoury fritters are also commonly found across the island.

If you’re eating out, hotelys are local restaurants with a simple menu of staple favourites. Alternatively, street food is delicious, readily available, and very affordable. Street food offerings may include rice and sauce, brochettes of fish or meat, roasted plantains, cassava, or sweet potato, stews and vegetable fritters.

The island’s two great drink offerings are spiced, flavoured rum (rhum arrange) and THB Beer (pronounced Tay-Ash-Bay).

Madagascar has a tropical climate, meaning it’s warm all year round. November to April is the hot, wet season and May to October is the mild, dry season but there are variations by region. Typically, the highlands are cooler and less humid than coastal areas, rainfall is high in the east, and low in the southwest. Any rain is usually short-lived and comes in thunderstorms in the afternoon, with plenty of sunshine in between, meaning it’s always a good time to travel to Madagascar. 

Visa

You can buy a 30 or 60-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport in cash using US$, Euros, or Malagasy Ariary.

You can also apply in advance of travel to the Madagascar Embassy in London for a tourist visa.

You will be asked for evidence of onward or return travel at check-in and on arrival in Madagascar.

Make sure an entry stamp is recorded in your passport, and that your visa is valid for the period and purpose of your journey. A tourist visa can be extended during your stay in Madagascar for up to a total of 90 days.

Visa rules are subject to change so it’s important you check these before you travel. We’ve teamed up with The Travel Visa Company, one of the UK’s leading travel visa specialists and you can use their website, alongside embassy websites, to find out the specific entry requirements for the countries you intend to travel to. For a fee, their dedicated team of experts can also apply for visas on your behalf, taking away the hassle and streamlining the process for you if you wish.

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

Passport

If you are visiting Madagascar, your passport should be valid for 6 months from the date you arrive, and with at least 2 blank visa pages. You should be able to show confirmation of your travel dates.

The country’s official languages are Malagasy and French (with French being more common amongst educated Madagascans), though English is increasingly important. If you’re in a tourist area, there’s likely to be somebody around who speaks English, but if you’re a little more off the beaten track, this may not be the case. 

In Madagascar, only 15-20% of the population has access to electricity, and in rural areas, this can be as low as 5%. This means if you’re travelling extensively on the island, you may stay in areas where there is no electricity or power may only be available at certain times through a generator. There are two plug types used here, types C and E. Plug C has two round pins and E has two round pins and a hole for the socket’s male earthing pin. The country operates a 220V supply voltage and the frequency is 50Hz. 

In many parts of Madagascar, aspects of daily life are regulated by taboos, known as ‘fady’. These vary from one region to another and can range from forbidden foods to restrictions on clothing. If you intend to visit remote areas, seek advice either locally or from your travel adviser and respect local fady to avoid causing offence.

Due to random police checks, you should carry your passport with you at all times. Always keep a photocopy of your passport, visa and insurance details somewhere safe, and leave further copies with family or friends in the UK.

Drug smuggling is a serious offence, as is paying for sex. Punishments can be severe.

Although homosexuality is not prohibited by law, it’s important to recognise that public attitudes are less tolerant than in the UK and public displays of affection may attract negative attention.

You need to be 18 or older to buy or consume alcohol in Madagascar. 

Health

Being prepared will go a long way to making sure your trip to Madagascar goes smoothly. You’ll need a yellow fever certificate (although there is no risk of the disease in Madagascar itself) and up-to-date vaccinations. We recommend that you check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website at least 8 weeks before your trip and book your vaccinations accordingly. Madagascar is classified as a high-risk country for rabies, so vaccination is advisable, especially if you intend to have contact with animals, or are likely to be 24 hours away from medical help.

The biggest health threat in Madagascar is malaria. There is no vaccine against the disease, but there are several preventative drugs that you can take to minimise risk. There can be seasonal outbreaks of plague with around 500 cases reported annually. These are mostly in rural areas, during the rainy season, and don’t usually affect international travellers. High levels of syphilis have also been recorded.

You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks, and if you’re travelling away from major centres, we’d recommend carrying a personal first aid kit, as well as suncream, insect repellent, a mosquito net and anti-malarial medications.

Hospitals in Antananarivo can only handle routine operations and any complex surgery requires evacuation either to Mauritius, South Africa or La Reunion. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Crime

Most visitors return home from Madagascar after a crime-free trip, but there are positive steps that you can take to keep yourself and your possessions safe. Robberies, theft, carjackings and street crime can occur, particularly in towns and cities.

Following a few common-sense safety tips will greatly decrease the risk of anything happening during your trip:

  • Stay aware in markets and busy areas, especially at night
  • Never leave your bags unattended
  • Keep valuables out of sight when you’re out and about
  • Use your accommodation’s safe for valuables and travel documents wherever possible
  • Avoid walking alone in city centres after dark
  • If you’re stopped by the police, ask for ID as there have been reports of individuals falsely claiming to be police
  • Don’t touch any suspect packages
  • Lock car doors and keep windows closed at all times, particularly in Antananarivo

Related Articles

The Lion King Animals and Where to Find Them

Last updated: 24th Jan 2024

From Simba to Timon, all these Lion King characters are roaming around Africa and waiting for you to find them! Enjoy the different safari journeys through iconic national parks like Serengeti and Etosha. Why not discover amazing African landscapes and...

Top Travel Trends for 2024

Last updated: 29th Nov 2023

Get ahead of next year's travel trends! Find out what’s popular in 2024, from the best travel experiences to the top destinations. With a growing desire for authentic experiences and new adventures, find out why group travel is...

Should I Travel to Africa?

Last updated: 13th Oct 2023

The short answer is absolutely yes! Africa is a continent like no other. With its unique mix of cultures, incredible wildlife safaris, and stunning natural landscapes, visiting Africa is one of life’s must-do’s. Here’s...

5 Moments to Tick Off Your Bucket List in Africa

Last updated: 13th Oct 2023

Dreaming of immersing yourself in the outdoors, camping under the stars and waking to the wild sounds of nature as your alarm clock? A trip to Southern and Eastern Africa is all this and more. It’ll be the...

Africa's Big 5 - The Safari Checklist

Last updated: 21st Jul 2017

Originally a term used by hunters, the ‘Big 5’ refers to Africa’s most sought after wildlife: elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and buffalos. Now, armed with only a camera and a beady eye, it’s your turn...

I Want to Volunteer in Africa - What Can I Do?!

Last updated: 20th Jul 2017

Volunteering is an incredible way to experience life in Africa. Helping out in an African community gives you a unique insight into local life, and you’ll be making a real difference, which is not only super-rewarding, but also...

Extreme Africa

Last updated: 19th Jul 2017

Calling all adrenaline junkies! Africa is home to some incredible extreme activities, which will satisfy even the most daring thrill seeker! From sandboarding to skydiving, your trip to Africa won’t be short on thrills! Check out our list...

Gap 360's Hannah in Africa: Her African 'Gap Year'

Last updated: 17th Sep 2014

Back in July, Hannah flew the nest (aka, our Australian office) to go on a long 'gap year' in Africa. To find out about the INCREDIBLE adventures she's had so far, check out the below! Hey there guys and...