South African quick guide to Madagascar (Photo: iStock)
The only place in the world where lemurs can be found, Madagascar is a beautiful island that welcomes travellers with true grit.
Although travelling around the country can be quite difficult, it's worth it to spot one of the most unique wildlife species in the world in lush forests.
On the coast you can sail on yachts from place to place, taking in the sun and the wonders below the sea with untouched diving spots.
Inland you can walk underneath giant baobabs older than your great-grandparents or discover the lost kings and queens at the capital's museums.
SEE: Summer sailing in Madagascar
Here we take a look at one of the top ten searched African destinations for South Africans and what you need to know should you want to visit:
Visa requirements: Visa on arrival, free of charge, for South Africans with a valid passport for stays of up to 30 days. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months and have at least 2 blank pages.
Continent: Indian Ocean
Medical requirement: Malaria preventative measures are needed for the whole island.
Currency / Exchange Rate: Ariary (Weaker than the rand)
National Carriers: Air Madagascar
Main airports: Ivato International Airport (Antananarivo), Fascene Airport (Nosy Be), Toamasina Airport, Amborovy Airport, Sainte Marie Airport, Morondava Airport, Arrachart Airport, Mananara Nord Airport
Time Zone: 1 hour ahead of SA
Plugs: Type C, D, E, J and K
Public transport: Roads are really in a bad state so faster but more expensive to fly around the island. Train transport is available but very unreliable. You can travel by taxi-brousse or taxi-be, but these vehicles are very cramped, can take days to travel around the island and will test your sanity.
Best time to visit: April to mid-December, which is outside of cyclone season.
Climate: Tropical along the coast, temperate inland and arid in the southern parts of the island.
Food specialities: Rice makes up a big part of meals in Madagascar, like romazava, which consists of meat, vegetables and sauce with large amount of rice, and you also get rice cakes. Bananas are common everywhere, and they serve their locally grown coffee with condensed milk. You can also wash down your food with home-brewed rum and a late night snack of voanjobory sy henakisoa, which is Bambara groundnut with pork.
Language: Malagasy (Official), French (Official), English
SEE: Madagascar: The wild one
Salama / Bonjour
Veloma / Au revoir
My name is ….
Ny anarako dia … / Mon nom est …
Misaotra anao / Je vous remercie
Eny / Oui
Tsy misy / Non
Do you speak English?
Miteny anglisy ve ianao? / Parlez vous anglais?
Rano / Eau
Where is [hotel/toilet/beach etc.]?
Aiza ny … ? / Où est le… ?
PICS: 9 Majestic Madagascar landscapes
- Although Madagascar is generally safe, you should heed caution in the capital Antananarivo as there are many pickpockets.
- Be aware of fady (taboos) in the areas you visit on the island, which differ from region to region. This can include certain types of food like port, types of clothes or certain activities – however, this is mostly restricted to the rural areas.
- It is advised to travel through Madagascar with an experienced tour operator if it’s your first time visiting. There are large swathes of the island without internet and travelling between places is very taxing if you don’t know where you’re going.
- A battery pack is your best friend, especially if you want to take a lot of photos. You may be without reliable electricity for days at a time. Also always listen out for cyclone warnings and take advice from locals if one does approach.
- Madagascar isn’t a quick, one-week holiday – you need to give yourself a lot of time to see the island. Travel can take more than a day between places if you’re not flying and delays are very frequent throughout the country.
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Top attractions in Madagascar:
You can't make a stop in Madagascar without seeing lemurs - only found on this island - and the best spot to see them is in Ankarana Special Reserve. The reserve is part of a plateau, which formed 150 million years ago, which created jagged rock formations. There's also quite a rickety rope bridge for the brave, but you will be rewarded with stunning views of the plateau and Tsingy forests.
You would have seen these iconic trees on many a postcard, and in person they are even more awe-inspiring. These ancient trees are centuries old and although once formed part of a forest, now stand in isolation due to human encroachment. They line a dirt road that connects Morondova and Belo Tsiribihina, and make for the most beautiful sunset shots.
Nosy Be's coral reefs and mangroves are still somewhat untouched by humans and thriving under protection measures. It's a small island not attached to the main island, and you can also find lemurs here alongside colourful chameleons, geckos and other reptiles. Staying here however can be quite pricey as it's one of the most popular destinations in Madagascar, but well worth the costs.
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The island's biggest protected park, filled with coastal rainforests, mangroves, marshlands and coral reefs. The biggest threat to the park is illegal logging, as it's filled with rare and precious hardwoods. You can also see humpback whales during summer where the waters will be teeming with their young, one of the thousands of sights as you hike through the park.
Madagascar used to be a monarchy, and the Rova was once the home of its royals in the 17th and 18th centuries. It's high on top of the capital's biggest hill, it's a massive complex pocked with ruins as rulers built and destroyed previous rulers' work. Remember though, that it's taboo to point to the palace or its royal tombs.
SEE: Madagascar: A pirate adventure with Riaan Manser