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Never on a trip have I asked myself more times, “What on earth am I doing here?” Yet never have I had so many stories to write in my journal every night. If you are looking for adventure, Madagascar is a good place to find it.
Those looking for exotic animals and birds will not be disappointed. Without trying very hard we had numerous sightings of various species of lemurs and chameleons. Although, unless you are knowledgeable on how to track these animals it’s best to go on walks with local guides.
Infrastructure and Roads
Infrastructure and transportation remain the biggest challenges on the island. With the heavy rains every year, other than those near the capital the roads for the most part are not well maintained and go downhill from there. In the hinterland of Western Madagascar we were on the worst dirt tracks I’ve ever seen in my life, the taxi brousse crawling up and down the deeply scarred track.
Even in the North, which is more developed for tourism, the guide asked me not to tell people how bad the roads were as it would make tourists not want to come. If you can’t tolerate bouncing around on rough roads Madagascar is definitely not the place for you.
Deciding where to go
My original intent was to try to see the whole thing, but Madagascar is a very big island and travel is very slow. I therefore decided to concentrate on a couple of areas with the intention of going back some day if we really liked it. Spending more time in two areas, the West and the North, we got a more in depth feel for the region and had a more relaxed itinerary. The Western river excursion was definitely the most rugged and adventurous part of the trip.
Using Travel Agencies
While we didn’t have our trip completely organized by a travel agency (I booked most of the hotels and flights myself), we did use local agencies to arrange multi-day excursions as well as day trips – Remote River Expeditions in the West and le Paradis du Nord in the North. In order to maintain some level of comfort you will need to work with travel agencies to organize ground transportation.
Upscale hotels are generally in good condition and offer the services you would expect.
Travel in Madagascar is no bargain. I’m sure if you live like a local you could travel, eat and sleep fairly inexpensively, but this is a very poor country and basic conditions are quite rough.
While there are more options on the Tsiribihina River we chose a canoe trip on the Manambolo River to the Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park. While a fascinating cultural experience, it was not the picturesque setting I had imagined. The other detraction was the fact that the rivers run low at the end of dry season (October) and the canoes frequently had to be pushed through the low sandy spots. The weather in October was also quite warm to hot.
Diving with French owned Scuba Nosy Be turned out to be a great way to improve our diving skills as the company is very professional and safety conscious. Although I don’t have enough diving experience to compare the diving sites to other sites around the world, we were happy with the range of underwater life we saw.
A poor country plagued with bouts of political unrest, it’s wise to keep track of the local political situation. At times there are warnings that certain regions of the country are unsafe due higher levels of crime, especially in the South. There are also roving bands of zebu rustlers who make their living stealing zebu, the local cattle. While I haven’t seen reports of zebu rustlers harming tourists, you should be aware that they are out there and avoid any conflicts.
The best advice I can give is be prepared for the unexpected and allow a little extra time in your itinerary for Plan B. As we all know it’s the unexpected that makes the best stories.
If you have traveled in Madagascar or have a question please leave a comment.