About 300 miles east of southern Africa, across the Mozambique Channel, lies the island of Madagascar. Best known for its lemurs (primitive relatives of monkeys, apes, and humans), colorful chameleons, stunning orchids, and towering baobab trees, Madagascar is home to some of the world's most unique flora and fauna.
The best time to visit Madagascar depends on what you want to do and see. The country is green and fresh after the rain that falls between January and March, with lemurs and reptiles active and easy to spot. While there are some heavy downpours from April to June, these are interspersed with sunshine, while July and August are cool and dry, making this an ideal time for exploring.
Currency: Malagasy ariary
Official languages: Malagasy, French
The reason behind Madagascar’s fantastic biodiversity is the island’s long isolation from neighboring India and Africa, beginning when the land split from the ancient supercontinents almost 90 million years ago. Initial settlement by humans began in 500 AD, with the original Sunda Island tribes joined by Bantu migrants around 1,000 years ago.
Many other ethnicities followed over the years, making up the 18 ethnic groups presently on the island. Until the early 19th century, Madagascar's political history encompassed a succession of rulers cementing various socio-political agreements with other tribal kings. By the Middle Ages, a number of individual European ethnic groups had emerged, all ruled by a local chieftain. The leaders of the Betsimisaraka, Sakalava and Merina communities saw an opportunity to unite the tribes and establish a bigger kingdom under their rule.
The culture of Madagascar is rooted in diverse tribal heritages and customs, with ancestor respect and traditional festivals at its heart. Although Islam and Christianity are the dominant religions, most villages defer to a soothsayer and healer to predict the future and cure illness. Traditional music and dance originating from Indonesia and Africa are a vital part of all ceremonies and festivals, and reinforce the links to the archipelago’s long history.
Family is all-important, and male circumcision is still performed, although nowadays it’s done at the local hospital whilst family and friends celebrate at home. Recent laws have improved the status of women's rights in Malagasy society as well as in the workplace, although rural women still engage in petty commerce to supplement the husband’s earnings. The fady, taboos are still respected in many regions and govern daily lives, while visitors planning to tour the country should ask a local about traditions to avoid being accidentally offensive.
The climate of Madagascar is subtropical, with a hot and rainy season between November and the end of March (summer), and a cooler dry season from May to October (winter). … Along the coast temperatures are much higher than in the capital and range from 27°C to 32°C in the wet season and 18°C to 22°C in the dry season
Madagascar requires a visa. This can be obtained upon arrival at the airport in Antananarivo. A passport photo is not required. It is important that your passport is valid for at least 6 months. The visa costs €35 and has to be paid in cash. Make sure you have the right money with you, because by default they say that there is no change. The visa is valid for 30 days and has a so-called “single entry”. If you want to fly to Mauritius and then return to Madagascar, you need a “multiple entry” visa.
As of 1 June 2019, the Malagasy authorities have introduced an obligation for visitors to apply for a landing permit online. This must be done no later than 72 hours before arrival in Madagascar. At present, this process is not entirely flawless. The website regularly crashes, or there is no reply once you have sent the request. Customs is aware of this. Therefore, a leniency programme is in force for the time being if you can prove that you have applied. To be on the safe side, take a print screen of the application. Or bring the default e-mail after you have made the application. If necessary, you can send a reminder to the authorities via the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. The website for the landing permit in Madagascar is unfortunately unsafe. It also gives the impression that you are applying for a visa online. This is not the case. At customs you show the landing authorisation and then you get the visa.
The roads in Madagascar are very bad. There’s one main highway; the RN7 that goes from the capital city Antananarivo to Tulear in the South-West. But even that one is often in bad shape. If you’re short on time (say 10 to 16 days), I’d advise you to just this RN7 highway. It’ll give you a chance to see quite a lot from what the country has to offer in a reasonable amount of time.
The best way to do it is to rent a car, we did this as well. Most car-rental agencies will only rent a car including a driver. Although it felt weird for me in the beginning, in retrospect I’m very happy that we did this. We rented our car with Europcar and paid for it in cash Euros. We arranged it online beforehand so we knew we had to bring enough. The advantages of a driver is that he knows the way, he knows the good hotels, he knows local guides that he can call beforehand to guide you in National Parks, it’s less tiring if you don’t have to drive yourself and it gives you a save feeling.
Are you more adventurous? You can also take the local busses ‘bouse bouse’. Don’t expect too much from them though; they’re small vans made to seat about 10 people but often used by 20 at the same time. You’ll often see them on the road, packed with people inside and hanging out and packed with luggage, food and even live animals on the roof. The busses break down frequently and as you can imagine are not very comfortable.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
Although Madagascar is a relatively safe country to travel around in, there are some safety measures that you should take.
Never drive after dark. Drivers will refuse to drive in the evenings and if you’re driving yourself, make sure you arrive at your destination before 7pm. There are violent attacks on cars at night sometimes.
It’s also best not to walk on your own after dark. Use a taxi or pousse-pousse to take you to your restaurant or back to your hotel.
A Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate is now a mandatory requirement for all persons entering Kenya. Kenya, like other countries in Africa, sits in a malaria prone area in the African tropics. Anti-Malarial Prophylactics are highly recommended – kindly consult with your physician on this before travel. Whilst contracting Malaria is not necessarily imminent, we also recommend you bring insect repellent, long pants and long sleeved tops for the cooler evenings, as well as sleeping under a mosquito net. Additional recommended, but not mandatory, vaccinations include Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B as well as Tetanus.
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