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Ring-tailed lemur ©Heinonlein
A land unlike any other, Madagascar is an enticing destination for those who find its lack of modern conveniences, tourist infrastructure and efficient transport system an interesting challenge rather than a problem. Despite its sometimes volatile political situation and comparative remoteness, Madagascar continues to draw adventurers from all over the globe.
The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth, home to thousands of species of plant and animal life of which about 80 percent cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. Situated off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is very different from its African neighbour, and its uniqueness in the world has led some to class it as the Eighth Continent.
Madagascar is world famous for its lemurs, of which there are about 50 different types, ranging from the unusual to the utterly bizarre. Lemurs are endemic to the island and generally resemble a cross between a monkey and a squirrel; but lemurs are not the only curious creatures inhabiting this exotic realm. Dwarf chameleons, tomato frogs, giant jumping rats and hedgehog-like tenrecs are among the host of peculiar indigenous fauna; while the country's isolation has enabled the development of plants with remarkable shapes, such as the swollen Baobab, Madagascar's national tree. Wilderness areas such as Isalo National Park and Tsingy Nature Reserve are wonderful places to discover Madagascar's exotic fauna, flora and striking geological features.
Besides this natural wonderland, Madagascar also has its share of beautiful beaches and coral reefs, such as those found on the cluster of islands off the northeast coast. Best known is Nossi Bé, while Ile Ste-Marie off the east coast, and Toliara in the south, are also major attractions for divers, snorkelers and sunbathers. The bustling capital, and first and last stop for visitors arriving by air, is Antananarivo, or 'Tana', which has a distinctly French flavour and is an excellent place to shop for Malagasy arts and crafts. Go looking for the unexpected in Madagascar and you will find an undeniably fascinating destination that makes for a refreshingly different sort of holiday under the tropical sunshine.
The international dialling code for Madagascar is +261. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). To make an international call to Madagascar, the dialling code of 261 must be followed by a two-digit operator code (e.g. 34 for TELMA, the most reliable), then the regional code (e.g. 22 for Antananarivo) and then the five-digit number. A GSM 900 network is in use, covering major cities and main roads, and some operators have also introduced 3G networks. Public internet access exists in large cities and there are a few internet cafes in Antananarivo.
Malagasy is the official language, but French is used in business and government and is widely spoken in the main cities in Madagascar. A few people involved in the tourism industry might be able to speak some English, but it is not widely spoken.
Visitors may bring 500 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 500g tobacco, as well as one bottle of alcohol into the country without incurring import duty.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are generally of the two-pin variety.
Generally the climate of Madagascar is subtropical, with a hot and rainy season between November and April, and a cooler dry season from May to October; however, there is a big variation in climate depending on altitude and geographical position within the country and travellers should be sure to check up on the climate of the particular region they are visiting. For instance, the west coast is drier than the east coast and the central highlands, while the far south and southwest is a semi-desert region that experiences very little rainfall. The east coast receives the most rain and is hot and humid during the wet season, and also prone to cyclones between February and March. Temperatures are much cooler in the highlands. Antananarivo has a pleasant, temperate climate. Along the coast temperatures range from 81°F to 90°F (27°C to 32°C) in the wet season, and 64°F to 72°F (18°C to 22°C) in the dry season. The cooler and drier months between May and October are generally the most pleasant time to travel to Madagascar, but if you are planning specific activities, like whale watching or diving, it is worth finding out the best time to enjoy such pastimes.
Foreign visitors to Madagascar of most nationalities can obtain a tourist visa on arrival, provided they have at least one blank page in their passport reserved for the Immigration Authorities of Madagascar, and return/onward flight tickets. Tourist visas are valid for a maximum of 90 days and cost around MGA 200,000 (or equivalent in USD or EUR). Shorter stays cost less. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Madagascar, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Entry RequirementsCanadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Madagascar. A 90-day visa can be obtained on arrival.
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US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Madagascar. A 90-day visa can be obtained on arrival.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Madagascar. A 90-day visa can be obtained on arrival.
Australians must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Madagascar. A 90-day visa can be obtained on arrival.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Madagascar. A 90-day visa can be obtained on arrival.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Madagascar. A 90-day visa can be obtained on arrival.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Madagascar. A 90-day visa can be obtained on arrival.
Malaria is a risk throughout the year and the risk of infection is highest in coastal areas; visitors should take appropriate measures to avoid contracting the disease. All travellers coming from a country with yellow fever risk are required to prove they have been vaccinated against the disease to enter Madagascar. Vaccinations are also recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid and influenza, and those at risk of animal bites should also consider a rabies vaccination. Tap water should not be drunk unless it has been boiled or chemically treated.
Medical facilities are severely limited in Madagascar, and outside of the capital medical care may be difficult to find. Limited French medications are available in Tana; however, it is advisable to bring along a medical kit for private use. If you require specific prescription medications it is best to bring them with you, in their original packaging, along with a signed and dated letter from your doctor stating what they are and why you need them. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised.
The political situation in Madagascar is unstable, especially in central Antananarivo and the Ambohijatovo, Lac Anosy, Antaninarenina and Analakely areas. Violence is possible at any large gatherings and political or military installations. It is advised to travel with an established agency, and solo travellers should continually monitor the local media. Precautions against opportunistic crime, especially in the urban areas, should be taken. Pickpockets operate at the airport and in crowded areas such as markets. Travellers should carry a photocopy of their passport at all times. At night, avoid walking around city centres and road travel outside urban areas as there have been occasional hold-ups on the main routes. The height of the cyclone season is from January to March and affects the coastal regions. Piracy is a significant concern in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and there have been several attacks against private vessels and kidnappings.
Emergency Phone Number
* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov
The official currency is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA), which has been reintroduced to replace the Malagasy Franc. Coins and notes display both currencies, but newer notes display the Ariary more prominently than the Franc. One Ariary is equal to five Francs. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks and official bureaux de change, but the Ariary cannot be changed back into hard currency. Some banks will only accept US Dollars or Euros. ATMs are available in Antananarivo. Most major credit cards are starting to be accepted in top hotels and major travel agencies in the capital and other major towns, but have limited usage elsewhere.
Exchange RateNot available.
Embassies of Madagascar
Madagascar Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 265 5525.
Madagascar Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for the UK): +33 09 83 32 45 15.
Madagascar Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 567 0505.
Madagascar Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)21 674 7238.
Foreign Embassies in Madagascar
United States Embassy, Antananarivo: +261 20 23 480 00.
British Honorary Consul, Antananarivo: +261 2022 33053.
Canadian Consulate, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for Madagascar): +27 (0)12 422 3000.
Australian High Commission, Port Louis, Mauritius (also responsible for Madagascar): +230 202 0160.
South African Embassy, Antananarivo: +261 20 224 3350.
Do not photograph military or police establishments while in Madagascar. Identification should be carried at all times by visitors. In rural areas, locals may abide by a number of taboos called fady, which should be respected by visitors at all times.
Public Holidays in Madagascar
Boasting miles of verdant landscape with pretty beaches, wild and beautiful rainforests, and scenic towns and ports, Madagascar offers some lovely attractions for those who choose to visit this inspiring and unique land. With a number of reserves and national parks boasting a variety of magical wildlife, including the famous lemurs, Madagascar's unique creatures and botanicals have earned the island the title 'the eighth continent' and visitors will be enchanted by the beauty of this mysterious land. Madagascar is not easy to get around and sightseeing can be challenging as a result, but with a little effort travellers can reap exciting rewards.
Head to the town on Antsirabe to view the volcanic lakes of Andraikiba and Tritriva, or relax in the therapeutic thermal baths; visit Ile Sante Marie for some of the best whale watching opportunities, to wander through herb gardens and enjoy the scents of vanilla and lemongrass, or to take a spooky tour of the pirate cemetery; explore Toamasina to see some fantastic architectural wonders as well as the popular Jardin D'Essel and the Parc Ivoloina.
For active travellers, water sports abound off the island, including scuba diving, swimming, snorkelling and canoeing, to name a few; while landlubbers can enjoy the plentiful walks and hikes through the many reserves Madagascar offers, while viewing some of the most fascinating birds and animals on the planet.
Map of Madagascar
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