I'm just mad about my Madagascar trip!
July 12, 2007 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I am going to Madagascar later this summer, and have questions regarding my itinerary and car rental.

Here are the details:

We are two males, mid-thirties, planning a trip to Madagascar later this summer, staying two weeks (August 18-September 2). We already have our tickets to Madagascar. We are avid hikers and campers, and our primary goal is to see the country's natural splendor. We plan to camp out wherever possible.

Our preliminary itinerary is:

Day 1: Arrive Tana
Days 2-5: fly to Majunga; explore Ankarafantsika Park & Majunga area
Days 6-9: fly to Morondava, explore Tsingy de Bemaraha
Days 9-10: Kirindy
Days 10-14: drive south towards Ifaty, explore south

Our questions:

(1) Ideally, we would like to rent a car and drive ourselves along the Western coast (from Morondava southwards) and throughout the South. However, everything that we have read recommends that we get a driver. Is it crazy to try to drive ourselves? We don't mind getting a bit lost, and we have done some off-road 4WD driving in relatively remote locations (Iceland, Dominica), but we aren't particularly mechanically inclined and could only deal with minor breakdowns. What are the drawbacks of not having a local driver? Breakdowns? Safety issues? Getting stuck or lost?

(3) We will have our own tents and plan to camp out in or near the national park areas. Is it also reasonable to just pitch a tent by the roadside or on a beach in the south as well? If we have a driver, where would they sleep while we are doing so?

Thanks in advance for your sage advice!
posted by googly to Travel & Transportation around Madagascar (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I will just say that this is almost certainly a better question for the Madagascar section of the Lonely Planet Thorntree, which is free to join, and will probably have numerous people who've been to Madagascar there.

Have an awesome time and don't forget to post your lemur photos in the Trip Reports section over on the new MeFi Travel site!
posted by mdonley at 8:10 AM on July 12, 2007

I am really only familiar with the north of the country, and the last time I was there was four years ago now, so take my info with a grain of salt:

1) the roads in Madagascar were nightmarish: traffic on par with Vietnam, and road surfaces on par with rural Myanmar. There is no freaking way I would drive myself through any terrain there that wasn't flat open desert. Nothing quite like going around a turn where the road is half gone from landslides, and looking out the window at a pile of burned out wrecks at the bottom of the cliff. Huh, I wonder how many people got killed down there.

2) pitching a tent by the side of the road strikes me as a good way to get yourself killed -- unless when you say "by the side of the road" you really mean "fifty yards into the forest".

3) any non-NGO vehicle was in questionable condition. Unless you're comfortable with using spit-and-wire to keep the car running, I wouldn't rent. If you're personally familiar with the mechanics of the car you're going to be renting and able to jury-rig solutions, then it could work out.

...having said all that, I must point out that I like Madagascar, personally.
posted by aramaic at 8:20 AM on July 12, 2007

Two responses to this thread for future use in Madagascar travel

If you are willing to forego the treck from Tulliar to Toalagnaro, and stay on paved roads for the most part, you'll be fine. Madagascar is huge and there is plenty of pavement for two weeks. These roads are different than here; there are no curbs and ditches, so you can pull off the road and have
3 beautiful picnics a day. I was only discouraging going south into the scrublands where I grew-up. The north and west and central mountains are easy to travel and glorious to view and safe by day. It is at night that you need to think about security. Maybe you shouldn't give-up quite yet.
Wont a driver sort of drive you to and where he wants to?--do you speak French? English is coming on in the hospitality industry, there, but there is a deffinite langauge barrier if you do not speak French or Malagasy. Two weeks, though, there is plenty to take in...in two weeks. Plus intra-island plane travel and taxi services and busses are still a real alternative.
Toalagnaro (Ft. Daulphin) is a beautiful place, a city of peninsulas, peninsulas on penninsulas. Beaches of every discription--some for swimming, others for fishing, or shell-gathering and so on. I could draw you a map of the town and the things to apprciate. There is a good, easy climb up Mt.
Bezavana (the great haze) and the trail passes by a trail nearby to a place called Lakandava (where there are streams rolling over bolders with seats in the rocks and bamboo on all sides. It can be a fun way to discharge on the way back down. There is also a way to the peak walking the ridgeline from outside of town toward Manambaro. You can go up, walking the ridge as it steps up from a stream called Ranopiso (softwalkingcat stream). The vistas are increddible. It is not like Mountain Climbing, it is a walk up and a walk down, affair, an hour maybe each way. There is also the yacht Club the Hotel Lebanona (Lebanon is a place with French cottages for rent, that used to be Missionary Housing for vaccation time. These cottages have wrap around verrandas and ironwood trees sweep the sky with their 14inch needles, and the Indian Ocean rolls gloriously just over the shoulder at any time.
It is a high breezy perch over the sea. Green Peace. Peace Corp and other groups rent some of these for their main office location. You can fly into Ft. Daulphin (Toalagnaro) and there are lemurs a half hour away in Barenty, a preserve of Tamarind Trees and Ring Tail bands, near Amboasary on the Mandrere River in Tanosy country (the people of the islands). Even five days there would feel like too few, and you can get a cab to Ambovombe on good roads to get a taste of Androy (people of the thorns). At Ambovombe, there is a short walk out to the ocean to a village called Ikonka. I used to walk out there is a little kid with my brother and mess around, not far at all. But it is pretty much a fly in destination these days, as the drive north to Antanananarivo takes almost three days. Again, think huge island.
Think Minnsota, Iowa, Missouris, Arkansas and Louisianna--Big! And without freeways, but with nice, open, paved roads over a lot of it, following important cultural and economic routes.
There are arteries that are great for travel and not saturated with people.
Anywhere in Madagascar, anywhere, is a good place for a picnic. There are no fences."


"The north might be fine, but road conditions in the true south; Tulliar toward Toalagnaro (Ft. Dauphin) are worse than ever. You need to know how to drive that stuff. There is a stretch from Beloha to Tsiombe which is litterally like driving up a cathedral stairway for 14-24 kilometers (whose counting at that point, it's one step at a time. Then there are also times in the rainy season when a bus or truck has gotten stuck, blocking the road, you can go around and your driver would, but there is quicksand with a dry crusty top and you need to be an off-road Jedi. My 73-year-old father could do it, but two dudes in their 30's--the force is still a little weak. I almost got us screwed into a mud-nut at 32, thinking I knew, thinking I knew, and luckily my dad caught me by a whisker. There are paved roads down to Tulliar and up the west coast and down the central spine of the Island from Antananarivo (the Capital to Tulliar) and it is a good roll because the world transforms every hour or so (at least I always feel that, but I am into details, the styles of houses, the size of boulders, the general feel, and it was all home to me, seeing an old, beautiful, familiar face. The Ishalo Forrest in the south, not far from Tulliar, between Ihosy and Andranovory, is a global anomaly, a place where you cannot only imagine dynosaurs on their original terrain but nearly expect it with each heartbeat. This is also where the Saphire shanti-town is...so there is a mixture of primordial beauty and a kind of modern decay into mineral fever at one point. There is a hotel in the Ishalo--a primordial palm forrest. And their are hotels in Tulliar. I think Tulliar is the end of the road for someone unfamilliar with the terrain in Mahafaliland and Androy, two regions which are arrid, hot, wonderful to one born and raised on the skin and bone of the planet, but really rigorous. The difference is knowing people, friends everywhere in every village and the ancient passport of your own name proceeding you on every venture. A tourist doesn't have that ancient passport of deeds and time on the land to grant him the kind of security that comes from being tapped in historically to a place. I wouldn't advise it. Also, there are theves and robbers. Tents are great, but the back of a toyota truck, with a canvas topper, backed up against a wall might be best--for obvious reasons. Just giving a warning about going south. A dirt road in madagascar is a dirt road...not a gravel road...and where there isn't dirt, it is sand, and where it isn't sand, its raw, ragged rock, rock, after, rock, after rock, it would be better to be riding a bionic lizzard than in an automobile or truck, at that point."
posted by specialk420 at 9:39 AM on July 15, 2007

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