Travel Guide to Madagascar

If you want to experience a holiday in a tropical paradise, a few places come to mind. Bali, Indonesia and Hawaii have exotic landscapes and offer unique experiences. However, only one country has such a diverse mix of pristine beaches, clear waters, fresh food, wildlife, and the ultimate island lifestyle experience, and that is Africa's very own Madagascar.

Situated off the east coast of Southern Africa, Madagascar is popular for tourists looking to disconnect from their busy lives and enjoy a few days of serenity.

So inspiring is the island that it prompted a wildly popular movie franchise of the same name – the computer-animated adventure comedy, Madagascar.

The area of Madagascar is 587,041 square kilometres with a population of over 24.8 million, according to the country's latest census.

Here are a few must-know facts about the Republic of Madagascar:

Currency: Malagasy Ariary (MGA)
Official Language: Malagasy, French
Capital: Antananarivo

Aerial view of a human settlement.

Visiting the Capital City

Located in the centre of Madagascar, Antananarivo is a city with modern infrastructure which contrasts well with its tropical setting. In the centre of the city you'll find the heart-shaped Lake Anosy.

Antananarivo is home to over 1.6 million people, and for them, the new world meets the old as modern glass and concrete structures stand next to historical palaces and homes.

A Historical Point of View

The earliest signs of human activity in the region date back to 2 000 BCE, when foragers roamed the lands and possibly even further back as markings have been found on elephant bones, indicating hunting.

Archaeologists estimate the first foreign settlers arrived on the island around 500 BCE, after which they cleared away much of the forests. This likely caused the extinction of numerous species, such as the elephant bird, giant lemur, and the giant fossa.

Merchants from various countries descended upon the island; Arabian traders rubbed shoulders with Bantu-language speaking traders from south-east Africa. This made Madagascar an important trading hub in the Indian Ocean. European traders and pirates also settled in the region, and many shipwrecks were recorded. The famous sailor, Robert Drury, wrote of his experience of being shipwrecked on the island in his journals during the 18th century.

The Kingdom of Madagascar, which was formed in the 17th century, grew weak when king Andrianampoinimerina divided the country between his four sons. France invaded in 1883 and later handed over full control to Britain.

Madagascar gained its independence in 1960 when Philibert Tsiranana became the president of the Republic of Madagascar.

Andohalo Cathedral in Antananarivo.
Old cannon near the lighthouse, Amoronia, Orange Bay, north of Madagascar

Landmarks in Madagascar

Parc National d'Andohahela is located in the southern region of Madagascar, protecting nearly 760 square kilometres of rainforest. The park contains many of the country's indigenous trees, known as Madagascar's spiny forests, along with over 129 species of birds. The diverse wildlife makes Parc National d'Andohahela a must-see for anyone with an appreciation for nature.

The old town of Haute-Ville is famous for its beautiful architecture, which mainly consists of two-storey houses and balconies with tumbling plants. These houses date back to the 19th century and make this small hill town a spectacular sight.

The Millot Plantation is a farm that is a major producer of cocoa, essential oils, and spices. There, you can take a guided tour and enjoy a spectacular lunch at the farmhouse.

Rova in Antananarivo is a historical, fortified palace. One particular structure within the Rova, known as the Manjakamiadana, translated as 'fine place to rule', was largely destroyed in a fire in 1995, but restoration is underway and it's still well worth a visit.

Rova in Ambohimanga, a wildlife park, is another fortress palace located atop a hill. Its walls were made of a cement mixture consisting of egg whites, sand, and shells.

Where to Stay in Madagascar

Madagascar caters for a wide variety of tourists. From budget-beating Airbnb units and hotels, to luxurious resorts, you'll be glad to know there is something for everyone in this tropical haven. Compare as many options as possible to find exactly what you are looking for and which offers you the best deal.

Tip: Madagascar is a popular holiday destination all year-round, so book your accommodation as early as possible before someone else snaps up your spot. Before you book, though, read multiple reviews so you know what to expect when you get there.

Lounging chairs overlooking the beach at Amarina Resort, Madagascar.
Two men in a small boat floating on shore.

For the Adventurous

If you feel the need to go beyond the resort pools, then venture out to the beautiful Black Pool, located in the area of Ranohira. This amazing little lake, with its own small waterfall, is located along a hiking trail and makes for a great place to cool off.

Canal Des Pangalanes is a canal near Manakara with various touring companies offering relaxing boat trips where you can watch the local wildlife on the banks of the river.

Madagascar is famous for its indigenous lemurs and you can see these beautiful creatures up close at the Lemurs' Park in Antananarivo. There, you can watch them play and feed them to see how friendly and inquisitive they are.

There are various diving centres and luxury cruises available in the surrounding coastal regions, offering a great chance to see the majestic marine life up close.

Weather in Madagascar

The weather in Madagascar is excellent for basking in the warm sun. Rainstorms are common from November to April, while May to October is considered the hot and dry season.

During the rainy season, the south-eastern winds and north-eastern monsoons can lead to tropical cyclones, much like the devastating Cyclone Gafilo of 2004.

Tip: No matter what time of the year you visit, make sure to take a rain-proof jacket, umbrella, and rubber rain boots with you, as certain terrain can become muddy when it rains.

View from shoreline of a rainbow over the sea at dusk.
Tropical fruits on display at a street stall.

Food in Madagascar

Thanks mainly to the international trading that occurred in Madagascar, the local cuisine is a multicultural blend of rich and spicy foods prepared using fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish.

Fritters and other street foods are available across the country, with many of the foods accompanied by achards (usually this consists of pickled lemon and mango). Many of the dishes include rice, but this can be easily substituted with maize or curds, which is made using fermented zebu (a humped cow) milk.

Due to the French colonial rule, several contemporary dishes are available alongside the typical street foods which make up most of the cuisine on the island. Voanjobory sy henakisoa is a groundnut dish cooked with pork and is quite popular.

Desserts include fresh fruit and koba, a sweet made of ground peanuts, rice flour, and sugar, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for a day.

Among the many drinks Madagascar has to offer, there are herbal teas, freshly squeezed juices, and alcoholic beverages such as rum, a favourite on the island.

Crime and Safety in Madagascar

Although Madagascar is indeed a paradise in many ways, continued government budget cuts in security sectors has led to an increase in crime rates. The country's latest crime statistics report indicates a low rate of organised crime but large-scale corruption, especially at mid-senior official level.

Malaria is a high risk in the region, so ensure you have access to anti-malaria medication.

Red rickshaw on the street with a building in the background.
Madagascar flights

Travelling to and within Madagascar

Madagascar is an island accessible by sea or air. It allows visa-free travel for South African tourists and you can stay for up to 30 days.

Here are the various ways you can get to and around in Madagascar:

Driving in Madagascar

When you rent a car in Madagascar, you'll be glad to find many major car rental agencies operating in the country. As a South African, you will not need a special driving permit there, as your current driver's licence will suffice, as long as it is valid.

It is wise to take out travel insurance before you go and car insurance once you rent a vehicle there, as the roads can be hazardous.

Cruise Ship

Being an island, Madagascar is easily accessible by ship. Various cruises will dock at one of the ports in Madagascar and allow travellers to experience the tropical island for a few days.

Flying to Madagascar

Ivato International Airport, located in the capital city, Antananarivo, is the sole international airport operating in Madagascar. However, there are over 30 airports in the country; two of them are strictly for military use and the rest are for domestic flights.

Tips for Visiting Madagascar


Madagascar has a very relaxed vibe and the locals believe in taking life at a slower pace, so don't plan a frantically busy holiday; the country is better for relaxing and appreciating your surroundings.


The majority of citizens on the island are Christian (Protestants and Catholics), with a smaller number of Muslims.


Cash is king in Madagascar. Even though many of the major cities, hotels, and resorts are equipped to accommodate card and cardless facilities, cash still plays a vital role in the economy, especially in the outlying areas. Try and exchange your currency before visiting the country or as soon as possible with some places not accepting foreign currency.


Avoid drinking tap water. Stick with bottled and filtered water, even when making or using ice cubes.

Baobab trees in the daylight.

Sources: Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor,, Traveller24

Prices quoted are correct at the time of publishing this article. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal, or medical advice.