5 Unique Things To Do In Madagascar

Of course you’ve heard of Madagascar. With landscape as visually stunning as the people are welcoming, and flora and fauna as unique as its history, this is somewhere you really need to have at the very top of your bucket list. There are so many things to do in Madagascar that it’s actually really hard to narrow that list down!

That being said, Madagascar’s extensive size and difficult terrain makes it really hard to plan a trip there. It certainly isn’t the easiest country to organise without a tour. This guide is intended as a complete bible for those trying to organise their own trip to Madagascar as a tourist without using a tour.

We’ll take you through the best route, places to stay, getting there and getting around, and finish with 5 of the most unique things to do in Madagascar.

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Table of Contents

Emma and Murray are standing at the bottom of a giant baobab tree that is around 60ft tall. They are standing either side of the trunk. The branches are knarly and twisted.
Our first baobab tree!
A tour called highlights of Madagascar with the price £1949 for 14 days

Know before you go:

Like we said, Madagascar is really amazing! However, it’s not super used to tourists, so here are some things you need to know before planning your trip.

  • Driving distances, though not necessarily long, are elongated by terrible road conditions and lack of facilities
  • Local authorities are hesitant to hire cars to tourists for these reasons so it is often far easier and cheaper to hire a driver (which we’ll come to)
  • Not everything can be accessed via road, so there may be areas where you need to take a boat or fly
  • The best way to start planning your trip is to pick a few things to do in Madagascar (hence the title of our article!), or outline the style of travel.

Insurance for travelling through Africa

Madagascar is a relatively safe country for tourists however, as with anywhere, things can go wrong! Getting sick abroad is no joke (take it from two people who did get sick in Madagascar!) and you want great travel insurance just in case. We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them when visiting Madagascar. The best thing about them is that they are super easy to understand unlike most insurers. Their wording is clear and you know exactly what you’re getting.

Use our pricing calculator to check the rate for your trip!

5 Unique Things to do in Madagascar

A white sifaka lemur in a tree in Madagascar
Emma is walking across a rope bridge in Madagascar in Tsingy de Bemaraha National park, one of the best things to do in Madagascar

1. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

Tsingy de Bemaraha is not only one of the most unique and incredible things to do in Madagascar, but in the world! If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a National Park, filled with spectacular limestone ‘needles’. Essentially these are cliffs that have eroded over time and the result is striking.

There are two sides to the National Park, Grand Tsingy and Petit Tsingy. You can hike through both. They are challenging in their own way, but different from each other and worth the effort for the views. You can also camp overnight within the National Park, which would be an incredible experience.

If you are lucky, you may have the opportunity to spot lemurs in the park. We managed to see white sifaka one day and it was such a pleasant surprise. Keep your eyes peeled and let you guides know you want to see them so they keep an eye out too!

This was the number 1 thing we wanted to do in Madagascar, and we even ended up taking a three day boat trip to get there! You actually don’t need to do this (you can read our full guide to Tsingy de Bemaraha here), but it is the more fun way. To get the overall best experience, we would highly recommend to spend two full days at least in the National Park, so that you can see both sides.

A hand holding up a glass jar of baobab juice in front of a row of baobab trees.
Sunset behind a row of baobab trees, one of the best things to see in Madagascar

2. Allée des Baobabs (Avenue of the Baobabs)

Madagascar is synonymous with baobabs, and everybody wants to see them when they visit. Arguably the best spot to see baobabs: Allée des Baobabs (English: Avenue of the Baobabs). The location is famous for its incredible sunset views, and it really is a must-see.

At the avenue itself, there isn’t much going on. There is a small café though, where you can try some delicious baobab juice, and it really is delicious! The taste is hard to describe, but we thought almost like a cross between pear and pineapple.

Otherwise, this is just the perfect place for an evening stroll to take some stunning photographs and immerse yourself in the wild and rugged nature of Madagascar. There are 9 species of baobab in the world and 6 of them are endemic to Madagascar, so this is not to be missed!

A black indri indri lemur in a tree
A golden sifaka lemur in a tree

3. Spot Lemurs

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear Madagascar? Almost certainly lemurs.

Well, if you want to see them, you’re in luck. Lemurs are quite literally all over Madagascar. They’re endemic to the island and there are over 100 kinds! Here are some of the best places to spot lemurs in Madagascar:

  • Andasibe National Park
  • Ranomafana National Park
  • Ankarafantsika National Park
  • Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

Each of these places is unique in its own way and you can hope to see a great variety of different lemurs. If you’d like to know more about each of these places, you can check our full guide to the best places to spot lemurs in Madagascar.

Particularly since much of Madagascar is an delicate ecosystem and many of its species are endangered, it’s really important to make sure any interaction with the lemurs are ethical. Here are some things to look out for when choosing a lemur experience:

  • Look for facilities that don’t allow people to touch the lemurs. Some places will encourage lemurs to jump onto tourists’ shoulders for food, let you stroke or pet the lemurs, or hold babies. You’ll be able to see this from photos in the reviews online or on their social media if they have it. Try to opt for an experience that is completely hands off.
  • Likewise, places that allow you to feed the lemurs or feed them themselves (such as the so-called ‘Lemur Island’) are best avoided. In wildlife conservation, feeding and baiting is considered very unethical as it encourages the animals to have a dependence on humans.
  • Look for wording that centres the animals. In other words, places that encourage people to keep a sae distance from the lemurs and not get too close.

The best place we found for all of this was Andasibe National Park. They were super mindful of the lemurs and their space, and didn’t let anyone get too close. They are also very knowledgeable and informative about the lemurs.

Murray is sitting in the shade of a tree on a beach
A white sand beach in Madagascar

4. See some of the best beaches in the Indian Ocean

If you are a beach person, you are in for a treat in Madagascar. The island is surrounded on all sides by the Indian Ocean, which means that the beaches are absolutely spectacular. The sand is powdery, white and soft, and the sea is calm and beautifully blue.

Some of the best beaches in Madagascar can be found on its islands, mostly known as Nosys. Here of some of Madagascar’s most phenomenal beach destinations:

  • Nosy Be. Nosy Be is justifiably one of the most famous beaches of the island, and it’s actually its own island resort! Nosy Be is quite a popular place with Malagasy locals and tourists alike, so there is a lot to do, and you won’t be bored
  • Nosy Kumba – another island, but quieter. If you’re lucky, you might spot some rare black lemurs!
  • Nosy Boraha – the pirate island! This island is rich in its own history and even has a pirate cemetery
  • Morondava – Morondava is close to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and has a nice little beach. It’s a small town with not much going on, but it’s really pretty and very relaxed
  • Ile aux Nattes/Nosy Nato – this is a sweet little island to the South of Nosy Boraha, where you can find lots of turtles! Remember if you’re snorkelling, don’t touch or crowd the turtles and try to reduce your sunscreen if you can by wearing cover-up clothing.
  • Foulpointe (Mahavelona) – Foulpointe is an adorable beach town just to the North of Toamasina (the second largest town on Madagascar).

It’s hard to choose which one you’d want to see first.

Jacaranda trees in a street in Antananarivo
A jacaranda tree in front of a lake in Madagascar

5. See the Jacaranda in Antananarivo

The first time you see jacaranda in bloom is a magical experience. Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar, fondly known as Tana) is graced with hundreds of jacaranda trees in October. You can also find them in other cities such as Antsirabe, but they’re at their most stunning perhaps in Tana.

Many people skip out on Tana and prioritise Madagascar’s National Parks, but its capital city actually has a lot to offer. Here are 6 interesting things you can do:

  1. Visit the Presidential Palace – this was our favourite thing to do in Antananarivo!
  2. Explore the history of Rova Fort
  3. Get a taste of local culture at Analakely Market
  4. Soak in the views of Lac Anosy
  5. Find out how the aluminium makers outside of town make pots and pans – our driver took us to do this and it was a fascinating day tour!
  6. Explore the many jacaranda if it’s the right season!

Getting around Madagascar

Getting around Madasgacar is not easy. It seems you have a few options:

  • Book a group tour
  • Hire a car (though we would not recommend this for the reasons listed above)
  • Hire a driver (this was what we did)
  • Hitchhike or try public transport

We’ll go through each of these below.

A sunset in Madagascar over a river. You can see baobab trees in the distance and the sky is very orange.
Madagascar has the best sunsets

Should you book a tour?

When confronted with the issues above, without question, the easiest solution is to book a tour. Tours to Madagascar start around £2500 for a two week trip and can go up from there to be astronomically expensive. The tourism in Madagascar is still very underdeveloped, so if you choose a tour option, we recommend these three companies:

  • Intrepid Travel – Intrepid are a great tour company. They invest heavily in local economies, always hire local guides and look after local eco-systems.
  • G Adventures – much like Intrepid, G Adventures do really try and give back to the local economies and communities. We love to use both of these companies.
  • EspaceMada – this was a local tour company we used for part of our trip and they were great!

Pros

  • A tour company will organise everything for you on the ground, so you have nothing to worry about
  • You’ll usually see the main sights in a stress-free way
  • If you choose one of the companies above, you know your money is going back to the local economy
  • A big pro for us with Intrepid and G Adventures too – you know the animal viewings will all be ethical and hands off. That’s not necessarily a guarantee when you’re choosing places yourself unless you know what to look out for
  • You’ll make friends! Hopefully, if you have a nice group

Cons

  • The main con is price. Group travel in Madagascar is really expensive and it is much cheaper to organise yourself
  • Personally I do also find group travel a bit tiring and I struggle with my low social batteries. If you’re a socialite, this won’t be an issue for you
  • You are stuck with the route already laid out. If you do an independent trip you have a lot more flexibility, you can travel more slowly if you like, add in stops, skip thing

NOTE: there may be certain parts of your trip where a tour is required. You can still self-organise your trip and add in some smaller tours. We advise doing this through EspaceMada.

Feno, a Malagasy man, aged around 40 is sitting on a river boat wearing a yellow t shirt, beige shorts and black cap. He has his phone in his hand but is looking at the camera and grinning widely. The river can be seen behind him.
Our guide Feno!

Hiring a car or driver: which best?

We could not afford a group tour for our trip as we were on a backpacking budget. We didn’t find anything online about travelling to Madagascar as a tourist WITHOUT a tour. However, we’re pleased to report now that it is very possible and very affordable. So you have the two options: driving yourself or hiring a driver. We would recommend hiring a driver. Here’s why:

Hiring a car and driving yourself

As we said above, Madagascan authorities are quite hesitant to hire cars to tourists because of the road conditions. Since we wrote this post we have been contacted by a local guide who gave us two options for self-drive (without a driver), which are: cineroutescarrental.com and roadtripafrica.com. So basically, it can be done.

We cannot vouch for these companies as we have not used them ourselves. We are confident off-road drivers and hired our own car for the Pantanal and other places. We would still strongly recommend that if you are considering self-drive and it is your first time in Madagascar, you also contact a local driver for comparison quote. Roads in Madagascar are notoriously unreliable and there are additional things to be aware of such as unofficial ferry crossings etc. The locals know the roads very well and we would be inclined to be accompanied by one for safety reasons.

A tour called highlights of Madagascar with the price £1949 for 14 days

Hiring a driver

This was a great experience for us. We found our driver, Feno (who can be reached via WhatsApp on +261 34 08 740 70), through EspaceMada, who we contacted to book a short, 3 day tour on the Tsiribihina river.

Feno speaks both French and English, and acts a kind of driver/fixer. He basically sorted us out with everything we needed for the entire time we were away, and did some driving for us too. He specialises in adventure travel but told us he could happily cater for different travel styles, such as luxury or a more relaxed style. If you’re not doing a tour, I would suggest contacting Feno before doing anything else, as he can help you figure out what you should be doing based on what you want to see.

Aside from Feno, we will admit we found it difficult to find a driver for hire. A few people told us to contact DriveMada, but we tried contacting them every way possible and they just never replied. Actually they did reply, but we never got as far as a quote since they were so slow to respond. If Feno is busy, we would suggest asking EspaceMada for help.

You can contact them here.

If you’re visiting Madagascar, we also have an in depth 3 week itinerary available here.

A Madagascar 3 week road trip itinerary link. The guide costs $10

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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