The only practical way to reach Madagascar is by air: there are no passenger ferries from South Africa, Mozambique or Tanzania, nor from Madagascar’s nearest neighbours, the Comoros Islands and Mauritius.
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The main airlines flying to Ivato International Airport at Antananarivo are Air Madagascar from Paris, Johannesburg and Bangkok; Air France from Paris; South African Airways and Airlink from Johannesburg; and Kenya Airways from Nairobi. Regional carriers Air Austral (Réunion), Air Mauritius, Air Seychelles and Comoros Aviation are useful for wider Indian Ocean travels. In addition, French and Italian charter companies sometimes offer seasonal flights from Paris and Milan to Nosy Be. Prices vary widely, and are much higher during the key high-season holiday periods of late July and August and Christmas/New Year.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
There are no direct flights from the UK or Ireland to Madagascar. You can either fly from London Heathrow to Nairobi (daily, overnight) and connect onwards (most days) to Tana (3–4hr); or fly to Paris and connect (daily) to an Air France or Air Madagascar flight (11hr); the latter use planes leased from and run by Air France. Return economy fares start at around £650 and may exceed £1300 in high season. The key advantage of flying Air Madagascar is the very worthwhile fifty percent discount you will get on internal flights booked with them; the downside is an unavoidable introduction to the vagaries of Air Madagascar travel. If you need help with making a booking or understanding the Air Mada website, you’ll find that Aviareps, the UK sales and marketing office for the airline, are extremely useful (01293 596659, aviareps.com).
Flights from the US and Canada
In the absence of direct flights from North America to Madagascar, the commonest solution from the east coast is usually a flight to Europe on Air France or on Kenya Airways’ partner KLM, followed by flights as described above from London or Paris. Alternatively, if you’re flying from the west coast, you may find it cheaper to fly via Bangkok and connect with Air Madagascar there (flights run twick weekly). Round-trip tickets start at around US$2000 from New York.
Flights from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand
From Johannesburg, South African Airways, Airlink and Air Madagascar fly daily to Antananarivo (3hr). Fares start at around ZAR8000 return.
With no direct flights, there are various options from Australia and New Zealand, notably flying via Johannesburg or Nairobi, or hubbing through Bangkok, as detailed above. However, the best-value route is via Mauritius and/or Réunion; several flights a week are run by Air Mauritius and Air Austral, with tickets starting at around Aus$1600 return from Perth.
Agents and operators
Whether you want a group tour with set departure dates or an itinerary that is tailor-made or customized to your specifications, it’s worth knowing the difference between a travel agent who books you a trip organized by another company, and a tour operator who puts the trip together themselves. Some operators also make use of local tour operators in Madagascar for some or all of the trip, while others work directly with hotel and transport providers.