The only practical way of getting to Madagascar is by air, as there are no passenger ferries from South Africa, Mozambique or Tanzania. There aren’t even any boats running from Madagascar’s nearest neighbours, the Comoros Islands and Mauritius.
With limited direct flights, the best way of travelling to Madagascar from the UK, Ireland, North America, Australia and New Zealand is via Paris, Nairobi or Bangkok. There are direct flights to Madagascar from Johannesburg, which might not only suit visitors from South Africa but also be a handy connection hub for travellers from Australia and New Zealand. Most planes fly into Antananarivo, the capital, though a handful of French and Italian charter companies sometimes offer seasonal flights directly to Nosy Be from Paris and Milan. Read on for advice and tips on how to get to Madagascar.
The majority of flights to Madagascar go to Ivato International Airport at Antananarivo. The main airlines serving Ivato 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 for flights to Madagascar vary widely, and are much higher during the key high-season holiday periods of late July and August and Christmas and New Year.
If you’d rather book your flights to Madagascar through an agent, Flight Centre is a low-airfair specialist, STA Travel are worldwide specialists in independent travel; and Trailfinders is one of the best-informed flight-booking agents for independent travellers. If you want to travel to Madagascar and feel good about it, North South Travel offers discounted fares worldwide and puts profits towards supporting projects in the developing world.
Antananarivo, or Tana as it’s widely known, is the main point of arrival and departure for flights to Madagascar, if you’re not using a charter plane to Nosy Be. Charmingly adrift and unfamiliar, Tana is a city worth spending a few days exploring, to visit the Rova palace compound and the old royal capital of Ambohimanga. Tana lies towards the northern end of the Central Highlands, and is something of a central hub for the island’s road network, from which the routes nationales radiate north, east, south and west.
Ivato International Airport is straightforward, with international arrivals and departures on the left and domestic on the right, connected by a short corridor. There’s a handful of international car rental agencies at the airport, represented in the car park behind arrivals and departures. For those getting around Madagascar by car, the airport is located in the northern suburb of Ivato, 5km north of the RN4 road to northwest Madagascar. This main highway enters the suburbs in the northwest and bypasses the city centre on the west side to join with the RN7 in the south of the city. There’s a similar bypass around the southeast side of the city linking the RN7 with the RN2.
Branching off the RN4 by the US Embassy is the heavily trafficked rue Dr Joseph Raseta/rue Ampanjaka Toera, which leads in 8km straight to the heart of the central district of Analakely, where the old Gare Soarano railway station can be found.
If you’re renting a car at the airport and travelling around Madagascar by car, there are three obvious road routes out of Antananarivo. The RN2 runs east to Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia and then zigzags down the steep scarp to the Indian Ocean, while the RN4 swoops off the highlands down to the hot northwest and far north. The country’s most important artery, however, is the RN7, which toils southwards through the Hauts Plateaux and eventually reaches the far south.
If you’re using public transport, there’s an airport authority shuttle service to central Tana that stops at several hotels and terminates at the central station, Gare Soarano. Listen out for the regular announcements on the PA.
You can also take a public taxi-be bus from right outside the car park, again terminating (eventually) at Gare Soarano. Private taxi drivers charge around 30,000ar depending on your destination and the time of day. Beware of touts who try to broker a deal for you: always deal direct with the driver. Allow up to an hour or more to reach central Tana, depending on traffic.
There are three main national taxi brousse stations (gares routières), each in different parts of the city. Gare routière d’Ambodivona is located about 2km northeast of the city centre, for the RN2 and RN4, with frequent departures to Tamatave and Majunga. Gare routière d’Ampasampito, around 2km east of the city centre, is for the RN2, with frequent departures to Moramanga. Southwest of the city centre, Gare routière de Fasan’ny Karana is for the RN7 and destinations in southern and western Madagascar. From here, you can catch frequent taxis to Antsirabe, Fianarantsoa, Morondava and Tuléar.
There are no longer any regular train services from Antananarivo, though a service using the famously eccentric old Michelines is still in theory on offer for charter. These pneumatic-tired diesel coaches on rails travel as far as Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia from the Gare Soarano.
There are no direct flights to Madagascar from the UK or Ireland. The best way of getting to Madagascar is to fly from London Heathrow to Nairobi (daily, overnight) and connect onwards to Tana. Alternatively, you could fly to Paris and connect (daily) to an Air France or Air Madagascar flight (11hr) – the latter uses 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, however, is an unavoidable introduction to the vagaries of Air Madagascar travel. If you need help with making a booking or understanding the Air Madagascar website, you’ll find that Aviareps, the UK sales and marketing office for the airline, are extremely useful.
There are no direct flights to Madagascar from North America. 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 travelling to Madagascar from the west coast, you may find it cheaper to fly via Bangkok and connect with Air Madagascar there (flights run twice weekly). Round-trip tickets start at around US$2000 from New York.
A handful of airlines offer direct flights to Madagascar 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 of getting to Madagascar from Australia and New Zealand, notably flying via Johannesburg or Nairobi, or hubbing through Bangkok. 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.
The main airlines that fly to Ivato International Airport in 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.
There are no passenger ferries to Madagascar from South Africa, Mozambique or Tanzania, nor from Madagascar’s nearest neighbours, the Comoros Islands and Mauritius. You can, however, get around Madagascar by sea and river, though options are very limited. There is very little passenger shipping except for small ferries and motorboats running over quite short distances. The seas on the east coast can be very rough and the scheduled small passenger ferries between Soanierana-Ivongo and Île Sainte Marie (sometimes including a service to Maroantsetra) are often cancelled.
Though it is fairly easy to organize your travel to Madagascar independently, some people prefer the structure of a group tour with set departure dates. If your perfect scenario is somewhere between the two, you might like an itinerary that is tailor-made or customized to your specifications. It will also take the stress out of planning travel in a wild and remote country like Madagascar.
For customised Madagascar trips, speak to a local expert about our Rough Guides Tailor-made Travel service. If you’re for the weird and wonderful critters, Wildlife Worldwide is another good bet for enthusiastically organized tailored trips with a very strong conservation angle.
See our full guide for more information on getting around Madagascar.