You’ve probably heard of Madagascar from the Disney Pixar film. Maybe you fancy a visit? Go for it, the giant island is beautiful, diverse and just perfect for adventures.
The natural world of Madagascar is absolutely fascinating. With millions of years of isolation from the African continent, animal species have evolved at developed uniquely, giving the island a well-known lineup of the most famous endemic fauna in the entire world: e.g. lemurs.
However, Madagascar can be a challenge to visit. There is crime, cultural differences, a challenging political climate and a bunch of other potentially dangerous things makes the island actually fairly difficult to travel around.
So is Madagascar safe to visit? That’s the question we are going to be answering with our epic guide to staying safe in Madagascar. We will be covering just about everything from the safety of taxis to some in-depth stats about the country to make sure you know all there is to know.
Table of Contents
- How Safe is Madagascar? (Our take)
- Is Madagascar Safe to Visit? (The facts.)
- Is it Safe to Visit Madagascar Right Now?
- Madagascar Travel Insurance
- 21 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Madagascar
- Keeping your money safe in Madagascar
- Is Madagascar safe to travel alone?
- Is Madagascar safe for solo female travellers?
- Is Madagascar safe to travel for families?
- Is it safe to drive in Madagascar?
- Is Uber safe in Madagascar?
- Are taxis safe in Madagascar?
- Is public transportation in Madagascar safe?
- Is the food in Madagascar safe?
- Can you drink the water in Madagascar?
- Is Madagascar safe to live?
- How is healthcare in Madagascar?
- Final thoughts on the safety of Madagascar
How Safe is Madagascar? (Our take)
Madagascar has a lot going for it. There is a ton of potential on this island, with both incredible beaches and biodiversity to attract visitors.
Cut off from the African continent for 165 million years, the island’s native species attract – rightly so – a lot of outside interest. Everything from the aye-ayes to the red bellied lemur is fascinating in Madagascar, which is why a lot of travellers want to take a trip here.
Whilst most people who do visit have a trouble-free trip, Madagascar isn’t as safe as the Disney film would have you think. It isn’t a dream paradise – in fact, many people would recommend that you only travel the island with an organised tour company or hire a guide to take you around. When I visited in 2017, I had long term residents (my girlfriend and her family) to act at as guides.
Even the National Tourism Office of the country advises foreign tourists that they should use a professional tour operator. Yep, backpacking Madagascar independently can be dodgy.
Crime, such as robbery and theft, are sadly rife in Madagascar. There has even been an increase in the amount of kidnappings, targeting wealthy visitors to the country.
There was a coup in 2009, which led to much political instability. To this day the country is still not stable. In fact, it led Madagascar to be named “the poorest country in the world not in conflict” (according to the World Bank).
Let’s dive in to see what’s actually going on in this country…
Is Madagascar Safe to Visit? (The facts.)
There may be a cuddly film franchise named after the island, but in reality, the numbers tell a very different story.
For example, 70% of Madagascans live below the poverty line. That means that the majority of the 22 million people who live across the 87,040 square kilometres of this island are living an impoverished life.
Tourism, therefore, is very important to the country. It’s seen as a way to help reduce poverty and help economic growth, which makes sense.
Since the 1990s (at which time, tourism was the second largest sector of the country’s economy), tourist numbers have grown an average of 11% year on year. In 2007 it was reported that 5.1% of employment was directly connected to the tourism sector.
Unfortunately, tourist numbers were adversely affected by the political crises of the last decade. The highest number of tourists ever recorded was in 2008 (the year before the coup), when the country saw 375,000 visitors to the country. The following year saw a significant drop, with only 255,922 tourists making their way to Madagascar.
Growing steadily since then, in 2017 tourist numbers hit 366,000 and there was a projected aim of half a million tourists for 2018.
At the same time, there are issues related to crime. In 2018, for example, there were reports of kidnaps for ransom at a rate of 10 per month for the entire year. Between 2010 and 2015, however, there was actually a 16.24% rise in crime across the board in Madagascar.
To round things up, let’s take a look at 2019 Global Peace Index – measuring the overall “peacefulness” of 163 countries – in which Madagascar ranked a fairly respectable 55 (tying with South Korea), just below Tanzania.
Is it Safe to Visit Madagascar Right Now?
With all that political turmoil and crime, you may be wondering whether or not Madagascar is safe to visit right now.
To be honest, currently, there are some parts of Madagascar that are perhaps not safe to travel to.
Politically, the country is looking much more stable. There were two rounds of elections in 2018, which led to current leader Rajoelina being inaugurated at the beginning of 2019. Surprisingly, the violence surrounding the elections was low, but you should still be aware that political demonstrations and rallies can end in conflict.
Possibly in relation to the political situation, there were explosions in 2012 and again in 2016 in Antananarivo. In 2018 there were more explosive devices placed throughout the city by criminals, including a shopping centre.
In the north of Madagascar, there have been incidents which have targeted foreigners. In Nosy Be and Antsohihy, for example, robberies occurring in broad daylight have occurred on beaches. On the private island of Tsarabanjana, incidents involving tourists have been reported recently in crowded areas and at night.
Because of violent incidents in the area of north of Fort Dauphin, as well as along the west coast between Belo sur Tsiribihina and Toliara, as well as around the township of Betroka, there are armed forces involved in the area. It’s not recommended that tourists travel through this region independently.
In the “Southern Triangle” region the roads are not in a very good condition and travelling at night is not advised. Attacks and violence has been reported in the southern and northern parts of Toliara, so it’s best to steer clear.
As recently as June 2018, attacks (including fatalities) on foreign tourists visiting the Tsingy de Bemahara National Park.
It is also important to take the weather into account, too, especially during cyclone season – from November to April – when strong winds and heavy rainfall effect (mainly) coastal areas. I ended up stranded on Ille St Marie when a cyclone hit on New Years day.
Take your Madagascar security and get insurance! Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun while visiting Madagascar, but take it from someone who has racked up thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
We use SafetyWing who specialise in covering digital nomads and backpackers. Why not get a quote from them yourself?
Do be sure to read the terms and conditions to make sure that the policy covers your needs.
Getting an estimate from SafetyWing is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
If you want to shop around a little, then read up on competing companies and what they can offer. There are lots of insurances out there, so don’t feel limited.
Madagascar could seem like a dream destination. But as you might have been able to tell already, there is actually a lot to look out for if you are thinking of travelling to this country. Whilst seeing the country with a guide or on a tour is recommended, this doesn’t make you immune from danger – which is why we have compiled this list of the best safety tips for travelling to Madagascar to help you out.
- Learn Some French – Nobody in Madagascar speaks English. The official languages are Malagasy and French. Knowing how to communicate in one of them will make your trip a lot easier and safer.
- Be vigilant – robberies, street crime and theft occur frequently, especially urban areas, beaches and nature reserves
- Take extra care when travelling in a vehicle – car jacking and theft from cars is on the rise
- Watch your belongings in crowded areas – these sorts of places are hotbeds for petty thieves
- Do not walk around looking wealthy – cameras, jewellery, laptops, phones, designer clothes… Just don’t. You’ll make yourself a walking target
- Don’t walk around by yourself after dark – the crime rate significantly increases after dark, especially in town centres and on beaches
- Keep copies of important travel documents in a safe place – you don’t want these going missing; use a hotel safe
- Carry your passport with you – but make sure to keep it very concealed and very secure
- Be polite to the police – it’s important to show respect; don’t antagonise them
- Ask police for ID – reports of fake police have been known, so if they want to talk to you ask them to show you their ID
- Don’t resist if someone tries to rob you – consider taking a throwdown wallet so you can get away with losing a small amount of money. Whatever you do, don’t resist
- Be culturally aware – in Madagascar, there are taboos known as “fady”; these vary across the country and are related to food, clothing and sometimes related to foreigners in general. You should respect the local fady and ask locals for advice
- Be respectful to heads of villages – such as the Fokontany and the Ray aman-dreny. Not doing so will cause great offence
- Stay away from drugs – any sort of use or possession is a big, big deal
- Be careful what you take out the country – everything from pepper to jewellery; read up on quantities you’re allowed to take back home with you
- Be aware that plague still exists here – 500 cases are reported annually and they mainly occur in the rainy season
- Pay attention to the weather – monitor the progress of storms and use websites such as meteomadagascar.mg
- Don’t take photos without permission – especially of a person or a tomb; this can be very offensive
- Always have small cash on you – this is a cash based society and cards will not be widely accepted, if at all
- Keep a low profile – as a foreign tourist you are much more likely to be a target, so dressing obviously, talking loudly, anything like that, is not a good idea
- Research tour companies well – not all of them are going to have your best interests in mind
There is a lot about Madagascar that you have to watch out for. Crime, nature, and cultural taboos mean that you need to have an awareness for what’s going on around you. Though it is probably best tackled with a tour, it is possible to travel Madagascar by yourself; it will just mean that you pay extra care to your surroundings and to what accommodation you stay at, for example. Keep our tips in mind!
Keeping your money safe in Madagascar
We wouldn’t say that losing your money anywhere in the world is any fun – it can happen in almost any destination and we can tell you from experience that it’s scary, annoying and definitely puts a dampener on your trip.
Although there’s a chance of having your money stolen anywhere, in Madagascar the likelihood is a little higher since you’ll be a tourist and, therefore, more at risk than locals, for example.
However, it is possible to stop thieves in their tracks, and that is by simply wearing a money belt. Instead of keeping your stash of cash for the day in your pocket, you keep it hidden in a secure belt that no one can see.
The problem is that sometimes it is pretty obvious when someone is wearing a money belt, showing up underneath clothing quite conspicuously. They can also be quite uncomfortable to wear.
Therefore, in the world of money belts, our favourite is definitely the Active Roots Security Belt.
It’s very simple. It’s not obvious at all, being just a belt that has a hidden zipper pocket where you can put enough money you need for a day. That way, even if you lose your wallet or cards, you’ll always have this bit of emergency cash to fall back on.
It’s great: it doesn’t look fancy, it’s sturdy, it’s affordable.
If you don’t like belts (or even wear them), then you might want to invest in something else; how about an infinity scarf which has a secret pocket where you can put your money for the day?
Travelling solo anywhere in the world can be a blast. You get to do what you want, when you want, and you get to challenge yourself – and grow as a person – as you do so. That isn’t to say that going somewhere by yourself will be fine all the time, but it will be an adventure.
Madagascar is definitely adventurous. However, the infrastructure isn’t so developed and there are a lot of challenges you’ll face along the way. You’ll have to be open-minded, and cautious, with how you travel, so to help you do so here are a few tips for travelling solo here…
- A good place to meet other travellers is in the vibrant bars and other hangouts in Nosy Be, Nosy Borha and there’s a travel community in Taomasina and Tulear, too. Surfers will enjoy the socialising in Antsiranana and Taolagnaro. If you want to meet up with other independent travellers, these are the places you should head to.
- Hit up tourist offices – these places are not your enemy and are, in fact, very helpful. You can get maps, advice and ask questions about where is safe to explore in these areas.
- Join in a group activity. This can be something like a scuba diving excursion or heading out on a boat. These sorts of things are a good opportunity to not only see more of the country but also to meet a whole load of other travellers. There’s a lot on offer, so take a look and see what suits you.
- You probably may not be expecting this anyway, but don’t come to Madagascar expecting any sort of particular “backpacking scene.” This simply doesn’t exist here – yet, anyway.
- Choose your accommodation wisely. There is a very, very small handful of hostels on this large island nation, so make sure that you book yourself into the right place that will suit you will help your trip go more smoothly. Needless to say, careful research should be done, paying particular attention to reviews from other solo travellers.
- Ask at your accommodation for local advice on where you should go, what you should do, and where you should avoid. The local people will know where foreigners will be accepted, and where is safe (or not), and will be very worthwhile to your time in Madagascar.
- Travel lightly. Trust us, bumbling around with a load of backpacks and gadgets when you’re by yourself isn’t just not fun, but it will also leave you at risk of becoming a target of crime.
- Try not to stand out and attempt to blend in with what you’re wearing. Typical hiking gear or backpacking clothing is not the sort of thing that will help you do this, so take note of what locals are wearing and try your best to follow suit. Casual clothing, not shorts and vests, is probably the best way to go.
- Don’t drink too much. It’s fun to have a few, of course, but being completely wasted impairs your judgement. Being drunk can lead you into bad situations, or simply mean you aren’t able to find your way back to your accommodation as well as you could do when sober.
- Keep emergency numbers in your phone saved with a symbol (such as “&” in front of the contact name) so you don’t have to scroll your contacts to find them. Also, you should note these down on a piece of paper and keep it with you because, you know, phones can run out of battery.
- On that note, you should consider investing in a spare battery pack so that your phone always has a backup supply of energy. Always keep your phone charged, too – just in case.
- Try not to wing it. Though other places in the world allow you to be free and easy with how you travel around (Southeast Asia, for example), but Madagascar requires planning and generally sticking to your itinerary as faithfully as you can.
- Remove yourself from any type of vulnerable situation. If you suddenly realise that you may be at risk, or if a situation is just getting a bit awkward and uncomfortable, don’t feel like you have to stick around out of politeness.
- Don’t go off grid! It’s not safe. You may be doing something for you, and you alone, by travelling around Madagascar, but keeping in touch with friends and family back home – letting them know your itinerary whilst you’re at it – is the best way to go. Having someone know where you are and what you’re doing is much safer than ghosting everyone you know because you’re “travelling.”
Madagascar is a truly fun and amazing country with a lot of culture and nature to soak up and, as a solo traveller. Despite what you may think, it can also be a safe place to visit. You just need to make sure that you respect nature, local customs and trust your gut.
One of the main things that will keep you on the straight and narrow in Madagascar is research. Do a lot of research, on where you’re staying, where you plan to go, tour companies and guides. This is really important when it comes to staying safe in Madagascar.
Is Madagascar safe for solo female travellers?
Madagascar is definitely a country of contrasts. The intense nature, rich history, poverty, culture and endangered wildlife all make for a pretty intoxicating cocktail that would attract any adventurous traveller. We can see why a solo female traveller would want to come here.
However, it definitely is not a trip that is going to be in any way normal. You may raise some eyebrows when you tell people that you are planning to go to Madagascar solo, but you will certainly be in for the trip of a lifetime. Whilst it can be safe for solo female travellers in Madagascar, you have to understand local customs, have some knowledge of the country and know a few insider tips on how to stay safe.
- Locals will be curious about you – no doubt about it. You shouldn’t necessarily expect to be hassled or feel threatened, but it may be overwhelming. People will ask questions about what you’re doing and be curious about your situation, where you’re from and what you’re doing in their country. Fair enough.
- There won’t be a lot of other solo female backpackers that you can rub shoulders within Madagascar. As long as you know that, and you’re fine with that, then that’s the first step to being at least half ready for this island nation. Many people who come here are well heeled Europeans staying in expensive resorts, so don’t expect to be meeting a whole load of other people.
- That said, if you have the money, then it might be worthwhile booking yourself onto a tour for your entire trip of Madagascar. These do exist and it is not a cop out. This is, in fact, the most normal way to get around Madagascar as much of the country is actually hard, and somewhat dangerous, to access and explore without a local guide.
- Finding the right guide is important – especially if you’re by yourself and you’re a woman. You don’t want to be spending your hard earned money on a guide who will just make you feel uncomfortable. There are a lot of guides to choose from in Madagascar, many of them friendly people who really know their stuff. Get online, ask questions, and get recommendations; this will really help you.
- Get connected with other female travellers who have been there before you, or with people who live there – expats or Madagascan people alike. In the world of the internet, there are countless groups and sites dedicated to just this. Hit up places like Host A Sister or Girls Love Travel, or find another group you like, and then start making your connections. It will help open up the country.
- Be kind to yourself. Just because you’ve saved up all this money and you’re making this big effort to explore Madagascar, it may not always be as awesome as you were hoping. That’s fine. Have days to yourself, admin days, laundry days, or days when you just chill at your hotel. You don’t always need to be doing something just “because”.
- Err on the side of modesty when it comes to how you dress. This is helpful for wherever you travel in the world really, but in Madagascar, it’s going to help you stick out less as a tourist – and therefore, potentially, as a target.
- Don’t disclose all the information about yourself to a stranger. What town you’ve travelled from, where you’re staying, where you’re from, what you’re doing, your full name, whether or not you’re single; if someone’s making you feel uncomfortable with their line of questioning, just tell some white lies, or remove yourself from the situation.
- As we mentioned, people will be curious about you and your travels in Madagascar – that includes men. If someone approaches you and tries to make an advance, a firm no should be enough to ward them off. Men in Madagascar are usually quite respectful of women.
Madagascar should definitely not be left off your bucket list if you were ever thinking of going there, but you’re thinking twice because it may not be twice. We mean, how could you not see those breathtaking mountains or those rainbow coloured coral reefs?
It may not be the most ideal destination for a solo traveller – let alone a woman by herself – but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t doable. Tours offer up a fantastic way to see the country and mean you get to connect with locals and see the sights safely and with fewer risks.
In fact, for most tourists, a tour is going to be the easiest and safest way to get around Madagascar. If you really think that Madagascar is going to be your next big trip, you shouldn’t not go – but we would definitely advise having a bit of solo travel experience elsewhere first.
Is Madagascar safe to travel for families?
Though Madagascar isn’t a regular sort of destination for a family holiday, and whilst it won’t exactly be easy, there are ways to get around this island nation and see the best that it offers.
You may think that visiting Madagascar would be like going to the best natural zoo ever. But it’s actually not very easy with children.
You’ve got to take into consideration a few things: it gets super hot, the accommodation can be pretty basic, the roads are not in very good condition, wildlife, like scary bugs and feral dogs, isn’t always amazing.
This is definitely a destination for adventurous families and not ones with young children, either.
Not a lot of tour companies will even accept children under 8 years of age because of the conditions of the country. It is definitely worth going through the pros and cons of visiting Madagascar before deciding to book a trip.
That’s not to say that it’s not a good idea for a family adventure. Teenagers, for example, will have the time of their lives, especially if they like the great outdoors.
There aren’t a ton of facilities that are set up for kids throughout Madagascar, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be welcomed in the country. In fact, local people love children and will be very accommodating. For example, if you stay at a hotel, you might be provided an extra bed if you ask for one. Some mid-range hotels even offer restaurants with kids’ menus, highchairs and children’s activities.
When it comes for things to do, of course you could go on adventures to try and find those lemurs. There’s also kayaking, kitesurfing, camping and even visiting community and conservation projects throughout the country, which could be a real education experience.
It’s important, however, to really consider the safety of your children on a trip to Madagascar. You will need to get professional advice – i.e. from a tour company – before going there. Much of the country is very poor, underdeveloped and there are issues with things like disease. We strongly advise visiting your Doctor a few months before your trip to talk about vaccinations.
Rabies is present and feral dogs are common; you’ll have to dissuade your children from going near them. Rabies is also present in bats and other mammals in Madagascar.
Infectious diseases include cholera, tuberculosis, bubonic plague and hepatitis; outbreaks of any of these diseases can and do occur without warning. It’s important that you read up on the state of things, in terms of epidemics, before planning to go on a vacation to Madagascar.
Though this may not be your style, with children in tow the best way to see the country is by hitting up the main tourist sites and trundling the well-trodden routes.
It’s also easily misjudged as a small country. It’s not; it’s massive. Distances between destinations can be utterly vast, and many visitors end up flying between them, especially if they only have a short time in the country.
A good time to visit Madagascar with children would be May or June; the island experiences generally cooler temperatures at this time of year.
Basically, we wouldn’t say that Madagascar is especially safe for families to visit. For those who are really interested in nature and wildlife, it can be done, but it just takes a bit of planning.
Is it safe to drive in Madagascar?
Driving in Madagascar is pretty treacherous. In some areas, the road conditions of Madagascar are pretty good, but in other places, they’re awful.
According to WHO, road traffic deaths in 2017 equated to 5.3% of total deaths (7,602), which is a fairly high number. Needless to say, it can be quite a hair raising driving around – especially if you are at all unfamiliar with the hazards you may come across.
If you do decide to rent a car we would recommend that you only drive in the day. There are a high amount of car jackings and other crimes related to vehicles that occur after dark. In fact, it’s often hard to rent a vehicle yourself: the driving conditions are so bad that most of the agencies who rent cars will require you to hire a driver to drive the vehicle for you.
Only 20% of the approximately 50,000 kilometres of road are sealed. Think huge potholes, impassable mountainous byways, hairpin bends and roads washed away by floods or landslips left in-situ.
If you really, really do want to drive yourself, then you have to be over 23 years of age and have an international driving license.
However, you should be very experienced. We can’t stress this enough.
Note that fuel shortages are common. You will need to take a jerry can full of petrol along with you, fill up at every opportunity, and take a spare tire with you.
Depending on your route, it might be a good idea to get a four wheeled drive.
To hire a car with a driver (often mandatory, as we mentioned), make sure you ask for recommendations at your hotel or accommodation. Shop around to find the best deal or most highly recommended driver and/or agency; an English speaking driver, or driver who speaks the same language as you, is very helpful.
When you hire a driver, the car comes with them. Pay careful attention to the vehicle as well as the driver; see how well the driver looks after it. If it looks good, it looks like it’s taken care of, then it’s probably a good option.
Basically, driving is not safe in Madagascar. Hire a driver, a good one who’s reputable, comes highly recommended and who knows what they’re doing, if you really want to get around by car.
Is Uber safe in Madagascar?
You might have seen this coming if you’ve read everything thus far, but Madagascar doesn’t have Uber.
Maybe one day in the dreamy future, Uber will be present in Madagascar – at which time we imagine it’ll be fairly safe – but for now… here’s hoping.
Are taxis safe in Madagascar?
Taxis in Madagascar might be how you expect them to be – varied. There are two main types: city taxis (which operate in cities and towns, obviously) and bush taxis, known as taxi-brousse.
Almost all cities in the country have taxis that regularly work as part of the transport system. They used to indistinguishable from normal cars, but nowadays efforts have been made to make them look more taxi-like; for example, in Diego Suarez and Antsiranana they are painted yellow, whilst in Antananarivo they are beige.
This kind of practice is slowly developing in the cities, making taxis in Madagascar a little more safe – but not all the time.
It’s not common to call up for a taxi. In fact, most taxis don’t have a phone number. To hail one down, you need to stand on the street and wave your arm. Usually, taxis are around 24/7, but there aren’t too many which operate at night time.
They operate by neighbourhood and not on an address or street name system.
As with many taxi systems around the world, you should make sure you have cash, and small notes at that, when you come to pay your taxi driver. Uniquely, in Madagascar they have to watch out for robbers as much as you do; having all that cash on them tempts thieves, so often there are partners in the car who act as security for the driver.
Be warned that inflated “tourist prices” will be charged to you, but usually, taxi prices are pretty affordable, hovering around USD $3, but can go up depending on the time of night, the traffic and peak hours. Also, note that fares are negotiable, so you can haggle – just make sure you set, and agree on, a price before you get in.
Don’t be surprised if other passengers get in: shared taxis are common in Madagascar. You can ask politely to not have this happen, if you want, but this will cost you more money.
Then we come to bush taxis. This is a generic way to refer to basically any kind of vehicle that takes people around in more rural areas. This can be anything from a pickup truck or a Peugeot 504, to a Japanese minibus.
Taxis are more of an experience than a uniform way of getting around in Madagascar. They’re often old cars (sometimes vintage and pretty cool looking) and will provide an interesting travel experience.
Is public transportation in Madagascar safe?
Much like the taxis, public transportation in Madagascar is… an experience.
There is a variety of things to use. The bush taxi/taxi-brousse we mentioned earlier isn’t just a taxi service, it forms the skeleton of much public transport around the island nation. It works much like a bus.
In fact, many of the drivers and the vehicles are employed transport companies called Cooperatives. They go all over the place in a system that is actually surprisingly well organised, regardless of how archaic the vehicles may look.
However, even though they are very cheap and easy to come by, they are often very uncomfortable, slow and are driven quite erratically. This leads to them being sometimes not so safe.
There are booths that sell tickets at the taxi-brousse stations; there are even national and regional services. The best one to use is the national service because the alternative stops regularly and crams a load of people on the bus (you may know what this is like).
Most of them are Mercedes Sprinter minibuses – or rather, these are the best ones to use for long journeys. You actually have your own seat on these and people won’t be crammed next to each other.
A good tip: you can actually book more than one seat (good for tall people) and actually choose the seat you want to sit on.
It’s the kind of thing where the vehicles leave when they’re full; the luggage goes on the roof, and it could take much longer, or quicker than you thought to get where you wanted to go – usually longer.
You shouldn’t travel at night time, which is when it’s much riskier. Even the taxi-brousses have to go around in convoys, too.
There are trains in Madagascar. Sadly, however, much of the thousand kilometres of railway track that made up the RNCFN is only used by freight services. Passenger services are very limited.
There is a train line that runs between Fianarantsoa and Manakara. You can get a 1st class ticket for this journey (must be reserved in advance); it takes 12 hours and is a cool way to see the landscape – especially if you’re a train fan.
Boats and river ferries in Madagascar operate somewhat irregularly throughout the country. However, you should watch out for these because they tend to be overcrowded, poorly maintained and by a crew with a lack of training. Not only that but on the Tsiribihina River in the west of the country, there has been an increase in armed robberies. Be careful with how you travel.
In general, the best thing to do in Madagascar is probably to get your own driver. Public transport exists, but it’s not all that, and it’s not always safe. Alternatively, a tour will be able to take you around hassle-free.
Is the food in Madagascar safe?
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that you probably don’t know much about Madagascan orMalagasy cuisine. It’s a real cocktail of culinary traditions, from the earliest Bornean influences and Arab twists on cooking, to French gastronomy later on.
Whilst there are a surprising amount of places to eat food – from local eateries called hotelis and street food, to restaurants and homestays – it’s not always easy to judge how safe it is to eat there. With that in mind, we’ve got some safety tips when it comes to Malagasy food.
- Be careful of dietary changes. The sudden introduction of ingredients, spices and cooking methods that you’re not used to is probably one of the main reasons you would get an upset stomach in Madagascar. For that reason, go easy on local food and don’t try everything all at one time straight away.
- We definitely recommend that you should wash your hands before you eat. This may seem like a simple thing to do, but you could easily forget to do so. Especially if you’ve been out in a city all day getting grubby hands and who knows what sort of germs, washing your hands is essential. You may want to consider packing, and using, hand sanitiser.
- Only eat things that you can cook and peel yourself. Eating things from market stalls that have already been peeled are a good way to upset your stomach.
- When choosing to eat from street vendors, be selective. Make sure that the place looks clean, that some level of hygiene standards are being practised by the vendor, and that you can see food being cooked at a high heat in front of you.
- Be careful of dirty crockery and cutlery. A common way to get ill in Madagascar is by eating with plates or cutlery that hasn’t been washed properly or has been washed with contaminated water. Use a sanitising wipe if you’re unsure on the sanitary conditions of the establishment in which you’ve found yourself.
- As a good rule of thumb, you should choose to only go to places that are busy with locals and have a high turnover of customers. This means a hot grill, fresh food being cooked up freshly; missing the lunchtime rush could mean that you end up with something that didn’t sell a few hours ago and has been sitting around for a while.
Lonely Planet basically says it’s “not inevitable” but “certainly very likely” that you will at some point contract so called travellers diarrhoea whilst you’re travelling around Madagascar. Being prepared with appropriate medication and rehydration sachets will pay off.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid eating anything that looks like it might be interesting. Whilst it can be a hit or miss, eating the food in Madagascar is – like many other things in this island country – quite the experience. Don’t let it pass you by!
Make sure you pack plenty of medicines from home.
Can you drink the water in Madagascar?
The tap-water in Madagascar is not safe to drink. You shouldn’t be drinking it anywhere in the country – even at top hotels.
Avoid ice in drinks as well, as this won’t be safe to drink and will make you ill.
Bottled water is readily available throughout the country, but a good idea is to bring along some water purification tablets and your own refillable water bottle to save from leaving behind too much plastic waste.
Is Madagascar safe to live?
The Indian Ocean island nation may not be the top expat destination on the list, but it’s definitely a consideration if you’re wild about nature.
With all the diverse nature and landscapes, as well as a vibrant culture, it’s definitely an interesting place to base yourself for a while. If you speak French, your life will be a lot easier here, as that will help you connect with locals, read important information and get around.
In terms of safety, there are obviously issues around the country related to crime – particularly with pickpockets – but this will vary depending on where you choose to live.
Antananarivo, for example, is not safe to walk around after dark and has a lot of pickpockets. In the countryside, however, life is much more traditional and there are different issues to think about, often involving poverty.
The best place to live in Madagascar would be in a smaller city: this way you have access to all the amenities of a city but without the crime of the capital. Tamatave on the east coast, for example, has many NGOs, tourism, supermarkets and international businesses, as well as infrastructure that includes an airport and the country’s largest port.
Choosing to base yourself in the capital, on the other hand, means power outages and traffic jams, but more options when it comes to eateries and accommodation.
Speaking of which, it’s not legal for foreigners to own land, so that will affect how you choose to live. Many houses are small and normally, families live in one single room. There are apartments, however, which are a little more classy. Do your research to find good places to live and base yourself when in the country.
Once you’ve found yourself here, you’ll find things affordable: everything from public transportation to things like rice will mean you’ll basically be able to live quite cheaply.
You’ll have to get used to a completely different lifestyle: watching out for crime, shopping at markets and not having good public transport readily available.
There are also ecological issues that may change your mind about wanting to live on the island. For example, since the 1950s, more than 80% of the island’s forests have been destroyed. Environmental degradation is pretty significant – and isn’t stopping, apparently. Each year a third of the country is burnt, due to slash and burn agriculture, and 1% of the remaining rainforest disappears.
Madagascar is not the paradise it is painted out to be.
To conclude, we would recommend that you head online and talk to expats, get involved with NGOs, dig deep and talk to as many people as possible about how it is to live in Madagascar. It may change your mind, it may make you more determined to go there than ever, but either way, it’ll give you more of a solid grounding.
How is healthcare in Madagascar?
Having got this far in our safety guide to Madagascar, you can probably guess the answer to this: not great.
There are public and private hospitals in the capital (Antananarivo), which will be able to deal with things up to and including routine operations. Anything more complex will require evacuation to either South Africa, Mauritius, or La Reunion.
You should therefore definitely make sure that you have good medical travel insurance that covers the cost of evacuation and even repatriation.
Elsewhere in Madagascar, the healthcare is very limited.
If you need medical treatment or advice, and it’s not urgent, then you can visit a pharmacy. This should be your first port of call; they are usually well stocked, have well trained staff, and you can find at least one in most towns and cities.
Medical centres in touristed areas, such as Nosy Be and, of course, Antananarivo are of a decent enough quality for minor ailments. The private hospitals in Antananarivo are probably the best option for you, and closest to what you know.
Public hospitals are poorly equipped and underfunded; we don’t recommend using them unless in extreme circumstances. To put that into perspective, sometimes you will have to buy your own medication, intravenous fluids (IV drip, basically) and dressings yourself from a nearby pharmacy.
If you need medical assistance, you should contact your embassy or consulate and ask them for a list of recommended medical practitioners and facilities; you should also make sure to contact your insurance company as soon as possible.
Final thoughts on the safety of Madagascar
To be called “the poorest country in the world not in conflict” is a pretty big statement. Even though Madagascar has such a wealth of biodiversity and some of the coolest endemic animals on Earth, as well as some interesting history to explore and even a load of amazing beaches to discover, it’s still a developing country that will certainly be a challenge to almost any visitor. It will also be very rewarding.
Madagascar is not easy to travel around. It isn’t always safe. You won’t always be able to meet up with fellow travellers if you plan on doing it independently. There are a lot of reasons why we definitely wouldn’t recommend travelling independently by yourself around Madagascar, one of which is simply getting around easily; tours just offer you a much easier way to see the country – and with a guide, too.
Then again, if you are a veteran backpacker and has been to many places before and you yearn for adventure and truly untouched, off the beaten track destinations, getting to meet interesting local people and seeing some diverse stretches of landscape – from deserts to rainforests – then you’ll love exploring Madagascar. You’ll have to research, stay alert, read up on customs and culture, and research some more.
We would strongly, strongly recommend getting travel insurance for any travel trip you’re doing!
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