A visa is required to enter the territory of Madagascar: you can get a visa at the Consulate of Madagascar in your country, or easier, upon arrival at the international airport of Madagascar. Please check if your passport is still valid (at least 6 months before expiry date). You can easily obtain a visa at the airport of Antananarivo: it costs 140’000 Ariary (which is around 55 € or the equivalent in US$ per person, subject to change) with a valid passport and return flight ticket. Please note that, to get a visa at the airport, you do not need to bring photographs. If you prefer to get the visa before arrival, please check on this website, which Malagasy embassy or consulate is near you:
Please note that you can get the visa upon arrival for free until the end of 2013, if your stay doesn’t exceed 30 days and if you’ll get the visa upon arrival.
You should be at the airport of Antananarivo Ivato 3 hours prior to departure time for long haul flights (to Europe and Bangkok), and 2 hours prior to departure time for regional flights (to Mauritius, Reunion, Johannesburg, Nairobi etc.). When checking in, the airline should give you a little emigration sheet that you have to fill in, with your name, flight and passport details, and address. You’ll have to give this, together with your passport, at the counter when you enter the departure area (duty free area). Once you have entered the departure area, you can’t go out anymore and have to stay there until the plane leaves. If you want to go to the airport restaurant after having checked in and before entering the departure area, please allow enough time for departure formalities and security checks, minimum one hour. There’s also a bar in the departure area (duty free area) with drinks and some small snacks, but you have to pay there in USD or Euro. There’s a WiFi zone in the duty free area.
In Madagascar, it is forbidden to export rough gemstones, protected endemic plants or animals and valuable cultural monuments or woods. It is possible to get official export permit for some polished gemstones and some plants but it may take a few days to get it. So if you want to buy polished ammonites, fossilized wood, solitary games or other similar items, it is highly recommended to ask for export papers or at least an official invoice when you buy it at the handicraft market to avoid any problem with customs.
Ariary (AR) is now the local money being used here in Madagascar, in the place of «Franc Malgache» (FMG). But many people still pronounce Franc Malagasy (FMG) when selling or buying something as they are used to it, but all payment must be done in Ariary (1 AR=5 FMG). You can import and export Ariary to a max. value of 400’000 Ariary, but it can be used and bought only in Madagascar. It can’t be used in the duty free area, so better use up your money before checking in for the flight back home. The Ariary can be changed back into hard currency at the money exchange at the national airport in Tana, of you leave the country from another city, better change only what you can use up.
To check the updated rates, please have a look at the official website of the Central Bank of Madagascar: http://www.banque-centrale.mg , but at public banks, you’ll get the buying rate which is lower than the middle exchange rate. Upon arrival, it is recommended to change money at airport banks. They are always open at each international flight arrival and their rates are similar to the rates of the banks in town or even better.
Credit cards ( the most useful credit card is VISA CARD ) are only accepted in big hotels , restaurants and some shops mainly in Antananarivo. In the other big cities, you can get cash from Automatic Cash Machines (ATM) only with VISA CARDS and now at some machines of the CA/BNI bank also with Master Card. There’s now also an ATM at the airport in Antananarivo, accepting Visa and Master Card. Don’t rely on ATM machines only, they are often out of order, keep some cash in Euro or US Dollar for emergency on you. Maestro or EC cards are not accepted in Madagascar!
Traveller’s cheques (TC) such as Thomas Cook, American Express etc. are also not recommended, because there have been false Traveller’s cheques on circulation and many banks refuse to take them. But if you really want to bring Traveller’s cheques, bring only cheques of Euro 50 or US $ 50 face value, and do not forget to bring also the invoice or receipt of where you’ve bought the TC. In some provinces, it may take you up to a few hours to change Travellers Cheques and the rate is generally worse than changing cash. Some banks charge you some commission.
HEALTH AND HYGIENE
There is a risk of catching Malaria in Madagascar. So it is highly recommended to ask your doctor’s advice about any drug against Malaria before leaving your country. Anyway, you should know the symptoms of Malaria. And bring a good mosquito repellent with you! Please also bring a suncream to avoid sunburn, the sun is very strong here.
When going to Madagascar, you do not need any vaccination except for those who have been to some African countries ( where there is a yellow fever ), vaccination against yellow fever is compulsory. We also recommend the vaccination against Hepatitis A, as you can catch it also through for ex. a dirty drinking glass. As medical cures and medicines are only available at hospitals in big cities , you are invited to bring your own medical stuff with you.
Tourism in Madagascar is still at its early stage!
About food, do not eat raw vegetables and do not drink unstamped bottles of water. Please , protect your head and skin against sun burn: use sun creams.
Madagascar is safer than some other countries, but unfortunately, crime has increased a little bit lately. Especially in the city center of Antananarivo, mind the thieves and pickpockets. Leave your valuable belongings in your safe at the hotel, or put them in your suitcase in your hotel room and lock it with a padlock. You better leave your precious jewelry, necklaces etc. at home. Mind the fake porters at the airport and near some hotels. Keep an eye on your luggage and only give it to your driver or to official porters in uniform. Put a locker on your luggage that you’ll drop off at check in for a flight, and keep all valuables in the hand luggage, also camera etc.
If you want to go out, take a taxi to the restaurant or discotheque or go there with your reliable driver. Also mind the thieves in Tana, who profit from traffic jams and steal mobile phones, cameras or bags through the windows of cars.
Adjust your clock upon arrival at the airport: add 2 hours during summer time and 3 hours during winter time to GMT.
WEATHER AND SEASONS
There are only two seasons in Madagascar : Dry season and wet season. Wet season lasts in most areas 5 months ( from December to April). In eastern Madagascar, it rains quite often all year long whereas it rarely rains in western Madagascar.
On the central parts of Madagascar, winter nights are so cold that the temperature may go down to +5°C. It may even go down to around freezing point in Antsirabe. So please bring warm clothes if you travel to Madagascar from May till September. From November till March, it is hot in southern and western Madagascar. The temperature in the coastal regions is generally higher than that in Antananarivo.
It is possible to call abroad from any public phone: you just need to buy phone cards from an office of Telma (Telecom Malagasy). In the cities, there are also some people offering their phone for calls for relatively cheap rates, they are called taxi-phone. Besides, most cities are now covered by mobile phone network and even some small towns like Moramanga and a small island like Tsarabanjina in the north western Madagascar are also covered. There are so far three mobile phone operators here in Madagascar : ORANGE (dial 032, former Antaris), Airtel (dial 033, former Zain, Madacom and Celtel) and TELMA (dial 034, Malagasy Telecom).
So if you want to bring your own cell phone , of course with roaming option , you can always be reached whenever you are in the big cities of Madagascar. It is also a good idea to buy a local SIM card, as it is not expensive (less than 5 Euro, including a little credit), at some shops or Supermarkets or at the airport. TELMA often has very cheap new Chinese mobile phones for sale, you can buy them sometimes for as little as 6 Euro including a small credit, so this may be another option. In Madagascar , communication by phone is relatively expensive and its quality is sometimes worse than in other countries.
Cybercafé / Internet:
There are now some Cybercafés in every big city of Madagascar. The Paositra Malagasy (Malagasy Post) also offers internet connection at their offices. It is very cheap but the connection speed is low, unless you are lucky and find one of the few places which offer ADSL. Even ADSL is slow compared what you are used to in Europe.
LUGGAGE ON FLIGHTS
It may happen that your luggage gets lost in the airport of Paris or other airports during transit flight luggage handling. If this should happen, your bags or suitcases will arrive in Madagascar a few days later. So it is recommended to put your very important stuff and some clothes, if possible, in your hand luggage. Please also put a weekly dose of your personally needed medicaments in your hand luggage, as if your checked in luggage get’s lost in Paris or somewhere, it can take up to 5 days or more until you’ll receive it, when you are already in the provinces. From Paris or other transit airports and on your connecting flights, you are sometimes allowed to have 30 kg of luggage allowance and Air France gives lately sometimes 2 x 23 kg per person. But be cautious: Sometimes the airlines allow only 20 kg sharply. We recommend to review it on your flight ticket. The luggage allowance on domestic flights is also 20 kg only (15 kg on Twin Otter flights), but the tariff for excessive luggage is cheap here. Put a locker on your luggage that you’ll drop off at check in for a flight, and keep all valuables in the hand luggage, also camera etc.
Please make sure that you have put your air tickets, money and Credit card and all the other travel document in your hand luggage or carry it on you.
During winter time , warm clothes and windcheaters are recommended especially in the Highlands, whereas light clothes made of cotton are needed all year long in the western Madagascar and during hot season. But you should always bring raincoats when visiting the humid eastern Madagascar and its rainforests.
Light mountain boots are recommended when visiting national parks, especially the rainforest parks. Waterproof sandals are recommended for beaches. In other places, you can wear other comfortable shoes.
Do not forget to bring a torch for nocturnal visits of parks and for any electricity cut-off.
FILMS AND PHOTOGRAPHY
Films, battery and photography kit are expensive in Madagascar and specific films like APS or slide films are very rare. So you should buy them in your country. Bring enough memory cards and batteries for your digital cameras.
In Madagascar, the two pole plug and the French standard socket are the most used with a tension of 220 volts ( but it may go down to 160 volts in some areas at peak times ) The European plugs with two slightly flexible pins (as on for ex. Electric shavers) can be used in Madagascar. Power cuts happen quite often, and hotels, which use their own electric generator for power production often switch it off at night and sometimes also for some hours during day time. Please bring a good torch / flashlight with you!
BEHAVIOUR AND TABOO
It has become a habit to tip someone who served you but it is not obligatory. Here are some ideas of gratuities which are expected:
- Around 4 € per day ( about 10’000 Ariary ) for a guide or a guide/driver.
- Around 2 € ( about 5000 Ariary ) for a park guide , depending on your satisfaction.
- Around 1 € ( about 1000 to 2000 Ariary ) per day for the chambermaid
- Around 5% of the bill at the restaurant
- 200 Ariary per bag for a porter.
As Euro or Dollar coins can not be changed into local money here in Madagascar, it is advisable to tip in Ariary.
If you want to go out in the evening for dining or to go to a bar or disco, you must always have your passport with you (this is requested by the local authorities), or at least a photocopy of it, also from the visa stamp, and keep a copy of it also in your luggage at the hotel. Please also look under “security”.
There are some beggars in some villages and mainly in the big cities, especially in Antananarivo. If you do not want to give something to them, neither talk nor look at them. But if you wish to give something to beggars, buy something to eat or pens or balls and share them only to the kids.
In Madagascar, there are different local beliefs and taboos, known as «Fady», related mainly to tombs or some places. So please respect those sacred places or tombs: your driver or guide will instruct you on what you should not do and respect during your trip.