Madagascar may be the definition of exotic destinations. Nestled in the south Indian Ocean, this island is home to thousands of endemic animal and plant species found no where else in the world. Its landscapes are as different as they are otherworldly, as well as its people, a curious mix of Southeast Asian and African. Of all my travels, Madagascar is still the answer I give to people when they ask me my favorite country. I spent a month in Madagascar which I think was still a bit too short. I could have easily spent three months because there is so much to see. There’s as much geological diversity here as there is in the United States.
I spent just under a month traveling through Madagascar. It’s not an easy place to travel through. Roads and general infrastructure here is some of the worst in the world. The main highways are equivalent to side streets in most other countries, but riddled with potholes and teeming with people walking their ox-carts.
I would recommend a minimum of 10 days in Madagascar (not including the flight to get here which can be very long), purely because the road conditions are awful and the sole airline, Air Madagascar, is suspect at best.
Where I went
In total, our trip was 28 days and our itinerary included the following
- Avenue of the Baobabs
- Tsingy Stone Forest
- Ranomafana National Park
- Isalo National Park
- Andasibe National Park
- Ile Sainte Marie & Ile Aux Nattes
If these sights are on your list and you have about a month for your visit, this post is for you! This itinerary can easily be tailored for a two week or three week Madagascar itinerary. Just pick the places you want to go!
In depth Madagascar posts
- Guide to Traveling Madagascar
- Morondava and the Avenue of the Baobabs
- Tsingy Stone Forest
- Ranomafana National Park
- Isalo National Park
- Ile Sainte Marie and Ile Aux Nattes
Day 1-5: Straight to the Tsingy Stone Forest
We landed in Antananarivo International Airport in the early afternoon on a South African Airways flight. After clearing immigration, which gives all Western passports FREE 30 day tourist visas, we met our driver, Serge, waiting for us at arrivals. We planned on exchanging some Euros at the FX counters at the airport but our driver said he had a guy that would hook us up with better rates. A bit early in the trip for potentially shady practices, but what the hell?
We met with the guy, and he did indeed give us a better exchange rate and we were rolling in stacks of cash (the biggest bill in Madagascar is worth $3-4). We decided to skip Antananarivo (Tana) and drove straight towards Antsirabe where we spent the night.
Antsirabe to Tsingy Stone Forest
The next day we headed the Western beach town of Morondava. The drive took the whole day, but not without beautiful rice terraces and otherworldly landscapes. Morondava is a must stop for those visiting the Tsingy Stone Forest because it’s impossible to drive there at night. We would come back to Morondava afterwards for a few nights of R&R.
The next day we drove straight to the Tsingy Stone Forest. It was offloading and make shift barge ferries the entire way up but we made it to our guesthouse just before sunset. We stayed here for three nights and hiked the Grand Tsingy and Petite Tsingy. Unforgettable places!
Day 6-8: Morondava and Avenue of the Baobabs
Day 6 was spent entirely on the same road back towards Morondava. We arrived around sunset to one of my favorite places in the world, the Avenue of the Baobabs. This is one of those places that looks amazing in photos, and looks just as magical and special in person. The giant baobab is native only to Madagascar and it’s about as unique of a tree as there is.
We stayed the next two nights in Morondava. We enjoyed the beach, partied with the locals by drinking copious amounts of Three Horses Beer, and hung out with local fisherman to eat hearty portions of lobsters and prawns.
Day 9-11: Ranomafana National Park
Day 9 was another all day drive. We had plenty of these because Madagascar is a surprisingly big country, and the roads are so bad, you’re never driving more than 90 km/h. We arrived in Antsirabe (where we also spent the first night), to spend the night.
The next day, we drove south along the RN7, Madagascar’s main highway, to Ranomafana National Park. This park is known for their numerous species of lemurs, including the elusive golden bamboo lemur. The contrast in scenery is extraordinary as Ranomafana looks like a tropical rainforest, where the previous segment of our trip was some combination of desert and ocean.
We spent two nights in Ranomafana and spent a whole day hiking through the park.
Day 11-14: Isalo National Park
Day 13 was another transit day as we drove along the RN7 from Ranomafana National Park to Isalo National Park. The landscape changed yet again to rugged landscapes that reminded me of the American southwest, but with palm trees dotting the horizon. We made the full day drive and stopped at various locations like the base of the Andringitra Moutnains and the Anja Nature reserve, home to numerous ring tailed lemurs.
Isalo National Park is one of the most popular parks in the country and this is where we decided to stay in our “luxury” accommodations”. We spent three nights here, and I could have used another day as I very much enjoyed it here.
We hiked all around the park, including the two canyons, Windows of Isalo, and Piscine Naturelle.
Day 15-18: Andasibe National Park
After an amazing visit to the Isalo National Park, our next destination was Andasibe National Park. This is the most visited park in all of Madagascar, likely because of its proximity to the capital (3-4 hours drive). It is home to the Indri lemur, the largest species of lemur that is famous for its loud and distinctive howl.
There are numerous luxury lodges here. One of these, the Vakona lodge, has a sanctuary for orphaned and domesticated lemurs of all species. You can play with them as well as they are completely unafraid of jumping on you. I’m not sure if there is some questionable ethics happening at this place, but it was a great experience nonetheless.
Day 19-25: Mahambo and Ile Sainte Marie
The last leg of our trip was beach time! From Andasibe, we drove to east towards the port town of Mahambo where we stayed for the night. They had a resident ring-tailed lemur that was also domesticated and followed us around the entire time. It even followed us into our bungalow where we tried (unsuccessfully) to kick it out. It ended up staying the night in our bungalow which in hindsight, was pretty cool.
The next day, we drove to Soanierana Ivongo, where we caught the passenger ferry to Ile Sainte Marie. Upon arrival, we took another transport to the smaller nearby island of Ile Aux Nattes. This place was pure paradise. Not only was there the bluest waters and whitest sand, but we had the whole place to ourselves. We did day trips to scuba dive, and took mopeds all around Ile Sainte Marie.
Day 25-27: Antananarivo
Alas, the end of the trip. We took the morning ferry back to Soanierana Ivongo, and took a bus to the port capital of Tamatave. From Tamatave, we charted an entire Taxi-Brousse, the local form of transportation as we didn’t want to wait for it to fill up. We had a day to explore Tana which is about all you need.
Tana offered more to see than I had imagined. There are beautiful viewpoints all around the city as it is in the highlands, as well as nice colonial French architecture.
Day by Day Itinerary
Day 1: Land in Tana, drive to Antsirabe
Day 2: Drive to Morondava
Day 3: Drive to Tsingy Stone Forest
Day 4: Hike Grand Tsingy
Day 5: Hike Petite Tsingy
Day 6: Drive back to Morondava, stop at the Avenue of the Baobabs
Day 7: Relax in Morondava
Day 8: Drive to Antsirabe
Day 9: Drive to Ranomafana National Park
Day 10: Hike Ranomafana
Day 11: Ranomafana to Isalo National Park
Day 12: Hike Isalo
Day 13: Hike Isalo
Day 14: Isalo to Andasibe National Park
Day 15: Hike Andasibe National Park
Day 16: Hike Andasibe National Park
Day 17: Andasibe to Mahambo
Day 18: Mahambo to Ile Sainte Marie
Day 19: Ile Sainte Marie / Ile Aux Nattes
Day 20: Ile Sainte Marie / Ile Aux Nattes
Day 21: Ile Sainte Marie / Ile Aux Nattes
Day 22: Ile Sainte Marie / Ile Aux Nattes
Day 23: Ile Sainte Marie / Ile Aux Nattes
Day 24: Ile Sainte Marie to Antananarivo
Day 25: Antananrivo
Day 26: Fly out
This itinerary might not be for everyone, and it certainly is not the way I would choose to travel if I had it my way. Nevertheless, sometimes you need to make do with the time you have. I met numerous travelers that were spending months traveling through South America, giving each destination the just time it deserved and drawing my envy. With that said, I never felt overly rushed with my trip. Although I definitely want to revisit both countries, I felt like I saw all the highlights in Peru and Bolivia.