The ultimate Madagascar itinerary - 10 days in gay Madagascar

Off-roading in Madagascar will lead you by dusty routes into the unknown, from Afrotropic rainforest to desert in just 300 kilometres, passing limestone karsts, yawning canyons, and tiered hills, all packaged perfectly within 5,000 kilometres of coastline. Join lemurs, chameleons and other exotic fauna under the shade of girthy baobabs, or bubble under the ocean waves for access to turtles, sharks and more. A huge territory barely touched by tourism, Madagascar remains remote and unspoiled even today. Of its national parks, a few see only a few hundred visitors each year, while rural villages open up for cultural homestays and Friday night discos before waving you off warmly in a taxi-brousse to continue kitesurfing, rock-climbing and biking adventures. Read on for our tips to create the perfect 10 days Madagascar itinerary.

Tailor Made Journey

Tailor-Made South Africa: Kruger to the Cape

On this custom private journey, combine wildlife encounters both on land and at sea with fine wine tastings, thrilling scenic vistas and fascinating historical visits for a comprehensive South African experience.

Photo: Aga2rk

LGBT situation in Madagascar

Settled by Indonesian sailors in the 6th century AD and ruled by the French for over a century, the French-speaking country maintains strong Asian influence, gaining independence as recently as 1960. Fortunately, there are no legal regulations for same-sex relationships, though the age of consent is 21. Given that homosexuality is legal in Madagascar, gay travellers should have no problems experiencing the wonders the nation has to offer. Be that as it may, overt displays of affection (no matter your orientation) is discouraged and considered somewhat culturally inappropriate. While there are no official gay hangouts, the Hilton Hotel and Mojo Club in Antananarivo are popular community meeting points. In other remote areas, you may find men who dress in women’s clothes, though these men are not considered homosexual.

Best time to visit Madagascar

The cooler and dryer period from April to October is the best time to visit Madagascar when temperatures hover around 19-21°C and bright days give optimal conditions for hiking, wildlife watching and water sports. Surfing comes best in April and May, while August to October are preferred months for diving and snorkelling. Getting access to more remote spots will be less of a challenge during this time too but accommodation prices will likely be higher as a result, particularly towards the latter part of the season when it’s primetime for viewing baby animals and all kinds of birdlife.

The rainy season meanwhile runs from November to March and commonly brings torrential weather, especially during the cyclone season between January and March. Temperatures regularly climb above 30° Celsius though the humidity will make it feel even hotter. Though not our top choice, visiting in this time can allow for cheaper rates (at the few hotels which stay open all year round) and better chance of spotting reptiles such as geckos and chameleons.

Photo: Alexander Wendt

Photo: Yeshaya Dinerstein

Travel Tips

Travellers from most countries can buy a tourist visa on arrival to Ivata International Airport for around $25USD. Staying up to date on any new health and safety information before travelling is advised, but generally, it’s recommended to get vaccinated for Yellow Fever and bring some form of anti-Malarial, as both Mosquito-borne diseases are ongoing concerns. Make sure to pack long-sleeved clothes and plenty of insect repellent to give yourself extra protection against these biting critters. While packing, add in a flashlight in the event of a (oft frequent) power failure at your lodging.

Getting to grips with the sheer scale of Madagascar can help you plan your itinerary a little better. Though Google Maps has its benefits, its route planner wildly underestimates the time needed to travel from place to place. Though on typical roads a distance of 160 kilometers could take less than two hours, on Madagascar’s bumpy, mountainous, dusty and highly trafficked roads, it could take up to six hours. If your schedule is tight, consider flying into the airports nearby the national parks, or otherwise rent a car or take a taxi bus and factor in the added time.

If hiring a rental, a 4X4 is the way to go. To do this you need to be at least 23 years old and have held your license for over a year. Madagascans drive on the right but don’t typically follow other road regulations. Be careful when driving through the city as car theft can occur (even while driving!), or otherwise consider hiring a driver who already knows the ins and outs of the country. Though tipping is not obligated, it comes highly recommended.

To avoid getting sick while in Madagascar, drink only clean water, foregoing ice cubes and fruit juice to be on the safe side. Also make sure to peel your own fruits yourself, washing your hands beforehand and regularly throughout the day.

Photo: Sandy Manoa

Option A: 10 days in Eastern Madagascar

Travelling Madagascar is not the easiest thing in the world, largely due to poor infrastructure, bad roads and wild terrain. To travel less and see more then, consider staying in just one region or taking connecting flights between far-off parks. Our first itinerary (Option A) aims to take you through the wonders of the east, including its delightful Indian Ocean coast and outlying islands, while the second (Option B) centres itself in the heart of the country, each route reconvening at the capital for urban life at its best.

Antananarivo (1 day)

Bookending our trip is the hilly capital of Antananarivo which comes split between low and high levels. Down low in the bustling centre, the neighbourhood of Analakely is home to the city’s largest market and the historic independence avenue, while the raised neighbourhood of Faravohitra is free for stunning views over the city as well as Lake Anosy and Mahamasina. Other areas worthy of your attention include the Hollywood Hills of Madagascar, Rova de Manjakamiadana, known for the white lettering and panoramic views, while Ambohimanga Hill is the site of a mansion formerly home to the king who reunited the country back in the 18th century.

Antananarivo | Photo: Fifaliana Joy

Photo: Houcine Ncib

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (2 days)

Moving east by car or taxi bus (160km from Antananarivo) into the primary rainforest preserve of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, we get our first glimpse of the Madagascan wilderness. The park covers 155 kilometers square, inclusive of the Mantadia forests and the Analamazaotra Reserve, the latter being home to nine species of lemur, namely the meter-long indra, rufous mouse, greater dwarf and eastern woolly species. Mantadia meanwhile is not without its lemurs but offers hillier terrain that serves as habitat for the black-and-white ruffed lemur and the diademed sifaka.

For the best chance to see all the different nocturnal lemurs, consider visiting between September to May, also looking out resident reptiles and amphibians, including a world-record-breaking amount of frog species and a number of chameleon species, such as the famous Parson’s chameleon and the pinkie-finger-sized nose-horned chameleon. Swapping to your long lens is also a must, to best capture the hundreds of endemic bird species at home in the forest canopy, including the Madagascar falcon, wagtail and long-eared owl. The park, which goes by a number of names – either Analamazaotra, Périnet or Indri Special Reserve – is also a fine place for flora, encompassing over 100 species of orchid in amongst mosses, ferns and precious woods.

Photo: Marjon Besteman

Toamasina (1 day)

Next, we go east until we hit the port town of Toamasina (230km from Périnet) to spend one day enjoying local ways of life in the space between the dense northern rainforest and the Indian Ocean. Of all the places to visit in Madagascar, Toamasina offers a unique sense of the nation’s history, best discovered on a guided tour through the French colonial Port Fluvial, where you’ll find an intriguing mix of crumbling colonial builds and creole stilted houses all connected by man-made waterways that edge private nature reserves and exotic plantations of vanilla, coffee, coconut and lychee along the shores. On land, buy up some homegrown spices at a local market, moving along the Place Bien Aimée by rickshaw before heading to any of the three museums, learning of everything from the port’s pirate past to contemporary Malagasy art and culture. After a full day of sightseeing in Toamasina, cool off under the waterfall in Ivoloina Park.

Mahambo (1 day)

Keeping up the tempo, we continue on to Mahambo (53 kilometres north of Toamasina), stopping off at the tiny village of Foulpointe along the way to marvel at both the architecture and the coral beaches. Those in need of some relaxing time away from the dirt roads can opt for a massage and a cocktail on the beach or embark on a canoe cruise around the reefs. Mahambo itself offers much of the same fishing village vibes as Foulpointe, though unkempt nature is evermore present thanks to Mahambo’s close forest borders. The uncrowded beach here is great for safe swimming in a calm lagoon, while guided scuba diving can also be added to the schedule.

Photo: Apex 360

Photo: Takeweb

Soanierana Ivongo (1 day)

Another 50 kilometres up the east coast lies the next important port of Soanierana Ivongo, but to reach it you’ll first pass through the pungent pepper and clove plantations of Fenerive, a city that also holds the ruins of an old pirate fortress. Take some time in Fenerive, particularly among the forests that edge the city. Once in Soanierana Ivongo, you’ll realize that the port offers two distinct watery pathways; one will take you by boat off the coast towards Sainte-Marie Island while the other will take you up the Marimbona River for a jungle cruise to remember.

Sainte-Marie Island (3 days)

Being the beach bums that we are, we opt for the primary choice of jetting off to Sainte-Marie Island where we can finally take some time to enjoy tropical paradise in peace. Come between June and December to join the island’s famed humpback whale boat tours, or anytime between September and November for easy exploration of the island’s hidden creeks. Hop on a motorbike or quadbike rental to get around the island in style, starting in the main city before heading north to the Pirate Cemetery of Saint-Pierre, the Ambodiatafana natural pools and undeveloped sandy shores. Though finding fresh seafood is not hard on Sainte-Marie, Le Cottage d’Ambodiatafana is a must if you happen to take a dunk in the nearby pools. Alternately, head to the remote southernmost point for the honeymoon destination of Ile aux Nattes (also offering its own blissful beaches!)

Photo: Sandy Manoa

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Being the beach bums that we are, we opt for the primary choice of jetting off to Sainte-Marie Island where we can finally take some time to enjoy tropical paradise in peace

Antananarivo (1 day)

Once you reach your final day, you have the option to fly back to the capital right from Sainte-Marie, saving you a whole lot of time and effort. If time allows, catch another of the city’s overflowing markets or any of the hill spots you missed the first time around, stopping by the craftsman’s market of Ambohitrimanjaka for a final pick of souvenirs on your way to the airport.

Option B: 10 days in the heart of Madagascar

If Option A seemed to have more beach and less forest than you would have liked, then Option B might be for you, starting once more in Antananarivo before heading south to the central highlands…

Antsirabé (2 days)

A colonial city located way up in the highlands (169 kilometres south of the capital), Antsirabé offers cool climes and stunning natural landscapes surrounding a frenzied city centre. Tour the city on a pousse-pousse (a hand-pulled rickshaw) zig-zagging through jumbled streets lined with French colonial builds, thermal baths and a central cathedral. The Saturday market is a particular highlight, allowing you to get your hands on some of the nation’s best crafts, after which nature calls with the beauty of Lake Andraikiba and Lake Tritriva, lying 7 kilometres and 20 kilometres to the west respectively. Rent a bike on day two to make your scenic way around the lakes, marvelling at the uncanny shape and vast depths of Lake Tritriva with its namesake mountain in the background.

Miandrivazo (2 days)

The next stop of Miandrivazo (220 kilometres from Antsirabé) comes doubly appealing, firstly for its authentic village centre and secondly for having Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park right on its front door. A UNESCO World Heritage Site with wildlife not found anywhere else in Madagascar, the park is a definite must-visit in the months from May to November. Notoriously difficult to reach and closed for half the year, Tsingy de Bemaraha requires a 10-hour drive in a 4X4 or a chartered flight before you get to see its wonders. On sight of the park’s towering limestone forest, however, the effort will seem instantly worth it, with its ethereal landscape connected via walkways and suspension bridges, covering six hiking trails of varying difficulty. As you pass among the precariously eroded rock pillars, keep an eye out for sifaka lemurs, crocodiles and chameleons in amongst the cacti-covered canyons, forests, lakes and mangroves below your feet. With so much to see in Miandrivazo, it’s likely you’ll want to find overnight accommodation – for a wide choice ranging from basic camping to luxury lodges, try Bekopata a few kilometres from the park entrance.

Photo: Aga2rk

Photo: Muhammadtaha Ibrahim

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Located in the western Menabe region known for its deep red earth, Morondava showcases Madagascar’s most iconic imagery

Morondava (2 days)

Located in the western Menabe region known for its deep red earth, Morondava (270 kilometres from Miandrivazo) showcases Madagascar’s most iconic imagery. Known as the ‘Avenue of the Baobabs’, this majestic line of Grandidier Baobab trees lies specifically along the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina, and, despite its unassuming nature, walking along this road is one of the most popular things to do in Madagascar. As well as being the centre of conservation efforts across Madagascar and in line to be the country’s first natural monument, these baobabs also mark the route towards the west coast, where the seaside town of Morondava offers the perfect base for exploring in the region.

Almost horizontal it’s so laid-back, Morondava offers a range of beach resorts and hotels, the best of which lie on the boulevard that works its way up Nosy Kely peninsula. Enjoy getting to know the merchant history during the time of the Sakalava kingdom or venture straight out to more remote areas both north and south. As well as deserted beaches, you’ve got a top pick of national parks, including Bemaraha, Belo-sur-Mer and the private reserve of Kirindy Forest. Another option for unruly adventurers is to hop in a 4X4 and begin the epic three-day journey from west to south, winding up in Tuléar.

Avenue of the Baobabs | Photo: Yasmine Arfaoui

Antananarivo (3 days)

To enjoy your last few days in Madagascar, the capital of Antananarivo is both convenient and alive with opportunity. From central Analakely to lofty Faravohitra, there’s much to see in the city, hiking to the ‘Hollywood Hills of Madagascar’ (AKA Rova de Manjakamiadana) for vacation-making vistas over the city and regional landscapes surrounding. Though Analakely Market comes overflowing with everything from fruit to textiles, for a last-minute souvenir hunt, try the craftsman’s market of Ambohitrimanjaka on your way to the airport.

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