A trip to the gold mine #notontripoto

26th Dec 2018
Photo of A trip to the gold mine #notontripoto by raghavendra nanubala

Madagascar is a raw, barely explored place. It’s on few people’s radar, and I doubt it will be for awhile, making now an ideal time to go. It’s cheap (once you get there), your tourist dollars can create a really positive impact, and there are few crowds and many cute lemurs and majestic landscapes, which you get virtually to yourself!

How to get there :
The first thing you need to know is that getting to Madagascar is not easy , there are only few flights from India that to from Mumbai.

How to get around Madagascar :
Organized tours are the most common way to visit the country. One guide told me that about 80% of visitors come on organized tours, and the other 20% hire a private driver to get around. Most of the tourists are an older, very heavily European crowd. I guess that most younger travelers stay away because getting to the country and tours are so expensive and there’s just not much information on Madagascar.
Organised tour - A 14-day tour will cost ₹175000–₹280000 rupees. You’ll stay in mid-range hotels (private bathrooms, hot water, breakfast, and maybe even a pool) and have your own bus with a driver and local guide. You’ll also get private guides at each park who will explain what you’re seeing, help spot animals, and give some added context on the destination. Most of the tours follow the same route, hitting all the big parks and destinations in the center of the country, with added paid add-ons to other parts of the country.
Going on your own - Madagascar is a difficult place to do solo. There’s little tourist infrastructure or hostels (which makes sense given how inexpensive hotels and guesthouses are here), information is limited, and public buses don’t go to many cities and national parks. You’ll need to know French, too, as English is barely spoken. In my opinion, this makes it really arduous to get around without any assistance.
But could you travel around on your own? Sure — though very few people do, it’s totally possible to visit solo. But I think you’d need to be an experienced traveler, really OK being pushed out of your comfort zone, and in absolutely no rush, because getting around on a budget will take time. Since the roads are really bad, getting from point A to B is a challenge. In a public taxi brouse (small van packed to the gills with people), you’ll move slowly. Buses go when they are full. There’s no set timetable. Sometimes they show up; more often than not, they don’t.
(However, seeing the condition of the buses and how many people they cram in there, plus the number of accidents on the road, I’m not sure I’d even get in one. I wouldn’t want to spend 24 hours packed like a chicken in a van with no air conditioning (and sometimes not even windows). I have too much anxiety to whip around on narrow roads.)
Renting a car and driver costs ₹3500 IND a day (or slightly more if you want 4WD) and is the most popular option for people looking to go on their own (and not wanting to wait for the buses). While you could drive on your own, most of the companies I looked at required that a driver go with you.
You can also fly around the island, but there’s only one airline (Air Madagascar), and most routes cost around 15000 IND per leg. Going with the flow is key here if you want to travel solo. You either have to pick a small area to cover or have a month or more set aside to explore Madagascar thoroughly.
So what should you do - If you’re really looking for some rugged, old-school independent travel, Madagascar is the place to do it. If you have lots of time and are up for a real challenge, go solo but give yourself plenty of time to do so — and learn French! (I really can’t stress the need for knowing French. Outside the big towns and a few tourist areas, English is barely spoken.) You’ll cover slightly more ground and have a lot more freedom if you rent a car and driver. There’s plenty of cheap guesthouses and restaurants around so you won’t need to look far and wide for a place to stay or a meal. If you aren’t looking for that kind of rugged experience and would like something more organized, a tour is the best – and really only – option. I wanted a tour to help me get the lay of the land and answer all my questions about the country. Additionally, I don’t speak French and didn’t have a lot of time. A tour was a great orientation to a country that was an enigma to me. It was a wonderful way to meet people in a destination with few independent travelers. (One thing to remember is that the clientele of the tours here is older and the tours cater to that in their itineraries, activities, and accommodation. The tours here aren’t designed for active backpackers.If I went back, I’d go by myself and explore with a car but I’m glad I went with a tour on my first visit.

Is Madagascar safe ?
When I was wandering around, I never once felt unsafe. I was more of a curiosity than anything ,since they see so few tourists, especially those not ensconced in a bus. There are a lot of beggars, especially kids, and you have to just keep saying no and walking away. The taxi drivers here take no for an answer and no one really bugs you. That said, crime is rife throughout the country, and not one local I knew recommended going out after dark. They don’t even do it. In fact, many hotels in the capital of Antananarivo hire escorts to take people from the hotel to bars or restaurants. During the day and, especially in smaller villages, walking around is perfectly fine. At night, I would use a lot more caution, especially in the capital.

What are the prices like ?
Though getting to the country is expensive, once you are there everything is incredibly cheap. Your money goes a long, long way in Madagascar. I went to a local market and spent 100 ARY on a spring roll. After realizing that there are 1.792 ARY to the rupee, that meant I had paid just three cents. As I was still hungry, I bought 15 more.
Even when you are eating at the hotel restaurants the tours go to, most meals aren’t more than ₹280 IND. In regular, local restaurants, they are half that price.
Madagascar food is mostly chicken, zebu (a type of cattle), pork, stews, and rice. LOTS OF RICE. (Get the Zebu in a stew. It’s better that way.) There’s also a lot of surprisingly good pizza in this country. You’ll definitely need to know French if you go into the non-international places (or travel outside of the cities). Even on the road, there are a lot of restaurants (again, knowing French is going to be key here, especially outside the capital Antananarivo). Hotels are ₹1400-₹3500 IND per night (on the cheaper range outside the capital). Madagascar was a beautiful, raw, and enchanting country. There’s no place like it on earth. Far off the tourist trail, this a destination where your inner Indiana Jones or Anthony Bourdain can be set free to explore. I’m so glad I went, and though the old traveler adage is “I can’t wait to go back,” I suspect that my visit to Madagascar will be the only one in my lifetime. I hope I’m wrong, but given the difficulty getting there, it really can be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Photo of Madagascar by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Madagascar by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Madagascar by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Madagascar by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Madagascar by raghavendra nanubala
Photo of Madagascar by raghavendra nanubala