For those seeking an off-the-beaten-track destination like no other, Madagascar is the perfect place to go. It is the fourth largest island in the world, and was torn away from the African and Indian landmasses millions of years ago after an earthquake that set it adrift. The result is a truly unique island, considered by some to be the most bio-diverse place on earth.
Much of Madagascar is still wild and undeveloped consisting of breathtaking mountains, lush forests and vibrant coral reefs beckoning to be explored. As stunning as this island is, however, travellers must arm themselves with the following information in order to remain safe during their journey.
Madagascar has experienced repeated bouts of political instability, including coups, violent unrest and disputed elections since gaining independence from France in 1960.
Andry Rajoelina became president in January 2019, which ended a decade of political turmoil that began with his ouster of President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009.
Steer clear of any protests, demonstrations or political gatherings which can turn violent quickly. In addition, the Ambohijatovo, Lac Anosy, Antaninarenina and Analakely areas and military barracks should be avoided, as they have been subject to political gatherings resulting in outbreaks of violence.
The overall crime rate in Madagascar is lower than many other African countries and is therefore considered safer for travel. Regardless of this reputation, however, the fallout of the political turmoil has led to increased unemployment rates resulting in a rise in crime, particularly muggings and robberies. It's important to note that these crimes not only occur in urban areas but also in nature reserves and beaches.
There has been an increase in violence, including armed robberies, around the capital, Antananarivo and southern districts of Toliara and Fianarantsoa provinces. If you plan to travel to these areas, you may want to consider hiring a reputable guide.
Be cautious when traveling in bush taxis (taxi-brousse), and try to only use reputable companies, as some drivers are reckless on the roads. There is also a risk of the drivers robbing passengers.
If you are driving a rented vehicle, be aware reports of carjackings have increased. Most carjacking crimes occur at night, so do your best to drive during daytime.
The road conditions in Madagascar vary, from good to extremely poor depending on where you are. Many of the roads that lead out of Antananarivo, although not necessarily in bad shape, are very crowded and are steep with a lot of sharp bends.
If you are unfamiliar with the area, this can be hazardous.
During the rainy season (typically December to April), many of the secondary roads throughout the country become impassable, and bridges often wash away. Use extreme caution if you are driving during this season.
River ferries are available although service may be somewhat irregular due to frequent changes in routes.
Be particularly cautious when operating or riding on sailing vessels as the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean all carry significant risk of piracy. You are advised to avoid any sea travel further than 12 nautical miles from shore. Always check with the local authorities prior to setting off to determine whether your chosen route is safe and passable.
In April 2011 the European Commission imposed flight restrictions on two of Air Madagascar's aircraft due to safety concerns – despite Air Madagascar having no fatal accidents since 1981. The same can't be said of larger European airlines such as Air France, which, despite crashes are not placed on the EU blacklist.
The Mozambique government has criticised the move, it says its own national airline and Air Madagascar are among 14 African airlines on an EU blacklist, which they claim gives major European airlines a competitive advantage.
In 2016 Air Madagascar was taken off the blacklist, and flies to 14 cities around Madagascar and 13 foreign destinations.
Armed bandits often position themselves on major routes after dark to ambush vehicles. Criminals have also been known to stage breakdowns that block the roadway forcing drivers to slow down in order to victimize them.
Armed hold-ups have occurred on some of the main roads in Toliara province and in the township.
There have been increased reports of "smash and grab robberies" in which thieves will target cars stuck in traffic. Always keep your vehicle locked with the windows rolled up and make sure valuables are well hidden. Beware of local villagers who will often block the road by placing a tree log or other debris in the roadway. The villagers will then offer to assist the driver in return for monetary compensation. In addition, vehicle theft and theft from cars has become more frequent in recent months.
Instances of petty crime (mainly pickpocketing) often occur in crowded areas and airports. Foreigners are often targeted for these types of crime so take precautions when walking in street markets and urban areas.
It is highly recommended that you avoid walking at night in urban areas.
Avoid traveling alone to beach areas as this could increase your chance of being targeted for a crime.
Steer clear of street disturbances and keep in mind that large scale looting has been reported as a result of the political unrest the country is experiencing.
As in any country, it is important to never leave your bags unattended and never go near someone else's unattended bag.
If your itinerary includes a visit to the Avenue de L'independence area, be prepared. This area is full of beggars and street merchants who can get quite aggressive in their sales pitches.
They'll offer you anything from cigarettes to candy to DVDs and an endless array of tourist souvenirs. Most of them mean no harm but some can be pushy and they often swarm around foreigners in groups so try not to be intimidated.
A polite but firm "no thank you" should do it, although you may have to say it a dozen times to really get your point across.
Madagascar is home to some 70 different types of lemurs, so you'll certainly see a few during your stay.
If you spend time at the Berenty Reserve, know that the Ring Tailed Lemurs of that area have grown quite accustomed to tourists and the goodies they often bring with them. These smart little buggers have figured out that every day around 3:30pm many people take siestas, which provides the perfect opportunity to sneak into rooms and steal whatever they can get their little mitts on.
Make sure to always keep the windows to your room closed or you may find a bunch of your things missing at the hands of these cute but cunning little bandits.
A visit to Madagascar offers unique adventures and incredible experiences. It is rare to find a country that offers so much diversity. It is home to countless species of lush plants and indigenous wildlife that can't be found anywhere else on the planet. From Lemurs to unique bird species to colorful chameleons and humpback whales, a visit here is an experience not soon forgotten. Hit the spectacular beaches, dive and snorkel, trek through rain forest, desert areas or limestone karst formations. Whatever you choose to do in beautiful Madagascar, it's certain to be the time of your life. Remaining aware and cautious of the above concerns will assure a safe trip.
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