Looking for a travel destination that offers diverse landscapes to explore? How about a place with a long, rich history and a fascinating culture that revolves around ancient magic and mystery? Perhaps it's abundant wildlife you seek, with a chance to see unique species and breathtaking animals nearing extinction. Or maybe you'd prefer a land that is so rich with natural resources that it's been called the most bio-diverse place on earth. Then Madagascar is the place for you. It's truly one of the most amazing places on the planet.
As with any foreign location, of course, there are certain practical matters to consider before traveling, such as how to stay healthy during your stay, how to get from here to there and whether there are any unique things you should know to enjoy a safe and memorable trip. Here are a few things to help you prepare for your adventure.
(Clearly the passenger in this rickshaw forgot to use the safety belt)
Malaria and other insect-borne diseases, including dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, chikungunya fever and filariasis are quite common throughout the country. Use of insect repellent and clothing that covers exposed skin is recommended to prevent contagious insect bites.
Water and food-borne illnesses also occur frequently so it is advised to avoid tap water, exposure to contaminated water sources and consuming raw or undercooked food. In recent years consumption of toxic sardines was blamed for the sickness of 120 people and death of 14.
Rabies is found extensively throughout the area, particularly in so-called street dogs. Avoid these animals at all cost. If you do happen to come into contact with one and you are scratched or bitten, seek medical treatment immediately. Other infectious diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, bubonic plague, bilharzia and tuberculosis are also prevalent and outbreaks can occur at any time.
The number of confirmed cases of HIV/AIDS is actually relatively low in comparison to other African countries; however it is still a growing problem as are instances of other sexually transmitted diseases. If you plan on experiencing more than just the landscape in Madagascar, be sure you understand the risk and use appropriate protection to prevent exposure.
The road conditions in Madagascar vary, from good to extremely poor depending on location. Keep in mind that many of the roads that lead out of Antananarivo, although not necessarily in bad shape, are heavily traveled and can be quite steep with a lot of sharp bends. Not being familiar with the area can prove hazardous under these conditions. During the rainy season (typically lasting from December through April), many of the secondary roads throughout the country become impassable and bridges often wash away. Use extreme caution if driving during this season.
(Roads so rough even the go anywhere 2CV struggles)
Bush taxis are an option but you are advised to use only reputable companies as some drivers are known for recklessness. There have been a number of recent reports of fatalities involving passengers of bush taxis so take this warning seriously.
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 (both Boeing 767-300) due to safety concerns. Although it's to be noted Air Madagascar has not had a fatal accident since 1981 when a much smaller Twin Otter crashed killing 19 people. 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 Air Madagascar planes continue to fly (they service routes to Beijing and Bangkok) although as a result of the ban the company is in financial difficulty.
Interestingly, 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.
However, nervous flyers may wish to enter Madagascar by another airline, or use Air Madagascar's services from Johannesburg or Nairobi which are not serviced by the disputed 767s.
(Some unhappy passengers - hang on, Madagascar 2 wasn't real!)
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.
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