Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world, lies in the Indian Ocean 300 miles off the coast of Mozambique. It includes several much smaller islands. A central chain of high mountains, the Hauts Plateaux, occupies more than half of the main island and is responsible for the marked differences between the east and west coasts. The narrow strip of lowlands on the east coast, settled from the 6th century by Polynesian seafarers, is largely covered by dense rainforests, whereas the broader west coast landscape, once covered by dry deciduous forests, is now mostly savannah. The east coast receives the monsoon and, on both coasts, the climate is wetter towards the north.
The southern tip of the island is semi-desert, with great forests of cactus-like plants. The capital, Antananarivo, is high up in the Hauts Plateaux near the island’s centre. Much of Madagascar’s flora and fauna is unique to the island. There are 3,000 endemic species of butterfly; the many endemic species of lemurs fill the niches occupied elsewhere by animals as varied as racoons, monkeys, marmots, bush babies and sloths. There is a similar diversity of reptiles, amphibians and birds (especially ducks), and also all levels of plant life.
In Madagascar, human settlement is fairly recent and owing to immigrants from various origins, such as: East Africa, Indonesia, Indian Peninsula, Middle East, Iran. It results from anthropology and linguistic study that the Malagasy population is predominantly of Indonesian origin. There are various ethnic groups – at least 18 – amazingly all of them understand a single language: The Malagasy.
The Madagascans are extremely hospitable and welcoming, although their relaxed attitude to time (public forms of transport, for example, will not generally move until they are full – no matter how long it takes to fill the last seat) may be frustrating. Dress is casual, except for the very smartest hotel and restaurant functions. Visitors are advised not to wear any military-style clothing; locally it is disapproved of and could lead to detention. Entertaining is done in restaurants and bars, and a good degree of acquaintance is necessary before being invited to a family home. Gifts should be offered if staying at a local village, particularly to the village headman, although monetary contributions will be seen as an insult. Respect should be paid to the many local taboos (fady) – but as these vary from region to region this is not always easy; however, it is clear that advice should be sought before approaching tombs and graves.
It remains the practice in some regions (though it is increasingly rare due to the enormous cost) to invite an ancestor to a village celebration, disinterring the body so that the ancestor may attend physically, and later re-interring the body with new shrouds; this traditional observance (known as famadihana) demonstrates the continuing hold of traditional beliefs. Visitors invited to such an occasion should consider it a great honour.
Official languages are Malagasy, which belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages; French is widely spoken throughout Madagascar and is the business language. Some English is spoken in the capital and major tourist areas.
Republic since 1992. Gained independence from France in 1960.
The island is three hours advance of GMT.
Mostly 220 volts AC, also 110 volts AC, Plugs are generally 2 pin, European 2-prong.
Hot and subtropical climate, colder in the mountains. Rainy season – Nov to Mar. Dry season – Apr to Oct. South and west regions are hot and dry. Monsoons bring storms and cyclones to the east and north from Dec to Mar. The mountains, including Antananarivo, are warm and thunderous from Nov to Apr and dry, cool and windy the rest of the year.
Clothes to Wear:
Lightweights are worn during the summer on high central plateau and throughout the year in the north and south. Warmer clothes are advised during evenings and winter in mountainous areas. Rainwear is advisable.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
A passport and visa are required. Visas are available at all airports servicing international flights, but travelers who opt to obtain a visa at an airport should expect delays upon arrival. Visas obtained at the airport cannot be extended. All U.S. citizens must have at least one blank page and 6 months validity in their passport to gain admittance to Madagascar. The associated Visa fee, can be paid in US dollars, Euros or Madagascar Ariary. Credit cards are not accepted. However, Madascar do offer an E-Visa at www.evisamada.gov.mg .
Travelers may obtain the latest information and details on entry requirements from the Embassy of the Republic of Madagascar, 2374 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008. Tel: (202) 265-5525/6. The Malagasy Consulate in New York City tel. (212) 986-9491. Honorary consuls of Madagascar are located in Philadelphia, and San Diego. Visit the Embassy of Madagascar’s web site for the most current visa information.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Madagascar are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State travel registration page, so that they can obtain updated information on local travel and security. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
U.S. Embassy to Madagascar
14-16 Rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo
Tel:  (20) 22-212-57
(available 24 hours/day in event of Emergency)
Fax  (20) 22-345-39
Canadian Consulate in Madagascar
A/s QIT Madagascar Minerals
Villa 3H, Lot II J 169, Ivandry
Phone: +261 20 22 425 59
Fax: +261 20 22 425 06
Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required for all travelers who have been in an infected zone within 6 months of their arrival in Madagascar.
Malaria is prevalent, particularly in the coastal regions. Using preventive measures and malaria prophylaxis is recommended.
Rabies is endemic and there are many street dogs. It is recommended travelers have the pre-exposure vaccination series prior to arrival in Madagascar. If bitten by an animal, the affected area should immediately be washed with soap and running water for ten minutes. Seek medical care immediately. Plague is also endemic to Madagascar.
While the reported HIV prevalence rate is low, particularly by African standards, Madagascar suffers from a very high reported incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis.
The East African Indian Ocean islands have seen a rise in the cases of Chikungunya. As with Malaria, Chikungunya and Dengue are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Every effort should be made to use repellants, proper clothing and barriers that discourage/prevent mosquito bites. The CDC web site contains further information on Chikungunya and Dengue.
Travelers should drink bottled water or carbonated beverages. Local water is not generally potable. Water purification tablets may be used as necessary. Bottled water is readily available.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Banks & Currency:
The pre-colonial Ariary (MGA; symbol Ar) has replaced the Malagasy Franc (MGF). Notes are in denominations of Ar 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 200 and 100. Coins are in denominations of Ar 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1.
Currency can be bought only at banks and official bureau de change in hotels and at the airport in Antananarivo. Hotels have a less-favorable exchange rate.
American Express, MasterCard and Visa are accepted at top-end hotels in Tana and the provincial capitals. These and other cards have limited use elsewhere in the country. ATM’s are available around the capital and in some of the larger towns.
Banking Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-11am and 2pm-4pm.
Country code: +261 20.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food & Drink:
The typical Malagasy dishes: the Romazava, boiled meat and various kind of leaves, the Ravitoto, ground manioc leaves mixed with well cooked pork, the poulet au coco chicken cooked with milk of coconut, the Roay, smashed tomatoes mixed with pimento and onion and all of those go with white rice. Madagascar produces many good wines in the region of Fianarantsoa (red, rose, white and even champagne). On the coast, ‘Coco’ punch is the welcoming drink.
There are a few discos, sometimes with bands and solo musicians. Casinos can be found in Antananarivo, Toamasina and on Nossi Bé. Most main towns have cinemas and theatres, and touring theatre groups perform local plays throughout the country. Traditional dance troupes can also be seen.
Lambda (traditional squares of cloth in various designs and woven materials); Zafimaniny marquetry which is applied to furniture, chessboards and boxes; silverware such as mahafaly crosses and vangavanga bracelets; jewelry made from shells and precious stones; items woven from reeds, raffia and straw; ox hide and crocodile skin bags; antaimoro paper decorated with dried flowers and embroidery. However do not buy any items that maybe on the endangered lists, including endemic plants, reptiles, tortoise shell items, fossils and any genuine article of funerary art.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Tipping is not obligatory but is expected for services obtained from people like tour guides. Suggested tip for the tour guide is about $7-$10 per day and about $5 per day for the driver. Restaurant waiters expect 10% and hotel porters $1 per bag.
Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers. Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.