Secrets of Madagascar


Secrets of Madagascar

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 17 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Notes

Group Tour Essentials

Visas
Visitors from most countries, including UK, EU and US visitors require a visa for entering Madagascar. This is currently available for free on arrival for most nationalities. However, visa regulations can frequently change and therefore we recommend that you check with your nearest embassy for the most up to date details.

Passport

It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, valid for at least six months after the date of return to the UK. We strongly advise that your passport contains a minimum of two blank pages, as this may be a requirement of the local immigration authorities. In addition certain countries will stipulate that the two blank pages are opposite each other. If you are unable to meet these requirements you may be refused boarding by your airline or denied entry by the immigration authorities.

For specific information about the requirements for your destination please check with the country’s embassy or consulate. Alternatively UK citizens can visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Airport Tax

A new departure tax has been introduced in July 2013. This is payable locally per flight and is as follows;

International Flights - USD$15 equivalent

Domestic Flights - USD$2.5 equivalent

Health and Immunisations
As with travel to most parts of Africa, we strongly recommend that you contact your doctor’s surgery or a specialist travel clinic for up-to-date information, advice and the necessary vaccinations. For a visit of less than one month, almost certainly you will be advised to have immunisations against the following: Diphtheria and Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Meningitis. We also recommend that you seek advice about malaria prophylactics.

Insurance

  • What should my travel insurance policy cover?
  • medical and health cover for an injury or sudden illness abroad
  • 24 hour emergency service and assistance
  • personal liability cover in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property
  • lost and stolen possessions cover
  • cancellation and curtailment (cutting short your trip) cover
  • Extra cover for activities that are commonly excluded from standard policies, such as certain sports

The policy should cover the whole time that you are away.

Your policy may also have:

  • personal accident cover
  • legal expenses cover

Common travel insurance policy exclusions
Always check the conditions and exclusions of your policy:

  • most policies will not cover drink or drug-related incidents

You must take reasonable care of your possessions or your policy will not cover you.

Practical information

Local Currency
The local currency in Madagascar is the ariary. For current exchange rates visit www.xe.com. This is rarely obtainable outside of Madagascar, and so it is best to bring currency in Euros. It is possible to exchange US dollars and less so, sterling, but it is far more difficult to do so and we do not recommend that you bring them.

Where currency can be exchanged
It is simplest to change as much money as you need for your stay at the airport in Antananarivo when you first arrive.

Credit cards and travellers cheques
Cashing travellers’ cheques is generally possible but can be difficult and take a long time. You should only bring Euro travellers’ cheques if you choose to carry your money this way. Madagascar’s larger cities are equipped with ATMs. Credit cards are not widely accepted, but those places that do accept them generally only take Visa.

Best time to go
Madagscar being a large country has many different climatic variations but it is generally felt that the best time to visit Madagascar is between May and November, which are the winter months. Outside of these months rain can be heavy and there are frequently cyclones. The temperature on the island is usually pleasant, ranging from the low twenties to the low thirties (celsius).

Main Language
The official languages of Madagascar are Malagasy and French. English is not widely spoken and you will find it difficult to communicate with people (excluding your guide) if you do not have a basic knowledge of French.

Main Religion
Both Christianity and to a lesser extent Islam are practised in Madagascar, but the majority of Malagasy adhere to indigenous beliefs and customs, a complex pattern of beliefs involving fady (taboos), sorcerers and ancestor worship.

Food and drink
Madagascar’s cuisine is often dominated by one thing – zebu, which is a form of cattle prevalent on the island. Often served with rice and spicy sauces, it is generally of very good quality. Having said that there are of course a range of other dishes, ranging from meat and vegetable stews, and various chicken and rice dishes. On the coast, seafood is available and generally excellent and inexpensive. Allow around EUR15-25 per day for meals on this tour.

If you have any special dietary requirements you must notify us at the time of booking. While we will make every effort to cater for you, we cannot guarantee that this will be possible. Vegetarians may expereince a distinct lack of variety.

Transport
Our tour in Madagascar uses either minibuses or 4wd vehicles – usually Landcruisers or Landrovers – as the principal form of transport. We also use private boats.

This tour also includes domestic flights on Air Madagascar. Being the only airline operating in the country internal flights can be subject to delays which can impact on the order of activities on the itinerary.

Local conditions
Travelling in the destinations that we visit requires a good deal of understanding that often standards simply won’t be as they are at home. While we aim to make your trip as comfortable as possible, please be aware that we are often visiting remote or less developed regions that may have little infrastructure. While we aim to make your trip run as smoothly as possible there may be times when we need to ask for your patience while we rectify any problems.

It is important to understand that Madagascar is not east or southern Africa – although located within the region, you should not expect it to be similar. Traditionally Madagascar has received far fewer tourists than ‘neighbouring’ countries with the result that people are less used to dealing with western visitors, and things do not always run exactly to plan. We feel that this is also part of the charm of the country, but it is important that you are prepared for this – attitudes will be different to those in more established tourist destinations.

The infrastructure in the country, although improving, still lags far behind somewhere like Tanzania or Kenya. Road conditions can be extreme especially en route to the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. In some areas the choice of hotels is limited. You may not always be able to access hot water for example. You should also be aware that Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island, with many of the main sites of interest a long distance from each other – this can mean some long drives of up to 10 hours. However regular stops to stretch legs and to see points of interest will always be made.

Madagascar is a fascinating and unique destination, but it is important that you arrive with reasonable expectations.

What to take with you

First Aid Kit
The first thing on your list should be a first aid kit. Whilst there is no undue cause for alarm, travellers are best advised to travel well-prepared: adequately immunized, with sufficient supplies of prescription drugs, along with a medical kit.

Clothing
Madagascar is quite warm and so light clothes are generally a good idea. You should ensure that you bring warmer clothes for any cool evenings. When walking in the forest it is advisable to wear long trousers and sleeves. Madagascar has reasonably relaxed attitudes towards dress and shorts are acceptable throughout much of the country. You should also bring a hat to protect yourself from the strong sun.

Footwear
Footwear is a main priority on this tour. Comfortable walking shoes/boots are recommended, as well as a pair of sandals. There may be times when you will leave the main footpaths in the National Parks to see the wildlife which is when good grip is necessary.

Luggage
Your luggage should not exceed 20kgs (44lbs). One large suitcase/rucksack, and one small hand luggage rucksack is acceptable.

Other
Suncream/sunblock is a must. Insect repellent, including a bite spray will also be useful to have.

Fitness
This tour does not require any special degree of fitness but you will find it more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit. Some of the walks in the Tsingy de Bemaraha especially the Grand Tsingy can be strenuous involving a degree of scrambling on rocks and crouching through caves. The Grand Tsingy walk involves the use of harnesses as a safety precaution. Also any clients who suffer from vertigo are not advised to embark on the Grand Tsingy walk. For those who do not feel comfortable with this, a smaller alternative walk in the Petit Tsingy will be possible.

Cultural and environmental guidelines

You may come across beggars while on tour. Every traveller has different perspectives on this and ultimately the choice is up to you. Many sources recommend that you watch to see if local people give, and then follow their lead with genuine beggars. We do not recommend giving money, sweets, pens etc to children as this can encourage a begging mentality and can lead to children choosing to beg rather than go to school.

Haggling is a way of life in Madagascar when making many purchases, especially with tourist souvenirs. Usually, but not always, the vendor will start with a price that is higher than they are prepared to accept, and the buyer is expected to haggle. There are no hard and fast rules with this – some vendors may initially quote a vastly overinflated price, others may start with a price close to the true value, while others may just present you with one price and not be prepared to discuss it. Although many tourists may feel uncomfortable with this, it’s important to remember that this is best entered into in a relaxed manner. Once you have agreed upon a price, it is extremely bad form to then not pay this. Please also bear in mind that a small amount of money to you can be a relatively large amount for the vendor, and that it is not necessarily best practice to ‘beat the vendor down’ to the lowest possible price. Remember that they also have a living to make.

You will be spending time in national parks and other environments that have very little trace of human presence or development on our tours in Madagascar. It is important to ensure that they stay this way. Please make sure that you take any rubbish back to the hotels with you where they can be properly disposed of – this includes cigarette butts as well.

Please do not buy any products made from endangered species – this is not sustainable and hastens the species’ decline.

The Malagasy people believe on fady – taboos – which are extremely diverse and can vary from village to village, encompassing aspects of life such as eating or speaking. Generally these do not impose too much on a visit to any of the places on our trip, but your guide will advise you of any local customs and we ask that you respect these.

Photography
You should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph and respect their decision if they say no. In more remote areas women and older people often do not want to be photographed. Some people may also ask for some money – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot - in return for a photo. Taking photos of military installations, state buildings, and airports can lead to problems with local authorities. If you are unsure about whether it is acceptable to take a photo, please ask your tour leader or guide.

Tipping
Tipping is commonly recognised as a way of rewarding guides and drivers for good service. If you are happy with your guide and driver, please consider leaving a tip for them. A reasonable amount if travelling on our group tour would be between EUR2-4 per person per day for the guide, and perhaps EUR1-2 per person per day for the driver.

Foreign Office Advice
We constantly monitor the advice posted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In particular we will always advise clients of any travel warnings. At present there are no warnings against travel to Madagascar. Please feel free to contact us should you have any specific concerns or would like to know in detail what measures are being taken to ensure visits remain trouble free and without incident.

It should be noted that this information applies to British citizens. Other nationals are asked to check the current position of their respective government.

Further Information

Public Holidays in Madagascar:

1 Jan New Year
29 Mar Remembrance Day
1 May Labour Day
26 Jun Independence Day
15 Aug Assumption
1 Nov All Saint’s Day
25 Dec Christmas Day
30 Dec Republic Day

Other holidays such as those associated with Ramadan are Islamic holidays and as such follow the lunar calendar, varying year to year. Easter Good Friday and Monday also vary annually.

Dates are for guidance only and may vary year to year

Electrical Supply
Electrical supply is 220V/50 Hz and plugs have two round pins like most European countries.

Recommended Reading

Madagascar – The Bradt Guide
Hilary Bradt

Muddling through Madagascar
Dervla Murphy

IMPORTANT NOTES – PLEASE READ

Please note that the information provided is correct at the time of writing but may change. It is intended as a guide only. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health visit www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk or contact your local healthcare provider.

In addition we strongly advise you to check the information and any travel advice provided by your government. For British citizens you should visit the Foreign Office website www.fco.gov.uk.

Furthermore, you should be aware that any travel warnings or advisories may affect the validity of your travel insurance. Therefore, at the time of booking your tour it is essential you check any restrictions on cover with your insurance provider.

Issue Date – 22/08/13
For possible changes to this dossier please visit www.undiscovered-destinations.com or call +44 (0)191 296 2674

Historical background

The island of Madagascar, fourth largest in the world, sits uncomfortably within the African continent, both physically and culturally. Sitting off the coast of Mozambique, Madagascar is home to an intoxicating mix of vibrant local culture, spectacular scenery and unusual wildlife to be found nowhere else on earth, yet few are aware of its charms. Once a haven for pirates, then absorbed into the French empire of the 19th century, Madagascar’s fascination lies in the fact that it is simply unlike anywhere else you will have travelled. Its forests are home to curious species that seem to spring, biologically, out of nowhere, and the dramatic plateaus of Isalo are a bizarre moonscape interspersed with palm fringed natural pools. But most fascinating of all are the people, with their complex system of beliefs woven around the idea of social taboos that vary from one village to the next. Madagascar is a magical land that challenges everything you thought you knew about Africa and turns it on its head.

It is believed that the descendants of today’s inhabitants arrived in Madagascar on long boat voyages from the area around Borneo and Indonesia. Travelling without maps, compasses or any of the usual methods of navigation, they arrived in Madagascar some time between 300 BC and 500 AD, an astonishing feat given the resources available to them at the time – little more than wood carved canoes. The next wave of arrivals came from Bantu Africans, migrating from the East African coast and settling mainly on the west of the island but gradually mixing with the other inhabitants. To follow them came Arabs – in the 10th and 11th centuries they had begun to sail down the coast of East Africa searching for slaves and established small settlements in the north and the west, introducing Islam to the island.

The first known contact with Europeans was around 1500 – as is so often the case, the Portuguese were the first to ‘discover’ Madagascar. Over the course of the next couple of hundred years, both British and French tried unsuccessfully to establish settlements on the island, but failed for a number of reasons – tropical diseases and the hostility of local tribes being chief among them. However by the late 17th century, the French had established a series of trading posts on the east coast. Around this time, Madagascar had become a haven for pirates plundering ships off the East African coast, with many pirates from Europe setting up shop here, far away from prying eyes and the authorities. Particular favourites were ships sailing between Europe and India, laden with spices, gold, jewels and silks. The rise of the slave trade also led to local Malagasy tribes declaring war on each other to obtain prisoners, which they could sell to the European ships which were increasingly stopping on their shores. Using weapons obtained from the European traders, the coastal tribes subjugated many of the tribes of the interior, selling them to unknown fates in far off lands.

At the start of the 19th century, the small kingdom of Ambohimanga kingdom emerged from the central highlands to conquer other highland tribes and unite them into the powerful Merina kingdom, the most powerful political entity that Madagascar had yet seen. Establishing Antananarivo as the royal capital and building a palace there, the king Adrianampoinimerina set about introducing laws and improving agricultural techniques. Under his son, Radama, links were established with the British who were by now the dominant power in the Indian Ocean, and Radama was formally recognised by them as king of all Madagascar – and crucially provided with arms to enable him to wage war against other tribes that refused to submit to his rule. The slave trade was outlawed, with prompting from Britain, and Protestant missionaries were allowed access to the interior. British influence steadily spread throughout the island in the first years of the 19th century. By 1824, with the help of British military technology, Radama had conquered the last of the recalcitrant tribes, the Betsimisaraka.

Radama’s death in 1828 saw the ascension to power of his widow, Queen Ranavalona. Fiercely against the encroachments that the British had made into the country, Ranavalona repudiated the treaties that had been signed with Britain, outlawed Christianity and instigated a campaign of persecution and repression against Christian converts, torturing and killing tens of thousands of them. Ranavalona was a keen adherent of traditional beliefs and became increasingly superstitious and deluded as her reign progressed, eventually expelling all foreign nationals when a plot was uncovered between her son and the French to oust her from power, She died in 1861 however, sparing Madagascar from further horrors, and her successors proved to be far more amenable to foreign influence. Within a few years Christianity became the official religion of the country.

Although Madagascar’s strongest links were with Britain, France still harboured claims over the nation based on its earlier settlements. In 1883 France invaded, attacking Madagascar’s ports and declaring it a protectorate. This was the time of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ when European powers were busy carving up the continent between them and much horse trading took place with nations agreeing to relinquish claims over one land in return for uncontested sovereignty over another. For a while the Malagasy prime minister Rainiaiarivony managed to play the British and French off against each other, delaying the full scale conquest of his island, but eventually he feel foul of European machinations. In order to claim sovereignty over Zanzibar, far more important to it for control of the Indian Ocean, Britain relinquished all rights over Madagascar. France invaded in 1895 and quickly made Madagascar a full colony. The monarchy was abolished and the then queen Ranavalona III was exiled to Algeria.

A nationalist uprising in 1947 in which around 80,000 died was a precursor to France granting Madagascar independence in 1960. Madagascar since independence hasn’t exactly had an easy ride – political tensions between the main parties have led to a number of coups and the economy virtually collapsed in the 1970s, still to fully recover. Madagascar has however been free of many of the problems that have plagued other African countries, and even in times of trouble has continued to be a welcoming place for its visitors.

Madagascar in the 21st century remains one of the most unusual places in Africa. It is still possible to find highland villages where visitors are a complete rarity, children hiding shyly behind their parents as you walk by. Its forests, with their incredible wildlife are an absolute joy to explore, searching for lemurs high in the trees and looking for giant insects on the bushes and plants below. Madagascar’s coastline is to die for – gorgeous sands on a pristine ocean where each night you watch the sun set as dozens of fishermen take tiny outrigger canoes out into the waters beyond, and as you sip a cold drink village children gather round to sing to you, the curious foreigner. With its strong belief in spirits and supernatural phenomena, Madagascar is a place where you can believe in magic, as you let yourself be seduced by its mystical atmosphere. Even the most experienced African traveller will find themselves bewitched and astounded by this enchanting island.