Madagascar, an exotic country that became popular after the release of “Madagascar” animation movie. Did you know that because of the movie, tourists started to expect to spot some penguins there? It’s funny and weird at the same time! Our favorite character in the movie were King Julian and his relatives. What’s interesting about King Julian is, he is a Lemur species and Lemur has become a symbol of pride in Madagascar. Fun fact, do you know that Madagascar is the fourth biggest continent in the world? Here are things that you need to know before planning your travel to Madagascar:
1. VISA ON ARRIVAL
If you want to travel to Madagascar for less than 30 days, you need to pay for the visa on arrival. The price is 7.50 euros per person. You can pay by cash, card debit or credit card. For those who have been to Madagascar without having to pay for the visa before this, it has only been enforced since last year if we’re not mistaken, so the visa fee for entry to Madagascar is still new. It used to be free for short term travel.
2. DON’T USE THE BAGGAGE WRAPPER
Since Madagascar practices strict laws against smuggling of drugs and children, right before we get to the arrival hall, our bags were checked thoroughly, inside and out. Luckily, our luggages were locked with TSA lock feature instead of wrapping it with baggage wrapper. So, it made the process of unlocking and re-locking the luggage became quicker and easier. The immigration officials will insist to see the contents of your bags, regardless how tight and secure your bag is. To avoid any hassle in removing the baggage wrapper, lock your bags instead.
The immigration procedure would be as follows:
- You will arrive at the immigration area with two forms that you must complete before leaving the plane; Health Declaration Card and Passenger Information Card.
- You will stand in line for the first counter, where you will give the Health Declaration Card to the official in charge.
- Next, you need to queue for the second counter which you will need to pay the visa on arrival fee.
- An immigration official will approach you once you’ve finished paying for the visa and he will take your passport to the next counter.
- Wait until they call out your name and return your passport to you with the visa.
3. VISA COUNTRY
Our travel buddy had a bit of trouble in getting money from the ATMs here. Apparently, his ATM card was a Mastercard. Madagascar is a Visa country, so to find banks that can accept Mastercard was quite a hassle. If you’re one of the Mastercard users, look for BFV-SG bank in Antananarivo. We’re not sure if you can find BFV-SG branches anywhere, outside from the capital city. Throughout our journey in Madagascar, we only have seen once, and it’s the bank that we used to withdraw our money. Our suggestion, either you bring your cash and do the money exchange here, or withdraw from the BFV-SG bank as much as you can before heading to the suburban areas.
4. TRAFFIC CONGESTION
It’s totally fine if you want rent a car and feel the real driving experience in the Madagascar traffic. The closest thing that we can compare the traffic to is the congested traffic in Jakarta. If you can handle Jakarta traffic, imagine yourself dealing with traffic that is 5 times heavier than the one in Jakarta. There were potholes everywhere and the road heading towards the suburban areas are not for the faint-hearted. It might give culture shocks to some. We were quite surprised to see how several kids aged between 8-12 years old, were standing at the side of the road and were dare enough to approach the moving vehicle to ask for money. We would recommend you to hire a local driver instead, it will be a smoother journey for you.
5. NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRY
The official languages used here are Malagasy and French. If your area of coverage is only in Antananarivo, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s quite easy to find local people who can speak English here. But, when you’re further away from the Madagascar capital, it will be harder for you to find someone who can understand or speak English. We would suggest you to hire a local guide that speaks English. If you prefer to travel independently, try to learn some French that could help you to navigate your way, seeking for nearby restaurants to eat or gas stations to re-fill the petrol.
6. HALAL FOOD
For Muslim travelers, finding a halal restaurant during travel is very important. There are several halal restaurants that you can easily find in Antananarivo, especially in the mall’s food court. We spotted a few when we’re heading out from the city, but that was only it. If you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and don’t really prefer to eat in any restaurant that doesn’t have any Halal sign, get yourself some Indonesian instant noodle for emergency food stocks. Indonesian foods are very popular here!
We saw a couple of Indonesian restaurants along the way, but don’t put high hopes in getting pure Indonesia cuisine. We had our Ayam Penyet in the food court, but it was a fried chicken instead and it was served with side dishes that have a bit of Madagascar flavor in it. This is one of the good reasons why you should hire a local driver, he will know better where to find you good food, or in this case, halal food.
7. LONG DISTANCE DRIVE
For those who want travel to Madagascar for less than a week, unfortunately, there are not many places you can go to. This is because, from one place to another, it can take you between 4-5 hours of driving. For example, from Antananarivo to the Palmarium, we had to take one night transit in Andasibe just because we didn’t want to spend our whole day being in the car. We can, but it will take us approximately 10 hours of journey, including the 4WD in the muddy trek and 2 hours of boat ride.
8. AVOID ATM WITHDRAWAL
Maximum withdrawal for each transaction on ATM machines in Madagascar is not that much. Each transaction can only allow you to withdraw maximum amount of USD135. Our travel buddy has to suffer close to 50 dollars of international transfaction fees just to withdraw enough money for the whole trip. Money exchange would be a better choice for you. If you don’t prefer to bring a lot of cash to Madagascar, usually we would suggest you to bring traveler’s cheque. However, traveler’s cheque is not really a big thing here, especially if you’re traveling outward from the city. It’s better to have Euro or USD cash with you.
Lemurs species is a symbol of pride for Madagascar. There are many animal sanctuaries that we can go to see the Lemur in a close-up view. However, we really hope that you would do a background checking first before you decide on which sanctuary that you want to go to. This is because many places actually use these animals for tourism entertainment. Just like the tiger sanctuary in Thailand where they drugged the animals, so tourist can safely take photos with them, the same thing happened to these animals. Their welfare are not being taken care of. We would suggest you to visit the Akanin’ny Nofy Reserve in Palmarium. The wild lemurs are given total freedom to roam around the island.
10. MONEY WITH SMALLER NOTES
When you exchange or withdraw the money from the ATMs, usually you will receive money with bigger notes such as like 50,000 Aryi or 100,000 Aryi. If you’re planning to stay in Antananarivo, it won’t be an issue. But, if you’re planning to spend most of your travel time in the rural areas, it will give the local seller a major headache. Most local shops and craft markets here do not have enough banknotes. Hence, if you give Aryi 50,000 Aryi for 20,000 Aryi, what will happen is either they will try to find enough change for the balance from the shop next door, or you have to settle with the remaining balance as it is.
11. BRIBERY IS NORMAL
We’re not saying that corruption is the way to go, but it’s common practice here. For example, the check-in area at the Ivato airport is rather small, therefore passengers are forced to queue and are only allowed to enter when check-in area becomes a bit spacious. We had to wait for almost 3 hours just to queue and to enter the check-in area. Why it took us that long? Unfortunately, there were some people who were willing to bribe the airport staff just to cut the queue. We’re not surprised to see the reaction from the rest of the people that were in queue, some got emotional and confronted them.
Nevertheless, you can’t really consider self-integrity from a bribe giver, they don’t care what people think about them. As long as they get what they want. When others joined the dark path, they had pushed us to the back of the line and we have to wait even longer.