Everything you need to know about a self-drive through Madagascar!

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

The few tourists that we encountered here in Madagascar, were travelling either by plane or with a driver. When people heard that we were driving ourselves, we got some strange looks and a surprised “we didn’t know that’s possible here in Madagascar?” Well, we can confirm that it definitely IS possible to self-drive in Madagascar and, in this article, I will explain why renting a car and driving yourself is the best way to travel in Madagascar!Roadtrip Africa

A new adventure every day

On a self-drive road trip through Madagascar, each day is a new adventure! The landscape you drive through changes every few hours. In the morning you might wake up in a rainforest, then a few hours later you’re standing on the savannah or the edge of a huge Tsingy (limestone pinnacles). You determine your own pace and route – the ultimate freedom!

Around noon, we often stop in a village and walk to the market, where you can buy baguettes and huge avocados. We then open up the back of our 4×4 and use this as a ‘kitchen’ to put the avocado on the fresh baguette. Enjoying nature in the distance and the buzz of the village, we eat our sandwiches. Then it’s time to continue the journey!Roadtrip Africa

Travel tip: From other travellers we heard they had a hard time finding lunch on the road. We had a very different experience! In almost every village there is a market where it is perfectly safe to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and bread. But, you might be a bit more precautious buying cut fruits or prepared food here.

We planned our itinerary with some help from Laura and Peter from Roadtrip Africa. Before starting our road trip, they gave us some useful insights in which places to add to our route and which to skip. Furthermore, we didn’t book any hotels beforehand so that we were flexible enough to change our itinerary. All though we were travelling in June and July, which is high-season, we rarely encountered hotels with no rooms left. However, in case you have a particular hotel in mind on a popular spot like Nosy Be or Ile Sainte Marie, then it might be advisable to book the hotel a few weeks in advance.

How do we spend our travel days?

Madagascar is a vast country and, because of the poorly maintained roads, you sometimes spend long days in the car. We were a bit worried about this beforehand – wouldn’t we get bored? Definitely not! The landscape is super varied and we love the scenic views. In addition, we listen to podcasts all day, we learn French (quite useful in this French-speaking country) and we sing along with the music we downloaded before the trip (yes, imagine that Ries singing out loud the songs of the Backstreet Boys). There is a USB port in every Roadtrip Africa rental car so you can easily connect your phone to the car.

Travel tip: Before you travel, download podcasts, audiobooks and music to play during your days on the road!

Roadtrip Africa

Driving in Madagascar is fairly easy. There are just a few ‘highways’, called ‘Route Nationals’ (RN’s) which are actually more like two-lane roads with some holes in them. Going off the Route National is when it gets a bit more challenging. We often found ourselves driving through a maze of small sandy streets which were not visible on any map. Or the contrary, on the maps there were streets which in reality did not exist. Like in Diego Suarez, where according to Google Maps we had to drive off a cliff to reach the next street. And the time in Mahajanga where Maps Me led us via the garbage belt to the nearest beach (not a route we can recommend because it was way to smelly).

However, with some common sense, the help of BOTH Google Maps, Maps Me and some friendly locals, we always managed to find our way. It just took us a bit more time than anticipated.

Travel tip: Before you hit the road, download the offline maps from Google Maps and Maps Me, and always use them together. This way you have an alternative when one of the two apps gives you a strange route.

Leave early

We usually start driving early. Sunrise in Madagascar is at 6:00 am and sunset is around 5:30 pm. Because we want to make the most of our days, we are often in the car around sunrise. While Ries is driving, I prepare some yoghurt with granola, our breakfast. Carefully not to poke him in the eye, I try to feed Ries yoghurt while we slowly see the sun rise. It is not advisable to drive in the evening. This can be dangerous because of poor road conditions in some parts of Madagascar and the lack of lighting, but also because crime is more likely at night. With an early start, we usually arrive at our destination between 13.00 and 15.00. Just in time for a cold glass of coke (or wine!) from the fridge in the back of the car.

Travel tip: Only the big cities in Madagascar have supermarkets. If you are planning to cook for yourself, or you want to buy international products such as wine and yoghurt, then go shopping before departure in Ivato or Tana.

Roadtrip Africa

Car trouble and self-reliance: part of your journey through Madagascar

One thing you will encounter at least once during a self-drive road trip through Madagascar: car trouble. No matter how well maintained the Roadtrip Africa 4×4 vehicles are, it‘s no surprise that due to the bad roads in Madagascar you will encounter some mechanical issues along the way. Ries and I have two left hands and limited knowledge of cars, so when Laura from Roadtrip Africa told me to take this into account, I had to laugh a bit, thinking “well, this will definitely be an adventure…”

Travel tip: every Roadtrip Africa rental car comes with a cellphone and a local SIM card. You can use this to call Peter, the man on the ground, or to contact a hotel in advance. Don’t forget to charge the phone regularly.

Fortunately, Laura had assured me that we would never be alone in the event of a car breakdown. And indeed, when we did get an issue, It was a bit scary in the beginning since we had no idea what to do or what the problem was, but Peter helped us through the whole process step by step. He gave strong support and made sure that a new car was brought to us a day and a half later. A new experience and an adventure richer, we were able to continue our road trip!

Travel tip: plan for an extra day in your itinerary in case of any car trouble.

Madagascar Roadtrip Africa

Hiring a car with Roadtrip Africa in Madagascar

For our self-drive holiday through the north of Madagascar, we are renting a Nissan Double Cab with rooftop tent from Roadtrip Africa. For those who don’t know much about cars, this is a sturdy 4×4.

Roadtrip Africa is a Dutch-owned company specializing in self-drive holidays. It started in Uganda, where owners Okke and Laura lived for several years. Many of their friends were coming over to visit, and they wanted to rent a car to explore the country themselves. However, this was impossible at the time as no other company offered reliable car hire for self-drive with camping gear and itinerary advice. An idea was born. Now, eight years later, you can rent a car with Roadtrip Africa and set out on your own self-drive adventure in Uganda (and Rwanda) Tanzania, Kenya or Madagascar. In Madagascar, Peter is your contact person. He and his family have been living in this beautiful country for almost 20 years and he can tell you everything you need to know about travelling, nature and culture in Madagascar, as well as practical information!

Travel tip: Would you rather travel with a driver-guide? Roadtrip Africa also offers the option of booking a guide for your road trip from 30 euros per day.Roadtrip Africa Rooftop tent

A rooftop tent versus a normal tent

I am sure you have this picture-perfect idea of an African safari in which you have a rooftop tent on your car where you sleep every night in the wilderness. It’s important to note that Madagascar is not like other African countries, and camping in Madagascar with a rooftop tent is not always practical. Most national parks are not suitable to enter with a car. To be able to camp inside the parks, you often need a normal tent rather than a rooftop tent. Keep this in mind when booking a car with camping gear. That said, we just loved to stay in the rooftop tent. A whole new experience and every evening walking up the little ladder was for me the perfect way to end a day!

You can rent a rooftop tent from €20,00 per day (including camping gear).

You can rent a separate tent of €5,00 per person per day (including camping gear).

Note: Camping by the side of the road is not safe at night. You can camp at campsites or in the garden of a hotel. Madagascar is not yet completely used to campers, so if you do not come across any campsites, don’t hesitate to ask your hotel whether it is possible to camp there.

Roadtrip Africa

Feeling inspired to take a road trip through Madagascar?

Roadtrip Africa is one of the few car hire companies that offer self-drive holidays in Madagascar and East Africa. The company has the reliability and efficiency that you know from a Dutch company, with the flexibility and cordiality that is characteristic of Madagascar! You can rent a car with Roadtrip Africa in Uganda (and Rwanda), Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar. For more information and travel inspiration take a look at their website, where you will also find useful routes and fun blogs from other road trippers about their experiences!

Roadtrip Africa
website: www.roadtripafrica.com
e-mail: [email protected]
phone:+31 64 86 74 396

Travel Blogs MadagascarClick here for all my blogs about Madagascar.

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Roadtrip Africa: All you need to know about self-driving in Madagascar

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* This blog is part of a collaboration with Roadtrip Africa, however, everything above is truthful to me, as I always express my own opinion and experience.

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