The unilingual (Malagasy) characteristic of Madagascar distinguishes Madagascar from several other countries. However, Malagasy consists of a few more or less noticeable dialectal variants. French and English have an official language status, with French being more widely spoken.
The Highlands are characterized by a mild climate, the West is hot and dry. The East Coast is rainy, so is the hot North, while the South is semi-arid. Rainfalls decrease as one moves from the North East (3500 mm in Maroantsetra) to the South West (less than 500 mm in the Tuléar region). Several variants occur between these two extremes. The dry season or southern winter lasts from April to October, and summer from November to March.
Usually 220 Volts. Hotels which are not covered by the electric network or which are anticipating untimely power cuts have their own generator. Some are also keen on solar energy. Bring battery-powered appliances for emergencies.
Currency and Money Exchange
In 2005, Madagascar has shifted back to its traditional currency, the Ariary. As the Malagasy currency is not convertible, it is advised to exchange foreign currency only as necessary. Only banks and exchange agencies in town or in airports, shopping centers and large hotels are authorized to exchange currencies. Avoid informal illegal money changers in certain streets.
Banks are available in all major cities of the country. They are open from 8 AM to 4 PM; major banks have a cash dispenser, accepting VISA and MASTERCARD. Money transfers are also possible via Western Union offices.
Business Days and Public Holidays
In general, offices open from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. Official working hours are 8 AM to 4 PM.Public holidays are usually:
To call a landline number from overseas, dial the International Code + 261+ 20 + area code + the number
To call a mobile phone from overseas, dial 261 + the number without the 0
To call overseas from Madagascar, dial 00 + country code + area code + the number.
Madagascar is wired with high-speed Internet and access is available in all big hotels. For public internet access, cybercafés are widely available, especially in Antananarivo.
The taxi brousse remains the back bone of road transport. On the lengthiest axes, three types of vehicles are available: large buses nicknamed “Boeing” by regular users; medium carrying capacity buses and Japanese mini buses.
Professional car renting companies have their association called the Groupement des Loueurs de Voitures de Madagascar (GLVM) or Madagascar’s Grouping of Car Renters. The choice ranges from small cars to 4 WD vehicles. Usually, car rental comes with the services of a driver. A few companies allow rental without a driver, provided a deposit is paid. The international driver’s license is valid in Madagascar.
Urban Means of Transport
The capital, Antananarivo and its suburbs are served by a dense network of public transport. However, for visitors to the country, it can prove challenging to use. Taxis are easily recognizable thanks to their cream color and their roof lantern. In large coastal cities, rickshaws ride at a lower speed than the bicycle rickshaws, which are faster but less picturesque.
The duty-free shops of Antananarivo-Ivato airport offer a very wide choice of goods and have very competitive prices. Some other duty-free selling points exist in the capital, in certain provincial airports open to international flights, like in the shopping malls of certain big hotels. The taxes have already been deducted at the pay-desk. The presentation of the return ticket and an ID document is necessary.
Specific Exempted Purchases
A traveler can freely take out the country:
Purchases to be Avoided
Do not become traffickers by ignorance or because you are keen on exotic items. The Convention on international trade of threatened fauna and flora species (CITES) is very strict regarding the matter. In conformity with its Annex 1, commercial export of several live species is forbidden, among which: lemurs, the dugong, the various tortoises (radiated and spurs) and turtles; boas, the small Bemaraha chameleon and the Antongil red frog; some Euphorbiaceae, Didiereaceae and Apocynaceae species. In addition to the above, items classified as National Heritage such as aloalo, Zafimaniry shutters and ancient manuscripts.
Photos and Videos
For professional shootings inside national parks and reserves, a written authorization from Madagascar National Parks is compulsory. Please kindly request permission from individuals before taking photos of them.
How to Avoid Cultural Misunderstandings?
One should neither disrespect fady (taboos) nor try to go around them by using a foreign logic and reasoning.The use of the French “tu” (familiar “you”) does not exist in the Malagasy grammar. Do not use “tu” when addressing somebody unless you created close ties with the person.
How to Dress?
Overall, the Malagasy are prudish, even if a traditional mother will publicly nurse her baby or child.In the winter in the Central Highlands, some warm clothes will be of much use.
What to Eat and Drink?
International cuisine is widely available, in hotels and restaurants. Classic Malagasy dishes include the romazava, a mixture of tongue-tingling greens called brèdes; the ravitoto, shredded manioc leaves cooked with pork meat. Malagasy cuisine is flavourful but some dishes should be eaten with moderation, so as not to upset an unused stomach.
Drinking tap water should be avoided. Bottled natural spring water is the safest option throughout your stay.
Bargaining and Tips
Bargaining is traditional practice at the market, with taxi drivers (given the fact they are not equipped with a meter), rickshaw pullers and when one is requesting a service. The guiding principle for bargaining is: reach a level which is acceptable for both parties.
In hotels, restaurants and sites, leaving a tip and deciding on its amount is left to the client’s appreciation.