I realize that Madagascar is in Africa but most people never consider visiting the country (definitely not Americans). I was intrigued by the country ever since I found out about the Tsingy stone forest. Once I arrived, I was completely caught off guard by the people and after a week & a half on the island I can certainly tell you that it isn’t for the light hearted.
The luxury traveler may want to soak up some frappa mocha cappa chini chinos in their loft in New York City for a few years while the tourism industry develops. The only place to find luxury is on the (very) main tourist route or the major cities. That’s if you want to leave the beach to explore the real Madagascar of course. Most tourists that arrive are French or Italian and stay on the northern and eastern beaches. Anyone want to go 50/50 with me in a luxury hotel with me in Madagascar?
There are roughly 400,000 tourists set to visit Madagascar this year
Consider that the country is 44 percent larger than California or just larger than metropolitan France. One of the biggest tourist attractions in Madagascar (stone forest & avenue of the baobabs) only received 10,000 tourists this year, it is now October. With my awesome math skills I am able to estimate that roughly 14,000 people will visit the Tsingy stone forest Avenue of the Baobabs this year.
There are a ton of things to see in Madagascar and while most of the tourists just come to lounge on the beach there is also a serious problem with sex tourism.
For you 60 year old white men, not cool.
They apparently don’t pay attention to the “Say No To Sex Tourism” signs plastered throughout every hotel in the country. Madagascar is a skeleton waiting to be formed into a masterpiece. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and getting around is as hard as saying no to McDonald’s at three in the morning.
You know those chicken nuggets are the most delicious things on the planet after you start driving home. It takes 7-8 hours to get to the stone forest only because the roads were built for the toughest 4×4’s on the planet. An American came to Madagascar and invented off roading, thats how bad this road is.
Mainland Africa has asphalt roads and lights, the kids in mainland Africa don’t go crazy over an empty bottle of water, and they have air conditioning in mainland Africa. If you are a budget traveler you can officially say goodbye to air conditioning.
I have asked the hotels and tour guides about hotels with air conditioning and they are harder to find than Waldo. You can’t even drive on the road to the Tsingy when the sun goes down because there is no security and it is dangerous for tourists during the night. You could go the easy route and take public transportation right?
Think again, there is no public transport to the Tsingy Stone Forest or the Avenue of the Baobabs. You won’t be able to get to the Tsingy Stone Forest unless you rent a 4×4, no one goes there at all during the rainy season between December 15th and April. In order to see the majestic Avenue of the Baobabs you have to either rent a car or take a tour.
I opted for the tour route since most tours include both in one trip.
For the 2nd part of my trip I tagged along with the locals and decided taking local transport, it was very interesting to say the least. So many people take travel for granted and assume that everyone can speak English. Aside from my tour guide I have found less than a handful of people that have tried to speak to me in English. I can speak English, Spanish, Italian, as well as a bit of Portugese and Arabic, I do not speak French. I really shouldn’t have skipped my French class during middle school.
Most of the tourists that come to Madagascar are either French or Italian. To give you an idea of how scarce tourism is in the country the trek through the Big Tsingy Stone Forest was built just 15 years ago.
There are people that can debate both ends of the spectrum. I am a capitalist; throw some asphalt on all the roads, build hotels that have (reliable) wi-fi and air conditioning, and what the heck, build a train on the coast through the major tourist route. This alone would more than halve travel time and improve all Malagasy’s lifestyles.
On the other hand there is something majestic about this country
The rice terraces that line the hillsides when you drive from Tana to Antsirabe are something else to see. The villages that you visit with the kids that go crazy for empty water bottles and pictures is something that you may not be able to find in 20 years. And the untouched and unfiltered unique blend of people in Madagascar is truly unique.
Can we just settle on asphalt roads? I don’t think my bruised bum can take any more of this! You need at least 3 weeks to explore this country only because there is so much to see. In order to see it all you would easily need 6-7 weeks. Just remember that you will need to have a tough stomach not only for the food, but traveling throughout the country as well.