Travelogue Madagascar – Antananarivo (Part 1)

balcony with view of Antananarivo
balcony with view of Antananarivo

Edited July 2015 – Our third (gasp) wedding anniversary is coming up and I took the time to finally go over our honeymoon pictures. This reminded me of the good time we had during our travels. We decided to go the unconventional road and spent 12 days in Madagascar. Oh what a beautiful, vibrant country. It was D’s first time in Africa and a very good introduction to a foreign continent. Our plan was to fly to the capital, Antananarivo (or Tana for short), and then sorta wing it. We booked the flights there and back as well as the hotel for our first three nights in the city. We stayed at the Lokanga Boutique Hotel. Surprisingly D was not super into this whole spontaneous travel planning, while I kept insisting that it would be the best way to go. I have to admit that we weren’t off to the best start. We almost missed our connecting flight in Paris (I have an aversion to Air France ever since) and the driver who was supposed to pick us up (organized through the hotel in advance) was nowhere to be seen. It was around 5am and after the long flight we were a bit overwhelmed by the many people offering their taxi services. Our cab driver ended up being ridiculously nice – especially since I had forgotten to print out the hotel information and kept referring to the hotel with a wrong name (face-palm). On the way to the city we started to panic slightly since I couldn’t even find the hotel in our lonelyplanet. Luckily I remembered reading that it was near the Queen’s palace and from there we saw a huge sign with directions on it. Sigh, first (marital) crisis averted.

Hotel Lokanga Antananarivo

We enjoyed our stay at Lokanga hotel very much. Our room had a big terrace with lounge chairs and an excellent view (see above) of the city sprawling right in front of us. A quick word on hotel rooms in Madagascar. The door connecting the bedroom with the bathroom was a bit wonky (didn’t always close all the way). Well, it was still the best we had during our whole trip. On our last night in Tana we stayed at a different hotel that didn’t have a door at all. While on the Ile-Sainte-Marie a curtain was all that separated bed- and bathroom. We had a routine where one of us would basically wait outside while the other one went to the bathroom. Maybe that’s not everyone’s definition of a romantic vacation (ha!), but it really wasn’t something that could diminish our joy of being there.

Language-wise we had no problems since D speaks french fluently. I only speak enough to order food and exchange superficial pleasantries. Luckily there were quite a few people who also spoke english. We exchanged a bit of money beforehand – you have to order it from your bank since they don’t have Ariary just lying around. We went to an ATM in Tana to get whatever we needed to get by on a daily basis. Just before heading east and to book the rest of our trip through an agency in the city, we had to get a bit more cash than usual. Converted in Ariary that made a huge amount of bills and we felt a bit uncomfortable walking around with it. In general we felt really safe during our time in Madagascar. Adhering to common travel wisdom (not walking around at night, not flashing expensive stuff (it’s a good rule of thumb to leave your diamond collection at home when traveling) and avoiding deserted alleys) we had no issues with safety at all.

walking through Antananarivo

We did part of the Lonely Planet walking tour which was a nice way to get to know the city. Of course we got lost somewhere in between (we have the worst sense of direction). The grounds of the palace (Rova) were accessible by paying Ar5000 to the gatekeeper just as our guide said. We were able to really take our time and look around, not one other tourist in sight. Unfortunately there were several not so small spiders in sight (mostly in the cacti) and the groundkeeper seemed amused by my obvious arachnophobia. Afterwards we went to the Musée Andafiratra where we learned a bit about Madagascar’s history and I calmed down from the excitement of the morning.

Food-wise I remember lots of foie-gras and vanilla tea as well as lots of different kinds of infused rum. The most popular seemed to be “gingembre” (rum with ginger) which I really liked and have since wanted to do myself. And I will always remember our dinner at La Varangue which serves delicious french/madagascan fusion cuisine. It was the only time we went out “fine dining” and was definitely worth it.

Antananarivo at sundown
Antananarivo at sundown

In Tana we found a travel agency (I can’t quite remember which one it was) to organize the rest of our trip. After looking through several options we decided to hire a car with driver and go east through a national park to see lemurs and then continue by ferry to the Ile Sainte Marie. We also booked our flight back from the island to Tana (no accommodation on the island – retrospectively I wonder if I wanted to give D a heart attack while there).

We had such a good time exploring Tana and then heading out east to the Ile Saint Marie and Ile aux nattes. Since I can’t stop talking about it, I will write another post about the national park and our beach days. Can’t wait!

all photos by happyelsewhere (updated 2015)

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