Ferry cycling Madagascar 2014
This is the first contribution to MadaCamp that talks about cycling in Madagascar. The story takes you on a bike journey. Actually exploring Madagascar by bike is a terrific way to get the taste of this beautiful country. Practical do-it-yourself tips are also included. Enjoy!
Route & Statistics
- One person / one bike
- Period: July 2014
- Distance by bike: 1,361km
- Duration: 20 days
- Bike weight: 16kg
- Luggage excluding food and water: 29kg
- Route: Antananarivo, Ambatolampy, Antsirabe, Betafo, Lake Tritriva/Antsirabe, Ambositra, Ambohimahasoa, Ranomafana, Fianarantsoa, Ifanadiana, Mananjary, Mahela, Nosy Varika, Masomeloka, Mahanoro, Vatomandry, Beforona, Manjakandriana, Antananarivo
Take a good strong bike from home, 26" tires with minimum 1.9" width are needed. More is better for deep sand (beaches). Leave carbon frames, suspension and disc brakes at home, instead take a simple bike you can repair yourself. Go for a steel frame that can be fixed anywhere.
Take some spares from home since local parts are almost never available (Chinese crap). So essentials are: Lube, spare spokes, special tools for rear bracket and front chain wheels. Inner tubes, foldable outer tyre. Pump and adapter for vents, locals use the car valve. Optional: Derailleur and chain.
Panniers in the front and back are good. Make sure you pack in such a way that your belongings keep dry even when it rains a full day. I took my twelve years old heavily used panniers to look less attractive to some persons. In general it is a good idea not to bring too flashy equipment with you.
Bike Transport by Plane
Buy a cardboard box in the home country or just wrap the bike in plastic. See also airliner info/regulations. Often the fee for one way is about 100 USD. Remove pedals, deflate tyres, make sure derailleur is protected or removed!
Madagascar is well-suited for transporting strange objects with the taxi-brousse (minibus). The locals also transport big things, even scooters, on the roof of the taxi-brousse.
Sometimes it may be needed to cross rivers with ferries ("le bac" in French) or by small dugout canoe (pirogue). To prevent flipping over it is safer to arrange two canoes connected in parallel, since some river crossings can be as long as two kilometres and ocean waves or other motorised boats may compromise the stability of a single canoe.
- Compass, take note of the declination which can vary a lot, sometimes up to 20 degrees.
- Map of Magadagascar, such as the 1 : 1.200.000 from Reise Know-How. The map is useful but don't count on the distances between cities as they are completely inaccurate.
- Garmin GPSMap 60CSx with open street map of Madagascar is very useful. This is an open source map (www.osm.org) where everybody can contribute, so please also contribute with new tracks, hotels and remove hotels which disappeared.
- Local people can help as well when you're off the beaten track.
- The national routes have milestones every kilometre and are very accurate and provide a good sign you're still on the right road.
- Small tent 2kg
- Plastic underlay for tent, also handy as package material for your panniers in the plane.
- Camping stove which runs on normal car petrol, like the MSR Whisperlite, and a 2-litre pot.
- Purifier to make your own drinkable water from local sources. I recommend the MSR MiniWorks.
- 9-litre water container, such as the MSR Dromedary Bag.
- Sleeping mat and sleeping bag for up to -7C°. During the winter months it can be cold in the mountains.
Hotels are scattered all over Madagascar. In cities there is choice but in villages there may not be a single hotel. If you have a tent you can consider asking the "Chef de Ville" for permission to stay within the protection of the village for one night. Police may sometimes provide an introduction or locals may help you find a place for the night. It is important to show interest and respect for the local traditions. One night I stayed in a school building since the hotel in town had closed down two years ago. A local student accompanied me during the night. Throughout the night people where singing prayers for the dead. This way of spending the night can certainly give you an insight into local traditions. Another time I stayed with a local driver in an electricity distribution room next to the village's generator. Luckily the diesel powered generator stopped at 10pm. If you leave some money somewhere it’s better not to give it to a men but to a woman as alcohol misuse is present in Madagascar.
People & Culture
Malagasy people are really different in their mindset from those of other southern African countries in my experience. They gave me an impression of being real hard workers, friendly, curious, open and easy to approach. Only off the beaten track along the East Coast some people were afraid of me; especially children and women found me very scary and ran away from me, sometimes even men did so. That said, in general my experience was very pleasant. Wherever you go, people enthusiastically welcome you.
Madagascar is in the top ten of poorest countries in the world (http://www.gfmag.com/global-data/economic-data/the-poorest-countries-in-the-world), so you will encounter beggars. There are the regular beggars, but also adults will ask for money, cigars and biscuits. In my opinion begging in whatever form should not be stimulated by giving something. This sounds crude but I will explain the idea behind this: It’s better to pay good money for services, food, staying and other labour that is done for you. In this way you inject money into the local economy. The locals can thereafter take better care of the people with less money. By giving just something without effort makes people dependent and reduces their self-respect. We have made this mistake in many places in the world before.
Nice for breakfast are the sweet balls sold everywhere.
Try the corossol fruit if you have the chance, it's delicious!
- Citizens of several countries can obtain visa on arrival. Further information at www.madagascar-consulate.org/visainfo.html
- The Maestro bank card is not accepted outside Antananarivo.
- The Visa credit card is widely accepted, MasterCard only at the BNI bank which is only present in larger cities. So some advanced planning is needed.
- Vaccinations: DTP, typhoid, hepatitis A/B, optionally rabies
- Malaria: Check the latest advise for malaria prophylaxis, furthermore use a DEET-based insect repellent. Mosquito nets are available in hotels where it is relevant. Carrying one (about 600gr) yourself is not needed.
Check the latest safety information and travel advise from the foreign office in your country. On arrival in Antananarivo you can go to the police station to have your passport and visa copies validated, so you can stow away your original passport in a safe place. My original passport was never asked for after that. The validated copies should also be accepted by banks and Western Union. Make sure you have several copies hidden in different places in case stuff gets lost. Although there are many stories, I never felt unsafe. Just don't go out alone at night in the big cities. On the countryside you're fine. Never travel after dark on your bike. Be sure you arrive before sunset and take some margin on that. Furthermore, always use your common sense. Madagascar is a beautiful country and the people are great and helpful.
- Safety warnings on Virtual Tourist
Impressions along the route
- View more photos from the trip
If you want to know more about this tour send me an email: ferry@madabike com
Links to other Cyclists
- Cycling Madagascar 2010 by Dennis and Marijcke - documented on video and on their website
- Madagascar cycling 2012 - video documentary by Sara Ritchie
- Madagascar by mountain bike 2008 - photos by Susana Girón
- Many Miles in Madagascar 2011 - very detailed itinerary with photos by Curtis Mahr
- Tour of Madagascar 2003 - 2 months crossing of Madagascar from Fort Dauphin to Diego Suarez by Michael Ayers
- Sambirano Cocoa Tour - bike tour through the cocoa region (7 nights) by MissMada and ZebuKing