Erin’s volunteer trip to Madagascar – with lots of culture, scenery and lemurs!
I went on the trip with a service organization, so most of the time my group did service work. Since I’m trained in curriculum and instruction, I helped out with the teachers and students in a small, rural village in the center of the island, near the capital of Antananarivo. That being said, we did get the opportunity to venture out in this beautiful country.
Lemur’s Park is a small garden park filled with lemurs. Most of them roam freely throughout the park. Although this park is on the smaller side and a bit pricey, I would recommend it, because you can see several different lemur species up close.
Perinet Reserve in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
My favorite. The Perinet Reserve was remote (we had to travel hours to get there) and truly wild. We had to take canoes to get to certain areas of the reserve. Unlike Lemurs’ Park, the lemurs here could jump on your shoulders, which was a once in a lifetime experience. Other big adventures here included seeing random waterfalls, walking on rope bridges with crocodiles underneath, and being in an African rainforest.
City of Antananarivo
The capital of Madagascar. I’ve been to several major cities in North America and Europe, and have spent time in Nairobi, Kenya. “Tana” (the common nickname of Antananarivo) is unlike any other metro area I’ve visited. It’s quite a sight. The colorful buildings, roadside stands, and crowded roads are remarkable.
Most of the food we ate was provided by the village, which was wonderful. It’s always best to have local food when traveling, in my humble opinion. Malagasy food features rice at most meals, which is pretty tasty. I also had some delicious ice cream in Tana, but can’t remember the name of the parlor.
We stayed at Lavilla Verte, which I would recommend. It’s a French-style bungalow hotel with an attached restaurant, pool, and amusement park-type of attachment. The owner loves Americans and even threw us a Fourth of July party during our stay. It also has warm showers, which isn’t super common in Madagascar.
In Madagascar, the best bet is either walking or using private drivers. Our group used both. The roads, especially in Tana, feature a ton of pedestrian traffic, a lack of directional signs, and a wide array of speed limits. It’s best if you hire someone ahead of time who knows those road quirks.
Madagascar Travel tips:
Best time to visit – Madagascar is in the Southern Hemisphere, so the seasons are flipped from the States. If you go in June or July, like I did, be sure to bring warm clothing. It’s much chillier than expected!
Language – Malagasy people speak their native language (also called Malagasy) and most know French, especially the adults. Learn a few key phrases and you’ll be fine. Knowing French helped me a great deal. There is also a large presence of U.S. Peace Corps members who speak both French and Malagasy.
Culture – The culture itself is fascinating, because there’s a huge list of fady or taboos that still permeate. If you’re planning a trip to Madagascar, you should absolutely educate yourself about these fady. For example, don’t take a picture of their elaborate roadside tombs, even though they are gorgeous. That’s a huge fady. Most Malagasy people are Christian, so you might get invited to attend Mass, like we did.
Health – I had to take malaria vaccines and medication, because Madagascar is in a mosquito-heavy area of the world. The medication will give you wild, vivid dreams. The water is not safe to drink, so stock up on bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Our innkeeper supplied the bottled water everyday, which was definitely worth extra payment. Bring pocket hand sanitizer because access to hand-washing won’t be available everywhere.
Traveling elsewhere in Africa? Visit South Africa or Zimbabwe!
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