MADAGASCAR! We’re here! The original plan was to arrive to Madagascar directly from Mayotte via a 4:40pm Ewa Air flight ZD 210. That would’ve been a personal accomplishment as about a few months ago I was struggling to book these flights online on Ewa Air’s website; only after directly emailing them at email@example.com to turn on their system and allow an online payment was I able to make an online payment go through.
However, about a week ago Ewa Air e-mailed me again informing me that they changed the flight to depart 2 hours earlier at 2:45pm instead, landing somehow an hour later at 6:45pm in Madagascar.
Obviously this would be very weird if I were to assume that the flight would remain direct if it were to somehow leave 2 hours earlier and land 1 hour later, but I would later learn they wanted to change the flight to add in an extra leg from DZA airport in Mayotte to HAH airport in Moroni (Comoros) before heading onwards to TNR airport in the capital of Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Then when we checked in the day of the flight after our day in Mayotte, they had no records of our flight in their system. But after I showed them the original Ewa Air booking, this led airport personnel to find our reservations now being operated by Air Madagascar on flight MD150 instead. Ewa Air was nowhere to be found. The flight would depart an hour later at 3:45pm and include the brief stop in HAH airport in Moroni before heading onwards to TNR airport in Madagascar. Thus we can confirm on the ground there is currently a roundtrip Air Madagascar MD150 flight that flies from TNR-DZA-HAH-TNR.
True to their word this time around, we were back at HAH airport in Moroni, Comoros at 5:00pm, taking off at 6:00pm, and landed at 7:00pm local time in TNR airport.
All foreign visitors require an entry visa. Initial visas are for up to 30 days, and your passport must be valid for at least six months after the last day of your stay. I was able to get mine online a few months advance directly with the government (which supposedly skips the middlemen and saving a ton of money): Madagascar E-Visa.
Although it originally was marked up as a 27 euro fee on arrival, they just increased it to 35 euros per person instead. And even though we had an e-visa set up beforehand, it still was an inefficient madhouse of a process where it took just as long to let us through as it did for those who didn’t sign up online beforehand (ex. it took a row of 4 border agents in a manufacturing-like line to process a single passport).
I think they got a lot more kinks to work out here before they can go primetime.
Once you get past baggage claims, you will be greeted by a mass of entrepreneurs offering assistance with your luggage to the waiting taxis, in return for a gratuity, and offering directions to other services. This may be helpful to some, but others may find the presence of the “Skycaps a la Tana” a little annoying. Remember to change money at the airport bank (which you have to do, since the Madagascar Ariary is not a convertible currency).
Airport Taxi to the City center is 50,000 MGA to 70,000 MGA. Another option is using airport bus Narvette, which will take you to the front door of your hotel for 10,000 MGA. We opted for our hostel’s pickup services for 70,000 MGA.
Once at the hostel for check-in I was immediately on the spot befriended by a group of Peace Corps volunteers (here’s looking at you Melissa!) and a traveler from Iraq named Duaa who also happened to have similar plans as ours to see the Avenue of the Baobabs tomorrow. We were also greeted by one of the directors of Cactus Tours Madagascar for a quick briefing on our adventure via charter flight tomorrow.
As a person who survived 50 hour bus rides through Vietnam and overnight buses across India, I’m always down for a rough road trip as anyone else would be, so why do a flight instead of conventional overland travel? Because of value and the fact the roads remain in such disrepair that a 1 hour flight = 12-16 hour drive. Value is important
For example, if we wanted the traditional “cheaper” route from Antananarivo:
- Day 1: Domestic commercial flight to Morondava or a 12-14 hour bus ride from 7am to 7/9pm, stay overnight
- Day 2: Hire a 4WD for a 12-16 hour drive up to Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park before arriving to our lodgings tired and cranky, then stay overnight
- Day 3: Explore the national park, stay overnight
- Day 4: Drive back 12-16 hours to Morondava for Avenue of the Baobabs at sunset, stay overnight
- Day 5: Fly back to Antananarivo on a domestic commercial flight or a 12-16 hour bus ride from 7am to 7/9pm.
This calculates to 2x domestic flights or 2x 12-14 hour bus rides, 2x 16-20 hour 4WD rough drives, and 4 overnight stays across 5 days.
However, if you book a charter flight from Antananarivo leaving at 7:30am, it would look like this:
- Day 1: Morning flight from Antananarivo to Amborodia’s airstrip located next to Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park, take 4-6 hours from morning to afternoon to hike and explore the national park, return to Amborodia in the afternoon, fly less than half an hour to Avenue of the Baobabs for sunset viewing before staying overnight
- Day 2: Fly the one hour back to Antananarivo
This calculates to 1 private charter flight and 1 overnight stay. If you have a group of 6-10 to fill up a plane, the price ends up nearly the same. You do the math and determine what has more “value.”
That said, the next morning we were picked up at 6am and taken to the airport for our private charter flight to Amborodia. Duaa actually woke up with us at 6am as well and almost considered joining our private flight at the last minute! But after a bit of shared decision making, rationality prevailed and she opted to stay with us at our hotel in Morondava, and at the very least see if she could beat us there by overland driving and see the Baobabs with us for sunrise. The race is on!
We arrived at the private airstrip at 7am where we were individually weighed, given Nespresso coffee, and a red carpet treatment before boarding.
The views over Antananarivo:
About 45 minutes into the flight, I was able to see a glimpse of Tsingy of Bemaraha below:
Upon our arrival at Amborodia’s airfield, we hopped in our 4WDs for the 30 minute bumpy ride to the trail leading to Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park.
Then we got strapped into our harnesses.
By 10am we began our hike.
Madagascar’s isolation from other continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. This has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the “eighth continent.” The very existence of Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park is a prime example of this as we went on our one hour hike through 2 forests there.
For example we found a ficus, aka a strangler fig:
Here you can also find an array of indigenous plants and 13 species of lemurs. We saw just 2.
We then spent about 1-2 hours carefully navigating up and down Tsingy de Bemaraha, a gigantic limestone cathedral (aka a “stone forest”), made up of a dense network of sharp limestone blocks found in only two places in Madagascar.
The hike is intense as you have to scale up cliff edges while strapped to a harness.
One wrong move and you can fall to a painful ankle sprain!
At some point you have to carabiner yourself to cliffside cables; drop something here and you lose it forever:
You also have to crawl through low-lying caves:
But once you make it to the top . . .
. . . the views are well worth it.
This is one of those moments where you know you’ll probably never get to do this ever again in your life.
After about half an hour up here, we crossed the notorious footbridge.
Afterwards we took some photos before climbing back down through cathedral like trenches.
We then stopped for a brief picnic lunch in the shade.
Then after lunch we headed back along the same trail back to our 4WDs. Overall, the hike took the 6 of us 4 hours to do at a relatively fast paced on a difficulty level I would classify as moderate.
After driving back to the Amborodia air strip, we then boarded our one hour flight to Morondava. Considering again the other option would have been a 12-16 hour overland drive over horrible roads that could have delayed our trip by up to 2-3 days, I feel that the price adjustment — especially discounted given our group size — was more than justified!
Let’s see if Duaa keeps her end of the bargain and makes it to our hotel!
Update: she did!
Update #2: And she’s joining for the rest of our trip through Seychelles!
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- At time of posting in Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny