The Grand Circuit
When completing this Grand Circuit, you will be amazed by the sheer variety in landscapes and people of Madagascar. You first cruise down the famous RN7, through colourfull highland towns, rainforest and mountains. The scenery changes drastically after Ambalavao, with grasslands, canyons and finally, the sea. The western coastal route is 4WD territory, with sandy tracks, rivers and babobabs. You see remote Vezo fishing villages with colourful boats, pristine beaches, the bizar limestones pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemahara, the most beautiful lodges and only a handfull of other travellers.
- Possible to travel from May till November.
- Allow 24 days to complete this circuit.
- Time is not on your side? You could leave out de Tsingy and shorten it to 20 days
The RN7 from Antananarivo to Tulear is asphalt pavement, with an occasional pothole and speed bumps. The only off road driving is to get to Andringitra National Park and Isalo, for which a high clearance vehicle is needed. The West Coast is only off road driving. We allow roadtrippers to self-drive the West Coast, but 4x4 driving experience is necessary. For less experienced and confident drivers, we recommend to go with a ''pisteur''. He knows the region by heart and can advice which track to follow, where to cross a river etc. He steps in at Tulear till Morondova ( or vice versa). It is 3 to 4 driving days, but we advise a minimum of 6 days to complete this track, to also enjoy some resting days. The additional costs for the pisteur are € 15 / per day. Read more at the practical information page.
All the mentioned lodges are the places we like to stay when we are roadtripping ourselves; small-scale, good price-quality ratio and owner-managed when possible.
If you start your roadtrip the next day, it is recommended to spend the night in suburb Ivato, as down town Antananarivo (Tana) is completely congested. Ivato, some 30 kms from Tana centre, is where our office is located, and is close to airport.
Roadtrip Madagascars favourite picks in Ivato:
Mid Range: Guesthouse Susies Place € 60
Deluxe: Au Bois Vert. With good restaurant and swimming pool
Restaurants: Au Bois Vert, Savanna Café, L'Escalle
Your start on the famed RN7! Expect asphalt, windy roads passing rice paddies and small highland villages. You can have a terrific lunch stop at Coin de Foie Grass in Behenjy, the foie grass center of Madagascar. Or try a real good paella at El Torro in Ambutulampy.
180 km | 4,5 hours
Roadtrip Madagascars favourite picks in Antsirabe:
Budget: Camping allowed at Madalief (out of town), Green Park
Mid-range: Trianon € 26, Madalief € 26
Deluxe: Couleur Café € 37
Restaurants: Chez Jenny ( pizza, lively), Trianon ( classic French), Vatolahy (classic French).
Antsirabe is considered the pousse pousse capital of the country. There are three major ''species''. The basic model is a cart pulled by a man. It may feel uncomfortable to be towed around by someone in this fashion, who may even be barefooted. But this is the driver's living, so your pay is most welcomed. The cyclo-pousse, in which the cab is attached to a bicycle, is a step up, at least as far as the driver is concerned. And on top of the food chain is the kinga, the motorised pousse-pousse. Explore Antsirabe town and take a pousse pousse (the Malagasy version of the Asian rickshaw) tour to the craft workshops which are otherwise hard to find on your own.
3|4 Ranamofana Rainforest
Drive to Ranamofana National park. It's again a lovely windy road, passing highland villages, rice paddies and rainforest covered hills. Ambositra makes for a good coffee stop. For those interested in community tourism and highland culture, this is an interesting region to linger around for longer. Stay at Grand Hotel or Motel Violette ( both budget).
227 km | 6 hours
Our favourite picks:
Budget: Camping allowed at park entrance, Ihary bungalows € 15
Mid-range: Setam Lodge | € 30-50
Ranamofana is a small and lively tropical town with a stunning riverside setting surrounded by rainforest covered hills and the lovely scent of flowers in the air. It is the place to search for the golden bamboo, only discovered in 1986. Park entrance cost € 16 pp plus € 31 for the guide for a group up to four, of which half goes to the guide. A tip is still appreciated.
We were lucky on our hike, as we saw the greater bamboo lemur, of which there are only two in the park. Furthermore, we saw the Golden bamboo lemur, Red fronted brown lemur, Sifaka Eduardo, Leaf tailed gecko, Brookesia chamelon, Paradise bird, Queen fisher, a type of snake and, leeches :)
5 | 6 Andringitra National Park
Perhaps the most scenic drive thus far, especially beyond Ambalavao. Big sandstone massifs dominate the country side. The exit to Camp Catta is 20 km after Ambalavao. Than its 1 hour off road driving towards the park with some rough parts. Enroute, Ambalavao is an interesting highland village to stop. Andringitra is perhaps our favourite park. If you like hiking, this is a breath taking area. Consider spending an extra night, to complete the Imarivolanitra trekking ( 2-3 days).
173 km | 5,5 hours
Roadtrip Madagascars favourite picks in Andringitra:
Budget: Camping allowed at Camp Catta
Mid-range: Camp Catta, with a natural swimming pool. (€27-€55). Tsara Tented Camp € 40
7|8 Isalo National Park
No more windy roads, but far horizons and deserted grasslands, with some rocky peaks. Bring packed lunch, as there are no places to have lunch enroute. Isalo is Madagascar's most popular national park and for good reason. The combination of sandstone rocks cut by deep canyons, natural pools, rare endemic plants and several species of lemur ( sifakas, ring-tails and brown lemur), make this a wonderful place to explore. The Piscine and Cascade track can become crowded during high season. Consider a more off the beaten track experience with Momo Trek ( 2 days). Further activities: horse riding or climb the Via Ferrate (enquire with Relais de la Reine)
212 km | 4 hours
Roadtrip Madagascars favourite picks in Isalo
Budget: ITC lodge ( Momo Trek) € 15, camping allowed
Mid-range: Isalo Ranch. Pool. Camping allowed € 42
Deluxe: Le Relais de la Reine with Pool &Spa ( € 72- 105).
9-15 Salary Bay | Andavadoaka | Belo Sur Mer
We're heading for the coast today! It's a smooth 4 hours drive to Tulear. You pass through sapphire ''boom'' towns. We were very moved by the sights of it, and it makes you think. At Ilakaka you can take a tour through the mines with Color Lines.
It's worth to leave early so you can enjoy the afternoon at the the beach and the lodges. These two mentioned below are real pearls.
Our favourite picks in Tulear, St Augustin Bay
Mid-range: Residence Eden Lodge, Sarodrano village € 35
Deluxe: Bakuba Concept, pool (€ 115-175).
For some of you, its time to meet your ''pisteur'', who will join you for the next couple of days. After Ifaty we say goodbye to the asphalt. Switch on those hub locks and start your 4x4 adventure! It's an easy sandy track, most of the time next to the sea. You can drive to Tsiandamba ( 3,5 hours) and stay in Five Senses Lodge, decorated by the same ower as Bakuba Concept. (deluxe). Or drive to Ambatamilo (4,5) and stay in Mamirano Bay Ecolodge, managed by Rosanna a lovely Italina lady (mid-range).
Next day, drive to Andavadok, a remote little Vezo fishing village (4,5 hours). It is pretty intense driving through no-mans land. Sandy tracks and bushes with most of the time no telephone signal.
Our favourite picks at Andavadoaka
Budget: Cocoa Beach | € 15
Mid-range: Manga Lodge, Laguna Blue | € 85
Enjoy a resting day at Andavadoaka or leave very early to continue your journey to Manja ( 9-10 hours). Pack your car with enough water and food for lunch, as you will not pass any restaurant for the next two days. We are going inland today. It is an intens yet fun driving day, covering lots of different terrain and passing through very remote area. First its 2 hours on good 4x4 track to the small village of Morombe ( there is a petrol station and ATM).Than you take the RN5, full of potholes. You take a local ''ferry'' to cross the Mangoky river, what an experience! After the ferry, the main ''road'' consists of bush, mud, shallow creeks and rocks. You spend the night in Manja, a remote village, where the only place to stay is at Hotel Kantu ( budget € 15 )
Today you drive to Belo sur Mer, perhaps the most stunning beach of the West Coast. It's again a very remote track, but your covering easier terrain, on smooth sandy surface. Entremer is our favourite pick. The entrance is spectacular, as you drive over a salt lake dotted with palm trees. It is a hidden jewel, well-run by Laurence, a lovely French lady. If his little place is fully booked, go to Ecolodge du Menabe , also really nice. We would recommend to enjoy a resting day here. Make sure to try Laurence' Coco Rum Punch, the best we ever had. And have a local lunch in the village at Chez Amis, often only crab is on the menu :).
16-20 Morondava & Tsingy de Bemahara
Drive to Morondava ( 4 hours). Another half day of fun driving. You mostly cover sandy tracks with not so much bushes and some rivers where your pisteur really comes in handy. And then…there is asphalt and Morondova. Back to civilisation. Explore Morondova town in the afternoon, a lively seaside resort with plenty of small restaurants and bars.
Roadtrip Madagascar’s favourite picks in Morondava:
Budget: Trecigogne €22
Mid-range: Chez Maggy, pool € 38
Deluxe: Pallisandre, pool € 135
Our favourite restaurant: La Capannina and Babobab.
It is a full day driving on a 4x4 dirt track to Bekopaka, your gateway to the Tsingy de Bemaraha. There is nothing else on earth like the limestone pinnacles of de Tsingy, a Unesco World Heritage Site. We recommend that you should spend at least two full days at the park, to try out the real good circuits hat have been put in place consisting of via ferrata’s ( fixed cables routes), rope bridges and ladders, combining forests, caves and piroque (boat ) trips up the Manambolo River.
Our favourite picks in Tsingy de Bemahara
Budget: Campsite at the park entrance
Mid-range: Orchideé du Bemahara
Deluxe: Soleil des Tsingy Lodge
21-22 Drive to Miandrivazo & Antsirabe
Today you drive on the RN35 and the RN24, an asphalt road in good condition and you probably have the road to yourself. It is 4,5 hours to Miandrivazo. A piroque trip up the Tsiribihina river makes a activity, or relax at the pool of Princess Tsiribihina, the place to stay (mid-range, € 30).
268 km | 4,5 hours
Time is not on your side? You can made it in one day (9,5 hours) from Morondova to Antsirabe and only have lunch at Miandrivazo. But it's a long day of driving, we don’t recommend it.
Next day, you continue on the RN 24 to Antsirabe. This stretch has much more putholes.
220 km | 5 hours
23 -24 Antananarivo
Back on the RN7. Drive to Tana ( 4,5 hours). Finish off your roadtrip with a stay in down town Tana and a dinner in one of the many splendid restaurants.
Our favourite picks in Antananarivo:
Lodges: Sakamanga, Les 3 Metis, Mandrosa Hotel
Restaurants: Varangue, Sakamanga, Les 3 Metis, Kudeta, Petit Verdot, Villa Vanille