Travel to Madagascar (the “Big Island”) is superb, beautiful and exotic. But it’s far from easy. Antananarivo, the Capital City, generally called ‘Tana’, though charming, poses many risks to foreigners, and they are usually forewarned about these dangers on arrival. Tourists are accosted at every street corner by beggars, and security at night is not guaranteed, as even the police try to squeeze a few bills from the “Vazaha”, the foreigner, the White.
Usually, visiting Madagascar though is mainly for the nature and beaches of the Big Island, which offer breathtaking views; lemurs, baobabs, vanilla and other natural wonders. And the capital is a sight on its own, replete with colonial architecture in crumbling condition, old patched up cars and small markets that line the roadsides. The upper town and its colonial houses were built on cliffs and seem about to collapse at any moment. Once out of the Capital City, the trips become even more difficult.
The national airline, Air Madagascar, doesn’t make the situation any easier, as they often cancel flights without warning.
The only option to go from one town to the other, other than renting a car, is traveling by taxi-brousse (minivan stuffed with people and luggage). They’re in poor condition and roads are riddled with potholes. We are left crammed up in these run down taxis, all grimy and sweaty.
The Big Island is still a fascinating and unique place, as it is a testimony of the effects of colonialism and corruption on everyday life.
When the exhaustion from travelling especially in the conditions as described above sets in, the thoughts and eventual sight of a comfortable bed and nice surroundings in good accommodation in Madagascar is almost as important as the interesting and fascinating places to visit.
In Tana, the capital city, there is the Madagascar Hotel du Louvre. Aside the historic structure that houses this hotel (an old Eiffel building which dates from the 1930s, as evidenced by its huge steel beams), and its beautiful interior garden which aptly showcases the unique flora of the Island, the rooms are indeed beautiful and cozy, and the basement houses extensive spa facilities, including a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi, available free of charge to hotel guests.
Staying at the Louvre is a hundred times more interesting when you know the travel conditions in this great country planted in the Indian Ocean, and is the perfect base of any exploration expedition around the Big Island. The service at this Madagascar hotel is inconsistent and occasionally haphazard, and is not immune to the vagaries of the country so easily. Yet everything needs to be taken into perspective, here.
At the high end of the Madagascar hotels ladder, there is Hotel Colbert, a tired colonial hotel which usually hosts the major events of the government, the Rosewood Hotel on the Independence Avenue, and TANA Hotel which is at the corner of the Rue du Louvre. The other top notch Madagascar hotels – including Carlton and Ibis – are relatively far from the city centre.
Madagascar is superb; it is beautiful; it is exotic. But it is not a walk in the park.