Madagascar was made popular from the Disney Pixar film. You may thus be thinking of a Madagascar safari and at the back of your mind the question is Madagascar safe is popping up. It is time to go for it. This giant African island is beautiful, diverse and just perfect for adventures.
The natural world of Madagascar is absolutely fascinating. This island has millions of years of isolation from the African continent. This has brought about evolution of animal to some uniqueness. This has given the island a well-known lineup of the most famous endemic fauna in the entire world, lemurs being an example.
However, Madagascar can be a challenge to visit. There is crime, cultural differences, a challenging political climate and a bunch of other potentially dangerous things makes the island actually fairly difficult to travel around.
So is Madagascar safe to visit? That’s the question we will tackle in this epic guide to staying safe in Madagascar. We will cover just about everything from the safety of taxis to some in-depth stats about the country to make sure you know all there is to know.
Our Perspective on How Safe is Madagascar?
Madagascar has a lot going for it. There is a ton of potential on this island, with both incredible beaches and biodiversity to attract visitors.
Madagascar was cut off from the African continent for 165 million years. The island’s native species attract and rightly so a lot of outside interest. Everything from the aye-ayes to the red bellied lemur is fascinating in Madagascar, which is why a lot of travelers want to take a trip here.
Whilst most people who do visit have a trouble-free trip, Madagascar is not all as safe. It isn’t a dream paradise in fact, many people would recommend that you only travel the island with an organized tour company or hire a guide to take you around.
Even the National Tourism Office of the country advises foreign tourists that they should use a professional tour operator.
Crime, such as robbery and theft, are sadly rife in Madagascar. There has even been an increase in the amount of kidnappings, targeting wealthy visitors to the country.
There was a coup in 2009, which led to much political instability. To this day the country is still not stable. In fact, it led Madagascar to be named “the poorest country in the world not in conflict.”
Facts on Is Madagascar Safe to Visit
There may be a cuddly film franchise named after the island, but in reality, the numbers tell a very different story.
For example, 70% of Madagascans live below the poverty line. That means that the majority of the 22 million people who live across the 87,040 square kilometers of this island are living an impoverished life.
Tourism, therefore, is very important to the country. It’s seen as a way to help reduce poverty and help economic growth, which makes sense.
Since the 1990s when tourism was the second largest sector of the country’s economy, tourist numbers have grown an average of 11% year on year. In 2007 it was reported that 5.1% of employment was directly connected to the tourism sector.
Unfortunately, tourist numbers were adversely affected by the political crises of the previous decade. The highest number of tourists ever recorded was in 2008 the year before the coup, when the country saw 375,000 visitors to the country. The following year saw a significant drop, with only 255,922 tourists making their way to Madagascar.
Growing steadily since then, in 2017 tourist numbers hit 366,000 and there was a projected aim of half a million tourists for 2018.
At the same time, there are issues related to crime. In 2018, for example, there were reports of kidnaps for ransom at a rate of 10 per month for the entire year. Between 2010 and 2015, however, there was actually a 16.24% rise in crime across the board in Madagascar.
To round things up, let’s take a look at 2019 Global Peace Index – measuring the overall “peacefulness” of 163 countries – in which Madagascar ranked a fairly respectable 55 (tying with South Korea), just below Tanzania.
Is it Safe to Visit Madagascar Right Now?
With all that political turmoil and crime, you may be wondering whether or not Madagascar is safe to visit right now. To be honest, currently, there are some parts of Madagascar that are perhaps not safe to travel to.
Politically, the country is looking much more stable. There were two rounds of elections in 2018, which led to current leader Rajoelina being inaugurated at the beginning of 2019. Surprisingly, the violence surrounding the elections was low, but you should still be aware that political demonstrations and rallies can end in conflict.
Possibly in relation to the political situation, there were explosions in 2012 and again in 2016 in Antananarivo. In 2018 there were more explosive devices placed throughout the city by criminals, including a shopping centre.
In the north of Madagascar, there have been incidents which have targeted foreigners. In Nosy Be and Antsohihy, for example, robberies occurring in broad daylight have occurred on beaches. On the private island of Tsarabanjana, incidents involving tourists have been reported recently in crowded areas and at night.
There have been violent incidents in the area of north of Fort Dauphin, as well as along the west coast between Belo sur Tsiribihina and Toliara. This was also exhibited around the township of Betroka, there are armed forces involved in the area. It’s not recommended that tourists travel through this region independently.
In the “Southern Triangle” region the roads are not in a very good condition and travelling at night is not advised. Attacks and violence has been reported in the southern and northern parts of Toliara, so it’s best to steer clear.
It is also important to take the weather into account, too, especially during cyclone season – from November to April – when strong winds and heavy rainfall effect (mainly) coastal areas.
21 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Madagascar
Madagascar could seem like a dream destination. But as you might have been able to tell already, there is actually a lot to look out for if you are thinking of travelling to this country. Whilst seeing the country with a guide or on a tour is recommended, this doesn’t make you immune from danger – which is why we have compiled this list of the best safety tips for travelling to Madagascar to help you out.
- Learn Some French – Nobody in Madagascar speaks English. The official languages are Malagasy and French. Knowing how to communicate in one of them will make your trip a lot easier and safer.
- Be vigilant – robberies, street crime and theft occur frequently, especially urban areas, beaches and nature reserves
- Take extra care when travelling in a vehicle – carjacking and theft from cars is on the rise
- Watch your belongings in crowded areas – these sorts of places are hotbeds for petty thieves
- Do not walk around looking wealthy – cameras, jewellery, laptops, phones, designer clothes… Just don’t. You’ll make yourself a walking target
- Don’t walk around by yourself after dark – the crime rate significantly increases after dark, especially in town centres and on beaches
- Keep copies of important travel documents in a safe place – you don’t want these going missing; use a hotel safe
- Carry your passport with you – but make sure to keep it very concealed and very secure
- Be polite to the police – it’s important to show respect; don’t antagonise them
- Ask police for ID – reports of fake police have been known, so if they want to talk to you ask them to show you their ID
- Don’t resist if someone tries to rob you – consider taking a throwdown wallet so you can get away with losing a small amount of money. Whatever you do, don’t resist
- Be culturally aware – in Madagascar, there are taboos known as “fady”; these vary across the country and are related to food, clothing and sometimes related to foreigners in general. You should respect the local fady and ask locals for advice
- Be respectful to heads of villages – such as the Fokontany and the Ray aman-dreny. Not doing so will cause great offence
- Stay away from drugs – any sort of use or possession is a big, big deal
- Be careful what you take out the country – everything from pepper to jewellery; read up on quantities you’re allowed to take back home with you
- Be aware that plague still exists here – 500 cases are reported annually and they mainly occur in the rainy season
- Pay attention to the weather – monitor the progress of storms and use websites such as meteomadagascar.mg
- Don’t take photos without permission – especially of a person or a tomb; this can be very offensive
- Always have small cash on you – this is a cash based society and cards will not be widely accepted, if at all
- Keep a low profile – as a foreign tourist you are much more likely to be a target, so dressing obviously, talking loudly, anything like that, is not a good idea
- Research tour companies well – not all of them are going to have your best interests in mind
There is a lot about Madagascar that you have to watch out for. Crime, nature, and cultural taboos mean that you need to have awareness for what’s going on around you. Though it is probably best tackled with a tour, it is possible to travel Madagascar by yourself; it will just mean that you pay extra care to your surroundings and to what accommodation you stay at, for example.