Flying vs Road
At 587000 square kilometres Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Only Greenland, Borneo and New Guinea have greater areas so transport options become hugely important when getting around. In terms of flight versus road, flights are much quicker and more expensive, while road options are a fraction of the cost but take much longer.
People with limited time for their trip may feel flights may be necessary to see some of the out of the way parks and reserves like Berenty in the southeast which is very difficult to get to by road. I would argue that it would be better to pick a section of the country to see and use public transport to get there instead of flying, because flying, versus road, is much less interactive and you don’t get a feeling for what the place is really like as you do with public transport on the roads. While this may not be a feasible option for everyone it is without a doubt achievable and adds more colour to your trip that you would have with an organised trip or flying around.
By and large the taxi brousse, which are long distance minibuses, are spacious with one person getting a seat to themselves and plenty stops for food and toilet breaks. It is actually possible to see many of the main tourist sites like Isalo national park, Ranomafana, Andasibe and Manakara by taking these buses which run in all directions out of Antananarivo. A trip like this could be done in 2 weeks with even some time to take in the capital for a day or two. Getting to areas in the far south would require more involved modes of transport like the camion brousse but this is a real adventure and something I would highly reccommend.
It would even be possible to take the road one way and fly back to where you started to catch your flight home. There are all kinds of routes to be done depending on the time available and how active a trip you want and even for shorter trips lots can be seen with just a little planning and a bit of get up and go.
For people who have longer trips I would advise taking the road as much as possible, even if the guidebooks says there aren’t transport options available. There are often 4x4s which carry passengers plying routes which may not have any bus routes. One of these is the trip between the city of Fort Dauphin in the southeast and Vangaindrano on 250km up the coast. This section doesn’t have any paved roads and has 10 ferry crossings, 4 of which are operated by a hand winch. I found a 4×4 going that direction by going to the taxi brousse station in Fort Dauphin and asking around about transport where I was introduced to a man known as Mr Eddie. He covers this way a few times a week and I joined him and the other passengers on a 30 hour adventure which took in national geographic style sites, a well dressed pastor and numerous car and ferry breakdowns. This is still one of the most unforgettable parts of my time in Madagascar as Mr Eddie negotiated some terrible tracks with a battered old 4×4 loaded with people and luggage.
Renting a 4×4 is also an option and would really speed things up when getting around in rural areas and more sites can certainly be taken in that way. I met a few people doing this and they were definitely happy with the progress they were making. This option can be quite expensive especially of you are travelling alone or as a couple as would isolate you from the buzz and interaction of public transport.
The flying versus road debate has its limits, though, and for people looking at how to get to Madagascar it may be worth looking at flying with Air Madagascar. They offer discount airfares around the country if you booked your flights to Madagascar with them.
Overall, in the case of flying versus road, if you come properly prepared with a sense of adventure then even a 2 week holiday can be done by road and many of the sites can be taken in along the way. And this is by far the cheapest way to see it as an independent traveller.