Getting Around by Road
How to travel around Madagascar is once question to ask yourself if you are planning a do it yourself trip. Getting around by road is possible using public transport, and means you can visit a large part of the country. This approach has the added advantages of being cost-effective and, in my opinion, by far the most fun. Patience and a sense of humour will be required but if you want to get an insight into what Madagascar is really like then this option is second to none.
The options I ended up taking for getting around by road between cities or regions were as follows:
- Taxi brousse (intercity minibus)
- Taxi collective (taxi or 4×4 packed with lots of passengers)
- Zebu and chariot (cattle pulling a cart)
- Camion brousse (bush truck)
- Truck (commercial transporter as opposed to bush truck)
The taxi brousse is the work horse of the public transport sector in Madagascar. It is possible to get to many of the national parks and tourist spots by using these alone and you will become well acquainted with them. Any of the ones I took had one seat per person so made them relatively spacious and comfortable.
I always chose the Cotisse company where possible because they leave on time and generally arrive around the time they say they will. Their depot in Antananarivo is at the northeast taxi brousse station which is easiest to reach by taxi from the centre. They have different levels of bus ranging from normal to VIP but all are in good condition plying routes north, east and west but only getting around as far south as Fianarantsao.
There are many other taxi brousse operators in Antananarivo and that can be found either at the northeast station or the one located to the southwest of the city. The departure times may differ from what they tell you as normally these operators only go when the bus is full. It may be possible to get fares cheaper with these companies than with Cotisse but it may not be worth the potential wait.
Getting around by road on the more regional routes by taxi brousse is often slower due to delays in departure. When I travelled from Fianarnatsoa, a city about 400km south of the capital, to the village Ranohira which is near to Isalo national park we departed 5 hours late. This was because we had to wait for some lychees to arrive on another bus to load onto ours for delivery down south. This is just one example of the delays to be expected but I always got there in the end.
At the busier stations people often approach and and offer assistance buying tickets. They can be useful in the more hectic stations if you need to go to a smaller specific destination but if you don’t need their help just refuse politely. If you do use them a tip is expected for their services.
The taxi collective is a normal taxi but is shared by a number of passengers often going to different destinations. I took these at a few of the taxi brousse stations with some of the other passengers who got off the same bus as me and the driver dropped us off at our different destinations. This helps to cut costs of getting a taxi on your own but always remember to be clear on the destination and agree your individual price before setting off.
If you really need to get off the main roads the camion brousse is the one to use. They ply the routes that normal buses can’t and of all the adventures I have had on public transport over the years this is the most memorable. I took the 600km route between Tulear on the southwest coast and Fort Dauphin in the southeast which took 57 hours and involved 17 hours stuck in wet sand. Rammed into the seats with roughly 140 other passengers on the back of the truck it is not the most comfortable trip ever but is the only viable option to flying or renting a 4×4. The front seats of the truck can also be booked for passengers and may be the way to go to increase comfort but need to be bought in advance. These seats cost more but are still a fraction of the cost of other options.
If you are stuck in a bind where there are no nearby taxi brousse stations there is the option of going out onto the road and hailing down whatever vehicle is passing. This is what I did to get from Andasibe national park, about 4 hours east of the capital, to the town of Brickaville 115km further on. My guide for Andasibe, Herman advised me there are always vehicles going that way and all I needed to do is flag one down. I got a lift on an articulated truck on its way to the port in Tamatave which dropped me in Brickaville. I spent my time in the truck on the bunk bed behind the driver joined by numerous other passengers getting on and off over the 3 hours I was on board. This method is used by local people to get around and is a handy way to get your destination if more conventional ways are not available.
Zebu and chariot are used in the more rural areas of the country to bring people and goods between villages when there are no other vehicles available and are a slow and steady way to make progress. I took a zebu and chariot from the village of Bernoone at the edge Makay national park to the village of Beroroha where it is possible to join other passengers on a 4×4 that runs to Ranohira. It was a days walk between the two villages and the chariot was loaded with the the gear from the Makay hike with us walking behind.
The roads and public transport being what they are in Madagascar there are all kinds of ways of getting around. There are undoubtedly more ways than this to travel by road than I have described but these are the one I was lucky enough to experience and they ended up being a massive part of the adventure.