Is Madagascar Dangerous?
‘Is Madagascar dangerous?’ This is the question I am asked most frequently about any of the countries in Africa I have visited so I have decided to include a post to answer this specific question, even though much of it is covered in my post on staying safe. My answer to the danger question is always the same. No its not, but don’t be out on your own at night in urban areas unless you have asked about its safety. Independent day to day travel in Madagascar is probably one of the most laid back ways of getting to see a country that I have ever experienced. All you need is time and patience!
That being said there are things to look out for and precautions to take if you are organising things yourself.
The most important of these, I have mentioned already but it is very important, is not to be out on you own on the streets at night unless you are accompanied by someone who knows the area. This could be a tour guide or security from a hotel as they will know where you can and can’t go. The hotels in the capital Antananarivo can give you advice on this. If you are staying on a street with lots of bars and restaurants it may be possible to go out alone until about 11pm as there will often be security at each of these so you won’t be targeted for robbery as long as you don’t venture off anywhere else.
If you are travelling between districts or staying a bit further away then get a taxi to and from where you are going. Hotels will have numbers of taxis and there are always ones sitting outside the more popular bars and restaurants. I found it a great way to end an evening taking an old Citroen 2CV and bouncing up the cobbled streets on the way to my apartment. Other smaller urban centres like Tulear on the southwest coast have very few taxis and any bar or restaurant can call you a pedal powered rickshaw to get you where you are going.
The other thing to try and avoid is travel at night on some of the main routes. Buses are sometimes stopped and passengers relieved of their valuables but this only seems to be a problem on certain routes. I ended up taking a 24 hour bus between Vangaindrano on the east coast to the capital Antananarivo which is a route known for banditry, so we had to join a convoy in the village of Ranomafana and stop for the night under the protection of an armed member of the gendarmerie. Other routes like the camion brousse between Tulear and Fort Dauphin which took 3 days and had no such problems. Sometimes it may not be possible to tell what the situation with a particular route is until you get to the area. When I mentioned to people in Antananarivo I would be taking the camion brousse on the route mentioned above they said I may get killed but once I got nearer and asked around it became apparent this route would not be a problem.
I also found it safe to flag vehicles down by the side of the road and anything from a car to a truck may stop for you. All you need to do is negotiate a fare to your destination and off you go. This is best done in rural areas and can be an adventure all of its own . Again just ask at your accommodation or one of the national park tour guides.
Other things I encountered were minor annoyances rather than a threat to safety. Care needs to be taken at busier taxi brousse stations in particular, but this doesn’t make Madagascar dangerous unless you’re reckless. Generally very crowded and with a layout that adds to the chaos it can be difficult to find the bus going you direction. On approach to these stations I was always approached by men asking where I was going. They will take you to buy a ticket for a bus going your direction but will required a tip after doing so. They can be useful in the more crowded stations but they can be persistent if you just want to go and figure it out yourself. If you don’t require their help be polite and persistent in your refusal.
Many of the taxi brousse operators will have offices and prices are displayed on a list at the ticket desk so it is possible to see what the fare costs. Other operators however may not have these prices lists and may try to charge a higher price so these are ones to avoid if possible. The most reliable company I came across was Cotisse which goes from the northeast station in Antananarivo and covers to the north, east, west and south as far as Fianarantsoa. They generally leave on time only have scheduled stops so you have some idea when you will get to your destination.
In the big markets of Antananarivo and on the streets outside the train station it is very crowded and there is a degree of pick pocketing going on, this can make Madagascar dangerous in terms of the safety of your possessions. On a day out here just bring the essentials and if you have valuables on you make sure they are secured. A photocopy of your passport may be a useful thing to carry if you are asked for it by the police but don’t carry the original around if possible.
Apart from a few precautions about being out at night in general I have not found travelling in Madagascar dangerous, on the contrary it has always been very safe and relaxing to travel in. Care is certainly needed in large urban areas which make up a tiny proportion of the country but outside the capital it is almost carefree travel. So is Madagascar dangerous? No.
If you want advice or tips on a trip to Madagascar feel free to contact me.