Arriving in Antananarivo (Madagascar) After One Year in Mauritius

We left Mauritius for Madagascar on the 15th of November, 2022. We flew to the Malagasy capital Antananarivo with Air Mauritius.

Deciding on Madagascar

Our one-year Mauritian premium visa was coming to an end in November. We had considered renewing this fantastic digital nomad visa for another year; the MV Trochetia was sailing again to Rodrigues instead of the MV Black Rhino. As you might know, we really love Rodrigues. But the only way we’d like to travel back there would be by boat. We had already imagined staying in Quatre Bornes, then taking the Metro Express to Port Louis, boarding the ship, and traveling three days, two nights back to our happy place. When our Rodriguan host Sandy wrote to us that the passenger ship resumed operations, we got overly excited. But that was premature since the ship is (still!) not allowed to carry passengers for some reason.

La Réunion is another option that simply makes sense from Mauritius. But we’d arrive in Réunion during the busiest month and we’d have to stay there over new year’s. Jonas looked for accommodation. He simply couldn’t find anything (affordable) outside of the capital Saint-Denis.

Mauritius also has direct flights to Mumbai in India, but it felt silly to do another intercontinental flight when we have… just arrived in the Indian Ocean region. I would have been down with Seychelles, but Jonas wasn’t because of some (probably outdated) covid info about not being allowed to travel around and stay in multiple accommodations and islands.

Then there is Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya, and even Perth in Australia and Kuala Lumpur in our beloved Malaysia. Those last two are routes that only recently restarted after the quiet end of the pandemic. All these countries run into the same problem as Mumbai; it’s simply too far and I don’t feel done with the region yet.

I had suggested Madagascar before, but Jonas wasn’t really receptive. Then one day I suggested it again and he read my page about Madagascar that I use as a travel planning collection page. We looked together at hotel prices in Antananarivo and everything seemed quite affordable. The flight is only 90 minutes. We can get a paid 60-day visa on arrival and can extend it by another 30 (the 90-day visa on arrival on Wiki unfortunately isn’t real). He read about some things to do and though it looked challenging with the internet situation and overland travel, we’re also ready for this after one year of comfort.

And so we booked a flight and hotel in Antananarivo in Madagascar.

Quatre Bornes to MRU

The flight to Antananarivo was in the middle of the day, so we had plenty of time to finish packing in the morning. Jonas even arranged a 7-day Airalo eSIM for our arrival in Madagascar, so we’d have some internet upon arrival without immediately needing to buy a Malagasy SIM card or pray the hotel WiFi would work.

We had said goodbye to our amazing hosts in Quatre Bornes the day before. They have helped us immensely during our stay in Mauritius. They had arranged a taxi for us to the airport. A smooth driver and nice conversationalist named Abu. Before we knew it we were at the airport. There were a lot of police, military, and first responders at the airport—which I found concerning. But it was just an exercise.

Jonas wanted to be at the airport early to do some tax refund thing for the iPhone he bought in Mauritius. The airport was eerily quiet and there was little queueing. We already met some kind of jiu-jitsu team from Madagascar who won a lot of medals judging by the incessant clanging of metal.

Upon checking in our heavy luggage, the lady didn’t ask for our premium visa. This surprised me, as it looks in our passports as if we just overstayed by six months. But she did want to see our onward ticket from Antananarivo to La Réunion. And she found our luggage very odd, though it’s just… backpacks? And mine is in a special bag so it doesn’t get wrecked on the conveyor belts. Nothing special.

We spent more time than necessary at the airport since the flight was one hour late. The plane was there, but for some reason, it took very long to prep the plane. We had some coffee, though there was also the opportunity to have a sippy of Mauritian craft beer one last time.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam international airport the thirsty fox mauritius craft beer

Flying past La Réunion to Antananarivo

Once it was time to board, things went rather quickly. It was a huge Airbus A350 plane with a 3–3–3 layout. It had an entertainment screen in the seats, so I got to business playing 2048. And then we flew away from Mauritius once again. Past Mahébourg, Île aux Aigrettes, and Île aux Fouquets. So many memories that aren’t even that recent.

Every foreigner received a booklet called Passeport to Madagascar with some nice information, advertising, and our arrival card plus health declaration form. I had a pen, so we filled it in.

I went through the film options, but there wasn’t anything good or short enough for the flight time. Soon our food arrived early anyway. I had the Vegetarian Jain Meal (VJML) and Jonas the Vegetarian Oriental Meal (VOML). There was a marginal difference between our meals, noting that my veggies were grown above ground and Jonas’ above and beneath. Grilled veggies, salad, a bread roll, and some fruity dessert. It was good and I always like receiving my food before all the other passengers because I’m a slow eater. For drinks, I of course got a big cup of red wine.

I spotted a big heap of clouds outside my window: La Réunion!

When doing the online check-in, I told Jonas to make sure we’d have window seats on the left side of the plane. That way, I hoped to see Réunion from the window. Love it when a plan comes together.

I could see some parts of the volcanic and mountainous island sticking out above the clouds, but not much. Five minutes later, we had moved enough to see the capital Saint-Denis at the coast. Not much detail, but I was happy with it either way.

Jonas and I played some games on the screen while I also kept an eye on when we’d hit Madagascar. Alas, this Big Island was also covered in clouds. I could only see details of the land when we started our descent to Antananarivo. There was a bit of turbulence while passing through the clouds.

The Malagasy landscape here is mountainous, dry, and full of towns and villages and unpaved roads between them. There were lots of small rivers with extensive floodplains with (rice?) fields demarcated. I had to almost chug my wine since the staff was very eager to get ready for landing.

It was clear once we were over Antananarivo. It’s a dense cityscape with big gaps from lakes or reservoirs, connected by canals. We made the loop-de-loop and landed at Ivato International Airport (TNR). Smooth landing and then immediately we turned around on the tarmac to taxi to the terminal to the sound of people unbuckling their seatbelts.

Arriving in TNR Antananarivo

To my pleasant surprise, our plane received the jet walk treatment. I 100% expected to walk down rolled-up stairs and go on an airport bus to the terminal.

The staff at Antananarivo’s airport was well-trained in sorting the Malagasy citizens from the others since we all need to get a visa on arrival. There was a queue at the visa office, where we didn’t have to show our onward ticket to Réunion. She simply asked till when we were staying and did the quick math that the 11th of January requires us to get the 60-day visa. That was €40 per person, which we paid with the cash Jonas got back from his tax refund. Not exactly cheap, but if we compare it with the Myanma 28-day eVisa (US$50 in 2020), it’s a steal.

All of this in English, by the way.

We received a receipt in French with a QR code and some information, such as the date we’d have to leave Madagascar (13th of January, 2023). The most valuable information on this form was the places where we could extend the Malagasy visa: Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Nosy Be, Toamasina, and Toliary (aka Toliara or Tuléar). It includes the addresses for doing the visa extension, so this is vital information. What stood out to me is that Taolagnaro (aka Tolagnaro or Fort Dauphin), the major city in the southeast, was not mentioned as a place that can do a visa extension.

tourist visa on arrival madagascar extension antananarivo ivato airport

Next, we had to queue for immigration. This took a long time. Jonas went to a different officer than I did. I was inexplicably nervous about this, perhaps because it has been so long since we changed countries. All was fine and he stamped my passport. But he also took that little receipt with all the visa extension information. Good thing I had taken a photo of it.

[Edited to add: here’s how we did the Madagascar visa extension in Toliara]

Yay! We’re in! New country!

Next, there were some people who took the health declaration form from the little booklet, and then it was time to pick up our luggage. We grabbed a cart and found the back of the queue to go through customs. This queue was long and it took forever. Lots of people had to scan their luggage one last time. Behind customs were the taxi drivers with signs in the arrivals hall.

Sketchy Moment with Rival Taxi Drivers

Before we went through customs, we spotted a guy with our names and hotel name at the arrivals gathering point. We waved to him to acknowledge the sign. Then a minute later I saw a second guy with the exact same sign with our names and hotel.

Super fucking sketchy. But! I totally anticipated this.

Back in Mauritius after we’d booked the flight and hotel, the hotel reached out about an airport transfer. We took the offer and they said they’d send a guy with a sign with our names. I suddenly had this thought… what if another guy copies the sign and we accidentally ride with him? We’ve done this airport name sign thing before without worries, but somehow I thought about what’s stopping some rando taxi driver from just trying to snatch someone else’s passengers.

The first guy we waved at looked more trustworthy than the second. The queue moved slowly enough for us to discuss what to do. We didn’t have to scan our luggage at customs and we were quickly in the arrivals hall where both guys approached us with uncomfortable enthusiasm. Taxi driver number two grabbed our luggage cart and I was not having it. The first guy had a calmer demeanor and was talking to us in English. I had no idea what was going on.

We often like to orient ourselves in the arrivals hall, get some cash at the ATM, that sort of thing. We managed to slip away from them by one meter to go to the ATM. Jonas got our starter kit of cash while I was keeping an eye out on the guys and then it was time to go to the taxi.

Guy number two rolled our luggage cart and guy one was talking to me, so I learned his name was John. Were they working together? Is it so unsafe here that you need to operate a car with two people? What the actual fuck?

Outside the terminal, we met the first adult beggars. Annoying, but we can handle it. Then we walked around the parking lot till we were at a taxi, which already had a driver inside. So… we’re going to Antananarivo with three people? Again, what the actual fuck is goin’ on here?

We paid attention when putting the big luggage in the boot and took our hand luggage inside. There was a beggar begging through the window of the driver (left side, Madagascar drives on the right) to me and guy #2 changed careers from taxi driver to beggar through the front window on the right side to Jonas. John sat in the passenger seat and finally, we drove off.

Taxi Ride to Antananarivo Center

So good vibes John was our taxi driver, yet also not since he wasn’t driving. He taught us some Malagasy words, while we were moving away from the airport area past endless business hotels that cater to Sinophones.

A few days before we left Mauritius, we went on this sailing trip from Grand Baie to Port Louis and back. It was very fancy and we met a Mauritian guy named Maurice there who had been to Madagascar. Plenty of people had given us their opinions on Madagascar – whether they’d been or not – prior to our departure. Maurice gave us a more nuanced view and told us that the area between the airport and Antananarivo was by far the poorest and slummiest area in the country. He told us to not be afraid based on what we’d see there—not that we are easily spooked by something as common as poverty.

I thought it wasn’t that bad. Just shacks and loads of small businesses operating from the road, vans as public transport, and many pedestrians. At a snail’s pace, we were moving through the first 10 kilometers of the 17 kilometers to Antananarivo, I was of course happy the doors were locked. But none of the people on the streets seemed threatening.

Meanwhile, John was warning us a lot about the safety situation in Antananarivo. The usual don’t go out after dark (wasn’t planning to) and keep an eye on your phone and wallet (obviously). He also asked us how long we’re staying, which Jonas answered with 10 days, as in 10 days in Antananarivo, and John interpreted it as 10 days in Madagascar, as he said “Short.”

He tried to arrange some tours to the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga (Rovan’ Ambohimanga) and the Lemur Park for the following day. But I said we’d want to relax for at least one day and diverted the topic by asking for his card. After crawling some 7 kilometers to Antananarivo, John reached his destination and got out of the taxi. He said he has an office in the hotel we’re staying in (Sole Hotel) for when we want to arrange a tour.

Now with our final driver, we crawled through traffic as the sun set. At some point, we exited the slow-paced area and finally had some speed and a vantage point. The surrounding landscape was full of rice paddies cut up by canals reflecting the last light of the day. Sometimes we’d cross a bigger river. We drove past a massive fortified building and the driver asked us in French if this is our embassy. A soulless compound like that far away from the city and along a stroad is of course the USA embassy, so the answer was no.

In the twilight, the stroad turned into a highway with rough on and off ramps, but it was short-lived as we were entering Antananarivo. A big roundabout had both an Indian and a Korean restaurant, which made my tummy growl.

I was following the route to the hotel on my offline map app. By now complete darkness had fallen and only the street lights and signs of businesses gave some perspective of Antananarivo. With such a short flight in the middle of the day, I had hoped we’d arrive at the hotel before nightfall, but all the aggregated circumstances fucked that up.

We drove past the Soarano train station, which I think doesn’t run any passenger routes. We turned onto Independence Avenue and the Analakely Market area, which I thought looked quite majestic. But Jonas interjected that moment with some info he read online:

“This the area where people get robbed.”

– “At night?”

“No, also in the daytime.”

– “Hmm”

Checking in to Sole Hotel

We turned a corner where people gathered at some street food stall. GPS indicated the hotel would be here. A lit-up sign with a sun symbol and “Sole Hotel” was there. All as promised.

Jonas and I had discussed getting out of the car quickly to grab our luggage from the boot and bring it up to the hotel, but our driver parked too close to a concrete planter on my side and I couldn’t open the door. I had to crawl through Jonas’ door, which he had just shut. So our stress-avoidance tactic didn’t exactly work out. It didn’t help that there was a cigarette vendor immediately in front of me as I exited the car. By this time, the taxi driver had already grabbed my backpack and Jonas was also halfway into the building and up the stairs, waiting for me and looking disappointed I had not followed the plan. He hadn’t seen I couldn’t exit the car on my side.

Some young and capable people checked us in. We could keep our passports to ourselves, thankfully. I immediately grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and put it on our tab. We hadn’t had any access to water since the plane, so to say I was thirsty is an understatement.

The studio room with a balcony was pretty excellent and it’s quite affordable. Spacious enough for what we’re doing in Antananarivo for 10 whole days. We forgot to ask for WiFi access, but that tends to be a multiple-stage project anyway whenever we try hotel WiFi.

We went up to the rooftop restaurant for dinner, which had vegetarian options. It’s all really decent and relaxing once inside. This hotel seems to have the perfect balance between locally run and international comfort. Good vibes all around.

Good info? Consider buying me a sugarcane juice!

Open in wallet

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