Expore the best of Madagascar - 23 day roadtrip

The Grand Circuit is our most popular self-drive route in Madagascar, and with good reason! Discover the best the country has to offer and be amazed by the sheer variety of landscapes and cultures. 

  • Cruise down the famous RN7, passing through colourful highland towns, rainforests, and mountains.
  • Enjoy a change of scenery after passing Ambalavao, giving way to grasslands, canyons, and finally, the sea.
  • Explore the magic of the western coastal route, with sandy tracks, rivers, and baobabs. Do note: this area is accessible by 4WD only.
  • Visit remote and colourful Vezo fishing villages, pristine beaches, the bizarre limestone pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemaraha and the most beautiful lodges. All while meeting just a handful of other travellers. 

This route is accessible from May until mid-November.

Scroll below to see the day-to-day itinerary with realistic driving times, route directions and travel tips for Madagascar. Need advice on accommodation? Then check out our Madagascar Hotel Guide, which includes our favourite hotels from budget to luxury. 

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Day-to-day itinerary | The Grand Circuit

Day 1

Day 1 of 23

Start: Ivato
Destination: Antsirabe
Drive: 190 km | 5 hours

Your start on the famed RN7! Expect asphalt, windy roads passing rice paddies and small highland villages. You can have a good lunch stop at Coin de Foie Gras in Behenjy, or try a real authentic paella (we're not kidding), at El Torro in Ambatolampy.

Some restaurants we can recommend: Chez Jenny (pizza), TrianonVatolahy (French) and Conterno (pastries and baguettes). 

Day 2

Day 2 of 23

Enjoy: Antsirabe

Explore Antsirabe town and surroundings. Take a pousse pousse (the Malagasy version of the Asian rickshaw) tour to the craft workshops which are otherwise hard to find on your own. Hike or mountain bike around Lake Tritriva, an emerald-green crater lake.

Day 3

Day 3 of 23

Start: Antsirabe
Destination: Ranomafana National Park
Drive: 227 km | 5 hours

It's another lovely, windy road, passing through highland villages, rice paddies and rainforest-covered hills. Stop in Ambositra for a coffee break. For those interested in community tourism and highland culture, this is an interesting region to linger around for longer. 

The best way to Ranomafana is via the RN7 and branch off at Alakamisy onto the RN45. Restaurant tip: Manja

Day 4

Day 4 of 23

Enjoy: Ranomafana 

Ranomafana is a small and lively tropical town with a stunning riverside setting surrounded by rainforest-covered hills and the lovely scent of flowers in the air. It's the place to search for the golden bamboo lemur, only discovered in 1986. We have written a blog about the most beautiful national parks to visit on your road trip in Madagascar, including Ranamofana. You can check it out here

Day 5

Day 5 of 23

Start: Ranomafana National Park
Destination: Andringitra National Park
Drive: 130 km | 4 hours 

Drive to Andringitra National Park, perhaps the most scenic drive in Madagascar thus far. Especially beyond Ambalavao, when the highland plateau gives way to deserted grassland with big sandstone massifs and distant horizons. You could have a coffee break at Ambalavao, or use it as a base from which to explore community tourism initiatives. 

Day 6

Day 6 of 23

Enjoy: Andringitra

If you like hiking, this is a breath taking area. Several hikes can be organised from the camps in this area, ranging from a few hours to multiple days. We did the real Andringitra, a tough full day walk up to the peak. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat, as the sun is remorseless. Consider factoring extra days to complete the Imarivolanitra trekking (2-3 days). We have written a blog about the most beautiful national parks to visit on your road trip in Madagascar, including Andringitra. You can check it out here

Day 7

Day 7 of 23

Start: Andringitra National Park
Destination: Isalo
Drive: 255 km| 5 hours 

Once you leave Andringitra National Park, the windy roads give way to smooth roads with far horizons and deserted grasslands with some rocky peaks. Bring a packed lunch as there are no places to buy or eat something en route! 

Day 8

Day 8 of 23

Enjoy: Isalo National Park

Isalo National Park is a popular destination, featuring sandstone cliffs, deep canyons, waterfalls, natural pools, and a variety of native flora. The piscine and cascade hiking trail are the most popular hikes. We have written a blog about the most beautiful national parks to visit on your road trip in Madagascar, including Isalo. You can check it out here

Day 9

Day 9 of 23

Start: Isalo National Park
Destination: Tulear
Drive: 237 km | 4 hours 

It's an easy 4-hour drive to Tulear. On your way, you will pass through towns that experienced a sapphire rush. We found the experience to be impressive and thought-provoking.

The beaches at Ifaty/Mangily, 24 km north of Tulear, are nicer, but we prefer the vibe at St Augustine's Bay, south of Tulear. Below is Bakuba Hotel at Tulear, among the best boutique hotels of Madagascar. 

Day 10

Day 10 of 23

Start: Tulear
Destination: Salary Bay
Drive: 108 km | 6 hours 

For some of you, it's time to meet your ''pisteur'' - the navigator who will join you for the next few days. After Ifaty we say goodbye to the asphalt. Switch on those hub locks and start your 4x4 Madagascar adventure! 

From Tulear to Morombe is a beautiful road, bordered by the Mozambican channel to the west and the Mikea Forest to the east. While the road does have some sandy stretches, there is no need to use sand plates or deflate your tyres. 

Day 11

Day 11 of 23

Start: Salary Bay
Destination: Andavadoaka
Drive: 60 km | 2 hours 

Drive to Andavadoaka, a remote little Vezo fishing village. It's pretty intense driving through no man's land. No more villages, cattle and people, but deep sandy tracks and endless bushes with mostly no telephone signal. What an experience. 

Day 12

Day 12 of 23

Start: Andavadoaka
Destination: Manja
Drive: 208 km | 5 hours

Pack your car with enough water and food for lunch, as you will not pass any restaurant or roadside stall for the next two days. It's an intense but fun driving day, covering many different terrains and passing through very remote areas. The first 2 hours are on a reasonably good 4x4 track to the small village of Morombe. The RN9 'road' between Morombe and Bevoay is in a poor state: potholes, bush, mud, shallow creeks and rocks. You must cross quicksand(!) to catch a local ''ferry'' to cross the Mangoky river - what an experience! As they're constructing a bridge, there is also a dam you can use to cross the river if the water level isn't too high. After the river crossing, the road is in good condition up to Manja town.

Day 13

Day 13 of 23

Start: Manja
Destination: Belo sur Mer
Drive: 109 km | 4 hours

Visiting Belo sur Mer is only allowed when travelling with our driver-guide or pisteur. You have to cross a salt plain. The surface is dried out, but beneath, it's like quicksand, so you quickly get stuck if you don't know which track to follow. When you are travelling the West Coast without a pisteur, you'll have to skip Belo sur Mer. 

Tip: You can also visit Belo sure Mer by boat from Morondava. It’s a short boat ride, which can be arranged from the hotel you are staying at in Morondava.

Day 14

Day 14 of 23

Enjoy: Belo sur Mer

We recommend enjoying a rest day (or two) in Belo sur Mer. You will have been on the road for quite a few days now, and it is a holiday after all. Entremer is our favourite accommodation. The owner, a friendly French lady, passionately runs the eco-lodge. The home-cooked food is simply delicious and not the standard fare. Make sure you try her Coco Rum punch as well...

Day 15

Day 15 of 23

Enjoy: Belo sur Mer

Have a local lunch in the village at Chez Amis, where crab is often the only thing on the menu ;)  Or take a trip on a sailing boat, visit Kirindy Mitea National Park (mangroves, dunes, lakes and beaches) or just read a book and sip cocktails in your hammock...

Day 16

Day 16 of 23

Start: Belo sur Mer
Destination: Morondava
Drive: 4 hours

Drive to Morondava. You'll mostly cover sandy tracks with a few bushes and some rivers where your pisteur really comes in handy. And then…there is asphalt again. Explore Morondava town in the afternoon; a lively seaside resort with plenty of small restaurants and bars. Our favourite restaurant: La Capannina and Baobab

Day 17

Day 17 of 23

Start: Morondava
Destination: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
Drive: 187 km | 8-10 hours

Driving on a 4x4 dirt track to Bekopaka, your gateway to the Tsingy de Bemaraha takes a full day. Make sure to have lunch in Belo-sur-Tsiribihina at Mad Zebu. The Malagasy chef used to work at a 3-star Michelin restaurant in France and now runs a restaurant in the middle of nowhere - pretty surreal!

Day 18

Day 18 of 23

Enjoy: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

There is nothing else on earth like the limestone pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemaraha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We recommend spending at least two full days at the park so you can try out the great circuits that have been put in place, consisting of Via Ferrata (fixed cable routes), rope bridges and ladders. Combine it with a pirogue trip up the Manambolo River.  

Day 19

Day 19 of 23

Enjoy: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

We have written a blog about the most beautiful national parks to visit on your road trip in Madagascar, including Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. You can check it out here

Day 20

Day 20 of 23

Start: Tsingy de Bemaraha Naitonal Park
Destination: Morondava
Drive: 187 km | 8-10 hours 

After visiting Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, it will take a full day's drive to get back to Morondava.

Day 21

Day 21 of 23

Start: Morondava
Destination: Miandrivazo
Drive: 268 km | 4 hours

Today you cover the RN35 and the RN24, an asphalt road but pretty putholed. You'll probably have the road to yourself. It roughly a 4 hour drive to Miandrivazo. A pirogue trip up the Tsiribihina river makes a nice excursion, or relax at the pool of Princess Tsiribihina, the only mid-range place to stay in Miandrivazo. 

Day 22

Day 22 of 23

Start: Miandrivazo
Destination: Antsirabe
Drive: 220 km | 4 hours

Take note that the only way to get from Morondava to Tana is via Miandrivazo and Antsirabe. The RN35 takes much longer, and the bridge on the RN35 is broken so the road is inaccessible. Do not follow Google Maps, as it will lead you the wrong way. Simply follow the RN34. 

Day 23

Day 23 of 23

Start: Antsirabe
Destination: Ivato
Drive: 190 km | 5 hours 

Back on the good old RN7. You can return your rental car to the team of Roadtrip Madagascar at the airport or the lodge you are staying at in Ivato.

Explore the best of Madagascar. Watch our Grand Circuit road movie.

The best of Madagascar in 3 weeks | This is what you need to know

Travel time and road conditions

We recommend 23 car rental days for this Madagascar itinerary. Is time not on your side? You can shorten this Madagascar itinerary by:

  • Covering the West Coast in 4 days (saving you 3 days)
  • Skipping the Tsingy de Bemaraha  (saving 4 days)
  • Ending your roadtrip at Morondava and flying back to Antananarivo (saving 2 days)

The RN7 from Tana to Tulear is a tarmac road, while the west coast from Tulear up to the Tsingy de Bemaraha is off-road driving. Therefore, renting the Nissan Navara is required. Check our Driving in Madagascar blog for more tips and advice. 

Note that if you want to visit Belo sur Mer by car, it is required to travel with a pisteur (or driver-guide) from Roadtrip Africa.

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Hire a 'pisteur' (navigator) for the West Coast

We allow roadtrippers to self-drive the West Coast, but you'll need to have experience driving a 4x4. Are you a less experienced or confident 4x4 driver? Or do you want to visit Belo sur Mer? Then we can hook you up with a so called 'pisteur'. This local navigator knows the region by heart and can advise which track to follow, where to cross a river, etc. 

A pisteur for the West Coast route costs €25/day and this is an all-inclusive rate (he arranges his own accommodation, food & drinks). He helps you to navigate, particularly where you need to cross the rivers when the river tide is high. You still drive yourself, he only gives instructions. These are local guys, who hardly speak English, but know the region by heart.

As there are no public transport options along the West Coast, note that he can only step in from Tulear to Morondava or vice versa.

Book your roadtrip with pisteur here!
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Grand Circuit - When is the best time to visit the best of Madagascar

The West Coast of Madagascar and the Tsingy de Bemaraha are usually accessible from May up to mid-November, depending on the start/end of the rainy season. When visiting Madagascar in May or November, there is no guarantee that the area is accessible. When collecting your car, we therefore advise you to ask our team at Road Trip Madagascar about the road conditions and accessibility.

Need help with timing your visit to Madagascar? Check our blog on weather conditions, accessibility, and tourist seasons, here. 

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Experiences from fellow Roadtrippers
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RoadTrip Africa was an absolute pleasure to do business with

Maureen from the Netherlands

From start to finish, they were always quick to reply to emails and answer all questions with politeness and enthusiasm. I strongly recommend getting a driver in Madagascar as the driver will be familiar with the road conditions which can be quit...
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Very nice car, drives well, can take a beating, it was great!

Melissa from the Netherlands

We covered 2,500km in 16 days. From Morondava we first went for the off-road drive to Tulear, this together with a pisteur. He got in the back of the car with us, tells you the routes, explains how to drive through the water or loose sand. Also te...
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One big adventure

Pauline from the Netherlands

Madagascar is a beautiful country but the roads are challenging, especially in the west, to Tsingy National Park, where it is all off-road driving. Most people hire a driver but driving yourself is certainly possible. I enjoyed it with some scary...
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