The Tropical Extension

The Tropical Extension

The East is the most tropical part of Madagascar, famous for the Canal des Pangalanes. Created by the French in colonial times as the water highway of east Madagascar, it now boasts some fine lake resorts. Mahambo has beautiful beaches overhung by coconut palms and consistent surf spots. From here, take the ferry to bounty island Ile Sainte Marie, the best place for whale watching.

Scroll down to see the day-to-day route with travel tips on where to stay in Madagascar, so you can book your own accommodation.

Check the day to day itinerary

Day 1 of 6

Start: Antananarivo
Destination: Andasibe
Drive: 150 km | 5 hours

Your roadtrip starts on the RN2 to Andasibe, a smooth asphalt road. It is a lovely drive, through rainforest covered hills. You bypass downtown Tana completely via the ring road. The RN2 is the most important road in the country, connecting Antananarivo with the port of Tamatave, so it can be busy with slow trucks. Be aware of dangerous overtaking on the windy roads.  Coq d'Or in Moramanga is a good coffee stop (try their eclairs!) or lunch break. 

Day 2 of 6

Enjoy: Andasibe

Andasibe is the prime location to search for the Indri Indri. With its surprised teddy bear face it looks more like a gone-wrong panda than a lemur. If you don't see them (there's a 99% chance you will), you will definitely hear them. They make an eerie wailing sound that carries for kilometres. Each Indri Indri only cries up to three times a day as it costs them so much energy. It is truly mind blowing to witness this ritual. 

You can do 2-4 hour walks in Andasibe to search for the lemurs. It's not strenuous. Mantadia National Park is 20 km up north, much bigger and more suitable for the hiking enthusiast. 

Day 3 of 6

Start: Andasibe
Destination: Canal des Pangalanes
Drive: 135 km | 3.5 hours 

Continue on the RN2. The landscape becomes even more tropical, dominated by traveller palms and cocoa plantations. Manambato is a small fishing village on the white sandy shores of Lake Rasoabe and the gateway to the Pangalanes Canal. The last 7 km to Manambato village is a very rough 4x4 dirt road that takes 45 minutes to drive.

Day 4 of 6

Enjoy: Canal des Pangalanes

Explore the lakes and the Pangalanes canal. Get your Lemur fix at Palmarium and visit the Aye Aye island. 

Palmarium lodge is situated on an peninsula where they have a small forest reserve with a wide variety of palms and 9 different species of tame lemurs. You can feed and touch them. Yes, it is touristy; some will love it, some will not. However, being so close to these very gentle, funny creatures is indeed special. Just make sure you don't start with this experience before doing lemur trekking in the wild... We thought the Aye Aye visit was disappointing.

Day 5 of 6

Start: Canal des Pangalanes
Destination: Mahambo
Drive: 180 km  | 4 hours 

The drive to Mahambo takes 4.5 hours. Factor in an additional hour for the boat ride if you stayed at Palmarium or Bush House. Up to Tamatave (2 hours), the road is good. After Tamatave, the RN2 becomes the notorious  RN5... But not to worry, up to Mahambo it's still asphalt, just with a lot of potholes. Make sure to have lunch in Tamatave at La Terrasse. This lively Spanish bar-restaurant does terrific lunch and dinner, for bargain prices. The menu is classic French and Spanish. Pictured, you see la Piroque (€€). A nice mid-range place to stay in Mahambo and walking distance from the ferry to Île Sainte Marie. They can also help you arranging your ferry tickets. 

Day 6 of 6

Start: Mahambo
Destination: Île Sainte Marie

Drop off your car and take the ferry to the postcard-perfect island of Île Sainte Marie and fly back. Or, spend some more time enjoying the good surf and palm fringed beaches of Mahambo before driving back to Antananarivo.

The ferry departs walking distance from la Piroque and you can reserve your tickets at the lodge. The crossing takes about 2 hours. Weather at the East Coast of Madagascar is unpredictable and the sea can be rough. Therefore, it's not a guarantee that the ferry goes every day, and the crossing can be cancelled at the last minute. However, it is no punishment to enjoy yourself at the lovely beach of Mahambo for one more day and give it a try the next day. 

Explore Eastern Madagascar on this 6 day self-drive itinerary

Travel time and road conditions

When done as a one way rental, 6 days is recommended. We collect your roadtrip rental car from Mahambo, from where the ferry departs to the picture perfect island of Ile Sainte Marie. The crossing takes 2 hours. The weather is unpredictable at the East coast and the sea can be rough. Therefore, its not a guarantee that the ferry goes every day. 

The costs to collect and bring back the car to Antananarivo are forwarded to the hirer. This is €165 (3 day driver fee, bus ticket, fuel) + 1 rental day. 

The RN2 is a windy asphalt road all the way to Tamatave and in pretty good condition. The exit to Manambato, the gateway to the Canal des Pangalanes, is a rough dirt track. From Tamatave up north, you will tackle part of the notorious RN5, featured in such series as the BBC's the World's Most Dangerous Roads and the Landrover Camel Trophy. But not to worry, up to Mahambo, it's all asphalt, just with a lot of potholes.

Go to Travel time and road conditions

When to see the whales in Madagascar?

The Tropical Extension is only possible to travel from April to December.

Weather is unpredictable at the east coast. Days of rains and wind can be interspersed with calm, sunny weather throughout the year. It is always warm though. The most stable months tend to be June, and August till December. 

July - September is the best time to see humpback whales at Ile Sainte Marie, but you could also be lucky in June and October. 


Go to When to see the whales in Madagascar?


Rest of year | April - June, Nov - Dec

Price per vehicle, in Euros. 

Price includes 5-day rental, car delivery to your hotel in Ivato or the airport,  and one-way drop-off fee (Mahambo). 

Want to do the Tropical Extension with the company of a driver-guide? Add €150 to your total trip amount.

  Nissan X-trail  Nissan Double Cab 
Per car  € 888 € 1098

Peak season | July - October

Price per vehicle, in Euros. 

Price includes 5-day rental, car delivery to your hotel in Ivato or the airport,  and one-way drop-off fee (Mahambo). 

Want to do the Tropical Extension with the company of a driver-guide? Add €150 to your total trip amount.

  Nissan X-trail  Nissan Double Cab 
Per car  € 958 € 1168

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Included in your road trip


  • Roadmap and Bradt Travel Guide
  • Car delivery to your hotel or airport
  • Comprehensive car insurance


  • Driver-Guide
  • Electrical fridge
  • Camping gear