Explore tropical Madagascar - 6 day east coast roadtrip

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

This route is accessible from April until December.

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

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Day to day itinerary | The Tropical Extension

Day 1

Day 1 of 6

Start: Ivato
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

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

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

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

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.

Tamatave (also called Toamasina) is the main port of Madagascar, making it a busy road with a lot of trucks and lorries. The road is narrow, winding, and full of potholes. Instead of trying to overtake the slow-moving trucks, it's better to take your time and join the traffic flow. Make sure to have lunch at La Terrasse. This lively Spanish bar-restaurant does terrific lunch and dinner, for bargain prices. The menu is classic French and Spanish.

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. At the picture you see La Piroque Hotel in Mahambo. 

Day 6

Day 6 of 6

Start: Mahambo
Destination: Île Sainte Marie

There is no car ferry to St Marie. You have to park your car either at Mahambo or Soanierana Ivongo. We advise taking the boat from Mahambo. You can park your car safely at hotel Le Piroque and they can also sort you out with the ferry tickets. From the hotel, it’s a 5-minute walk to the port. When taking the boat from Soanierana Ivongo, you can park your car at the gendarmerie for a daily fee. The gendarmerie is just before the port on your left.

The crossing takes about 2 hours. Weather on the East Coast of Madagascar is unpredictable and the sea can be rough. Therefore, it's not guaranteed that the ferry departs daily, and the crossing can be cancelled at the last minute. However, it is no punishment to enjoy yourself at the lovely palm-fringed beach of Mahambo for one more day and try your luck the next day. 

The tropical east coast of Madagascar | This is what you need to know

Travel time and road conditions

When driving this Madagascar itinerary as a one-way route, we recommend a minimum of 5 car rental days. 

The RN2 is a windy tarmac road that takes you to the port of Tamatave. To get to Manambato (the gateway to the Canal des Pangalanes), you'll need to follow a rough dirt track. From Tamatave up north, you will tackle parts of the notorious RN5, featured in series such as the BBC's World's Most Dangerous Roads and the Landrover Camel Trophy...But not to worry! From there up to Mahambo you can enjoy asphalt roads, just be aware of the potholes.

When renting a car via Roadtrip Africa, you can return your vehicle in Mahambo, from where the ferry departs to the island of Ile Sainte Marie. This option can be selected in the booking form. The extra costs for collecting and returning the car to Ivato will be charged to the main driver. 

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What is the best time to visit east Madagascar?

The weather is unpredictable along the east coast of Madagascar. Days of rain 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 to September is the best time to see humpback whales at Ile Sainte Marie, but you could also be lucky in June and October. 

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