Madagascar off the beaten track - 17 day roadtrip
With the newly restored RN5a, travelling Madagascar overland towards the stunning SAVA region (Sambava, Andapa, Vohemar, Antalaha) is now possible once again. The breathtaking area is known as the Vanilla Coast, and it's here where the waters of the Indian Ocean meet the dense jungle.
This is an incredibly scenic and beautiful off-the-beaten-track self-drive itinerary covering the northeast of Madagascar. It involves modest driving hours, hardly any other travellers, and lots of variation.
- Search for Sifaka's in the Loky-Manambato Protected Area.
- Visit a vanilla and cocoa plantation and learn more about Madagascar spices.
- Explore the hiking trails and waterfalls of Montagne d'Ambre.
- Feel like Robinson Crusoe at Madiro Kitamby, an undiscovered beach hideaway at Baie du Courrier.
Scroll down 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 lodges and hotels in Madagascar from budget to luxury.
Day-to-day itinerary | The Undiscovered Northeast
Day 1 of 17
Start: Ankify (ferry point Nosy Be)
Drive: 230 km | 7 hours
Your first rental day starts off with a long driving day, so hit the road early. But not to worry, the road is in a good condition. In case you can't start early, you could also break up the journey, and have an overnight stay half-way in Ambilobe.
Day 5 of 17
Enjoy: Marojejy National Park
Explore the hiking trails of incredibly scenic Marojejy National Park, a UNESCO heritage site since 2007 but largely cut off from the tourist trail as the RN5a was in a state of disrepair.
Marojejy offers a unique mix of lush rainforests, waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. Keep your eyes open for the silky sifaka, a lemur species known for its white fur and acrobatic abilities. The park is also home to other lemur species, such as the black-and-white ruffed lemur and the red-bellied lemur. Marojejy is also a wonderful place for birdwatchers, as it includes many rare breads such as the critically endangered Madagascar serpent eagle and the stunning blue coua.
Day 6 of 17
Drive: 240 km | 5 hours
The SAVA region (Sambava, Andapa, Vohemar, Antalaha) is also known as the vanilla coast of Madagascar, where the waters of the Indian Ocean meet the dense jungle.
Visit a vanilla or cocoa plantation and learn more about this important spice for Madagascar.
Day 8 of 17
Explore: Ankarana National Park
Tsingy is the Malagasy word for “walking on tiptoes”, the impenetrable labyrinth of limestone pinnacles justifies this name. Ankarana National Park is a limestone massif of tsingy and forest, intersected by caves and canyons. There are many hiking trails ranging from one hour to a fullday hike. For more info, check out our guide to the most beautiful national parks in Madagascar, which also features Ankarana.
The main entrance to this reserve is on the east side, at Mahamasina, just off the RN6. Many species of lemur can be seen, as well as beautiful birds and if you are lucky (or not..) also crocodiles.
Day 9 of 17
Start: Ankarana National Park
Drive: 109 km | 3 hours
En route to Joffreville, the gateway town to Amber Mountain National Park (Montagne d'Ambre), you can first pay a visit the Red Tsingy ( Tsingy Rouge). Joffreville, a former retreat for French officers now in a state of disrepair, is the entry point to the park. Guides can be arranged at the ANGAP office or via local hotels.
Day 10 of 17
Explore: Montagne d'Ambre National Park
Montagne d'Ambre (Amber Mountain) is an isolated patch of montane rainforest that rises from the surrounding dry region. This scenic park is famous for its waterfalls, crater lakes, and chameleons. Aloso lemurs are frequently seen. There are clear hiking trails, and much of the path is nicely shaded by trees. In the dry season, vehicles can drive right up to the picnic area.
The park ranges from 850 to 1500 meters and has its own microclimate. This means you should prepare for everything: warm and humid to wet and cool. The best time to visit is September to November or May to August.
Park guides can be arranged at the ANGAP office or via local hotels.
Day 11 of 17
Destination: Madiro Kitamby
Drive: 70 km | 3 hours
Pstttt we have a true hidden gem to share. Madiro Kitamby is an unpretentious pearl at the unspoilt beaches of Baie du Courrier. You can pitch your own tent or stay in an affordable bungalow. Their restaurant serves great seafood.
Day 13 of 17
Enjoy: Madiro Kitamby
From Madiro Kitamby, you can arrange a day trip to Nosy Hara Marine National Park. Snorkel around the small islands to see the beautiful coloured corals and, if you're lucky, dolphins or turtles.
It's also possible to stay overnight and wild camp at Nosy Hara Island. Contact Madiro Kitamby for the possibilities.
Day 14 of 17
Start: Madiro Kitamby
Destination: Ramena beach & surroundings
Drive: 40 km | 3 hours
En route you pass Diego Suarez, a deep sea port city, which is nice to wander around and have lunch. Located 20 kilometres east of Diego Suarez is Romena, a laid-back beach town where you find some simple restaurants offering the freshest seafood. On weekends, locals often head to the beach for picnics, barbecues, and a game of football.
Day 15 of 17
Drive: 270 km | 7 hour
Before heading back to Diego Suarez, you can consider visiting the Emerald Sea (Mer d'Emeraude), a shallow lagoon with nice warm water, perfect for snorkelling and spotting turtles. It's just a short boat ride from Ramena or Antsiranana.
Depending on where your return flight to Antananarivo or your next destination departs from (Diego Suarez or Nosy Be), you can either return your car at Diego Suarez or drive back to Ankify harbour (7 hours driving).
Madagascar off the beaten track | This is what you need to know
Travel time and road conditions
The RN5a used to be a terrible road, making overland travel to Madagascar's SAVA region a challenging undertaking. Now that the RN5a is restored, the road is in great condition - even better than the famous RN7! What's even more amazing: you'll probably have the road and its sights all to yourself. A true off-the-beaten-path experience!
Still don't feel comfortable driving yourself? No worries! You might want to consider renting a local driver-guide to do the driving for you.
Starting and ending your roadtrip
There are several ways to compose your North Madagascar roadtrip:
- Starting in the north - To start your drive off easily, we offer the option of renting your 4x4 from Ankify (ferry point to Nosy Be) at no extra cost. Passenger boats (30 mins) and car ferries (2,5 hours) depart daily between Nosy Be and Ankify. Wrap up your trip by returning the car in Diego and flying to the international airport of Antananarivo. Alternatively, opt for a circular route, driving back to Ankify, and savour a few extra days on Nosy Be before heading home.
- Starting in Ivato - Another appealing option is to start your rental from Ivato, taking a one-way trip to the North. Add 2 nights to this itinerary in Ankarafantsika National Park and a stopover night in Antsohihy town, providing a refreshing break during the drive to Ankarana National Park. Be prepared for challenging road conditions between Ambondramamy and Ambanja, with speed restrictions of 30 km/h. Beyond Ambanja, the road is well-repaired and maintained.
Domestic flights depart from Ivato or Tulear to Nosy Be, and return flights take off from Diego Suarez or Nosy Be to Ivato—additional flight details can be found here.
The best time to visit the north east of Madagascar
- The overland route to Nosy Be and Diego Suarez is fine to travel year-round and offers a pleasant and warm climate.
- Around Nosy Be, humpback whales can be seen from mid-August until the end of October. Turtles and dolphins are regular visitors year-round.
- For kitesurfing enthusiasts conditions are good all year round at Ramena, with a steady peak between January and March.
- Hiking in Marojejy National Park is best done from April to May and from September to December.
Create & book your off-the-beaten-track adventure in Madagascar
Explore the Vanille Coast of Madagascar in a 4x4 and drive your own adventure.Let's go!