Driving in Madagascar: Tips & Information

Everything you need to know about driving in Madagascar

Madagascar is one big road trip paradise. You will cross so much different terrain, from smooth asphalt to red earth and deep sandy tracks, and you most probably have the roads to yourself. And on top of that, the Malagasy people are really, really friendly. Roadtrip fun guaranteed! 

This section contains important information for self-drive road trippers: 

  • Is Madagascar a safe self drive destination? 
  • How are the road conditions?
  • How does it work with navigation?
  • Travelling and driving safely in Madagascar
  • What happens in case of a break-down or accident?
  • Is insurance included with my car rental in Madagascar? 
  • Do I need an international driving license in Madagascar? 
  • How to deal with traffic police?

Is Madagascar a safe self-drive destination?

We occasionally get that question. The answer is yes. Roadtrip Africa would not want to be in the self-drive business in a country where it is not sensible to go on a self-drive holiday. Keep in mind that Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and is politically unstable. The inequality between the few rich inhabitants and tourists and the rest of the people is enormous. Also, some regions of the country are hardly visited by any tourists and the local population only speaks Malagas. Therefore, we trust you to travel wisely. That means the following precautions:

  • You are NOT allowed to travel after dark, which is after 6 PM. Fellow road users often have no lights or put on their high beam lights, so you can't see a thing. In some rural areas, there have been reports of unexpected roadblocks.
  • Always travel with cash, a charged mobile with a local sim card, airtime an internet bundle, enough water and some food.
  • When you fuel up your car, know where the next gas station is.
  • Always park your car at a private parking lot.
  • If you have never been to Madagascar before, it is tricky to plan your route and estimate your travel time on the basis of Google Maps and Travel Books only. What might seems a road on Google Maps, in reality, isn't. Use one of our suggested routes as a starting point to assess if your plans are realistic and contact Roadtrip Africa for advice with your itinerary planning.

In general, the reporting of Embassies about traveling in developing countries is overly cautious. In the case of Madagascar, we unfortunately often take notice of reports with great astonishment. How single incidents with little respect to local context can give a totally distorted view of the safety situation and risks.

Road conditions in Madagascar >> Roadtrip Africa

How are the road conditions in Madagascar? 

There is one asphalt road from north to south: the RN6 from Antananarivo (Tana) to Antsiranana (Diego Suarez international airport) at the northern tip of the island, and the RN7 from Tana to Tulear at the southwest. For African standards, the RN7 is in pretty good condition. The RN6 becomes worse after Ankarafantsika. The road condition is the poorest between Ambanja and Diego Suarez, with a lot of potholes. On this stretch, you will not cover more than 30 km hour. There is also an asphalt road connecting Tana with Tamatave in the east (RN2) and with Morondava in the west (RN34 + RN35). Some sections contain a few more potholes, but overall the road is in good condition. 

Considering what car to rent for your Madagascar holiday? Our 4x4 Light category ( Prado and Nissan X-Trail) are suitable for these roads. The RN7 is well developed for tourism, with plenty of petrol stations and places to stay and eat. The rest of these asphalt roads see very few travellers. 

The Western Coastal route from Tulear to Morondava is off-road driving and only possible with our Nissan Double Cab. We allow roadtrippers to self-drive the West Coast, but you need to assess for yourself if this is something you feel comfortable with /suits you. You have to be an experienced and confident off-road driver, and not panic if you get lost / drive in a remote area. Our vehicles are equipped with car trackers and panic button. In the unlikely event that you are stuck in the middle of nowhere where there is no telephone and internet reception, we can still locate you. You can call us 24/7 for roadside assistance in case you get into a mechanical problem with the car. We will direct you to the nearest workshop, send help or coach you through the phone what to do. But keep in mind that arranging and fixing one of the above takes some time to organise and might require some effort and patience from your side. We assume you know how to change a tyre. 

For less experienced and confident drivers, we strongly recommend going with a ''pisteur'' (navigator). He knows the region by heart and can advise which track to follow, where to cross a river etc. He steps in at Tulear till Morondova (or vice versa). It is 3 to 4 driving days, but we advise 5-6 days to complete this track, to also enjoy some resting days. A pisteur costs € 25 / day and this covers all his expenses. Roadtrip Africa arranges the pisteur. When you fill out our online bookings form, this is an option you can choose. 

How do I navigate in Madagascar and find my way? 

Offline navigation is easy if you install the the free App Maps.me on your smart phone and download the Madagascar Maps, before you travel to Madagascar. Combine driving on your GPS with Maps.me with Google Maps, and you will find your way. For the RN7, the roadmap that is included in your car rental is sufficient. The biggest mistake travellers make is rushing and trying to cover too much ground in one trip. Have a look at our suggested routes page for a realistic assessment of what you can cover during your road trip. You might get stuck after heavy rains and a flat tire can be part of the adventure. If you are trying to estimate your travel itinerary with Google Maps, increase travel time by 1/3. It is NOT possible to take short-cuts. 

Tips for driving safely in Madagascar 

  • We urge you to buy a local sim card to insert in your own smartphone and put airtime and an internet bundle. The Telma card is the best and cheapest. You can buy this simcard on arrival at the airport. The Telma shop is only open when there are incoming flights
  • When you exit a village, there is always a sign post indicating the distance to the next village and petrol station. Pay attention to this signpost. But as a rule of thumb, just always fuel up when you leave a village.
  • To bare in mind - trucks signal when its fine to overtake them. Super handy. If they don’t signal, than they probably haven't noticed you, so use your horn when you plan to overtake.
  • Beware of potholes! They damage the car if you hit them and can cause a flat tire.
  • In case you're spending the night at some local hostel in a town, make sure they have a secure car park on their property.
  • Avoid driving at night. Its get's dark around 6 PM.The potholes are difficult to see, approaching traffic uses blinding high-beams and its just not safe. We have car trackers and see that Roadtrippers at times still not reach their destination before dark. You can avoid this by simply leaving early on a travel day (6-7 AM). 
  • Always carry cash and some small notes ( 5-10,000 ariary), water and a charged mobile phone. Along the west coast you can expect a few unofficial stop points in villages where you have to pay 'toll''. 

What happens in case of a breakdown or accident? 

Breakdowns are rare, as our rental fleet in Madagascar is new and well-maintained. In case of a mechanical problem, we will help you on your way as fast as we can. You can call us 24/7 for roadside assistance at +261 330 280 423. We will direct you to the nearest workshop or we will send help to assist you on the spot. Always contact us for authorization prior to any repairs to the vehicle. Workshops in Madagascar are notorious for defrauding. We know how to handle this. In case the car cannot be repaired within 24 hours, a replacement car from Antananarivo will be provided. Please keep in mind that arranging one of the above takes some time to organize and might require some effort and patience from your side. So always factor in a spare day, to allow for the unexpected. Good to know that breakdowns are rare. 

In case of an accident, contact us immediately and we coach you through the process; take pictures of the damaged vehicle(s) and process and clear a police report.

Is insurance included with my car rental in Madagascar? 

Your rental car in Madagascar is comprehensively insured with Assurance Aro against damage as a result of an accident or fire, and third-party liability to property and bodily injury due to a car accident. There's a maximum own risk of € 250, not covered by the insurance. Tires, underbody coverage and windows are not covered by the insurance. The hirer is fully liable for any damage to the rental car and / or third party property, if:

  • Driving in excess of speed limits.
  • Single vehicle incidents or rollover (these are always considered a result of reckless driving).
  • Damage to the vehicle caused by lack of proper care / maintenance of the vehicle.
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Driving on restricted roads / areas.

Personal injury and possessions are not covered and fall under your medical and travel insurance.

You can consult our full terms and conditions here. 

Do I need an international driving license in Madagascar? 

Yes, you need an international driving license, which you can obtain in your country of residence.  

How to deal with traffic police? 

There are not many traffic police in Madagascar. If you do see them, they are most likely either sleeping or smile and wave. Traffic police focus on trucks instead. Advice that comes in handy when dealing with any kind of government official is to remain patient and friendly, greet them politely in Malagasy or French, make a joke and you have a new friend. They will want to see your driver's license and ID, check car papers and if the vehicle is insured. Of course that has been taken care of if you rent a car from Roadtrip Africa. 

If you have committed an offense (speeding, dangerous overtaking), you’ll have to pay the fine. Officially this should be done at the nearest police station. That office can be miles away and can be a very time-consuming procedure. Usually, they will also offer a faster payment option and hint you buy them a soda (this is not something you propose though).