Driving in Madagascar: Tips and Information

Are you planning a self-drive holiday in Madagascar? Great choice! Madagascar offers many different terrains - from smooth asphalt to red earth and deep sandy tracks -, and you'll have most roads all to yourself. On top of that, the Malagasy people are really friendly. Roadtrip-fun guaranteed! 

This guide contains essential information and 11 must-read tips for travellers renting a car in Madagascar without a driver. 

Do you prefer a local guide to do the driving for you? We have gathered more information about knowledgeable driver-guides on this page, feel free to check it out!

How are the road conditions for driving in Madagascar?

Madagascar's asphalt roads form a cross-shaped network. To create a bit of clarity:

  • The RN6 and RN4 run from Antsiranana (Diego Suarez), at the northern tip of the island, to Antananarivo.
  • From there, the RN6 continues as the well-known RN7, heading south to Tulear. 
  • Another asphalt road links Antananarivo to Tamatave in the east (RN2) and Morondava in the west (RN34 + RN35), providing connectivity across the diverse landscapes of Madagascar.

Be aware that asphalt roads in Madagascar are not well maintained. Some stretches might be washed away and you'll encounter many potholes, significantly reducing the distance you can cover in a day. 

Driving the RN7 in Madagascar

  • Antsirabe- Morondava 
    For the route to Miandrivazo, depart from the RN7 at Antsirabe onto the RN34. While Google Maps may suggest the RN35 through Malambandy, note that, as of October 2023, the broken bridge on the RN35 makes it impassable. No imminent repairs are scheduled. Don’t follow Google Maps.
  • Ranomafana
    Opt for the straightforward route via the RN7 to Ranomafana, branching off at Alakamisy onto the RN45. An alternative, less advisable route is via Ambohimasoa, joining the RN25. However, due to poor road conditions on the RN25, the longer duration makes it less recommended.
  • Anakao by boat
    Travel to Anakao by boat from Tulear. Please notify us in advance for secure parking, and a designated driver can pick you up from your hotel.
  • Anakao by car
    Though the ferry from St. Augustin is no longer operational, Anakao remains accessible by car. Take the RN10 to Betioky, then head west. Along this route, don't forget to visit Lac Tsimanampetsotsa, a beautiful lake with flamingos, hardly ever visited by tourists.

Driving the west coast of Madagascar

  • Tulear-Morombe
    Enjoy the scenic route along the Mozambican channel and the Mikea Forest without the need for sand plates or tire deflation. While the road does have some sandy stretches, the journey is breathtaking.
  • Morondava to Manja
    Encounter occasional roadblocks in the Morondava, Belo, and Manja areas, set up by villagers managing and benefiting from passing vehicles. The actual fee you pay depends on your negotiation skills, but always remember to remain friendly. It's essential to remember that you are visiting a region with a high poverty level, where it's hard for people to make a living. Experience a reasonably maintained road for a smooth one-day journey from Manja to Morondava.
  • Morombe-Manja
    Be aware that the road between Morombe and Bevoay is in a bad state and has many potholes. Cross the Mangoky River via ferry or dam during bridge construction. Beyond the river, enjoy a well-maintained road to Manja.
  • Belo sur Mer
    Visiting Belo sur Mer with one of our rental cars is only allowed when travelling with a driver-guide or pisteur. To reach Belo sur Mer you have to cross a salt plain where you'll quickly get stuck if you don't know which track to follow. For those without a pisteur, skip Belo sur Mer or opt for a boat ride from Morondava through Entremer, the ideal base in Belo sur Mer.

Driving the north of Madagascar

  • RN4
    While generally in reasonable condition, the RN4 may present unexpected potholes.
  • RN6
    Prepare for a bad road from Ambondramamy to Ambanja, spanning 2 days with stretches limiting speeds to 30 km/h. Beyond Ambanja, the road is repaired and well-maintained. If you want to explore Northern Madagascar, consider starting your car rental from our depot in Diego Suarez. Then you bypass the bad sections of the RN6. The road from Ankify up further north is in good condition.  
  • Nosy Be
    Access Nosy Be via a car ferry. Are you travelling without your car? Then park your car at Hotel Baobab near the Ankify port. Ferries and smaller boats operate in the morning, with the last departure typically at 11 AM.

Driving in Antananarivo

The capital of Madagascar is a hectic and confusing town due to many traffic jams, numerous one-way streets and a lack of road signs. On top of that, the city has implemented a complicated parking payment system and high fines for unauthorized street parking. We therefore strongly recommend exploring Antananarivo by taxi. At Roadtrip Africa, we're also happy to arrange a private driver for you for €20, payable directly to the driver. Please note that we do not offer car deliveries or pickups in Antananarivo, and parking fees are the responsibility of the hirer. 

How are the road conditions for driving in Madagascar?

Off-road driving in Madagascar

The West Coast from Tulear to Morondava, included in our Grand Circuit, is Madagascar's most challenging itinerary that requires some off-road driving. When renting your car through us, we allow you to explore the West Coast by yourself. We do, however, want you to honestly assess if this is something you feel comfortable with. Driving on the west coast of Madagascar is only suitable for confident drivers, who don't panic when they might get lost a little or drive in a remote area.

Don't feel comfortable driving in western Madagascar by yourself? For less confident drivers, we strongly recommend renting a ''pisteur'' (navigator). He/she helps you navigate your vehicle, particularly when crossing rivers during high tide. The benefits of a pisteur: 

  • They know the region by heart
  • You'll have the experience of driving yourself,your pisteur only gives instructions
  • They will particularly guide you through the 'hard' part between Tulear and Morondava

A pisteur costs €25 per day including all expenses. Renting your pisteur is easily done when filling out our car rental booking form

Prefer to hand over the driving completely? Then rent a local driver-guide instead - allowing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

Off-road driving in Madagascar

Do I need an international driving license in Madagascar?

Yes, you need an international driving license in Madagascar when driving a rental car.  Apply for your international license in your country of residence.

Tips to drive safe in Madagascar

Roadtrip Africa has been exploring Madagascar by road for many years now. You should be safe driving in Madagascar, and the experience is fun and rewarding as long as you follow the following rules and tips:  

  • Drive defensively, take it easy, and never rush. Some parts of the RN7 - and in particular the RN2 to Toamasina - may experience some congestion due to trucks. The road is narrow, winding, and full of potholes, so overtaking is dangerous. Instead of trying to overtake, it's better to take your time, not rush and join the traffic flow. If you do plan to overtake, keep a close eye on the truck in front of you. In Madagascar, trucks generally signal when it's fine to overtake them. If they don’t signal, then they probably haven't noticed you, so use your horn to warn them.
  • Beware of unmarked speed bumps and potholes, which are massive at times and can be difficult to spot due to overhanging trees. Potholes damage the car and can cause flat tires.
  • Purchase a local SIM card with internet access. There are three providers in Madagascar: Orange, Airtel and Telma, with Telma offering the best coverage. SIM cards are for sale at the airport, however, there is usually a long queue and it might take a while. SIM cards are also widely available in kiosks along the road and in shopping malls.
  • Pay attention to signposts. When exiting a village, there is always a signpost indicating the distance to the next village and petrol station.  Double-check this to make sure you don't run out of gas. To be on the safe said, we recommend you always fuel up when you leave a village.
  • Always park in a secured area. Should you be spending the night at a local town hostel, make sure they have a secure car park available on their property.
  • Avoid driving at night. In Madagascar, it gets dark around 6 PM. Potholes are difficult to see in the dark and approaching traffic uses blinding high beams. When you have a long travel day ahead, depart early (6-7 AM), to avoid ending up driving in dawn. 
  • Always carry cash, water and a charged mobile phone. Along the west coast, you can expect a few unofficial stop points where 'toll' is charged. 

Are you not comfortable driving yourself and would you feel more at ease with a local driver by your side? Then book a car including a knowledgable drive-guide, and enjoy a more relaxing experience while discovering the beauty of Madagascar.

Tips to drive safe in Madagascar

At what side of the road should I drive in Madagascar?

Right. Driving in Madagascar is done on the right side of the road. 

How does it work with navigation in Madagascar?

All our rental vehicles in Madagascar come with the latest Bradt Travel Guide and a detailed roadmap of the country.

Besides Google Maps, we strongly recommend that you install Maps.me on your smartphone before travelling to Madagascar. It's a free app that allows you to use GPS offline. We also recommend downloading the app iOverlander, which includes almost every campsite in the country. 

For more information on actual driving distances in Madagascar, consult our time & distance table. Madagascar is not the kind of destination where creating a route is done simply by checking out Google Maps. What seems like a road might no longer exist, and ''shortcuts'' are never possible. You might end up in a situation like our friend in the below picture. ;)

How does it work with navigation in Madagascar?

Which Telecom providor do I use in Madagascar?

Before you start your roadtrip, make sure you get a SIM card and load it with sufficient data for internet and phone calls. Madagascar has three mobile network providers supporting the 4G network: Orange, Airtel and Telma. Telma has the best coverage. 

SIM cards are for sale at the airport. However, there is usually a long queue and it might take a while. It is sometimes quicker and easier to get your SIM card in a kiosk along the road or at a shopping mall.

Have you rented your car through us? Then our colleagues, who meet you at the airport, can also explain to you where to buy a SIM card. 

What happens if I get a breakdown or accident while driving in Madagascar?

Our road trip Madagascar rental fleet is bought new between 2018 and 2023 and is well-maintained. Breakdowns are therefore very rare. Still, unexpected issues may occur when driving on challenging roads in Madagascar. Breakdowns usually happen due to…

  • The condition of the car
  • The challenging road conditions (washboard ribbons, potholes, speed bumps, dust and mud)
  • Driving behaviour
  • A dose of plain bad luck

Although we can only affect the first of these events, we shall help you to the best of our abilities, regardless of the reason for your breakdown. Our team is very experienced in troubleshooting along the way but do not forget that providing road support requires cooperation, flexibility, and patience from your side as well.

In our ten years of experience, we learned that many breakdowns on a self-drive trip are caused by driving behaviour, often infused by jam-packed itineraries leading to long driving days and speeding or fatigue. Hence, our most important piece of advice – make sure your travel plan is not too ambitious. Prevention is better than troubleshooting.

Most mechanical issues that happen on the way are minor things and the fastest way to get you on the road again is to provide help on the spot. We have a network of up-country bush mechanics to assist you in case of any issues, and we will either direct you to the nearest workshop or send a mechanic to assist you on the spot. If a car cannot be fixed on the spot within 24 hours, a replacement car will be provided so you can continue your journey.

Unfortunately, workshops in Madagascar are notorious for defrauding. We know how to handle this, and therefore ask you to always contact our Madagascar office first when something happens, whether it's a mechanical issue or an accident. Our phone number is available 24 h/day.

Is insurance included with my car rental in Madagascar?

Our rental cars in Madagascar are comprehensively insured against damage due to accident or fire, and third-party liability due to a car accident. Personal injury and possessions are not covered and fall under your medical and travel insurance. 

Your insurance includes a maximum deductible of €250. Tires, underbody coverage, and windows are not covered by the insurance. The hirer is liable for any damage to the rental car and/or third-party property in the case of:

  • driving over speed limits;
  • single vehicle incidents or rollovers (these are 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.

Our full terms & conditions are included in the car rental agreement. You can also consult them here. 

Is insurance included with my car rental in Madagascar?

How to deal with traffic police in Madagascar

There is not a lot of traffic police in Madagascar. If you do spot them, they are most likely asleep or will be smiling and waving at you. Traffic police mostly 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 make sure that the vehicle is insured. Of course, that will all have been taken care of if you rent a car from Roadtrip Africa. 

How can I rent a car in Madagascar?

Are you looking for the perfect car for your roadtrip in Madagascar? At Roadtrip Africa, we are happy to assist you with renting the vehicle that suits your wishes. 

Our fleet consists of the Nissan Navara and Nissan NP300, both reliable and widely used vehicles, and perfectly suitable for your adventurous Madagascar roadtrip.

At Roadtrip Africa we own all of our rental cars, and we never subcontract from third parties. Each car is serviced at our workshop after every trip. In the unlikely event that you have a breakdown, rest assured that we offer 24/7 roadside assistance and always have a replacement vehicle available.

Ready to start driving in Madagascar? Book your rental car today!

How can I rent a car in Madagascar?