The Grand Circuit

The Grand Circuit

When completing this Grand Circuit, you will be amazed by the many faces of Madagascar. First cruise down the famous RN7, through colourful highland towns, rainforest and mountains. The scenery changes drastically after Ambalavao, making way to grasslands, canyons and finally, the sea. The western coastal route in Madagascar is 4WD territory, with sandy tracks, rivers and baobabs. You'll visit remote Vezo fishing villages with colourful boats, pristine beaches, the bizarre limestone pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemaraha, the most beautiful lodges and only a handful of other travellers.

Scroll down below to see the day-to- day route with tips on places to stay, so that you can book your accommodation in Madagascar yourself. These are the lodges we like to stay in when we are roadtripping; small-scale, good price-quality ratio and owner-managed when possible.

Check the day to day itinerary

Day 1 of 23

Start: Antananarivo
Destination: Antsirabe
Drive: 180 km | 4.5 hours

Your start on the famed RN7! Expect asphalt, windy roads passing rice paddies and small highland villages. You can have a good lunch stop at Coin de Foie Gras in Behenjy, or try a real authentic paella (we're not kidding), at El Torro in Ambutulampy.

Roadtrip Madagascar's favourite places to stay in Antsirabe: 

Budget: Camping allowed at Green Park and Madalief (out of town) 

Mid-range: Trianon (pictured) - €26/night, Madalief - €26/night

Deluxe: Couleur Café - €37/night

Restaurants: Chez Jenny and Zandina (best pizza), Trianon (classic French), Vatolahy (classic French) and Conterno (pastries and baguettes). 

Day 2 of 23

Enjoy: Antsirabe

Explore Antsirabe town and surroundings. Take a pousse pousse (the Malagasy version of the Asian rickshaw) tour to the craft workshops which are otherwise hard to find on your own. Hike or mountain bike around Lake Tritriva, an emerald green crater lake.

 

Day 3 of 23

Start: Antsirabe
Destination: Ranamofana National Park
Drive: 227 km | 6 hours

Drive to Ranamofana National Park. It's another lovely windy road, passing highland villages, rice paddies and rainforest covered hills. Ambositra makes a good coffee stop. For those interested in community tourism and highland culture, this is an interesting region to linger around for longer. 

Our favourite picks: 

Budget: Camping allowed at park entrance, Ihary bungalows - €15/night

Mid-range: Setam Lodge - €30-50/night

Restaurant: Manja

Day 4 of 23

Enjoy: Ranamofana 

Ranamofana is a small but lively tropical town with a stunning riverside setting surrounded by rainforest-covered hills and the lovely scent of flowers in the air. It's the place to search for the golden bamboo lemur, only discovered in 1986. Park entrance costs €16 pp plus €31 per guide for a group up to four. Half of the proceeds go to the guide. A tip is still appreciated.

We were lucky on our hike, as we spotted a greater bamboo lemur, of which there are only two in the park. We also saw the golden bamboo lemur, red fronted brown lemur, Sifaka Eduardo, leaf tailed gecko, brookesia chamelon, paradise bird, queen fisher, a snake and leeches... 

Day 5 of 23

Start: Ranamofana National Park
Destination: Andringitra National Park
Drive: 153 km | 5.5 hours 

Drive to Andringitra National Park. Perhaps the most scenic drive thus far, especially beyond Ambalavao when the highland plateau gives way to deserted grassland with big sandstone massifs and distant horizons. Ambalavao is an interesting village to stop in and a base from which several community tourism initiatives are offered. 

The exit to Camp Catta and Tsara Tented Camp is 20 km after Ambalavao. Then it's 1 hour of off-road driving towards the park, with some rough parts. 

 

Our favourite accommodation in Andrigitra: 

Budget: Camping allowed at Camp Catta 

Mid-range: Camp Catta, which has a natural pool (€27-€55/night), Tsara Tented Camp (€40/night), Varangue Betsileo, which has a swimming pool (€40/night). 

Day 6 of 23

Enjoy: Andringitra

If you like hiking, this is a breath taking area. Several hikes can be organised from the camps in this area, ranging from a few hours to multiple days. We did the real Andringitra, a tough full day walk up to the peak. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat, as the sun is remorseless. Consider factoring some extra days to complete the Imarivolanitra trekking (2-3 days).

Day 7 of 23

Start: Andringitra National Park
Destination: Isalo
Drive: 212 km| 4 hours 

Once you're out of Andringitra National Park again, the drive to Isalo is a smooth journey on good asphalt. No more windy roads, but far horizons and deserted grasslands with some rocky peaks. Bring packed lunch as there are no places to buy or eat something en route! 

Accommodation in Isalo

Budget: ITC lodge (Momo Trek) - €15, camping allowed

Mid-range: Isalo Ranch, with swimming pool - €42, camping allowed

Deluxe: Le Relais de la Reine (pictured), with pool & spa - €72-105 

Day 8 of 23

Enjoy: Isalo National Park

The combination of sandstone rocks cut by deep canyons, waterfalls and natural pools, with all sorts of native plants make Isalo Madagascar's most visited national park. The piscine and cascade hiking trail can become crowded during high season. Consider a more off the beaten track experience with Momo Trek, who organise multiple-day hikes with camping into remote sections of the park. Further activities include horse riding or climbing the Via Ferrate (enquire with Relais de la Reine).  

Day 9 of 23

Start: Isalo National Park
Destination: Tulear
Drive: 237 km | 4 hours 

It's an easy 4 hour drive to Tulear. On the way, you'll pass through sapphire ''boom'' towns. We found it impressive and throught-provoking. At Ilakaka you can take a tour through the mines with Color Lines. 

The beach at Ifaty/Mangily, 24 km north of Tulear, is nicer, but we prefer the vibe at St Augustine's Bay, south of Tulear. For the best beaches in Madagascar, you have to go North (Nosy Be), East (Ille Sainte Marie) or West (between Salary and Belo sur Mer). 

Accommodation in Tulear:

Mid-range: Famata Lodge, with pool (€35/night), Residence Eden Lodge in Sarodrano fishing village (€35/night)

Deluxe: Bakuba Concept (pictured), with swimming pool (€115-175/night) 

 

Day 10 of 23

Start: Tulear
Destination: Salary Bay
Drive: 108 km 

For some of you, its time to meet your ''pisteur'' - the navigator who will join you for the next couple of days. After Ifaty we say goodbye to the asphalt. Switch on those hub locks and start your 4x4 Madagascar adventure! It's an easy sandy track, with most of the stretch next to the sea.

Our favourite picks around Salary Bay:  

Mid-range: Mamirano Bay Ecolodge and Shangri-La, both in Ambatamilo (4.5 hours)

Deluxe: Five Senses Lodge, in Tsiandamba (3.5 hours) 

Day 11 of 23

Start: Salary Bay
Destination: Andavadoaka
Drive: 60 km | 4.5 hours 

Drive to Andavadoaka, a remote little Vezo fishing village. It's pretty intense driving through no man's land. No more villages, cattle and people, but deep sandy tracks and endless bushes with mostly no telephone signal. What an experience. 

 

Our favourite picks in Andavadoaka  

Budget: Cocoa Beach -  €15/night

Mid-range: Manga Lodge, Laguna Blue - €85/night

 

Day 12 of 23

Start: Andavadoaka
Destination: Manja
Drive: 200 km | 10 hours

Leave very early (6AM) to continue your journey to Manja (9-10 hours drive). Pack your car with enough water and food for lunch, as you will not pass any restaurant or roadside stall for the next two days.

We are going inland today. It's an intense but fun driving day, covering lots of different terrain and passing through very remote areas. The first 2 hours is on a good 4x4 track to the small village of Morombe (which has a petrol station and ATM). Then take the RN5, which is full of potholes. You need to cross quicksand(!) to catch a local ''ferry'' to cross the Mangoky river - what an experience! After the river, the main ''road'' consists of bush, mud, shallow creeks and rocks. Drive very carefully. You will not make more than 20km/ hour. You'll spend the night in Manja, a remote village, where the only place to stay is at Hotel Kantu. (budget €15)

 

 

Day 13 of 23

Start: Manja
Destination: Belo sur Mer
Drive: 109 km | 5 hours

Today you drive to Belo sur Mer, perhaps the most stunning beach of Madagascar's West Coast. It's another very remote track, but you're covering easier terrain, on a smooth sandy surface. Entremer is our favourite accommodation in Belo sur Mer. The entrance is spectacular, as you drive over a salt lake (see picture) dotted with palm trees. It is a hidden jewel, well-run by Laurence, a French lady. If this little place is fully booked, go to Ecolodge du Menabe, which is also really nice. 

 

Day 14 of 23

Enjoy: Belo sur Mer

We recommend enjoying a rest day (or two) in Belo sur Mer. You will have been on the road for quite a few days now, and it is a holiday after all. Make sure to try Laurence's Coco Rum Punch, the best we ever had. Have a local lunch in the village at Chez Amis, where often crab is the only thing on the menu ;)  

Day 15 of 23

Enjoy: Belo sur Mer

Baobab seeds are a local delicacy (see picture). Belo sur Mer is a small traditional fishing village and nice to walk around. Or you can take a trip on a sailing boat, visit Kirindy Mitea National Park (mangroves, dunes, lakes and beaches) or just read a book and sip cocktails in your hammock...

Day 16 of 23

Start: Belo sur Mer
Destination: Morondava
Drive: 4 hours

Drive to Morondava. Another half day of fun driving! You'll mostly cover sandy tracks with a few bushes and some rivers where your pisteur really comes in handy. And then…asphalt again. Back to civilisation. Explore Morondava town in the afternoon; a lively seaside resort with plenty of small restaurants and bars.  

 

Roadtrip Madagascar’s favourite accommodation in Morondava:

Budget: Camping Kimony Resort, Trecigogne - €22/night

Mid-range: Chez Maggy, pool - €38/night

Deluxe: Pallisandre, pool - €135/night

Our favourite restaurant: La Capannina and Babobab. 

Day 17 of 23

Start: Morondava
Destination: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
Drive: 187 km | 9-10 hours

It's a full day driving on a 4x4 dirt track to Bekopaka, your gateway to the Tsingy de Bemaraha. Make sure to have lunch in Belo-sur-Tsiribihina at Mad Zebu, which some travellers say is the best meal in the country. The Malagasy chef used to work at a 3-star Michelin restaurant in France and now runs a restaurant in the middle of nowhere - pretty surreal!

 

Roadtrip Madagascar's favourite hotels in the Tinsgy de Bemahara: 

Budget: camping near the park office and the Grand Tsingy trail head 17 km further ahead (1 hour)

Mid-range: Olympe de Bemahara

Deluxe: Soleil des Tsingy Lodge

 

Day 18 of 23

Enjoy: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

There is nothing else on earth like the limestone pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemaraha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We recommend spending at least two full days at the park, so you can try out the great circuits that have been put in place, consisting of Via Ferratas (fixed cable routes), rope bridges and ladders. Combine it with a piroque trip up the Manambolo River.  

Day 19 of 23

Enjoy: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

Explore the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and its surroundings. 

Day 20 of 23

Start: Tsingy de Bemaraha Naitonal Park
Destination: Morondava
Drive: 187 km | 9-10 hours 

Travel to Morondava, a full day drive from Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

 

Day 21 of 23

Start: Morondava
Destination: Miandrivazo
Drive: 268 km | 4.5 hours

Today you cover the RN35 and the RN24, an asphalt road in good condition. You'll probably have the road to yourself. It is 4.5 hours to  Miandrivazo. A piroque trip up the Tsiribihina river makes a nice excursion, or relax at the pool of Princess Tsiribihina, the place to stay in Miandrivazo (mid-range,  €30/night). 

Time not on your side? You can make it in one day (9.5 hours) from Morondova to Antsirabe and just stop for lunch at Miandrivazo. However, it's a long tiresome day of driving and we don’t recommend it.

 

Day 22 of 23

Start: Miandrivazo
Destination: Antsirabe
Drive: 268 km | 4.5 hours

Today, you continue on the RN24 to Antsirabe. This stretch has a lot more potholes. 

Our favourite accommodation and restaurants in Antsirabe:

Budget: Camping allowed at Green Park and Madalief (out of town) 

Mid-range: Trianon (€26/night), Madalief (€26/night)

Deluxe: Couleur Café (€37/night)

Restaurants: Chez Jenny and Zandina (best pizza), Trianon (classic French), Vatolahy (classic French) and Conterno (pastries, baguettes)  

Day 23 of 23

Start: Antsirabe
Destination: Antananarivo
Drive: 220 km | 5 hours 

Back on the good old RN7. Drive to Antananarivo and finish off your epic road trip with a stay in down town Tana and a dinner in one of its many splendid restaurants. 

Drop off your rental car in Antananarivo (€ 30), or at the airport, our office or a lodge in Ivato (all free of charge). If you want to drop off your vehicle in Tana, it is hopeless trying to get into the old downtown centre around rush hour (which starts by 3-4 PM).

 

Roadtrip Madagascar's favourite restaurants in Antananarivo: 

Varangue, Sakamanga (also a very nice hotel, if you want to stay in town), Les 3 Metis, Kudeta, Petit Verdot, Villa Vanille 

Our favourite places to stay in Ivato: 

Mid Range: Guesthouse Susie's Place 

Deluxe: Au Bois Vert - good restaurant and swimming pool

Restaurants: Au Bois Vert, Savanna Café, L'Escalle

What to expect on this self drive adventure?

Travel time and road conditions

Around 23 car rental days are recommended to follow this route. A Nissan Double Cab is required. Time not on your side? You can shorten this roadtrip by skipping the Tsingy (saving 4 days), and/or cover the west coast in 4 days (saving 2 days) and/or drop off your car at Morondava and fly back to Antananarivo (saving 2 days).

The RN7 from Tana to Tulear is asphalt. The west coast from Tulear up to  the Tsingy de Bemaraha is only off-road driving. We allow roadtrippers to self-drive the West Coast, but 4x4 driving experience is necessary. For less experienced/confident drivers, we can hook you up with  a ''pisteur''. This local navigator knows the region by heart and can advise which track to follow, where to cross a river, etc. Roadtrip Madagascar arranges the pisteur, the cost of €25 / day is handled by the hirer. Consult our on the road section for more Madagascar travel information. 

Go to Travel time and road conditions

When to travel the west coast of Madagascar

The west coast and the Tsingy de Bemaraha are only possible to book for travel from May to mid November.  

The coolest months are June and July. Winter daytime temperatures are still very pleasant and even warm at the coast, but at night the temperature drops to 5-10C in the highlands (Antananarivo, Andasibe, Antsirabe) and it is cool at the coast.

July to August is peak season in Madagascar. Book your roadtrip rental car well in advance to secure it. Many of the lodges along the RN7 will be fully booked well in advance. With a camping gear set in the back of your car, you'll be more flexible.

July to September is the best time to see humpback whales and dolphins. The island of Ille Saint Marie is the prime whale watching location, but they also pass the west coast from Tuléar up to Belo sur Mer.

Go to When to travel the west coast of Madagascar

Prices

Rest of year | May, June, October, November 

Price per vehicle, in Euros. The Nissan Double Cab fits up to 4 adults. 

Price includes 23 days car rental and airport pick up & drop off.  

Prefer a pisteur for the west coast? Add €150

Want to do the entire Grand Circuit with driver-guide? Add €690 to your total trip amount.

    Nissan Double Cab 
Per car    € 2,275

Peak season | July - September  

Price per vehicle, in Euros. The Nissan Double Cab fits up to 4 adults. 

Price includes 23 days car rental and airport pick up & drop off.  

Prefer a pisteur for the west coast? Add €150

Want to do the entire Grand Circuit with driver-guide? Add €690 to your total trip amount.

    Nissan Double Cab 
Per car    € 2,500

Create & Book

Make this road trip yours. Hire a 4x4 in Madagascar and Drive Your Own Adventure.

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Included in the Grand Circuit roadtrip

Included

  • Mobile phone with local SIM
  • Roadmap and Bradt Travel Guide
  • Comprehensive car insurance
  • Airport transfers
  • Electrical fridge

Optional

  • Driver-Guide