The Grand Circuit

The Grand Circuit

When completing this Grand Circuit, you will be amazed by the many faces of Madagascar. You first cruise down the famous RN7, through colourfull highland towns, rain forest and mountains. The scenery changes drastically after Ambalavao, making place for grasslands, canyons and finally, the sea. The western coastal route is 4WD territory, with sandy tracks, rivers and baobabs. You see remote Vezo fishing villages with colourful boats, pristine beaches, the bizarre limestones pinnacles of Tsingy de Bemahara, the most beautiful lodges and only a hand-full of other travellers.

Scroll down below to see the day-to- day route with tips on places to stay, so that you can book the accommodation yourself. These are lodges we like to stay 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

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

180 km | 4,5 hours

Roadtrip Madagascar's favourite places to stay in Antsirabe: 

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

Mid-range: Trianon ( see picture) € 26, Madalief € 26

Deluxe: Couleur Café € 37

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

Day 2 of 23

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

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

227 km | 6 hours

Our favourite picks: 

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

Mid-range: Setam Lodge,  € 30-50

Restaurant: Manja

Day 4 of 23

Ranamofana is a small and lively tropical town with a stunning riverside setting surrounded by rainforest covered hills and the lovely scent of flowers in the air. It is the place to search for the golden bamboo, only discovered in 1986. 

We were lucky on our hike, as we saw the greater bamboo lemur, of which there are only two in the park. Furthermore, we saw the Golden bamboo lemur, Red fronted brown lemur, Sifaka Eduardo, Leaf tailed gecko, Brookesia chamelon, Paradise bird, Queen fisher, a type of snake and, leeches :)

Day 5 of 23

Drive to Andringitra National Park. Perhaps the most scenic drive thus far, especially beyond Ambalavao when the highland plateau gives way to far horizons, deserted grassland with big sandstone massifs. Ambalavao is an interesting village to stop 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. Than its 1 hour off road driving towards the park with some rough parts. 

153 km| 5,5 hours 

Our favourite picks: 

Budget: Camping allowed at Camp Catta 

Mid-range: Camp Catta, has a natural pool €27-€55, Tsara Tented Camp € 40, Varangue Betsileo, close to Anja Park,  with pool, € 47. 

Day 6 of 23

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

Day 7 of 23

Once you're out of Andringitra Park again, the drive to Ranohira, 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 have lunch enroute! 

212 km| 4 hours 

Our favourite picks 

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

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

Deluxe: Le Relais de la Reine, Pool & Spa, € 72- 105. 

Day 8 of 23

The combination of sandstone rocks cut by deep canyons, waterfalls and natural pools and all kinds of endemic plants make this 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 climb the Via Ferrate! (enquire with Relais de la Reine).  

Day 9 of 23

We're heading for the coast today! It's a smooth 4 hours drive to Tulear. You pass through sapphire ''boom'' towns. We were very moved by the sights of it, and it makes you think. At Ilakaka you can take a tour through the mines with Color Lines. 

It's worth to leave early so you can enjoy the afternoon at the the beach and the lodges. These two mentioned below are real pearls. 

237 km | 4 hours 

Our favourite picks in Tulear, St Augustin Bay

Mid-range: Residence Eden Lodge, Sarodrano village € 35

Deluxe: Bakuba Concept ( see picture),  € 115-€ 175. 

Day 10 of 23

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 adventure! It's an easy sandy track, most of the stretch is next to the sea.

108 km 

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

Next day, drive to Andavadoaka, a remote little Vezo fishing village. It is pretty intense driving through no-mans land. No more villages, cattle and people, but deep sandy tracks and endless bushes with most of the time no telephone signal. What an experience. 

60 km | 4,5 hours 

Our favourite picks in Andavadoaka  

Budget: Cocoa Beach,  € 15

Mid-range: Manga Lodge, Laguna Blue € 85

 

Day 12 of 23

Leave very early (6 AM) 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 is an intense yet fun driving day, covering lots of different terrain and passing through very remote area. First 2 hours is on a good 4x4 track to the small village of Morombe ( there is a petrol station and ATM). Than you take the RN5, 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 spend the night in Manja, a remote village, where the only place to stay is at Hotel Kantu. ( budget € 15 )

200 km | 10 hours

 

Day 13 of 23

Today you drive to Belo sur Mer, perhaps the most stunning beach of the West Coast. It's again a very remote track, but you're covering easier terrain, on smooth sandy surface. Entremer is our favourite pick. 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 his little place is fully booked, go to Ecolodge du Menabe, also really nice. 

109 km 

Day 14 of 23

We recommend to enjoy a resting day (or two) here. You have been on the road for quite some days now, and it is holiday after all. Make sure to try Laurence' Coco Rum Punch, the best we ever had. And have a local lunch in the village at Chez Amis, often only crab is  on the menu ;)  

Day 15 of 23

Baobabs seeds is a local delicacy ( see picture). Belo sur Mer is a traditional, small fishing village and  nice to walk around. Or make 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

Drive to Morondava. Another half day of fun driving. You mostly cover sandy tracks with not so much bushes and some rivers where your pisteur really comes in handy. And then…there is asphalt again. Back to civilisation. Explore Morondova town in the afternoon, a lively seaside resort with plenty of small restaurants and bars.  

4 hours

Roadtrip Madagascar’s favourite picks in Morondava:

Budget: Camping Kimony Resort, Trecigogne €22

Mid-range: Chez Maggy, pool  € 38

Deluxe: Pallisandre, pool  € 135

Our favourite restaurant: La Capannina and Babobab. 

Day 17 of 23

It is 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, some travellers say 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!

187 km | 9-10 hours 

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

There is nothing else on earth like the limestone pinnacles of de Tsingy, a Unesco World Heritage Site. We recommend that you should spend at least two full days at the park, to try out the real good circuits that have been put in place consisting of Via Ferrata’s ( fixed cables routes), rope bridges and ladders. Combine it with a piroque trip up the Manambolo River.  

Day 19 of 23

Explore the Tsingy de Bemahara National Park and its surroundings. 

Day 20 of 23

Return to Morondava, a full day drive.

187 km | 9-10 hours 

Day 21 of 23

Today you cover the RN35 and the RN24, an asphalt road in good condition. You 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 (mid-range,  € 30). 

268 km | 4,5 hours

Time is not on your side? You can made it in one day (9,5 hours) from Morondova to Antsirabe and only have lunch at Miandrivazo. But it's a long tiresome day of driving, we don’t recommend it.

 

Day 22 of 23

Next day, you continue on the RN24 to Antsirabe. This stretch has much more putholes. 

268 km | 4,5 hours

Our favourite picks in Antsirabe:

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

Mid-range: Trianon € 26, Madalief € 26

Deluxe: Couleur Café € 37

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

Day 23 of 23

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

Drop off your vehicle in Tana (€ 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, down-town centre around rush hour (starting around 3-4 PM already).

220 km | 5 hours 

Roadtrip Madagascars 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 Susies Place 

Deluxe: Au Bois Vert. With 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. Time is 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 Tana (saving 2 days).

The RN7 from Tana to Tulear is asphalt. The west coast from Tulear up to  the Tsingy de Bemahara is only off-road driving. The Nissan Double Cab is required. We allow roadtrippers to self-drive the West Coast, but 4x4 driving experience is necessary. For less experienced and confident drivers, we hook you up with  a ''pisteur''. This navigator knows the region by heart and can advice which track to follow, where to cross a river etc. Roadtrip Madagascar arranges the pisteur, the costs of € 20 / day are for the hirer. Consult our on the road section for more info. 

Go to Travel time and road conditions

When to travel the west coast of Madagascar

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

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

July and August is peak season. Secure you roadtrip rental car well in advance. Many of the lodges along the RN7 will be fully booked well in advance. With the camp gear set in the back of your car, you're still 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 euro's. The Nissan Double Cab fits up to 4 adults. 

Price includes 16 day car rental and airport pick up & drop off.  

Prefer a pisteur for the west coast? Add € 120

Want to do the entire Grand Circuit with driver - guide? Add € 575.

  Nissan X-trail Nissan Double Cab 
Per car  1,587 2,277

Peak season | July - September  

Price per vehicle, in euro's. The Nissan Double Cab fits up to 4 adults. 

Price includes 16 day car rental and airport pick up & drop off.  

Prefer a pisteur for the west coast? Add € 120

Want to do the entire Grand Circuit with driver - guide? Add € 575.

  Nissan X-trail Nissan Double Cab 
Per car  1,817 2,507

Create & Book

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

Secure your vehicle

Included in your roadtrip

Included

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

Optional

  • Driver-Guide