The North

The North

Tantalising white beaches, Nosy Be island, excellent diving, snorkelling and kite surfing, canyons, baobabs and the red Tsingy - welcome to the natural wonders of the North. 85% of the people visiting the north of Madagascar arrive by plane, missing out on the scenically beautiful road connecting Tana with Antsiranana. So you'll be lucky to have the road and all its sights to yourself. A true off the beaten path experience!

Recommended as a one-way rental trip. Drop off your car at the ferry point for Nosy Be and enjoy a few days at this bounty island before flying back to Tana. This northern route is fine to drive during low season (Jan-March), when Madagascar's nature is even more stunning, and car rental and accommodation rates are discounted. 

You can also read our northern Madagascar blog to find out why the north of Madagascar is the perfect destination for a self-drive adventure.

Scroll down to see the day-to-day route itinerary with tips on accommodation that you can book yourself. 

Check the day to day itinerary

Day 1 of 10

Start: Ivato
Destination:
Ankarafantsika National Park
Drive: 425 km | 8,5 hours 

Leave early (6 AM!), as you have a lot of distance to cover. In case you have to stock up supplies for your roadtrip first, change money etc which will take time, than factor in an overnight stay in Maevatanana 288 km |  5,5 hours from Ivato. Hotel ChouChou is basic but clean (€11-€17).

The road up to Ankarafantsika is pretty good, with an occasional pothole. Manerinarina is a small village with some restaurants for a decent coffee or early lunch break. After 5,5 hours drive you reach the larger village of Maevatanana, where you find a petrol station and bank. The food at Hotel Kat Sem is good.   

Accommodation options:
Budget: campsite near the park entrance with shower, toilet and restaurant (€1,50 pp). Or set up your tent at a camp ground run by a women's organisations, 2 km from the entrance. They can prepare you a nice meal. Call in advance to let them know you're coming (tel: 0324778606).
Mid-Range: Lodge Tia Asity is nice and has good food (€40). It is located in the village of Andronofasika, about 5 kilometers from the national park entrance.
Restaurant tip: Thi Lan at the park entrance is very good.

Day 2 of 10

Enjoy: Ankarafantsika National Park

Ankarafantsika National Park is famous for its easy and beautiful hiking trails covering canyons, savannah, baobabs and thick rainforest. There are only a handful of other tourists, so you might even have the park to yourself! It a good place to search for the Sifaka, a handsome Lemur species with silky white fur and chestnut brown arms. There are also many beautiful birds and big crocodiles reside in Lake Ravelobe.

It's possible to do a night hike, so you'll have a bigger chance to spot nocturnal animals such as chameleons and certain types of Lemur's. 

If you only have time for one hike, then go for the Canyon trial, where you hike through thick rain forest, savannah and a breathtaking canyon. 

Price: €15 entrance fee per person plus a guide (€12-€15, depending on which trail you will do).

Day 3 of 10

Start: Ankarafantsika National Park
Destination:
Antsohihy
Drive: 309 km | 7 hours 

The destination of today is the bustling town of Antsohihy. The town itself is nothing special, it’s just a transit town, but you can't make it in one day from Ankarafantsika to more interesting Ambanja town  in one day. You find petrol stations, banks and a few hotels in Antsohihy. 

The RN6 on this stretch of your journey is not in a good state, many put-holes. You will cross several big rivers. It's a lovely sight to see the kids playing in the water, while their parents are fishing and washing clothes. 

Accommodation suggestions: 
Budget: Hotel Paradisier has small bungalows (€12), some with air-conditioning (€17). Contact: https://web.facebook.com/hotelsofiabellevue. The restaurant is nice for a quick evening bite.Fancy a swim? Then stay at Sofia Belle Vue hotel. It has a swimming pool and large rooms (€19). Call 703987409637241. No camping options in Antsohihy. 

Day 4 of 10

Start: Antsohihy
Destination:
Ankarana National Park
Drive: 310 km | 7 - 8  hours

Wake up early to cover the long journey to Ankarana National park. The RN6 is in a bad state. The scenery changes into many shades of green and tropical surroundings. Midway you will pass the pleasant town of Ambanja. Entering and exiting this town will take time, with bicycles and tuk-tuks blocking your way. Palma Nova Hotel is a nice place for a lunch break, excellent food. 

A few kilometers before and after the Ankarana National Park entrance you will find multiple hotels.

Accommodation suggestions
Budget: the campsites inside the national parks are closed down, but you can camp at the car park of the park entrance. Or stay at the bungalows of Le Relais de l’Ankarana (€28).
Midrange: Ankarana Lodge, has a swimming pool and its own small Tsingy (€50).
High end: Ihrana Bush Camp is a luxurious camp with big wooden bungalows near a beautiful lake (€200 including breakfast and dinner). Restaurant tip: Le Relais de ‘l Ankarana, simple but delicious meal. 

Day 5 of 10

Explore: the Tsingy in Ankarana National Park

Tsingy is the Malagasy word for “walking on tiptoes”, the impenetrable labyrinth of limestone needles ( pinnacles) justifies this name. Ankarana National Park is a limestone massif of tsingy and forest, intersected by caves and canyons. 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) a crocodile. 

There are many hiking trails ranging from one hour to a long, full day hike. Don't miss out on the Big Tsingy or Benavony track (6-7 hours). If you fit, you could also do the Lac Vert Hike (8-9 hours), where you hike even further, to an emerald green lake, perfect to refresh. Views on the Mozambique channel (the sea between Madagascar and Mozambique), can be seen from the viewpoint of Ambohimalaza (4-5 uur). 

Price: €15 entrance fee per person + guide (€12 - €22 depending on which trail you will do)

 

Day 6 of 10

Start: Ankarana National Park
Destination:
Diego Suarez (Antsiranana)/ Ramena Beach
Drive: 100 km | 4,5 hours 

The last stretch up north goes slow because of bad road conditions. Don’t expect to cover more 30 kilometers an hour. Midway you will pass by the Red Tsingy, definitely a must visit. The name is a bit misleading, the red sculptures are no real Tsingy but soft, red sand towers, the result of erosion works. There are also large canyons to be seen here. It will take you approx three hours to visit the Red Tsingy, of which 1,5 hours on a surprisingly good dirt track to and from  the park entrance. 

Roadtrip Africa tip: continue for another 20 km, to stay at Ramena beach town, where life is slower, the beach even nicer and with many beach restaurants to choose from. 

Accommodation suggestions
Budget: Lakana hotel in Ramena. It has a lovely pool, amazing food and is very close to the beach (€25). Sanjeela Plage Coco, located at the beach in Diego Suarez (€27). No camping possibilities. 
Mid-Range: Jungle Park
High End: Grand Hotel in Diego Suarez is located centrally and has a beautiful pool (€85).
Restaurant tips: Gargotte Le Lagoon, Gargotte Chez Marie and Lakana hotel, all in Ramena.  

Day 7 of 10

Enjoy: Ramena beach and the surroundings

Antsiranana, also known as Diego Suarez, named after a 16th century Portuguese explorer and slave trader, is a vibrant, tropical seaside town with the air of faded French occupation. The town is located on a beautiful bay. 

Explore the wild coastline of Les Trois Baies near Ramena. Requires a stong 4x4. Only possible with the Nissan Double Cab. The first bay is Pigeons Bay, with white sandy beaches and gentle waves. The second beach is Dunes Bay and is also almost deserted. The third bay is Sakalava Bay, popular with kite surfers. There are several schools and options to rent gear. 

Day 8 of 10

Enjoy: Ramena beach and the surroundings

Suggestions for things to do: 

Visit the Emerald Sea. A bay, 1 km north of Ramena. Good for snorkelling, kiting and wind surfing. Offered as a day excursion by boat with lunch 

Done with the beach? Montagne d'Ambre National Park makes a nice day excursion, 1 hour drive south from Diego Suarez, just north from the Red Tsingy.  Famous for its crater lakes and chameleons. Ranging in altitude between 850 to 1500 meters, this park has its own micro climate, ranging from warm and humid to wet and cool - be prepared. Possible to camp. 

 

Day 9 of 10

Start: Antsiranana
Destination:
Ambanja
Drive: 250 km | 9  hours

Linger around for a few more days or return southwards to the harbor of Ankify, just 30 minutes from Ambanja, where boats depart to the tropical island of Nosy Be. You can either take a speedboat ( 30 minutes), or the ferry ( 2,5 hours) if you take the car with you. When you do the North as a one-way roadtrip and fly back from Nosy Be, you'll meet our driver at the car park of Ankify and you take the speedboat the next morning.

Ambanja is a nice town to stay, but if you want to catch the early morning speedboat or ferry, it is more efficient to stay in Ankify. Most hotels in Ankify are 5 km west of the harbour. Book your hotel in advance! 

Accommodation suggestions 
Hotel le Jardin: 3 lodges, which can be booked via Booking.com. Very nice setting, but a bit outdated. (€25, incl breakfast). 
Hotel Baobab, close to the harbour, has 20 bungalows overlooking the sea. Call 032 40 478 68 / 032 07 208 87. (€ 45).

Day 10 of 10

Start: Ankify
Destination:
Nosy Be

The speedboat takes 30 minutes, and goes between 6 AM to around 4 PM. It leaves when full, usually every 15 minutes. It cost only € 4 pp. 

If you take your car to Nosy Be, you go with the ferry which takes 2,5 hours. The ferry leaves at 6 am and 10 Am. You need a reservation, but you can arrange it the day before. There are several ferry companies. We booked though a guy called Kiki. The costs are € 35. 

There is also much to say to take the car with you to Nosy Be, so that you can explore the island better, and safe on the expensive domestic return flight to Antananarivo. 

The ferry arrives at Hell-Ville. This town, as well as Dar-Es-Salam suffer from sex tourism and are not the best places to stay. Rather venture north, to Andalina beach, the most beautiful beach of the island. No visit to Nosy Be is complete without an excursion to Nosy Komba or Nosy Tanikely, 1-2 hours by boat from Nosy Be. The water is like walking in an aquarium.

Accomodation suggestions:
Budget: Chez Eugenie, basic but near Andalina Beach, known for its good food (€25).
Midrange: Hotel Mahita Tsara in Belle- Vue, beautiful pool (€50). Emeraude Lodge, close to Andalina beach. No pool
High End: Spoil yourself with a stay at Villa Sakina, with private chef and housekeeper. Set in a  beautiful garden with private pool and amazing views over the ocean (€130).
Restaurant tips: Sunday buffet at Chez Loulou, seafood at hotel Chez Eugenie, both on Andalina beach. Hotel Le Papillon in Hell-Ville. Chez Teresa for pizza's, in Dar-es-Salam. 

What to expect on this self drive adventure

Travel time and road conditions

It's a 1400 km scenic roadtrip from Ivato to Antsiranana. Road conditions are fairly good till Antsohihy. From then it becomes putholed all the way to the north. You will hardly encounter fellow travellers on the roads and in the National Parks. A unique travel experience guaranteed! Read more about road conditions in Northern Madagascar in our on the road section.

One-way trip: a min of 9 car rental days is recommended to cover this route. Hand over your roadtrip rental car to our driver at Ankify harbour, from where you can catch a speedboat ( 30 min) to Nosy Be. Add a few days on this bounty island, before flying back to Ivato. 

The costs to collect and return the car to Ivato are forwarded to the hirer. This is € 240 (4 day driver fee, bus ticket, fuel) + 2 additional rental days. 

The Northern Circuit: a min of 16 car rental days is recommended, including a few days at Nosy Be. It's possible to take your car to the island if you take the ferry (2,5 hours). Much can be said for bringing your car to Nosy Be; it allows you to explore the island better and you safe on the expensive domestic return flight from Nosy Be to Ivato. 

Go to Travel time and road conditions

When is the best time to travel Madagascar?

The overland route to Nosy Be and Diego is fine to travel year round with a pleasant and warm climate. Most rainfall in Madagascar is between January and March, but this should not hamper your travel plans. On the contrary, Madagascar is at its prettiest, most colourful and green during rainy season. With less tourists visiting the country, you might also be able to negotiate better deals at lodges. 

Around Nosy Be, humpback whales can be seen from mid-August until the end of October. Turtles and dolphins are regular visitors year round. 

Kitesurfing is good year round at Ramena, close to Diego Suarez in the far north, with plenty of kite surf schools. 

 

Go to When is the best time to travel Madagascar?

Prices

Low season |  Jan - March  

Price per vehicle, in Euros. The 4x4 Light and Double Cab fit up to 4 adults. 

Price includes 9 days car rental, airport pick up, one-way drop off fee (Ankify). 

Want to explore the North with the company of a driver-guide? Add €270 to your total trip amount.

  4x4 light  Nissan Double Cab 
Per car  € 889 € 1219

Peak season July - Sept |  Rest of year 

Price per vehicle, in Euros. The Nissan X-Trail and Double Cab fit up to 4 adults. 

Price includes 9 days car rental, airport pick up, one-way drop off fee (Ankify). 

Want to explore the North with the company of a driver-guide? Add €270 to your total trip amount.

Want to do the RN7 Circuit with the company of a driver-guide? Add €480 to your total trip amount.

  Peak season  Rest of year 
4x4 Light   € 1109 € 999
Nissan Double Cab  € 1439 € 1329

Create & Book

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

Reserve your roadtrip car

Included

  • Airport transfers
  • Comprehensive car insurance
  • Mobile phone with local SIM
  • Roadmap and Bradt Travel Guide
  • One way rental fee

Optional

  • Driver-Guide
  • Camping gear
  • Electrical fridge