Antananarivo - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Antananarivo


Shortened simply to 'Tana', Antananarivo is the bustling capital of Madagascar, set amongst the vast wilderness that sees an increasing number of travellers visiting this inspiring land. Meaning ' Town of 1000', Tana was named after the revered 17th century King Andrianjaka who conquered several villages in the area, leaving a garrison of 1000 men to defend his new territory. Built on hillsides and ridges Tana is the main entry point for visitors travelling to Madagascar, although not many tourists spend more than a couple of days here, either at the beginning or end of their holiday as Antananarivo is not an easy place for first time visitors with little in the way of tourist infrastructure. Sights worth seeing include the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, the Prime Minister's Palace, the daily Zoma Market and Rova: the old shell of the Queen's Palace which was severely damaged by arson in the 1990s. With a distinctive French flavour, mish-mash of red-brick houses scattered all over the hillsides, and nineteenth-century churches dotted around the maze of small, winding streets, Tana has its own inimitable charm - an attraction in itself.

Information & Facts


Antananarivo experiences a temperate climate and due to its elevation of 4,265 feet (1,300 m) above sea level, Tana is much cooler than the coastal regions of the country. The rainy season runs from November to April and most of the city's rainfall is recorded during these months, while the dry season runs from May to October and warm, sunny days with chillier nights are the norm during these months.

Getting Around

Travellers visiting Antananarivo will find themselves getting around mostly by foot. There is however an affordable and efficient mini-bus service, known as 'taxi be',that runs regularly throughout the city. The fares are usually at least half the price of a regular taxi, but since most tourists are not familiar with the routes and aren't comfortable being packed into a 'taxi be' like a tin of sardines, regular taxis are the preferred method of transport for travellers. Be sure to negotiate the fare with the driver before entering the taxi. Car rental agencies can be found throughout Antananarivo for visitors wanting to explore the city in their own time.

Malagasy is the official language, but French is used in business and government and is widely spoken in the main cities in Madagascar. A few people involved in the tourism industry might be able to speak some English, but it is not widely spoken.

The official currency is the Malagasy ariary (MGA), which has been reintroduced to replace the Malagasy franc. Coins and notes display both currencies, but newer notes display the ariary more prominently than the franc. One ariary is equal to five francs. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks and official bureaux de change, but the ariary cannot be changed back into hard currency. Some banks will only accept US dollars or Euro. Travellers cheques can be exchanged at most banks and in major hotels, but some banks refuse to accept them. ATMs are available in Antananarivo. Most major credit cards are starting to be accepted in top hotels and major travel agencies in the capital and other major towns, but have limited usage elsewhere.


Shopping in Antananarivo is a fun experience with stores, bustling markets, shopping centres and hawkers vying for a passing tourists' patronage. Be prepared for an energetic day of shopping! The Zoma Market, which is held daily, was once claimed to be the second-largest in the world, and is definitely worth a visit for those wanting to get some souvenir shopping done. Tana Market is also popular and sells exquisite local handicrafts and artefacts made of sea shells and corals. Head to the top and bottom of Avenue of Independence for some fantastic stalls where popular Madagascar souvenirs such as woodcarvings, oil paintings, hand-loomed fabrics, cotton, silk, embroidery and woven straw items, like baskets and hats can be found. The bright colours of the fabrics draped across tables make for an unforgettable and very colourful shopping experience. Haggling is expected but as a tourist, be prepared to pay more for items than locals. Beware of pickpockets in the bustling markets, and brush up on your French as this can come in handy when bartering with the locals.

Madagascar's most visited reserve, the Perinet Nature Reserve boasts a large variety of flora and fauna for visitors to view, such as the endangered Indri, the largest and most vocal of the lemurs, known for their song, an eerie mix between sirens and wailing, which can be heard in the morning. With verdant green forests Set in lush montane rainforest, a trip to Perinet makes a wonderful excursion for travellers based in Antananarivo. There are also really nice walks and trails to enjoy in the reserve and travellers can appoint a guide to show them around pointing out quirking habits of the native animals.

Located just 12 miles (20km) from Antananarivo, the archaeological and UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga features a ruined royal city, a burial site and a few other sacred places. A popular destination for local and international pilgrims to visit, this spiritual attraction is considered one of the most sacred places in Madagascar. Set in lush green countryside overlooking a rice paddy, the rooms of the wooden buildings are furnished with goods which include gifts from Queen Victoria. The hill was used by the royal family as their Palace until 1890 when the British traded Madagascar for a free hand in Zanzibar and the French invaded Madagascar, deposing the Queen and exiling her to Algeria. The family was never allowed to return to Madagascar.

Looking for something a bit different?  Check out our selection of cultural & adventure holidays or if you're looking to go it alone then see our selection of solo holidays.

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