Madagascar isn’t exactly on par with France when it comes to tourism – it doesn’t have nearly the number of visitors, nor the array of specialty guidebooks covering its attractions and features. It’s definitely an off-the-beaten-path, “bucket-list” type of place. So it’s not uncommon for tourists to be unfamiliar with the customs and culture. Here are 10 things that surprise foreigners visiting Madagascar for the first time.
How busy it can be
Some people might think they are going to an island getaway when going to Madagascar. But if they are heading to Antananarivo (which most people fly into), they are in for a busy street scene. Like many developing countries, life is lived in public, and the streets of Antananarivo can be pretty packed with people and scooters.
Lemurs are loud
Most visitors going to Madagascar probably want to see lemurs, and this is pretty easy to do if you know where to go. What they didn’t expect was to be kept up all night by them. Lemurs are most active at night and are known for their loud, distinctive calls. If you plan on staying in a camp near them, you might want to bring some ear plugs.
They won’t see penguins
See the beautiful beach above? Yeah, there are no penguins on it. This is a good life lesson that shows movies aren’t always based on reality. If you’re looking to see some penguins in Madagascar, you won’t find them, at least unless there is a zoo we don’t know of that has one. However, if you want to see penguins nearby, you can just hop on a flight to South Africa and see thousands of them.
They have to bargain for everything
While this is true of many places in Africa, it’s especially true in Madagascar. You won’t find typical chain stores on most of the island, instead you’ll be doing business in local shops or street vendors where bargaining is expected (unless you want to pay top dollar!). It’s so part of the culture that it’s normal to act somewhat disgusted if somebody gives you a high price — this means that bargaining can begin.
Many people have taboos
The culture in Madagascar is unlike any other and many people still believe in taboos (known as fady). The taboos vary by the region of the country you are in, so when traveling through, people are often surprised if they do something that is considered out of line. Some common fadys include somebody giving you three items without offering the giver something in return, or visiting a graveyard without a local guide. Travelers are advised to respect the local fady and change their behavior accordingly.
They are surprised to not find many Africans
Although Madagascar is considered part of Africa, there aren’t actually that many Africans that live there. Most of the people on the island refer to themselves as Malagasy instead. The ancestors of the Malagasy came to the island thousands of years ago by boat from India and Malaysia.
They think the cuisine is strange
Visitors that are expecting cuisine that is similar to countries in mainland Africa are in for quite a shock, as they won’t find much of it in Madagascar. Instead, they might find meals like stuffed eels, burnt rice tea or blood sausage. For more information on some of the cool and crazy food in Madagascar, see our article: 10 Foods From Madagascar That You Have To Try.
They find people to be really reserved
Depending on where they are from, the generally reserved and polite nature of the Malagasy people can come as a surprise to foreigners. They aren’t being rude, it’s just part of the culture. So don’t expect random strangers to approach you for small talk like they might in Morocco or Egypt.
The roads are pretty bad
Tourists might need to bring some aspirin if they are going on a road trip through the country as it can get pretty bumpy. The country has around 50,000 km of roads, but less than 6,000 km of them are paved. Many of the paved roads are also in poor shape making travel conditions difficult, even in good weather. If you’re hiring a vehicle, make sure you get something up to the challenge.
They fall in love with the culture
Despite all the things they might find quirky (which can be true for any new country), tourists are surprised how much they actually like it. From the fady, to the traditional dancing, to the strange foods, most tourists end up falling head over heels when they visit Madagascar. The only problem is getting there. So…what are you waiting for?