Happy May, blogosphere. I’m sure for most of you it means a thawing out of the winter that lingered in the northern hemisphere, but for my part, I’ve been camping out in the same pair of sweatpants and light sweater-down-jacket combination for the past three days. Normally, I hate cold weather, but somebody imported maple trees to Antsirabe, which means at least in that small pocket of Madagascar, I can bike over crunchy, brown leaves, and indulge in the charm of autumn – my favorite season. It makes the chill worth it.
But then again, Antsirabe in general just makes all the frustrations of life in Madagascar worth it. A small city just 160km south of Antananarivo on the RN7, I would argue that Antsirabe is Madagascar’s best urban gem (and this is even after visiting Mahajunga, Diego, Fort Dauphin, Tamatave, Fianaratsoa, and Antananarivo). In a country most visited for its national parks and wildlife, it’s easy to gloss over the cultural aspects of travel here. However, Antsirabe is a compact, and easy to reach city that has it all.
1. La Cabana
Next door to the hostel I usually stay at is a small, Malagasy bar called “La Cabana”. They are locally known for their freshly grilled chicken (actually marinated!) and cheap, cold beer. It’s one of the few places I regularly see foreigners and Malagasy happily mixed, I imagine because the prices are still ‘Malagasy’, but it doesn’t have the same dodgy, dingy appearance of most Malagasy bars. I also love it because it’s literally a place where everyone knows my name…
How to get there: Go to the ‘Score’ grocery store on the main avenue and follow the smell of grilled chicken.
2. Concerts at Alliance Française
I have yet to figure out why the local music scene in Antsirabe is so vibrant – some bands from the area have even gone off to tour in La Reunion and France – but you don’t see me complaining. Almost every Friday night, folks in Antsirabe can find a live concert happening at Alliance Francaise, either for free or a small cover charge of about 5,000AR. The bands are almost always Malagasy, sometimes traditional but sometimes more of a rock/reggae kind of vibe.
How to get there: Alliance Francaise is on a small street near the supermarket, Score, and the train station.
3. A smaller, cleaner version of Antananarivo
Antsirabe and Antananarivo hold a lot of similarities – both are highland cities and major economic enters – which makes Antsirabe, the country’s third largest city, feel like a less grimy and more manageable sister to Tana. Throughout the city are signs telling residents to keep streets clean and it seems like people actually listen. Sure, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but compared to most urban areas in Madagascar, Antsirabe is down right tidy. Most spots worth seeing are within walking distance of each other, and a lot of the slummy grittiness of Tana is practically non-existent in Antsirabe. For this reason, if I were to use any one word to describe Antsirabe, it would be ‘pleasant’.
4. Bikable streets and day trips
Okay, I was in Antsirabe when that goat jumped on me and my bike, but for the most part wide, flat roads and slow traffic – half the vehicles are rickshaws, bikes, and cows – make it a really bikable city. Just a few kilometers south-west of the city on hilly but well-paved roads sits Lake Tritriva, a lake-filled crater. About 22 kilometers away is another small highland town, Betafo, which I personally love biking to since there’s less traffic on the road west of Antsirabe than the RN7.
The Pousse Pousse Café, a restaurant at the center of town near the small market (Antsenakely), has created a unique ambiance with table and chair sets made out of rickshaws locally known as pousse-pousses. I love everything on the menu, but for Peace Corps volunteers we naturally gravitate towards the place for their hamburgers. Chez Dom, another establishment further north of the town center, has a dining experience much like eating in someone’s living room. Dom, an amicable French gentleman, rocks the hamburgers by finishing them off with blue cheese.
How to get there: For Pousse-Pousse, it’s in the small market (Antsenakely) just near the Shoprite. Chez Dom is an unsuspecting house on a small road just off the RN7 by Zandina’s. Look for the giant sign to point you in the right direction
And a few more photos before I leave…
Photos: (1) A street kid shying away from my camera (2) A view of the maple trees from Ravaka hostel (3) Outdoor seats at La Cabana (4) The main avenue at sunset, just near the Alliance Francaise (5) A cobblestone street near Antsenakely (6) The RN7 about 15 kilometers south of Antsirabe (7) Taking photos while anxiously awaiting our hamburgers at Pousse-Pousse cafe (terrible lighting) (8) Rush hour traffic outside the Cathedral d’Antsirabe (9) Another shot of the maple trees (10) Another street kid
11 replies on “5 Reasons Why Antsirabe is Madagascar’s Best Urban Destination”
i hv lived in MADA for around two years… very beautiful and nice climate.. street food is affordable and fresh.. lots of places to see and visit.. not crowded unless untill ur in a market place.. people are generally good and timid..
thank you for your nice write up on Antsirabe.
i am moving there in a few months my husband is working for Ciel Textile, may i ask you who i can contact for my son to go to an English school there? I am not able to find this info anywere on the web.
Thnak you 😊
Hm, I’d maybe get in touch with the Norwegian school there. Can’t say I know of any.
I taught at the Lutheran Seminary in Antsirabe about 3 years ago—-looking at your pics gave me an opportunity to re-savor the that unique experience. Thank You!
I’m glad to hear, Mike! You’re welcome
My question is, what kind of financial backing do you have to take on this endeavor. Traveling is not cheap, there’s also the consideration of where you live. Is that paid for? As bohemian as it seems, there’s always the consideration of financial return. Is it a shoe string budget? Who is paying your salary is what I want to know.
I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar and I live just outside of Antsirabe. Travel in Mada is cheap — I pay $4 for a bus between Antsirabe and Antananarivo — and yes, as a PCV I don’t pay rent or electricity bills, and Peace Corps covers the flight here. Even so, I guess you could say I’m on a shoe string budget, because our monthly stipend really isn’t that large.
Hi, thanks for the beautiful pics..I am about to join a textile firm there and kinda in two minds to move there( for 2-3 yrs). How safe is the place? Are there any shopping complexes for grocery & supplies,clothes, baby products etc.? what kind of entertainment does the city offer…i mean any cinema, good places to hang out. I know medical facilities are not good.Sorry for asking too many questions.
Are you going to be working for Cotona/Socota? The town has no cinema (the country has no cinema), there are 2 supermarkets and 2 gre
Nice to read that you like Antsirabe. I visited my relatives there two years ago and enjoyed myself, except for the pousse-pousse guys literally jumping on us when we came out of our hotel.
True! Those pousse-pousse guys are obnoxious and seriously need to chill out!