Africa In Photos Madagascar The Nomadic Life

5 Reasons Why Antsirabe is Madagascar’s Best Urban Destination


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.

Fall in Antsirabe

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

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

Main Avenue

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

Madagascar's Highlands

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.

5. Hamburgers

Pousse Pousse Cafe

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…

Cathedral Pousse Pousse in Autumn Street Kid

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

Africa Madagascar The Nomadic Life

Taxi-Brousse (Bus) Prices in Madagascar


To all my followers, I’m sorry if this post is rather dull but I created it with the intention of publishing online the price of public transportation in Madagascar — something that has generally just been a matter of hearsay. The inspiration came after finding a Spanish magazine article that quoted the 3,000 Ariary ($1.50USD) taxi brousse fare from Ambalavao to one of Madagascar’s better known climbing spots as 10 euros. Outraged at their error born of a dishonest individual, I decided to compile a list of all long-distance fares in Madagascar with the help of other Peace Corps volunteers. Taxi-brousse drivers notoriously rip off foreign travelers, often telling them to pay extra for luggage on top or quoting prices in the archaic Franc, then not correcting voyagers when they overpay. Even the signs at bus stations are at times dishonest. So, here is a list of prices gathered by people who have fought to get the real cost of things in Madagascar (in Ariary):

[Updated January 24th, 2013] — Please comment if I have made any mistakes and/or left anything out!

From Antananarivo:


  • Ambositra (~6-7 hours) –12,000 – 15,000
  • Antsirabe (~4 hours) – 8,000Antananarivo
  • Farafangana – 33,000
  • Fianaratsoa (~10 hours) – 18,000 – 23,000 (cheapest company is Mamy)
  • Fort Dauphin (~2 days) – 90,000
  • Tulear – 45,000


  • Ambatondrazaka – 18,000
  • Andasibe – 7,000
  • Moramanga – 5,000
    • Moramanga – Ambatondrazaka – 11,000
  • Tamatave (~8 hours) – 15,000 – 18,000


  • Ambanja – 45,000Mosque at Sunset
  • Antsohihy – 35,000
    • Antsohihy – Befandriana – 10,000
    • Antsohihy – Mandritsara – 17,000
  • Diego – 50,000 – 55,000
  • Mahajunga – 25,000


  • Ampefy (~3 hours) – 6,100
  • Morondava (~17 hours/overnight only) – 30,000

From Fianaratsoa


  • Ambalavao – 2,000 – 2,500
    • Ambalavao – Vohitsoaka (entrance to Andringitra) – 3,000
  • Anja – 4,000 – 5,000
  • Fort Dauphin – 60,000
    • Ambovombe – Fort Dauphin – 7,000DSC_2242
  • Ihosy – 8,000
  • Ranohira – 12,000
  • Tulear – 35,000


  • Ranomafana – 5,000
  • Manakara – 18,000
  • Farafangana – 18,000 – 23,000


  • Ambositra – 7,000
  • Antsirabe – 15,000
  • Antananarivo – 18,000 – 23,000

The South-East (Sud-est):

  • Farafangana – Manakara – 7,000
  • Farafangana – Vondrozo – 10,000
  • Vangaindrano – Fort Dauphin – 40,000 – 80,000  (2 day trip; 230km; price depends on type of vehicle)

From Antsirabe:

  • Antananarivo (~4 hours) – 8,000
  • Ambositra (~2-3 hours) – 7,000
  • Fianaratsoa (~6 hours) – 15,000
  • Morondava (~13 hours/overnight only) – 25,000

From Toamasina (Tamatave):

  • Fenerive Est — 7,000
  • Foule pointe – 4,000
  • Moramanga – 12,000
  • Ile Sainte Marie – 40,000 (resident), 90,000 (non-resident) for brousse & boat. Cap Sainte Marie is the best company to go with and the only one that offers air conditioned buses and a seat to each passenger.
  • Soanierana-Ivongo (port to Ile Sainte Marie) – 10,000
    • Soanierana-Ivongo – Ile Sainte Marie (boat only) – 30,000

From Antsiranana (Diego-Suarez):

  • Ambanja – 14,000
  • Ambilobe – 9,000
  • Ankify (port to Nosy Be) – 16,000
    • Ankify – Nosy Be (boat) – 5,000 – 10,000 depending on type of boat

Photos: (1) Kilometer marker and rice fields on the RN7 from Tana to Antsirabe (2) Students in Tana (3) Mosque in Antsirabe (4) House along the RN7 south of Fianaratsoa

Adventure Travel Africa Madagascar The Nomadic Life

Biking the RN7 to Antsirabe

“This’ll be adventurous and totally not dangerous at all,” I sarcastically texted my friend as we made plans to bike the 60 kilometers from my town to the pleasant highland city of Antsirabe one afternoon.

“Yes, so adventurous that I’ll hum the Indiana Jones theme song the whole way down,” he responded.

I may have to bring headphones, I thought.

Yet, jokes aside, I was jumping with anticipation. Biking the hilly highway between Antanifotsy and Antsirabe has been on my Madagascar bucket list ever since Peace Corps handed me the prophetic piece of paper describing my future town, but once I witnessed the road in person, the speeding cattle cars and propensity for chicken busses to be lying upside down by the side of the road made me realize it would be a fairly harrowing experience.

What changed my mind? Sitting on the side of the road waiting for a bus, and realizing how infrequently cars actually do pass and seeing over and over again bus drivers expertly dodging the ever-present bike traffic on the side of the road. Unlike American highways, drivers are used to sharing the narrow, winding expanse of highway between Antananarivo and Fianaratsoa with wooden cattle carts (known as saretys), bikes, rickshaws, and cattle herds.

When we finally set out, in the autumn-esque sun of a cool June afternoon, the sun was beginning to dip behind the rolling highland hills, illuminating the landscape and all its shadows. Small figures still dotted the fields of carrots, rice, and potatoes. As it was the height of carrot season, the produce Antsirabe is most known for ($0.25 USD per kilo!) every few kilometers pairs of people sat roadside washing hundreds of carrots by pushing them back and forth in water-filled tarps, a rhythmic see-saw like motion broken only to shout “bonjour, vahazah!” at us. Children rushed to the side of the road to scream whatever French phrase they had stuck in their head at us. A group of old women decided it was important to inform us what was growing in the fields we stopped to stare at. 30 kilometers in, someone shouted my name, a teacher from my school that I had eaten lunch with earlier that day, reminding me how small the 4th-largest island in the world can sometimes be.

17 kilometers out-of-town, the sky grew darker than we would have liked, and we hitched a bus half the way, until we were in the safety of street lights and urban, pre-Independence Day traffic (the Malagasy Independence day is June 26th). With the promise of the best pizza in Madagascar (Green Park / $5-6 USD) to satiate our hunger, we finally arrived at our “ hoteles en bacalar“, butts aching and stomachs grumbling.

Photos: (1) Rice fields (2) Antsirabe’s mosque at sunset (3) Merina men walking on the highway (4) Roadside carrot stand (5) A row of colorful Malagasy eateries — known as hotelys (6) The flattest part of the journey (7) Hotel de Thermes in downtown Antsirabe

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Sidewalk Street Foods of Antsirabe

Near the daily market of Antsirabe, the pleasant hillside town of Madagascar’s highlands, women with enormous bowls of batter sit next to sizzling pots of oil over a low charcoal stove. While crouching or sitting on wooden stools, they fan their flame and plop their freshly fried goods into mountainous piles of steaming fresh snacks. Continuing onwards we see no shortage of vendors or variety. Lining the streets are small display boxes filled with bowls of breads, noodles, and salads. Other vendors mingle with the crowd, hawking their wares to nearby shoppers while balancing plastic containers on their heads. While the Malagasy staple food – heaping servings of plain rice – is as simple as food gets, street food is a parade of flavors.


In Malagasy, mofo means bread while anana translates as leafy greens, giving mofo anana or “leafy greens bread” a much healthier name than it deserves. Vendors start off by mixing well-cooked greens into a bread batter, then deep frying it to make a soft, doughy treat. Sometimes prepared with tomatoes and other veggies and optionally served with sakay (hot sauce), this crunchy, deep fried bread is irresistible when hot.


The fillings vary from vendor to vendor and according to in-season vegetables, but these crispy eggroll like snacks called “nem” usually come stuffed with a combination of ground beef, potatoes, cabbage, leeks, and onions. Although simple in appearance, vendors first start by making small crepe-like pancakes in a pan, then rolling in the filling. Then, sitting with neat pyramids of uncooked nem, they deep fry them outside in scalding, bubbling pans of oil. My personal favorite is the potato-leek combination.

SpaghettiMountain of Noodles

“That’s a huge mountain of spaghetti,” my friend commented on the window-box stuffed with plain noodles. We don’t really know what was happening with those… spaghetti sandwiches perhaps?


Like nem, samosa-esque sambosas, are another culinary example of Madagascar’s unique position between two continents and the strong Asian influence on Gasy snack food. While they lack the hot spices of their Indian counterparts, vendors almost always have a small jar of hot peppers to compensate. Commonly stuffed with potatoes and ground beef, this savory snack can satisfy any comfort food craving and warm the belly on cold Antsirabe nights.


For those hankering for more than just a spattering of meat in their deep-fried nem or sambosas, food stalls are filled with miniature kebabs known as brochettes. On the coast, they are frequently made with fish but in the highlands vendors skewer a line of freshly sliced beef, onions, peppers, and tomatoes and grill them over an open flame, giving them a toasty char-grilled flavor.

Vary sy LokaVary sy Loka

Finally stepping off of the sidewalks, dozens of living-room esque hotelys (restaurants) entice passersby to indulge in a real, rice-laden meal. Being the highest per capita consumers of rice in the world, no Malagasy meal is complete without a heaping bowl full of plain, unsalted rice (vary) – although coconut milk is occasionally added in costal towns. Common laoka, which translates as the dish you serve with rice, include pork with leafy greens, beef with sauce, chicken with peas, dried fish, beans, or a dish of ground-up leafy greens known as ravitoto. As an example of its incredible significance in Malagasy cuisine, people will often invite others to have lunch or dinner with them by asking “will you eat rice (with me)?” So, with grumbling bellies we enter a promising hotely and before sitting make sure they have food by asking “is there rice?”

Mazatoa! Enjoy!