Road trip in Madagascar: driving down the RN7

Going on a trip to Madagascar is an adventurous vacation. The roads are all sandy, bumpy roads. But there’s on exception: the RN7. This is Madagascars only highway and the only road that’s easy to drive. The RN7 goes from capital city Antananarivo to Tulear on the West-Coast, around 1000 km in total. We drove down this RN7 during our trip and on this page I’m sharing my recommendations with you.

Even though this is the best road in Madagascar, it doesn’t mean that it’s high-quality asfalt all the way. Often during our trip I was surprised that this road was the main highway. You’ll see big ditches, gravel parts and broken down bridges. It goes straight to villages where the road gets crowded with pedestrians and market stalls. And you shouldn’t be surprised when you have to wait for goats or zebu’s (cattle) crossing the road.

If you drive straight through, it takes 2 days to drive from Tana to Tulear. But you will need at least one week to drive the RN7 of Madagascar, to experience everything the route has to offer. Preferably you even want a bit longer so you’ve got more time to explore the National Parks and you’ve got some flexibility in case you experience some delays. Trust me: they will happen. For us it was a car break-down that took 6 hours to fix and a stomach ache that floored us for a day.
The best thing to do is to rent a car with driver. It’s very common in Madagascar to rent a car with a driver, it’s even difficult to rent one without it. We were very content with this way of traveling, especially since the driver can also arrange local guides for you and take care of the frequent police patrouilles.

Click here to read my 10 things you should know before traveling to Madagascar.


Antananarivo

The starting point of your road-trip down the RN7 in Madagascar. This is probably where you’ll rent your car and arrange the papers. Make sure you stock up on bottles of water, snacks and cash money in Tana so can start your road trip in a comfortable way.
Click here to read the top sights and activities in Antananarivo.





Antsirabe
The first interesting city to stop is Antananarivo. You’ll experience many beautiful spots on your way though. Feel free to ask your driver to stop for a minute so that you can take some picture of the small towns and rice fields that you pass along the way. According to Google maps it’s a 3,5 hour drive from Antananarivo, but you can be sure that it’ll take you longer.
In Antsirabe there are plenty of restaurants where you could have lunch or dinner. Restaurant Le Reve has good vegetarian options like a cheddar cheese burger, a vegetarian pizza and couscous with vegetables.



Ambositra

The next bigger town where you can stop is Ambositra. We spend the night in Ambositra at L’Artisan Hotel. This hotel has relatively luxury bungalows. There’s a restaurant on site where you can get breakfast, lunch or dinner. There’s free wifi in the restaurant area.
According to Google maps, Ambositra is 2,5 hours away from Ranomafana national park, but don’t be surprised when it takes you around 4 hours to get there.






Ranomafana National Park
The first National Park that is really worth a visit on the RN7 is Ranomafana National Park. This park contains 12 lemur species, 5 nocturnal and 7 that you can see during the day. There are several circuits that you can walk. Ask your driver to call a local guide, as they really know the park and they know where the biggest chances are to see animals. For each national park in Madagascar you pay an entrance fee and you pay for your guide. It’s also common to tip your guide afterwards.
We went on a 4 hour walk in Ranomafana and we saw frogs, butterflies, green gekko’s and a leaf tailed gekko that is very difficult to see as it blends in with the tree trunk. We saw 4 different lemur species; the greater bamboo lemur, the Sifaka, the black & white ruffed lemur and the golden bamboo lemur.
Apart from the wildlife, Ranomafana is a beautiful rainforest with beautiful flora.




A nice hotel to stay at during your visit to Ranomafana national park is Foret Austral Ranomafana. Here you sleep in your own bungalow. There’s a restaurant where you can have breakfast or dinner. There’s also a walking path that leads to the river for nice views of a waterfall. Keep in mind that electricity is only on from 6pm to midnight and the promised wifi might not always work.




Anja Community Reserve
Anja Community Reserve, or Reserve d’Anja as it’s called in French, is a 3 hour drive from Ranomafana. You don’t need a lot of time in Anja community reserve, in about 1 or 2 hours you will have seen most of the park. It is definitely worth a stop as you are pretty much guaranteed to see ringtail lemurs. These lemurs are the most popular kind after the Madagascar movie where King Julien was a ringtail lemur. We also saw a big boa and some chameleons during our walk.
Click here to see more pictures of Anja Community Reserve.



Isalo
As you’re done after 1 or 2 hours in Anja Community Reserve, you’ll have time to drive some extra miles along the RN7 to your next stop: Isalo. Isalo is a small city, it has a school so you’ll notice that quite a few people speak French or even English here. I recommend that you stay in Hotel H1 in Isalo. This new hotel has luxury buildings on a well-maintained premises.  Hotel H1 runs on solar power and it has a restaurant where you can get a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner. They always have a good vegetarian option for dinner.



Isalo National Park

The number 1 tourist attraction of Madagascar is Isalo National Park. There are 10 circuits that you can walk. You can discuss with your guide what you would like to do. We went for several smaller walks from about 2 hours each. The main attraction of Isalo isn’t the animals, although you’ll probably see som lemurs and we also saw a chameleon and even a snake eating a chameleon! The main draft of Isalo is the scenery with canyons and beautiful views.
Click here for more pictures of Isalo National Park.


Arboretum Antsokay

After Isalo you’ll probably drive to the ending point of the RN7: Tulear. But there are 2 stops you might want to do along the way; Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park en Arboretum Antsokay. Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park has four different circuits that are all short and pretty easy. Arboretum Antsokay is a botanical garden, around 12km south east of Tulear.




Tulear

Tulear, or Toliara, is the ending point of the RN7. It’s a coastal city but don’t expect white sandy beaches and luxury resorts. It’s still Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world. We stayed at Hyppocampo which was relatively luxurious. The hotel has a pool, good wifi, airconditioning in the rooms and a restaurant that servers breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Like in all cities in Madagascar it isn’t safe to walk around after dark. The best mode of transportation, just like during the day when it can be to warm to walk, is the pousse-pousse. These bicycle carriers will bring you to your hotel or restaurant for about 2000 Ariary.



A nice place to for drinks or dinner is Blu Bar. This bar has created its own beach with a garden of white sand, making it the perfect spot for a cocktail. They also have a nice menu that varies daily. Most people go there for the meat that is roasted above the fire in the kitchen but they also have an extensive vegetarian menu. Just ask the staff and you’ll get a separate menu with 10 vegetarian dishes.



For dinner I recommend Le Jardin. This cosy and artistic restaurant of which the walls are covered in paintings about Madagascar. They have an extensive menu and all the dishes are beautifully presented. The portions are very generous, so don’t order too much! I had vegetarian ravioli with ricotta.




Ifaty
From Tulear you can take a ‘tuk tuk’ (auto rickshaw) to Ifaty, a small seaside town 30km North of Tulear. Although Ifaty is much smaller, it does have sandy white beaches and some upperclass beach resorts.
In Ifaty you can also go snorkeling or diving. The water isn’t very clear, but you’ll have about 6m visibility and will see many small tropical fishes.

From Tulear you can fly back to Antananarivo.

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