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AKA: Tôlanaro / Tolagnaro / Taolagnaro / Faradofay / Farady
Fort Dauphin deserves some of its reputation of being ‘difficult’ due to less access for goods and services combined with an evident mining presence driving up prices. On top of this, gaining access by roads is frustrating or risky, depending on your chosen route.
But to not look beyond this would be missing one of the country's most stunning peninsulas; its luscious, natural surrounds like Sainte Luce and Lokaro, and its people. The grittiness and subtropical paradise, alternating on each corner, seem distinct at first but soon blur into something quite unique. Fringed by the dramatic and perpetually misty Vohimena mountain range, people would travel the entire world to sit on its beaches if they only knew they existed.
Billed for trip per person rather than sharing the cost between all passengers. Your driver may pick up additional passengers and, likewise, you can hail a taxi that already has passengers. Whether people or bags will fit or not is subjective but always met with optimism. Any passenger-dictated stops count as a new trip. 2014 saw the introduction of tuk-tuks into the city and 2017 saw the arrival of a fleet of new Korean-model cars, via Switzerland (nope, I'm as confused as you are). Taxis had unanimously been frankensteined 1980s French cars up until this point.
|car||day||Extremeties of city||[MGA3000]||Varies|
|car||day||Airport transfer (City)||[MGA6000]||10mins|
|car||day||Airport transfer (Libanona)||[MGA12000]||20mins|
The roads out of Fort Dauphin are in bad enough condition that no regular car will be willing to drive beyond its suburbs. Any excursion out of town will require a 4x4 or Taxi-Brousse. Like the rest of the country, you rent a 4x4 for the entire day irrelevant of the trip distance. Fuel will include the price of returning the car to its origin should it not be staying with you (which means you can consider it the cost a return trip if doing so on the same day). As the roads out of town are in bad shape, don't get complacent about the time it may take to reach a short distance, particularly via the [RN12a]. The prices below are an average and not a rule. The price you actually pay is down to the agreement between you and the car owner and can change based on fuel consumption, condition of the car and old fashioned haggling. Costs are per car, not person, and include car rental, driver salary, fuel and (occasionally) car insurance.
If travelling to Sainte Luce, you will only get as far as Mahatalaky by Taxi-Brousse and will need to walk the remaining [12km]. The departure station is Station Doudou in Amparihy. All taxi-brousse in the region are tank-like, vintage 6x6 Mercedes camions to be able to tackle the various mud and sand pits so expect to be sitting on rice sacks with many rather than seats with a few.
|Taxi-Brousse||day||Tulear||[?]||2 - 3 days|
Around 2015, the private road through QMM's mining operation near Mandena was opened to the public as an access route to Mondromodromotra. Before then, vehicles heading north of the town would circle the site on the [RN12a]. Now they can begin the journey on immaculately paved highway and continue through winding dirt track that shaves about thirty minutes off the original route. Obviously, all traffic heading to Mondromodromotra and beyond has chosen to divert this way.
However, when crossing the forecourt of the mine you must adhere to rules that comply with their insurance policies. You cannot cross a barricade in a 4x4 until security ensures every passenger has their seatbelt buckled. Taxi-brousse passengers have no such luck and must get out and walk until they reach the other side of the forecourt. Rumours of some taking opportunity to ghost-ride the ‘brousse are unconfirmed at this time.
Public access to this formerly private road has seen maintenance lapse. Prior to then, it was a compacted, flat surface that you could hit a good speed on and was the reason I once reached Sainte Luce in under two hours. Now it's in a similar condition to the average stretch of road on the [RN12a].
Fort Dauphin benefits from a return service to the capital, Antananarivo, provided daily by Air Madagascar throughout the entire year. Occasionally these also make some scheduled and unscheduled stops in Tulear in the south west, usually on the way into Fort Dauphin
As of December 2018, Air Madagascar (in a joint operation with Air Austral) will be providing a twice weekly flight to Reunion. This will be the first time in more than five years that Fort Dauphin has had a scheduled international flight available and means visitors to the city won't necessarily be passing through Antananarivo.
A broad peninsula about [50km] out of Fort Dauphin, Sainte Luce is an avenue of three hamlets leading up to an expanse of ocean at Manafiafy, framing it with coconut trees, sandy bays and rocky outcrops. More details on Sainte Luce are in its own section here: Sainte Luce
Lokaro's one of those strange places where photos never quite communicate how beautiful it is to the eyes. It's the ultimate camping beach due to some grassy banks sheltered by trees running along most of its length so its not hard to find suitable spots or shelter from any direction of wind should the weather not behave. There's also a large grassy verge at the end of the beach by the Lokaro estuary.
The beach's secret weapon is its small island, Nosy Lokaro. If you somehow tire of the main Lokarao bay, Nosy Lokaro provides a double-sided beach right in its centre. Better yet, one side is sheltered from waves and provides an isolated mini-crescent to swim in warm, calm waters.
But that's not the greatest part.
Accessing the island requires believing it's possible to walk through the sea for a quarter of a kilometre without drowning. Under you is a submerged spit that ensures the ocean remains below chest height until you reach it. The illusion is shattered at low-tide but just look the other way until the moment's right.
If you like your seafood, there's plenty of passing fishermen who you can buy the freshest fish, lobster and octopus from. Some will even provide the means to cook it on the beach for a little extra money but it's safer to bring your own utensils to do so just incase.
For those of you who liked the sound of being cooked for and are wondering if it's possible for somebody else to take care of sheltering you, there's accommodation behind the beach. Pirate Camp is run by the same couple who run Lavasoa in Fort Dauphin and you can make enquiries there as to staying in Pirate Camp. They can also provide transport by boat from Fort Dauphin. If you're driving here by 4x4 you can park along a few spots against the trees or on the aforementioned grass verge by the estuary.
Ambinanibe is home to Vinanybe/Bevava beach, a [14km] stretch of bay that's only fifteen minutes outside the city and receives little footfall other than fishermen commuting sections. There's a divide about [2km] down for the estuary of Andriambe lake and the village of Ambinanibe, which hides behind the large sand dunes that provide a stunning view of the village, the beach and the mountains surrounding. Ambinanibe translates to 'big estuary' but you may find it dried up if there's been an absence of rain. When it's fully flowing its usually possible to wade across it.
The bays orientation and its rising sea mists make it one of the best spots in the area to watch the day end as the light gets filtered through the water into a deep gold most evenings.
Lacking shelter, the bay generates a lot of waves and attracts some surfers though Anokoba and Plage Monseigneur remain more popular due to their more central location. Typically, the waves in one beach are good for surfing on the days when the others are not. Wind and kite surfers don't have anywhere to rent equipment in town but will have the waves and winds all to themselves if bringing their own gear. It's possible to swim but you will need to go a little further out past the breaking waves first.
It's a wonderful place to spend half a day when there's not a strong southerly wind as it can get a little bit blustery. There's few places with a view and size like this where you might be the only people there besides the passing fishermen. If using the bay for walking there are three entire lakes to visit behind it as well as magnificent large dunes with wind-sculpted walls not unlike the patterns of Jupiter's surface.
Camping is possible on a small stretch of rough grass if not using the sand (about a third of the way down to the estuary). Most passing fishermen will sell you their catch but bring utensils to cook with. The paved highway to Port d'Ehola takes you the majority of the way there so it's easy to get here in a regular taxi. The last section is through the sandy tracks behind the beach but they won't challenge most cars. Agree a time to be picked up by the driver and you've an easy way to get back.
Fort Dauphin's one of best places in the world for the lazy whale watcher. The migration path of humpback whales from July to October (sometimes extending into June and November) comes very close to the city and it's possible to see whales out in the Indian Ocean from most of the coast.
For those more serious about seeing them (which should be all of you), Lavasoa offer boat trips out to see them up close based on arranging a time that suits. Life jackets are provided. See Lavasoa's accommodation listing for contact information.
Architecturally interesting contemporary boutique hotel with ocean views, upmarket terrace restaurant, spa and infinity pool
Libanona Point, Bazarikely, Fort Dauphin
+261 34 05 212 35 talinjoo.com[EUR85 - 120]
Slowly engulfing the cap of Libanona, Talinjoo goes all out to try and impress with its design, ambience, food and facilities. Which it pulls off in spades. You'll want to live here, not just stay here, the moment you walk past the lobby and it succeeds in guilting you into wanting to slump here for the day rather than go about your scheduled itinerary.
It's not perfect. The area suffers from poor water pressure and internet, and the hotel can only do so much to work magic on services that require both. It buffers the water issue quite well and most guests won't be aware of any issues, nor should they find the internet impossible to connect to provided they're a little patient—a frame of mind probably appropriate to anywhere in town in that respect. The wear and tear in rooms can be a little bit slow to be repaired (perhaps due to the difficulty in delivering various fittings to this part of the country) and there's an odd amount of ill-fitting or strange nooks in rooms where it looks like an initial design or furniture concept was changed without being fully able to adjust the wall that housed it. I noticed these things only because they're at odds with the amount of love and attention has gone into the design and I'm a sucker for such things. Most terraces are shared with at least one neighbouring room, which may not be to everyone's taste, though the provision of swinging couches and that view can make anyone easily forget.
While the rooms are very nice, Talinjoo triumphs as a place to hang out in and it manages to provide numerous varied ways to do so for such a small location. Those seeking a solitary read in the shaded courtyard can easily avoid tripping over a group in the couch-laden bar downstairs or the groups enjoying meals looking out over the Indian Ocean from the large communal dining terraces. Everyone else is down at the infinity pool (which welcomes non-residents for [MGA10000]). All of the facilities and rooms are orientated to catch the incredible sunsets over the water each evening.
Every room come with a/c and private, hot showers which are screened off in the corner of each. Talinjoo typically serves some of the best food in the city and is also recommended as a destination for dining out when not staying here. There have been occasional blips in food quality that paralleled with some short and long-term changes in management or chefs but it's still nice on a bad day. On a good day, it can be exceptional.
Modern compact guesthouses built along incline with ocean views and path down to beach
Libanona Point, Bazarikely, Fort Dauphin
+261 33 12 517 03lavasoa.com[EUR49 - 75]
Charming guesthouses built amongst the cliffside scrub of Libanona bay and offering incredible views over it that few hotels could hope to rival. Named after a distant mountain on the horizon, Lavasoa's rooms are compact but comfortable, tasteful and clean; offering most mod-cons (each building provides a fan with the family building proving full a/c) and a small terrace to sit and enjoy the premiere attraction of staying here.
While Lavasoa offers halfboard and breakfast options, guests can also take a very brief stroll through the forest path to the neighbouring Talinjoo hotel to avail of their relatively lavish dining options (or infinity pool and spa). It's unlikely to be officially suggested but I quite like the overlap potential between both accommodations. Built right above the beach, guests can also walk down onto Libanona which is popular for swimming or lazing on. In a city surrounded by beaches, it's the most popular and picturesque (and was deservedly the backdrop for the previous 5,000 Ariary bank note).
Transfers to Lokaro are available by boat in two hours, with the possibility of staying at the Pirate Camp bungalows, also owned by Lavasoa's Anne and Eric. Alternatively, humpback whale watching excursions are available in Fort Dauphin's bay during the migration season of July - October. As it's one of the few cities in the world that has a migration path so close to shore, it comes highly recommended.
Lavasoa is particularly recommended for those who want to avoid the bustle of a hotel complex and enjoy a slightly more personal touch.
Clean, airy hotels in the town centre
Boulevard Numero 1, Ampototra, Fort Dauphin
+261 32 05 416 84none[EUR50 - 65]
La Croix du Sud is a small, pretty hotel built relatively recently in a colonial style with a hint of traditional Asian aesthetics. As well as a compact central courtyard, it has a quiet garden area out the back for enjoying drinks. It's owned by the group who run Berenty Reserve and many staying here will be doing so as a necessary agreement to some of the tour groups that visit the reserve, though that's not a bad thing.
It was built as a modern neighbour to Le Dauphin, one of the original, grander tourist hotels of Fort Dauphin along with Hotel Kaleta. Le Dauphin retains its echoing colonial lobby and dining room, which adds some character and presence though feels a little ill-fitting during quieter times of the year. Staff are very friendly and attentive.
Le Dauphin's restaurant serves a wide range of European cuisine alongside some Malagasy standards slightly altered for tourists. It's all pleasant but a little dated for the price. That said, it's a very enjoyable place to dine providing you're not the only table that evening and has some nice views out into the illuminated garden should you sit by the windows. La Croix du Sud uses Le Dauphin's restaurant for meals and the hotels basically function as an extension of one another - hence the combined listing.
Typical hotely for Fort Dauphin near the market area
Esokaka, Fort Dauphin
A perennial favourite for group lunches, nestled in a short terrace of other Esokaka restaurants that have come and gone in recent years.
As a popular Malagay hotely restaurant, Mami Jo's has leveraged its reliable stream of diners to offer a wider and more confident choice of dishes over its hotely neighbours. What you order is usually what you get and they're quick to inform if anything isn't available that day as opposed to winging it with half the ingredients they have to hand or orchestrating a clandestine dash out to buy the produce from the market (and the additional hour wait than can ensue).
As popular as it is with those in the area, they have been catering for international staff from nearby NGOs for years too and are comfortable dealing with the different expectations and language barriers. The latter is solved by handing the order notebook to you to write down your order and all mistakes are on your head, not theirs.
Food is the familiar hotely fare found in the south-east with the expected detours into Malagasy interpretations of French and Chinese standards like Steak Frites, stir-fry noodles made with spaghetti and wanton soup. Their version of baked beans and fries was better than anything a European greasy spoon cafe could pull off (and was never a menu item, just a lucky request).
A second venture opened at the far side of the market a few years ago but has since closed, perhaps a little too inconvenient for a restaurant that caters to convenience.
Hotel that devotes large spaces to dining over the Indian Ocean
Libanona, Fort Dauphin
+261 34 05 212 35talinjoo.com[MGA18000][MGA4500]
Venue-wise, the nicest setting for dining in Fort Dauphin and the same can often be said for the quality of food. Also offers a wide variety of cocktails. See listing in accommodation section.
Peaceful French restaurant close to some of Fort Dauphin's main hotels.
Bazaribe, Fort Dauphin
Tucked inside an informal side entrance off Avenue du Maréchal Foch, le Filao is well positioned to catch orders from curious wanderers in the nearby Croix du Sud, Dauphin and Kaleta hotels. The absence of many during my visits here would suggest few venture outside of their accommodation's restaurant, which is a shame considering the quality of le Filao's various zebu steak offerings (particularly the pavé).
The restaurant moved from its old spot further down the same road a few years ago and I'm not sure which I prefer but it kept its sparse, clean interior and—happily—the owner hosting the the room from a cosy spot, as is customary in smaller French establishments. Patrons wanting to catch up or learn something can prop themselves along the counter before a meal (and advise on some card strategies if he's still as passionate about stacking the four suits on his laptop).
Most dining spots in the city are—usually for the better—quite public and open. Going against the grain, le Filao's sheltered nook and relatively upmarket servings make it an ideal spot for special occasions with larger groups when your wider company and good food is all it takes to make the night.
Simple, wood and concrete bar hanging precariously over a cliff for you to fall in love with.
Barzarikely, Fort Dauphin
An unassuming entrance hides the larger back area open wide to the Indian Ocean from above a small clifftop. The missing planks and slight lean are repaired every few years to retain its clean record of having somehow not plunged down onto the beach below. That's not to say some of its clientele haven't but the odds were never great.
There's nothing complicated or remotely luxurious about Freedom and it would lose much of its charm should that ever change. You come here to watch the sun go down, breath in the sea air, and the occasional light show put on by dinoflagellates riding the waves.
Brochettes, Kebabs and a few other barbecued snacks are available cheaply once the stove's warmed up.
Stylish, informal cocktail bar overlooking the Vohimena Mountains from a balcony view.
Ambinanikely, Fort Dauphin
+261 34 126 0643manuia-bar.business.site[?][MGA8000][MGA17500]
Fort Dauphin has no shortage of bars but, in terms of variety and choice, you could count the amount with couches and cocktails on one hand. Boasting a balcony view of the Vohimena Mountains, Manuia Bar was a pleasure to see arriving in 2018 to add to that list—particularly at the quiet meeting point of Ambinanikely, Esokaka and Ampasikabo, rather than the more likely Libanona area. A wide variety of food (both meals and snacks) is available.