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Morondava

Most smaller beachside cities thrive along their coast whereas Morondava hits you with markets and bustle on the main highway as you arrive. Its calmer routes are saved for the meandering streets by the ocean, occupied by hotels and guest lodges.

Like Tulear, the city has wider streets than most in Madagascar and the larger terraces of restaurants can make the city feel a little bit more sociable and alive in the evenings. On the other hand, Morondava has lost its beach view behind hotels and restaurants. A shame for residents but a gain for the hotels lining it who provide large beachside seating areas and direct access to Thanksgiving Beach—a stretch of coastline better suited to long walks than for laying out for the afternoon.

Morondava has some beautiful sailing boats, schooners (of Dutch origin), anchored along is beaches and built in the town of Belo-sur-mer, south of the city. The tradition originated in the late nineteenth century after King Radama II requested that the French government of the time provide teachers to guide the building of these vessels that he admired so much.

Excursions

The three big attractions near Morondava are conveniently all based along a [170km] stretch of the [RN8], a national route that begins right outside the town. If travelling to Kirindy Reserve, you haveto pass through the Avenue of the Baobabs. And if travelling to the Tsingy de Bemaraha, you pass by both the Avenue of the Baobabs and the entrance to Kirindy Reserve, making a visit to all three very feasible and appealing.

Tsingy de Bemaraha

An expanse of limestone ‘forest’ easily visible from satellite photos, this is deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site. More information at: Tsingy de Bemaraha

Avenue of the Baobabs

Probably the most photographed spot in Madagascar and needs no explanation. It's a short drive from Moronda too. More information at: Avenue of the Baobabs

Kirindy Reserve

Kirindy Reserve, about [50km] from Morondava and on the way to Tsingy de Bemaraha, is earning a reputation as a park to see a lot of wildlife not found or easily seen elsewhere in the country. More information at: Kirindy Reserve

Getting Around

Air Madagascar runs frequent, scheduled flights between Antananarivo and Morondava, providing the most popular link for tourists coming to the area. If not flying, some will take a taxi-brousse directly from Tana or Antsirabe for a trip lasting anywhere from 12 to 20 hours each way along the [RN34]. The road is paved for about two thirds of its length so completing the [650km] could have been a lot worse than the already lengthy journey. While there may appear to be more direct routes from the [RN7], pay heed to this being the turn-off that taxi-brousse operators use, from experience.

Dahalo

Dahalo/Malaso are an unfortunate reality in Madagascar. These groups of armed bandits no longer restrain themselves to zebu rustling and have become infamous for ambushes along certain highways—the [RN13] being one of the more notorious. I was chastised in the past for even suggesting that somebody attempt the journey along the [RN34] as it experiences trouble on occasion. Others have laughed at the suggestion and said it's relatively safe unless you're particularly unlucky. It seems that personal safety at night in Madagascar is a contentious issue.

The reality is that no highway in the country is immune to Dahalo and this is why you should listen to advice to not travel any highway overnight. Any plan to ambush vehicles is likely going to occur along long highways where passengers have no choice but to travel in the dark, far from cities, such as the [RN34].

If you have the budget to do so, fly. Personally, I would not recommend travelling the [RN34] overnight when it's avoidable. Besides safety you will drastically reduce travel time and save on having to catch up on missed sleep the next day. The majority of the journey is in complete darkness so there's little to appreciate outside the windows bar the occasional storm.

I'm describing the route by road as some will travel it, regardless, and should be as informed as possible before doing so. The British Embassy in Madagascar maintains an up-to-date account of current safety risks for travelling in the country. They haven't deemed safety on the route of enough concern to warrant its inclusion at the time of writing.

Taxi-brousses travelling between Tana and Morondava tend to be compact vans seating about 12 - 16 with the likelihood of a seat to yourself. Twenty hours inside is not comfortable and you will most probably arrive sleep deprived—but I won't pretend it's excruciating. There's opportunities to hop out and stretch your legs and at least one food stop along the way. The journey here stopped in an isolated car park purpose-built as a taxi-brousse and haulage food and watering area. The food is basic Malagasy fare, served quickly around the large collection of benches to accommodate the rapidly fluctuating crowds with limited time. Demand has seen a competitor open across the road if you can find your way over there in the dim light.

The journey back stopped in Miandrivazo, a town built where the [RN34] corners sharply to avoid the Mahajilo and find a suitable spot to cross the River Mania. It offers a choice of establishments with some opening throughout the night on account of the stream of visitors passing through.

Smelling fries, we ran into the source and ordered three lots with the promise that they'd be quick. We should have known better but most orders of fries are still whole potatoes at the time of requesting that only transform from this moment on. It's miraculous that we had them in front of us twenty minutes later but we had tested the patience of our driver. I'd advise against following your stomach and just find something appropriate to the ten or fifteen minutes you have.

To combat future ambushes the gendarme have established checks at various points along the road that are active throughout the night. One requires you to wait until about twenty other vehicles are collected behind you so that you travel as a large convoy. This three hour wait added a considerable amount of time onto the journey but we were happy that such procedures were being observed.

Both of our vans broke down on the journeys to and from. The first required a wheel change, which we fortunately had. I can't complain as it gave opportunity to stare up at the milky way as zebu were ushered, metal buckles clanging in the pitch black, towards the market in time for sunrise.

The second couldn't be remedied and we waited for a replacement Taxi-Brousse to get from Morondava to our unplanned stop at Ankilizato. Should you be in a position to pick a stop, the town is quite interesting in itself with roadside fussball tables, a restaurant, a bar, and a bustling small marketplace.

We wandered up the road to a church whose murals caught our eyes over its garden. On entering the grounds we were greeted by the priest currently taking care of it and generous enough to give us a tour. The murals continued inside and all of them, he explained, were painted by the previous resident priest. It is absolutely worth a visit if in the area. The priest, originally from India, undertakes a lot of admirable projects in the area.

Fussball game in action in Ankilizato on the RN35, Madagascar.
It's not uncommon to see fussball tables on the roadsides in Madagascar, such as this one in Ankilizato, just outside of Morondava on the RN35. It's also not uncommon to find yourself playing the entire town when your taxi-brousse breaks down next to one for several hours.

Accommodation

Les Bougainvilliers

Popular spot with basic, traditional bungalows and a large restaurant area that backs onto the beach

Nosy Kely, Morondava

+261 20 95 521 63 none[MGA80000]

Les Bougainvilliers provides traditional wood and ravenala roof accommodation with simple, clean bedding and en-suite facilities. These varied in style between bungalows but a small hot-water shower is provided in each along with toilet facilities and an upright fan for warmer nights.

As its outdoor central areas and covered restaurant are spacious—and back onto the beach—it has a slight resort feel to it, especially when staging a concert at night (as they occasionally do). Food is basic but pleasant, varied and reasonably priced.

Both the central areas and the bungalows are without frills and a little worn but absorb the charm of their sandy surrounds. Everything was perfectly clean and facilities all functioned well. A good location to stay when on a budget.

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