Almost every visitor to Madagascar passes through the capital, Antananarivo (commonly shortened to Tana), but most are keen to continue their journey on to other areas to visit the unique wildlife and landscapes the country is famous for. If you can spare a day though, it’s well worth exploring this amazing city. Rainbow Tours’ Africa Specialist Helen Kennedy recently spent time in Tana and had some unforgettable experiences…
This beautiful city’s setting – sprawling over several jagged hills – means there are lots of great viewpoints, but make sure you go up to the old town for a great vantage point and photo opportunity.
The Rova is an iconic building that sits atop a hill and is visible from most places in the city. It was closed to the public for many years, but visitors are now able to visit the grounds. Allow an hour for a tour (with great views as a bonus), where you can see royal tombs, the chapel, and learn about the history of the Merina people. Close to the Rova, Lokanga Boutique Hotel is a great spot for late afternoon sundowners to enjoy with a panoramic view of the city.
Other highlights of a city tour include visiting Lake Anosy, local produce markets, the flower market, and the historic train station – a grand building that now contains shops and an interesting café full of character and train nostalgia.
If you have more time – and an interest in history – I recommend heading about 20 kilometres out of the city to Ambohimanga, a UNESCO World Heritage site and sacred hill where you can visit the king’s house.
Birdwatchers will love a visit to Tsarasaotra, a large park and lake just outside the city, which provides an important wetland habitat for a variety of fascinating species.
There are also several charitable projects you can choose to visit during your time here. I was lucky enough to visit three different projects which are easy to fit into an itinerary even if you are short on time.
Akany Avoko Faravohitra is a city centre children’s home for girls. Every case is different, but most have been placed there by court order after being abandoned or after getting involved with petty crimes. The alternative is for these young girls to go to adult prison, and so although the home is designed for up to 40, it was beyond capacity when I visited, with more already waiting. The home arranges for the girls to get into school or training, and also provides love, food and a safe place to live. Hanta (who grew up in a similar home herself as a child) is now a director of the home and a trained social worker; hers is a real success story and is truly inspirational.
Centre Fihavanana is a day centre for up to 150 street children of all ages. Sadly, I met some who sleep by a rubbish dump at night, but by day the centre helps to get them back into society with clean clothes, food and education (or training in areas such as embroidery or computer skills). The children’s families are also supported, as many are unemployed, homeless and in need of support.
Located near the airport, Akany Avoko Ambohidratrimo is a home for up to 150 children, including some with special needs. They have plenty of space here, with grounds to grow their own food and Zebu (cattle) to provide milk; a large facility to collect rainwater is currently being constructed on site. Children here range in age from around three years old up to young adults, and along with a home, they get food, education and training including hairdressing, sewing and cooking (with a café on site for them to practise).
The UK-based ‘Money for Madagascar’ supports all three of these projects (and has been supporting the latter for over 25 years). Every Rainbow Tours booking to Madagascar includes a donation to the charity.
If you have any space in your luggage before you travel to Madagascar, donations are welcome. Items that are always useful include clothing, school supplies, books, pens, pencils, small games and medical supplies.
Your Rainbow Tours Travel Specialist will be able to provide more details of what is most needed at different times of year, and if you have any special skills (languages, embroidery, cooking etc.) please do let them know. Equally, if you find you have any small amounts of leftover currency when you return from your trip you can send it to Rainbow Tours so we can donate it for you next time we are visiting the beautiful island.
Rainbow Tours has been committed to responsible travel for over 20 years. If you have been inspired by Helen’s first-hand account of her travels to Madagascar and would like to experience this amazing place for yourself, give our Travel Specialists a call on 020 7666 1235.