This year, I finally decided to plan a trip to one of my top bucket-list destinations: Madagascar.
The only problem was, Madagascar isn’t a country that caters well to the solo backpacker. Online information on it is limited, there’s no tourist infrastructure or hostels, and public buses don’t go to many cities or national parks. You’ll need to know French or Malagasy, too, as English is barely spoken.
Though I normally travel the world on my own, I wanted to take an organized tour of Madagascar instead, to help me get the lay of the land and answer all my questions about the country. Additionally, I don’t speak French or Malagasy and didn’t have a lot of time.
Cue Intrepid Travel’s 16-day Experience Madagascar tour. Along with the benefit of having the entire trip’s logistics planned out, this tour gave me authentic local and cultural opportunities I would not have had as a solo traveler.
Taking a tour saved time
Usually I love the challenge of planning my way through a country, but Madagascar is an extremely difficult place to get around. There are only a few major roads, and even those are poorly maintained. It can take up to eight hours to drive 250km (155 miles)!
In addition to this, the few public transportation options that do exist, like trains, boats, and taxi buses, may or may not run on the day or at the time you need. For these reasons, having the safety and security of a tour, with the logistics planned in advance, was a huge benefit in an unpredictable and vast island nation like Madagascar.
Without having to worry about how to get from one place to the next or where I was going to stay for the night, I could fully enjoy each of our incredible excursions, knowing I would surely and safely make it to the next.
Before I went to Madagascar, I knew virtually nothing about the country. So one of the best parts about traveling with a tour was having access to the expertise of a local at all times. Our fantastic guide, Patrick, lived in Madagascar his entire life and provided our group with a wealth of information throughout our journey.
Every day he taught us about Madagascan culture, politics, cuisine, and traditions. His patience and humor also allowed me to ask him thousands of random questions in an effort to get an even better idea of what day-to-day life in Madagascar is like.
We also had many other local leaders with specialized knowledge guide us through the rainforests, national parks, villages, and cities we visited.
By the end of the trip I learned so much about environmental conservation, the history of each destination, and how they practice sustainable tourism. I also learned more about the hundreds of lemur species than I ever thought possible!
Authentic cultural experiences
When you travel solo in a place like Madagascar, it can be difficult to interact with locals. Few people speak English, there aren’t many shared spaces with travelers, and arranging village visits on your own would be difficult (if not impossible). Intrepid broke down those barriers with local experiences woven throughout the tour.
We visited two small villages in the countryside and shared delicious home-cooked meals of rice, beans, vegetables, and meat with Madagascan families. Thanks to Patrick’s translating Malagasy to English, we were also able to learn about how our hosts make their livelihoods through rice farming and crafts, such as weaving and woodcarving.
Another favorite experience was walking through the chaotic markets, trying all of the delicious (and cheap) street food while talking to the vendors who were all curious about us!
Overall, I’m glad my first visit to Madagascar was with a tour. The Experience Madagascar tour was a great orientation to a country that was an enigma to me, and a wonderful way to meet people in a destination with few independent travelers.
If you don’t have months on end to explore and aren’t looking for an old-school, rugged travel experience, a tour is the best — and really only — option in Madagascar.
Want to follow in the adventurous footsteps of Nomadic Matt? Check out Intrepid’s range of Madagascar trips.
(All images c/o Nomadic Matt.)