It’s always a good idea to be aware of the cultural dos and don’ts of your holiday destination. Since every country has its own traditions, food and ways of doing things, useful tips are as essential as packing the right clothes or not forgetting your passport. Here’s what to consider before visiting Madagascar.
Being late is the norm
Malagasy people are not masters of time – a famous Malagasy expression is ‘‘Fotoan-gasy’’ meaning “Malagasy time”. If everyone were to always try to arrive at work on time in a place where where everyone takes their time, it would never happen – basically, being late is common for Malagasy people. This is not because they don’t respect others, but sometimes it’s hard to calculate the accurate amount of time needed to complete other errands before meetings. That’s not to say that everything will be delayed – just be prepared for all possibilities.
Don’t eat ravitoto prior to a long journey
Missing out on ravitoto and pork is totally unforgivable if you travel to Madagascar – though as it can be hard to digest, you need to choose the right moment to try it. Anytime is a good time except before embarking on long journey by car. Whether or not it is accompanied by pork, this traditional meal is often chosen by tourists as their favorite Malagasy dish. It’s not recommended to eat it for lunch too many times during the week – give your body some rest.
Don’t feed the dogs
Dog lovers should pay attention to this! If you plan to go to the south, it is important to note that dogs are not welcome, even if you do sometimes see stray dogs in some of the bigger towns. This matter becomes more serious the further you dig into Malagasy culture in poorer, more remote villages in the southern regions of Madagascar. Avoid giving food to dogs in public, particularly if children are watching. While your dog-loving heart will automatically want to throw some crumbs at all the four-legged friends you will meet, you will offend people feeding a hungry animal rather than a child.
Always filter AND boil the water
This tip is especially for future volunteers who plan on having a life-changing experience far away from Western life. If you find yourself in any small villages in Madagascar, don’t only filter the water – boil it too. Don’t even rely on trustworthy water-cleaning tablets. Slightly salted naturally on the west coast, drinking unboiled water is not allowed.
Telma One: the cheapest mobile offer
It’s always hard to decide on what local operator to choose when you’ve only just landed. For an easy life, buy a Telma SIM card and choose the ‘Telma One’ option. Valid for one day, you’ll have 15 minutes for local calls, 20 SMSs to other Telma numbers, and 20MB internet for only 1,000 Ariary (USD$0.32). Thereafter you can suscribe as many times as you want. To date, this is the easiest mobile offer tourists can use in Madagascar.
How to tip
In Madagascar, tipping for services is a small action that can bring great joy. Whether drivers, carriers, waiters, or guides for any services or help you are given, most Malagasy staff are quietly expecting tips though not expressing it directly. Any amount you choose to give them will be gracefully accepted. Malagasy people are happy to gather tips collected per month, it gives them a sense of value, thereby encouraging them to work harder than before.
In most countries there’s at least one taboo. From forbidden foods to having to be barefoot, Madagascar has a lot to take into consideration, so don’t hesitate to ask your guide for tips before visiting any historical places. Ancient temples and palaces, sacred lakes, even whole villages can have their own taboos as a result of old myths or religious beliefs.
The best time to visit Madagascar
Subject to floods due to yearly cyclones, Madagascar will only offer the best version of itself during dry season. Between May and October with a peak in July and August, the country isn’t suffering from masses of tourists yet, with only 300,000 tourists per year. As the climate varies, note that it will be cold in the central highlands, so if you are to travel by car with your tour operator, you’ll need warm clothes for the journey before enjoying the tropical ambience of the coast.
A note on ATMs
While en route to your destination, don’t rely on ATMs to withdraw cash. There is nothing more frustrating than being in front of an ATM which doesn’t work when you need money right away. You may see many available ATMs in each town you pass by, but they often break down or have no money available at all. Bring enough cash with you at the start of your trip.