One of Madagascar’s main tourist roads is the 945km RN7 (Route Nationale) which runs down the island from the capital, Antananarivo, to Toliara. Most people opt to drive north to south, and fly back from Toliara. However, having spent a week in the west of the island, we joined the RN7 at Antsirabe so our journey was only 776km.
Leg 1 – Antsirabe to Ranomafana
Before setting off on the RN7, we had a brief tour of Antsirabe by pousse pousse, a hand pulled rickshaw, which took in Independence Avenue, Tsena Sabotsy Market, Cathedral, disused railway station and Hotel des Thermes. This was an ideal way to see the town, take shaky photos and fit in some market browsing before we headed for our 4WD.
The first 90km took us to Ambositra, where we stopped for lunch at the Artisan Hotel before continuing to Ranomafana. The housing gradually changed and seemed more prosperous, with double storied buildings and more solid looking thatched roofs whilst the scenery became mountainous and we began to see terraced rice fields. Mid-afternoon, we turned off the RN7 to visit “Ranomafana National Park”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/attraction/192980-review-ranomafana-national-park.
Leg 2 – Ranomafana to Ambalavo
Having spent three nights at “Setam Lodge”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/192977-review-setam-lodge hiking in the rain forest, it was back to the RN7. Brickworks and kilns lined the road now and houses were in various stages of construction. Every time we stopped for photos, we were quickly surrounded by a group of children, who appeared out of nowhere, beseeching us for ‘bon bon’.
We stopped at the town of Fianarantsoa, which means the ‘place of good learning’. It is built on three levels and we climbed broad stone steps, passing huge cobwebs and spiders, and numerous large churches of all denominations to a viewing area.
On reaching Ambalavo, we visited the silk factory, Solandy Atelier, where we were shown the various processes from the boiling of husks, spinning and finally weaving. I’d hoped to buy gifts here but found the shop small and unenticing.
After lunch at the Bougainvillees Hotel in Ambalavo, we visited the Antaimoro Paper Factory behind it and once again were taken through the various stages. We saw the softened tree bark being boiled in a large vat before being pummelled by hand, formed into a mush, being smeared onto boards, decorated with flower petals and then and left to dry in the sun. In the shop we bought five bookmarks for 10,000 Ariary (£2.16).
Next stop was the Zebu cattle market, held weekly on Wednesday. Our guide book suggested getting there at 3am but at 2pm, it was still in full swing. Down a rutted track we found a large open area full of people buying and selling zebu which were all ambling around freely – there appeared to be no central auction, farmers simply stood with their animals until someone made them an acceptable offer. We asked the price of a medium sized zebu and were told it was 750,000 Ariary (£161).
We spent the night at “Betsileo Country Lodge”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/192997-review-betsileo-country-lodge.
Leg 3 – Ambalavo to Ranohira
Ten minutes from Betsileo was the Anja National Park, a community run project covering 37 hectares. The villagers have started protecting the ring-tailed lemurs and numbers have increased dramatically. This was our first sighting of this distinctive species and we took far more photos than we should have.
Setting off again, the scenery gradually changed from rocky outcrops to brown grass on the high mountains before we headed downhill leaving the highlands behind us. We stopped to photograph the Bonnet de l’Eveque or Bishop’s Cap, a 4km-long lump of granite shaped like an upturned boat, before hitting Ranohira for lunch where we spent three nights at “Isalo Rock Lodge”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/193002-review-isalo-rock-lodge.
Leg 4 – Ranohira to Toliara
We passed through the sapphire mining town of Ilakaka, where the road was lined with gem shops and small grilled booths where men congregated to buy and sell gems. From the bridges crossing the river, we saw miners sifting through the water.
We stopped at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park where we saw numerous birds and animals – brown and white owl, black parrots, geckos, Hobart sportive lemur hiding in a hollowed out tree, and we had a good clear sighting of five Verreaux Sifaka high in a tree.
In Andohrotsy, rum was being made on the roadside. Sugar cane was put in a large metal barrel with tamarind juice and pummeled and then sealed with zebu dung and left for a week. It was then boiled for an hour, and then distilled and run off through a large hollowed out tree barrel and decanted into plastic water bottles which were lining the roadside. We were offered a taste but declined (it cost 10,000 Ariary for a litre bottle).
The next stop was Arboretum d’Antsokay, with its lovely modern restaurant where we enjoyed lunch after looking round the Arboretum. Here we had our first sighting of spiny bushes, (which are different to cacti), including the octopus tree, various poisonous euphorbia, pachypodium, bronze and silver barked trees, and a tree with “potato peel bark”.
Back in the car we arrived in Toliara mid-afternoon and spent two nights relaxing at “Le Paradisier”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/193078-review-le-paradisier.
It was certainly an epic road trip with the quality of the road varying between bad and very bad and constantly changing sights along the way. And as much as we’d enjoyed it, we were happy to fly back, unlike our driver and guide who had to return back to the capital by road.