Antananarivo, The City of a Thousand, is more commonly referred to as Tana. A trip to Madagascar isn’t complete without a visit to the bustling capital city of Antananarivo. All international flights land just outside the city so for many travellers it’s the first and last stop on their journey. Tana can be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated with its chaotic traffic and pollution. However, once you have acclimatized you will discover a wonderful city with a wealth of history and culture, delightful shopping and world-class cuisine; think fine French fare at island prices. We have specially selected the top five sights and experiences for your time in Tana:
Parc de Tsarasaotra Bird sanctuary
Bird lovers flock to this private park in the industrial area of Antananarivo. It is the smallest and only private park to be classified RAMSAR (International Convention on Wetlands). The reserve is an important refuge and breeding ground for 14 threatened endemic bird species including Meller’s duck and Madagascar little grebe. It’s the only place on the Malagasy highland where you can observe the endangered Madagascar pond heron. Visiting the park requires some pre-planning, as tickets can only be bought from Boogie Pilgrim’s office in Tana Water Front during office hours, and not at the park itself.
Parc de Tsarasaotra Bird sanctuary
The Palace was built for Queen Ranavalona in the 17th century, hence its name “the Queen’s Palace”. It’s an interesting spot to visit due to its location on the highest hill in Tana, providing gorgeous views over the city. The palace itself is quite beautiful, however, due to a devastating fire in 1995 it is mostly empty inside, but a guided tour will give you plenty of information. The palace is part of the Rova compound with some other interesting historical sights, remember to never point at anything with your finger as this is considered incredibly disrespectful in Malagasy culture. The surrounding neighbourhood is also worth a wander as there are some good restaurants in the area, as well as interesting architecture.
This lively, colourful and sprawling market is not aimed at tourists, which is part of its attraction, it’s a real local Malagasy market that sells everything from curtains to food. It’s a great way to experience and immerse yourself in Malagasy culture. Haggling is standard, although it might be difficult if you have a language barrier, but that can be part of the fun. Do not take any valuables along and keep a tight grip plus a sharp eye on your possessions as unfortunately pick-pocketing is rife.
Mariette Andrianjaka, one of the best and most interesting chefs in the world provides a set multi-course menu in her 19th-century villa. It’s a very personal, intimate experience with delicious cuisine that is a mix of French and Malagasy. The six-course set meals are based on haifi cuisine, the traditional banquets once served to Merina royalty. Chef Mariette herself has cooked for royals and other notables during her fascinating life. Booking is absolutely essential as space is limited and meals are made with great care and attention to detail.
The city is centred around Independence Avenue, a wide double laned street lined with shops and hotels. It’s a good street to walk along to get the feel of the city and do some shopping. There are some restaurants and cafes too, so if you’re hungry grab a bite. At the end of the street is the old train station which houses a decent restaurant and bar, Café de la Gare, which is a great place to have a meal and take in the atmosphere.
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