Living in Madagascar

By | May 31, 2021

Living in Antananarivo

Antananarivo is the political, economic and administrative center of Madagascar. As early as 1630, the city was the seat of the ruler, and in 1796 the Merina king Andrianampoinimerina made it the center of his empire. The name Antananarivo means “city of a thousand”and comes from the legend that a thousand soldiers were said to have guarded the city at that time. It was only after the Second World War that the city began to expand considerably, which led to chaotic living conditions (slums being created in and around the city center) and traffic. The higher-lying parts of the city offer better quality of life in terms of air purity and tranquility, but are reserved for the higher-income sections of the population. The contrasts of Antananarivo – the obvious poverty, but also the pronounced zest for life, the dynamism, the smells of the street, the numerous cookshops, the laughter of the vendors, the nightlife, the markets, the chaos in the traffic, the smog – all that makes up the fascination of Antananarivo.

Antananarivo can be roughly divided into a lower and an upper town. In the lower part of the city is the colonial-style train station and the city’s most important traffic axis – the Avenue de L´Indépendance. Life pulsates here, numerous traders, hotels and restaurants, but also beggars and street children populate the city center. The upper town can be reached via numerous stairs. The Rova, the former royal palace, sits enthroned on the highest hill of Antananarivo. A variety of restaurants and hotels can be found in Antananarivo, from the upper class to cheap accommodation or fast food. Numerous travel guides to Madagascar (German and French), including videos, are recommended for reading to Antananarivo give a good first impression.

According to politicsezine, most foreigners living in Madagascar prefer neighborhoods a little outside the center (e.g. Ivandry, Ambatobe or Ambohiboa), where school facilities, workplaces, daily supplies and leisure facilities coexist. You will thus avoid the poor air conditions and the traffic chaos in the city center. As a European in Madagascar, it is generally not advisable to drive yourself to drive. The traffic outside of the cities is chaotic and the roads are bad. Therefore, many rental agencies have started renting their cars with a driver only. There is no dense network of petrol stations, but there are usually sufficient petrol stations in urban centers and on particularly busy national roads such as the RN7, RN2 or RN4.

Other cities

Other important cities in Madagascar, in addition to Antananarivo, are Antsiranana (Diego-Suarez) on the northern tip of the island, Mahajanga (Majunga) on the northwest coast, the cities of Morondava and Toliara (Toliary, Tuléar), Tolagnaro, also on the west coast further south (Fort Dauphin) in the southeast and Manakara and Toamasina (Tamatave) on the west coast. Other major cities in the highlands can be Fianarantsoa and Ambalavao, Abositra and south of Antananarivo Antsirabeas well as the centers of Antsohihy and Andoany (Hell-Ville) in the north apply. Statistically speaking, around 10% of Madagascar’s residents live in the capital region and another 20% in the other cities. Apart from Antananarivo’s greater region, the highlands are relatively sparsely populated.


The national currency of Madagascar is the ariary (Ar, internationally also MGA). Before 2007 the Franc was common Malagasy, which has not yet been completely forgotten, so that many Madagascans still count in francs today. An ariary is worth five times as much as the old franc and, unlike the currency of many other former French colonies, is not pegged to the euro with a fixed exchange rate. There are notes with a denomination of 100, 200, 500, 2000, 5000 and 10000 ares as well as coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 ares. It is good to know that in Madagascar you can never have enough change with you – most of the large bills often cannot be exchanged; In the markets it is sometimes difficult to get change for a bill of Ar 10,000 (= approx. 3 euros). Foreign currency can be exchanged in banks, hotels and at the airport. With credit cards you can pay in larger hotels or restaurants, but it is always better to bring cash with you.

Madagascar Money


Antananarivo is known for its handicraft markets (Marchés Artinasals), which offer paper, wood and leather work, musical instruments, carpets, etc. But there are also many other markets in the capital that offer all sorts of things. Until a few years ago, the “Zoma” was the most important open-air market in the world. However, it had expanded considerably and became increasingly uncontrollable (traffic chaos, theft), so that it was reduced in size and parts of it were relocated to other parts of the city. But Antananarivo also offers many other shopping opportunities: Gemstones, vanilla and clothing, textiles and fabrics are popular Madagascan products. Bargaining is only advisable for larger amounts and for negotiable goods such as souvenirs or other services that sometimes offer inflated rates for tourists. Otherwise you can buy all goods in Antananarivo, including imported goods, mainly from France. The further the distance to larger cities, the smaller and simpler the range of goods becomes. In Madagascar, everyday products are often very cheap by European standards.


The large number of different churches and isolated mosques in Antananarivo testify to the freedom of religion in Madagascar and a mostly tolerant treatment of people of different faiths. Faravohitra Church towers high above Antananarivo. The seat of the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church is the “Cathédrale de l´Immaculée Conception” (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) in Antananarivos Upper Town, which can also be described structurally as an important historical building. The Anglican Cathedral of Saint Laurent Ambohimanoro can also be found in Antananarivo. Numerous other Catholic and Anglican cathedrals have been built in Madagascar across the country, many of them in the 19th century.

Hospitals and schools

Numerous hospitals and clinics are located in Antananarivo. The “Center Hospitalier de Soavinandrina”, the “Clinique et Maternité St. François”, the “Institut Pasteur de Madagascar” and the “Polyclinique d´Ilafy” are among the best addresses.

Of the many schools and school facilities from elementary school to university, only a few should be mentioned here. Most schools are francophone and teach in French according to the AEFE (Agence pour l´enseignement français à l´etranger). The first address here is certainly the “Lycée français de Tananarive”, as well as numerous French schools in Antananarivo and all over Madagascar. There is also a German school in Antananarivo, the Albert Einstein School.